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Metronome Magazine

Ghost Truckers

by Brian M. Owens

The Ghost Truckers are the latest roots-rock outfit to hit the local music scene. With eclectic songs and an unparalleled look, the band is trying to carve out an identity all their own that lies somewhere between classic country and contemporary rock & roll. So get ready to turn up the twang and let The Ghost Truckers take you for a ride.

METRONOME: I dig the name of the band, Ghost Truckers. How did you come up with it?

Ron Jackson: When we got together and decided we were going to start the band, we wanted to come up with a name that was rootsy-rockin'-retro, and some of the cover songs that we were playing had a truck theme to them. So we were tossing out names here and there. Then one Saturday morning I was sitting on the couch watching Scooby Doo with my son Wes. The episode was called, The Ghost Trucker. I said, That's it. My wife said, "What?" The name of the band, She said, "What is it?" The Ghost Truckers. I ran it by the guys and they thought it was good. It stuck.

METRONOME: When did you form the band?

Doug Wigginton and I, the other guitar player and singer, started at the end of 2010. We had been talking for about a year. I'd like to say that we met at a truck stop somewhere in Texas, but we met at a park where our kids were playing and knew each other played guitar. We talked about jamming for a year or so before we actually got together. Once we started playing we realized we had enough similarities and differences that we complimented each other with different styles, different instrumentation and tones.

METRONOME: Who else is in the band and how did you end up finding them?

Doug and I practiced for about six months in my basement. Six months in we enlisted Phil Whoriskey. That was around April.

METRONOME: How did you meet Phil?

I work at Avid. I used to work with Phil, but he had left. I still kept in touch with him. I knew he played bass. I hadn't seen him in a few months. I contacted him and said, Hey we're doing this thing... he was in a blues cover band. He said "Yeah I can do it". I said, it's low key. We're not going to be playing that much. I didn't realize that we'd actually start playing out and stuff.

At the end of 2010, Doug and I decided we needed to play a gig. Any gig. We needed to get out there and play in front of people. We didn't have a drummer at this point. I had a backyard barbecue party and invited a bunch of neighbors, friends and kids, rented a PA and hired a drummer that Doug knew, Brian Lewis. We hadn't even played with a drummer with this group before. We played eight or nine songs.

This was the same gig where we met our harp player Willy Lensch. He was friends with Doug and Doug invited him up to play harp on a few songs. He came in and we all liked the added sound of the harp. We asked if he would join the band and brought him aboard.

METRONOME: So it's a five piece band?

Yeah.

METRONOME: Did you play any originals at the backyard party?

Not at that point. It was all obscure roots-rock cover songs. They very well could have been originals because most of the people have never heard them before.

METRONOME: Who were some of the artists you were covering?

The Bottle Rockets. The Yayhoos, The Backsliders, The Hacienda Brothers, Dave Alvin, The Blazers... I could go on and on.

METRONOME: Isn't it ironic that you met another guitar player that liked the same kind of eclectic music as yourself?

Doug brings more of the mainstream American rock, roots and blues to the table. He's more into Tom Petty, ZZ Top and Stevie Ray Vaughn while I'm more into the underground bands that I mentioned. Bands that got some recognition, but never really hit the mainstream. Some of them are still out there playing and others are no longer together. These are the guys I've been following for twenty years.

I've been really into the roots scene both local and national. I always have my ear to the ground for this stuff. I follow these different veins of music and you like this guy and find you might this other guy as well. That's what I've been doing for a long time.

METRONOME: After the backyard party, did Brian and Willy like it enough to stay on with the band?

Brian was just thrown in for that gig. We actually got another drummer who was a friend of his for a while, but he couldn't make a couple of gigs due to an injury that happened the week before we were supposed to play at the Cantab.

We got the Cantab gig from my neightbor who works there. He heard us at my party and walked over and said, "You guys should play at the Cantab." I called Mickey [Bliss] and he set us up. Mickey's been great. He's a really nice guy and very supportive of the band.

So these guys all decided to stay, but we're still looking right now for a full time drummer. We're practicing right now with this young guy named Noah Fougere and we've also played with Jeff Allison at the Virgo-A-Go-Go Festival which was at Radio. Kier Byrnes hooked us up with that gig. Thanks Kier! He's a very nice guy. There were a lot of great bands at that festival.

METRONOME: When you finally got the lineup together, what was the plan?

Doug and I started thinking we should start writing some originals. We tried to go with the truck theme and tried to keep the band in the spirit of these other bands. Doug sings most of the songs so he would pick things that he liked. That's how we work out our parts. Then we started writing songs. We actually have one song that we played at the Virgo-A-Go-Go, a twangy instrumental number called "Ronnie's Twang." We road tested it there. We have about four or five other songs that we're working on.

METRONOME: Tell me about this mystery harmonica player Willy. What's his story?

Oh Willy, I didn't meet him until that first gig. He wears a cowboy hat and a big belt buckle and he brings the classic country background to the band. He actually grew up on a small farm in Utah listening to Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard and Buck Owens. Now he's an instructor at Harvard Medical School. He does something with stem cell research. He's a real busy guy, but a real fun guy.

METRONOME: How would you describe the band's sound to someone who never heard you before?

It's more garage rock with a twang. You have some songs that have a clean, twangy tone and others that have overdrive and crunch. Overall it's fun music that we like and very rock based. It's got a little bit of country, a little bit of blues and then we throw in covers from Tom Petty, NRBQ, Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard. We may go mainstream, but then we may go country too. We're trying to do something that's in between all that.

METRONOME: When you say twang, it's not like a surf twang is it?

No, more like a clean, country twang.

METRONOME: Do you and Doug play Telecasters?

Yeah. I play a Telecaster and Doug plays Strats and Telecasters depending on the song.

METRONOME: No Gretsch guitars?

No, but I also play a baritone [guitar] on about half of the songs.

METRONOME: Tell me about yourself. Are you a local guy? Is this the first serious band you've been in?

I've been in a few bands over the years, but mostly jamming with friends and playing a few gigs here and there. This is the first band I've been in that's easy for me. With this band, I wanted to to do something that I liked because I was in other people's bands playing guitar. This is something I really wanted to do. I hope to do it right and get some players that like it too.

METRONOME: What's Doug's background?

He's been in other bands. He's from the San Francisco area. He's a great player and can sing a lot of different things. He can break into a Van Halen lick at the end of a song and we all look at him and say "Where did that come from?" He just does stuff like that. It's pretty funny, he brings a lot of energy to the band.

METRONOME: What's your bass player Phil's history?

Phillip was in a few other bands. He's played The Channel with some of those old bands back in the eighties and nineties. He brings more of a punk rock background to the mix. He grew up listening to X and Mission of Burma and stuff like that. I really like that we have all these different backgrounds and interests and when we play we come up with something new just by the fact that we're bringing different experiences to the band.

METRONOME: Does he pump out root notes or is he wailing away on the bass?

He plays a lot of notes on some stuff. You'd think on the country he'd be sitting back, but he's actually up and down the neck. I'm looking at him going, Wow! we've got a great mixture.

METRONOME: You mentioned that Doug does most of the lead vocals?

Yeah, he sings most of the songs and Willy sings a couple of songs. He does some Merle Haggard and Johnny Cash stuff which fits in with his cowboy hat, western shirts and belt buckle thing. Then, Doug and I switch off on lead guitar chores for different songs.

METRONOME: How many original songs do you have in your catalog now?

I think we have about six.

METRONOME: Are you planning on recording an album?

Yes, definitely. That's going to be one of our goals for next year.

METRONOME: So between then and now, you're going to continue to play live and write more material?

Exactly. That's what we're doing now. We're actually booking a couple of gigs now.

METRONOME: How does the songwriting process work for you guys?

The first song we finished and actually played, "Ronnie's Twang" was something I did. Often times it's just Doug and I practicing unless we do a Jamspot thing. We'll be working on a new song or practicing for a gig. For "Twang", I came up with some licks and Doug said "What's that?" I said, Just something I've been fooling around with. He played it into his iPhone and went home and a few days later sent me back a middle part and some chords for the song. I thought, Okay, that song is pretty much done. He's also brought in some other songs we have going on. He'll start it and I'll add some nuances here and there on the baritone or the Telecaster.

METRONOME: Is anyone playing slide guitar?

We're practicing with this guy right now. He plays pedal steel. We're going to add pedal steel to the mix. His name is Mike Haggerty.

METRONOME: Would you be a six piece band at that point?

Yeah, we'd be moving up a whole other person. We're trying to see how many songs it will fit on or if we can get Mike to do some other stuff. We don't want pedal steel on every song though.

METRONOME: How did you meet him?

Mike was in another band when we played at the Cantab. He was in the band Foggy Notion that played after us. He contacted us after the gig and said "I play pedal steel. I think I would go great with what you guys are doing." We invited him to a practice (so far it's only been one practice), but we're going to have him back again and see if we can work it in.

METRONOME: So neither you nor Doug are using a bottle neck on your guitars?

No. Neither of us are. I play some lap steel too, but not in this band. I'm too busy filling out the other guitar parts.

METRONOME: Who is a common band that you all like today?

I would have to say The Bottle Rockets. I introduced Doug to them. We actually saw them this past spring. They played down in Natick at the Center for the Arts. That's the spirit that we're going for. It's a tough act to follow because those guys are so tight and such great songwriters.

METRONOME: Are they from California?

No. They're originally from Festus, Missouri. I've been a fan of them for about fifteen years.

METRONOME: What are you guys using for amplifiers?

Doug and I play through Fender amps. I have a 1962 Brown Deluxe amp that I play through. I just love it. It's real nice.

METRONOME: How did you find that?

I bought it twenty years ago from a friend.

METRONOME: Back then vintage wasn't what it is today. Please don't tell me you only paid $400 for it?

I remember when he was trying to sell it to me. I was saying, Yeah I don't know. I was thinking about it. But I paid less than $400 for it. It's really nice. I love the sound and the tone of it.

METRONOME: Did you replace the original speaker?

It was the same speaker that was in it when I bought it. It was a Celestion Vintage 30 out of a Marshall amp.

METRONOME: Does it have reverb?

No reverb. Those amps have just a great tremolo.

METRONOME: Do you use the tremolo effect a lot?

I use it occasionally on certain things. It sounds better with the baritone. For reverb i just bought this new pedal from Malekko called the "Spring chicken". It's a spring reverb pedal and it sounds like my old spring reverb tank. I used to have one that I would put on top of the amp, but it was too much of a pain to carry around.

I love the "Spring Chicken" It only has one knob, and it's called Cluck with a picture of a chicken on the front. It fits in to this whole rootsy thing. I don't even put that much on, just a little bit and it gives me what I need.

METRONOME: Does Doug play through an old Fender as well?

No. Doug is playing through a Fender Blues Jr. He also has a Super 60 [Editor's note-Rivera built]. It's very heavy.

METRONOME: Do you rehearse at Jampsot Studios?

We do two things. When we play small, we rehearse in my basement. When we play with a drummer, we go to the Jamspot in Somerville. It's great there because it's just hourly. It works out good for us. We try to go there once or twice a month.

METRONOME: What clubs do you play regularly?

We've played at The Cantab a couple fo times. We bring a pretty good crowd down there. Right now we're looking at The Rosebud right in Davis Square, Somerville and we'll be back at the Cantab on December 8th. We go on at 10.

METRONOME: Do you have a studio lined up for your recording project?

We don't have anything lined up, but I live right across the street from where Camp Street Studio used to be. I know Adam Taylor and I like the stuff that he's been doing. He's local. He was one of the engineers at Camp Street. It would be cool to do something with him.

METRONOME: Do you guys have a website where people can find out more about you?

Yes we do. www.ghosttruckers.net. We also have some live clips up on YouTube. There's about ten live songs there, really nice quality. I had a friend I work with who shot them with two different cameras. he edited it all and they look pretty good.

I'd like to rave a little bit about the local music scene in Cambridge and Somerville. I think some of the best music that you'll ever hear is right on this side of the Charles River in clubs like Toad, The Lizard Lounge and Atwoods Tavern by guys like Dennis Brennan, Tim Gearan, Dave Johnstone, Jimmy Ryan, Duke Levine, Jim Scoppa, Stan Martin, Roy Sludge and Lyle Brewer. All these musicians and everyone who plays with all these guys are the ones that get me out of the house every week to go and see live music. They put together great bands and they play great music. It's tough to stay in because of these guys. These are the guys who are keeping the whole scene alive.