The Weatherheads, fronted by Grand Rapids couple, hone new live album to a twangy tee
Published: Thursday, July 29, 2010, 8:00 AM Updated: Thursday, July 29, 2010, 10:01 AM
GRAND RAPIDS — For The Weatherheads, the size of the crowd doesn’t matter.
It’s all about the music, the harmonies and the sheer joy of performing for any audience that appreciates the Grand Rapids band’s singular blend of Americana, country, folk and rock.
“You just keep looking for the next song,” offers acoustic guitarist, singer and harmonica player Pete Weatherhead. “We’re trying to craft a sound that makes us identifiable.”
The Weatherheads — Pete Weatherhead, his wife, Barb, on bass, Bill Bennett on lead guitar and Tom Davis on drums — certainly have done that over the past five years or so. They’ve honed their sound to a twangy tee that marks most every song on their new album, “Live at One Trick Pony,” from originals to covers of songs by Kris Kristofferson and Patty Griffin.
“We have a unique dynamic,” said Barb Weatherhead. “It’s carefully choreographed or arranged. Our harmonies, our dynamics and the way we combine things and add our own personal sound to it has really evolved.”
The evolution of the couple’s music may have started way back in the mid-1970s when they owned the country-hued Eastown Saloon (now Billy’s Lounge) after earlier meeting at Aquinas College. That’s also when Pete played in the foot-stomping bluegrass outfit known simply as Weatherhead.
After moving to Wisconsin to run a dairy farm in the 1980s — and to back up a honky-tonk country singer after Pete taught Barb to play the bass — the couple returned to Grand Rapids in 1992 to raise their two children.
“Our kids left the nest and we sat there looking at each other and said, ‘We need something to do,’ ” Barb recalled. “That’s about when (the film) ‘O Brother, Where Art Thou’ came out and I loved that music. That’s what we kind of started with. It really has evolved from there.”
Last year, the band decided to record its evening performance at downtown’s intimate One Trick Pony for its first-ever album. They’ll celebrate release of that CD at 9 p.m. Saturday at Founders Brewing Co., 235 Grandville Ave. SW.
Barb, a part-time dental hygienist, performs with DeWylde in the old-timey string band Nobody’s Darlin’. Pete, who recently retired as district manager for Belle Tire, also plays with The Rawhide Johnson Band (a “whipped up” country group) as well as with singer-songwriter Nicholas James Thomasma.
“We’re awful darned busy, but we love it,” Barb said of dividing time between bands. “It keeps things fresh and interesting.”
The same could be said about The Weatherheads’ eclectic song choices, often influenced by material heard on community radio station WYCE-FM (88.1).
“Artists we weren’t familiar with would catch our ear. You just kind of know what’s going to fit with what you’re going to do,” said Barb, 56.
“This band we have now is going to point toward songs that by and large you’ve never heard but you’ll understand immediately,” added Pete, 63. “We’re going to put a ripping Telecaster guitar on top of it and … it’ll get on the ripping side a little bit. We’ll sing about life and the trailer court and stuff like that. You can’t keep the country out of it.”
In particular, the couple works hard at singing together and “making it one voice,” Pete said. “I like the crafting of the harmonies and the general sound.”
In August, the band departs for a tour of sorts: four gigs in Maine, sparked by a new friendship with Charlie Gaylord, lead guitarist for country-rock’s Diesel Doug & the Long Haul Truckers. The Weatherheads included a song, “An Angel Not a Saint,” by the Portland-based band on its live album and got to know Gaylord, who even offered to press their CD.
Eventually, The Weatherheads will record a studio CD. Pete said the group already has “enough original material” for two albums. And they’ll keep entertaining audiences, big or small.
“We’ll be out there as long as our fingers can move up and down the fretboad,” Pete insisted. “It’s really a lot of joy for us.”
E-mail John Sinkevics: firstname.lastname@example.org