While on the road to a show last week, Kenny George of the Kenny George Band talked about how his band is picking up the pieces after the unexpected death of Bucky Brown — their drummer, friend and a founding member — a little over a month ago.
“We’re doing OK; we’re hanging in there, I guess. … It’s weird and hard emotionally, you know, and I think everyone has their own (ways of dealing with it),” George said. “I guess you could say it’s getting easier; it hasn’t gotten easy, but playing shows is tough. We’ve got Dave Mercer filling in on drums for us right now, and he’s doing an excellent job; he’s a lot of fun to be around. We all have our emotional triggers and things like that, that we deal with on a daily basis, I think.”
Brown, who had been playing music with the 32-year-old George since he was about 15, helped start the band in 2007, along with steel guitar player Center Ely. Others in the band include Brooks Andrews on bass and Scott Rankin on rhythm guitar and harmony vocals.
“We’re starting to rehearse again, too, so that’s nice to be playing again,” he said. “I think everyone tries to stay busy in their own way, you know. I’ve been doing a lot of trying to find as many acoustic gigs and stuff that I can power through to stay occupied. Spending a little bit more time at home, too.”
The country/Americana band with Aiken roots typically spends a lot of time on the road, with 150 to 180 shows a year. Their next appearance in Augusta is just a couple of months away, on Nov. 3 at Stillwater Taproom.
As much as they love being on the road, the band likes when they get to play close to home, like when they get to play in Augusta, because there’s not a lot of travel involved, and George said there’s always a good crowd. One of their albums, “Live at Sky City,” was recorded at Sky City in Augusta in 2015.
George said one of the best moments of the past year was when they played a release show in their hometown, in support of their latest album, “Borrowed Trouble,” released April 28.
He said until then, the band had played in Aiken maybe twice in the past three years.
“It was the day the record came out, and we busted our backs putting a lot of the hard work into it, trying to get a good turnout, all that stuff, and we wanted a good stage, and good sound and all this, and we were really just dead set on a big show in our hometown. We had the help of the city of Aiken and a lot of businesses, but we really wanted to just make sure that we did something for the people here since we’re always on the road. … And you know, there’s not really a huge market for original alternative country Americana, or whatever you want to call it. But we did that, and we just had this incredible turnout, people from all over came in, I think they said we had anywhere between 1,500 and 2,000 people in the Alley, and to do it downtown Aiken outside, all the work we put into it and see it pay off and have such nice turnout and everyone show their support was just really probably my favorite part of the last year or so.”
The band has gone through some growth in the three years since they released their first EP, “Gunshy,” in 2014. Most of that has come from just spending a lot of time on the road together.
“We’ve gotten tighter; we’ve gotten a little bit better about conveying what we want to play to the record, from doing all that playing live, you know, so the songs really got to develop on the for a couple months, or some longer than that,” George said. “So like with this last record, there’s a lot more of that live energy into it, I think we’ve gotten a lot better about that. I think we’ve just gotten to know each other a little better onstage, and so we know each other’s body language and cues and things like that, when someone’s gonna go here and you can kind of follow, or something like that. But it’s just become easier, a little bit.”
George described “Borrowed Trouble” as “very much about everyday life of a musician on the road, and not necessarily your Bob Seger Turn the Page tour bus kind of life, but more of the grinding it out like what we’re doing and the balance between that and home and family and having a social life, a love life, normal relationships, so there’s a lot of that theme kind of running through it. That’s really what it’s about. … There’s certain songs about specific things and things like that, but on a whole, that’s really the kind of driving source for the sound or theme behind the record, I guess.”
As the primary singer-songwriter, George’s love for South Carolina is obvious in his music, especially on the twangy, upbeat-tempo “Carolina Too,” the third track on “Borrowed Trouble.” In it, he croons “Carolina is callin’ my name/Carolina, I’m not the same/Carolina is calling me home/Carolina, I must be moving on.”
The band has played shows with the likes of the Rascal Flatts. Some of the influential artists George grew up on include Jackson Browne, Townes Van Zandt, Leon Russell and the Allman Brothers.
“I could go on and on,” George said. “Ryan Adams was real big; I got into him at a fairly young age. And Wilco, I got into Wilco when — I guess I was probably in junior high when I first heard Wilco. I thought ‘this is weird, but I like it.’
He also discussed some modern artists he has been getting into.
“More recent is like John Moreland. … I just got into Lady Lamb recently,” George said. “It was really exciting; I heard about her a couple months ago from someone, I can’t remember who, and then I turned on NPR today and I got all excited about it again because she was on there, just all kinds of stuff. … Parker Millsap’s one of my new favorites; he’s put out a couple of records, there’s a lot of new stuff, I guess one of the perks of the internet, and there’s lots of them, but one of the bigger ones is all the great new artists you can find at the click of a button. … American Aquarium, I immediately got into them, and we got really lucky and got to play some shows with them, a few shows with them, and they’re really doing good things. And I’ve been kind of getting into the new outlaw stuff, Cody Jinks and Whitey Morgan, things like that.”
For more information about the Kenny George Band, visit kennygeorgeband.com or youtube.com/c/Kennygeorgebandmusic, or keep up with them on Facebook and Twitter. Tour information is listed on their website.