From The North Coast Journal, May 12, 2005
At the Bayside Grange on a recent Saturday night was hot and steamy. Swingers young and old packed the dance floor jitterbugging and doing the boogie-woogie, then getting close on the slow dance numbers.
It was a far cry from the debut of The Delta Nationals at the down-and-dirty Crown Pub back in November 2000, an event attended by a handful of friends, family and a few startled regulars.
I was at that gig with camera in hand and cemented a position as unofficial band photographer by shooting an oft-published group portrait posed around a pool table (the only place in the establishment with decent light).
The Delta Nationals show at the Grange was one of a series of gigs where the band is rolling out their first CD, Get Out!, a live affair that demonstrates the range of music they pull together. Saturday, May 14, the band plays another “CD release” gig, this time at Six Rivers Brewery in McKinleyville.
In advance of the Grange gig I spoke with Delta Nationals founders Paul DeMark and Ross Rowley. Rowley followed up with an e-mail touching on “traditional” music, expanding on a question I had asked.
“I’ve been reading a book about the advent of the bluesman,” he began. “In reality, the ‘bluesman’ is a creation by the record companies in the 1920s and 1930s. Players like Charley Patton and Tampa Red and that generation actually played all kinds of music.
Because they had to work playing dances for all manner of folks, they also joined up with white players to be able to play gigs. They played country tunes, reels, polkas — whatever it took for dancing.
“The segregation of music actually came from the record producers who felt they couldn't sell a Black country player. Many of the bluesmen played fiddle and mandolin, but that [style] was being sold as a white hillbilly genre.
“The depiction of the downtrodden black man singing ‘the blues’ was greatly that — a depiction. Big Bill Broonzy played many, many styles — but was only really recorded playing blues. The record companies were sticking with tried and true artists they could depend on to show up to a session and promote themselves and play for money-making audiences — (and who later they could rip off).”
Rowley figures the Delta Nationals are a traditional band in that they play a mix of music — blues, country, and rock ‘n’ roll — all of it tailored for dancing.
“Playing many styles of music for dancers in a dance hall is a very traditional rural American pastime,” he noted before moving on to discussion of the origins of the various threads that weave together creating the sound of American music.
“Where does a ‘sound’ begin? Did Chuck Berry invent that? Did Bob Wills invent that? Did Louis Armstrong invent that? Did Bill Monroe invent that? Did The Sugar Hill Gang invent that? No. Did Sound Tribe Sector Nine invent that? No, that was the Whammo Hula Hoop company,” he concluded (somewhat inscrutably).
“Always expect the unexpected from Ross,” Paul DeMark commented in an RE: e-mail, describing Rowley as “a true musicologist.” DeMark went on to explain that an exploration of various strains of American music was at the root of The Delta Nationals conception five years ago.
“I happened to stop by Fox-29 to drop off a TV ad for CR,” recalled DeMark, whose day job is overseeing P.R. for the College of the Redwoods. “I started talking with [Fox-29 producer/cameraman] Ross, who I barely knew. We asked each other what we were up to musically. He was in The Roadmasters and I was between full-time bands and doing different gigs, like playing with and promoting local concerts with [bluesmen] Steve Freund and John Sinclair.
“I told him about my concept for a band — play music from a variety of classic American music genres. He began rattling off the names of all the studio session players from Muscle Shoals, the Fame and Stax labels etc. — we were just shooting names out back and forth. I had no idea he was so deep into American roots music.
“I asked him if he wanted to do a jam with some people that very day and see if we could put something together. He said yes. By the fall we had a band and were gigging…
“The first gig was at Bob Ornelas' Hoptoberfest, but we were the Roots Evangelists at that gig — the first and only gig were we played under that name. You'll notice on the CD that the name of our ‘record company’ is Root Evangelist Records; Steve Irwin suggested it as a tip of the hat to our beginnings.”
Of course the Delta Nationals are not evangelists in the traditional sense, they are out there spreading the gospel of rhythm and blues, of deep country and, yes my brother, the gospel of classic all-American rock ‘n’ roll. And they do it well.
The Eureka Reporter
Thursday, April 27
By Wendy Butler, The Eureka Reporter
The Delta Nationals has been known in Humboldt County for performing American roots music, since the band’s founding in 2000.
That ranges from popular rock’n’roll rhythm-and-blues from the late 1950s and early 1960s to late 1940s and early 1950s swing music.
In 2004, the group released its first CD “Get Out!” and that included one-half original music, but was true to what members have previously said was their roots call.
The band’s members are Paul DeMark, drums; Ross Rowley, bass; Steve Irwin, guitar; and Dave Ryan, piano and keyboards.
All four contribute vocals.
The Delta Nationals will perform on Saturday night as part of the benefit for the North Coast Preparatory and Performing Arts Academy’s International Travel Exchange Program.
The event will be held at the Bayside Grange and will begin with a 5:30 p.m. wine-tasting, hors d’oeuvres and bidding for a silent auction, with live music from the NPA Chamber Ensemble.
Dinner will begin at 6 p.m. – a home-cooked French dinner by NPA teacher and Chef Marceau Verdiere and Lauren Sarabia of Comfort of Home Catering.
Rhythmically Challenged will perform a swing dance after dinner and then The Delta Nationals will begin at 8:30 p.m.
Tickets are $35 and available only in advance or by reservation. Seating is limited to 150. Phone Nancy Stephenson at (707) 826-0102.
Admission for the Nationals’ dance only will be $10 and $8 for children and seniors.
The Delta Nationals’ second set will be newly written original songs.
Recording for a new album will begin with producer Tim Gray in May.
The new songs go into new territory, such as reggae, Brazilian bossa nova and English-styled rock.
The 13 new songs also spring from individual band members’ own lives.
“It’s teamwork, because that’s what a band is,” Rowley said. “I don’t come in as a solo songwriter. … I have the core of the song. It’s their job to add the color.”
DeMark wrote two songs with Irwin, including “Everlasting,” which is largely highlighted by Ryan’s piano accompaniment.
It is a ballad and it steps out of what, perhaps, is The Delta Nationals’ expected style.
“It’s about a relationship, where people are in love and wonder if it’s going to be everlasting,” DeMark said.
He referred to the song as a “Memphis soul-style ballad.”
Rowley said that all members inject a variety of music styles in the new songs.
“Paul has a rhythm-and-blues background, whereas Steve has a country background (and) Dave, he’s bringing in a full-fledged bossa nova,” Rowley said.
“Where does that fit with country, I don’t know. I just write blatant pop tunes.”
“Up From New Orleans” has a pivotal character that might be considered rather tasty.
‘It’s about food,” Irwin said.
Rowley wrote the song and agreed about Irwin’s perception of it.
The song is about a woman, actually, but she is defined by the food.
“ … She makes me Crawfish Gumbo/with rice and red beans/Fried green tomatoes and collard greens/She’s my kind of woman/ Up from New Orleans. …”
DeMark said that 10 of the band’s 13 new songs have been written in the past six months.
He said there was somewhat of a sense of urgency, at least for him, after Irwin had suffered from a mild heart attack.
“If not now, when?” DeMark said. “We’ve been together five-and-a-half years without really sitting down and saying we’re going to go in a different direction.”
Irwin said that exploring new styles of music is a “more direct” way to express the music, rather than necessarily adopting a classic style as the vehicle.
‘We’re not going to be defined simply by classic American music styles,” he said. “We’re just broadening our approach.”
Ryan said that the band began with the intent to perform “classic American music.”
“Suggesting playing anything later than 1969 would be soundly rejected,” he said. “When the band played College of the Redwoods 40th anniversary party in 2004, we dug up some tunes from 1964 that we felt would be fun to play for that event. Two of those happened to be a British pop-rock tune and a Tom Jones tune – “It’s Not Unusual” – two songs we would have never considered before. But they both ended up in our regular set list.
“It seems everyone in the band became more willing to play just about anything. Although our gigs still mostly showcase our good old stuff, you never know what we might pull out.”