Outside the Lines: Sam Doores+Riley Downing and the Tumbleweeds
Current Location: New Orleans, LA
Most Recent Release: Holy Cross Blues (2012)
For Fans of: John Fullbright, Justin Townes Earle, Ryan Bingham
Calling from a gas station somewhere out on the road, Sam Doores was gracious enough to answer a few questions about his band: Sam Doores + Riley Downing and The Tumbleweeds. They have opened for such prominent Americana acts as Alabama Shakes and The Lumineers. Doores just recently finished a tour opening for Grammy nominated Americana/folk artist John Fullbright. Fullbright, who won a Lone Star Music Award earlier this year for “Emerging Artist of the Year,” declared at a concert in Saint Louis that Doores and his band were his “favorite opening band ever.”
The band’s sound exhibits many attributes of bands in the Texas/Red-Dirt genre, ranging from The Dirty River Boys to Bingham’s Mescalito days. The rustic sound of Sam Doores + Riley Downing and The Tumbleweeds, self-described as “country soul,” not only harkens back to the country, folk, and blues sounds of the ‘60s and ‘70s, but also to the original sounds of traditional American folk music. It’s not just Waylon Jennings and Bob Dylan, it’s also Hank Williams, Woody Guthrie and Leadbelly.
Doores is a songwriter and multi-instrumentalist who played music for many years as a solo artist. Three years ago he formed a band called Sam Doores & The Tumbleweeds, but did not head into the studio until after the band added one more member, Riley Downing. Now, about a year after the release of Holy Cross Blues, the debut album by Sam Doores + Riley Downing & The Tumbleweeds, Doores chatted with me about the unique sound of the band, their recent tour with John Fullbright, and their unusually long band name.
Dallas Terry: What made you choose to play the style of music that you play?
Sam Doores: Well, just fallin’ in love with it, you know? When I was a teenager I got really into The Band and Bob Dylan, and through them you get into their influences, and you just keep going farther and farther back. And so I got really obsessed with Woody Guthrie and Hank Williams and Leadbelly and most of these guys, and it just keeps going. But I wanted to do somethin’ that people could actually dance to, not just only play coffee shops and stuff. I wanted to get a good mix in there too.
DT: So those are your main influences?
SD: Our main influences are definitely the old country-style and old New Orleans-style blues. But Otis Redding is also one of my all time favorites. Also a lot of early gospel and field recordings, you know, stuff that a lot of people would say sounds like “O Brother Where Art Thou.” We’re not strictly influenced by that movie, but the stuff that movie is influenced by is a lot of our favorite stuff.
DT: When did you add Riley Downing and how did adding him to the band come about?
SD: We were at the Woody Guthrie Festival playing, and we met Riley around a campfire. We just hit it off and played songs all night. I remember just seein’ him every year there and being more and more interested in his songwriting. Eventually we wanted to have a third member in the band who could sing and do three-part harmony stuff with us, and Riley was the first one we thought of.
DT: What has he added to the band besides vocals?
SD: His songwriting, he’s a great songwriter. He also plays rhythm guitar. He’s also part of the rhythm section so he kind of gives the songs a groove.
DT: Tell me about the recording of the first album. What was the recording process like?
SD: That album came together over a long period of time. When I first started the band, we would make home recordings, just demos to give some friends. I started doing that about three years ago, and I had a little reel-to-reel, a little tape recorder, at my house and a few of those recordings on that album are actually from that. And then eventually when we got Riley in the band and we got our stuff together, we ended up doing Kickstarter and we went into a friend’s studio in Nashville. We had to do it in bits and pieces cause we never had enough money to go in there all at once. We went in there maybe two or three times and finally this last fall we had all the recordings mixed and mastered and we put it out.
DT: Your live shows are very eccentric and organic. Was it tough to get that feeling in the studio?
SD: That’s a great question I mean, these days I’ve noticed there are a lot of great live bands who don’t have great albums out. The studio is a whole different ball game, you know? We try to do everything live as much as we can. We might have to do piano or vocal overdubs, because I can’t play piano and guitar at the same time, but we’ll do that at the end. We try to capture it all live, and have fun with it. Andrija Tokic, the guy we recorded with, he’s really good with that.
DT: You guys are recording a new album right?
SD: Yeah we’re super excited to go back in. We got a bunch of new songs. The band has really solidified since we put that last record out. We’ve done a lot of good tours so we’ve been able to work on a lot of good stuff. We’ve got enough material for two more albums probably, or three maybe. We’re supposed to go back in there in September, so we’re hopefully going to have the new record out in 2014. We’re shooting for probably February or April.
DT: You recently toured with John Fullbright. What was that experience like?
SD: Really inspiring. John is one of the most talented musicians and songwriters I’ve ever run into in our generation. He’s just a remarkable guy. We got to see him play every night and they were all super nice and fun to travel with and we had a great time.
DT: You also got to join him out on stage quite a few times. You did a song called “Can Your Monkey Do the Dog” when I saw you.
SD: That’s the great thing about John; he has really similar influences as us: 50’s R&B, all the stuff for Stax records in the early 60’s, Sun Records, Atlantic. We love that stuff. That was so much fun though. I love doing that little do-wop thing with John on piano. We were just tryin’ to be like James Brown you know? (laughs).
DT: You also got to open up for the Alabama Shakes. What was that like?
SD: Yeah, we did three weeks with them, like 11 or 12 shows. We got to play in front of thousands. It was incredible. They are one of my favorite bands right now, and a huge inspiration. I’ve never seen a band perform like that.
DT: When we talked last you mentioned that you might be changing the name of your band. Any news?
SD: We’re almost there. We’re all pretty ready to change. We’re trying to pick something everybody likes. Nothing can be as bad as Sam Doores + Riley Downing & The Tumbleweeds though (laughs).