The following appeared in the September 7, 2000 edition of CityBeat.
Pike's Peak: Pike 27 are at the forefront of a thriving local Roots Rock scene
INTERVIEW BY MIKE BREEN
While Cincinnati has seen a few genres of music rise in fall in popularity over the past several years, Roots Rock long has been a part of local music in one form or another. Everything from Pure Prairie League to the Ass Ponys could, in some ways, be defined as such, providing the city with a constant stream of organic, traditonally based Rock with an Appalachian aftertaste (sometimes subtle, sometimes blatant).
But in the past few years, it seems that Roots Rock is especially strong in the city, with groups like Big In Iowa, The Stapletons and Pike 27 drawing increasingly large audiences on a regular basis. Given the popularity of Bluegrass these days, as well as Cincinnati's equally strong Bluegrass and Rock scenes, Roots Rock seems like a logical progression.
Pike 27 formed almost literally from the synergy between the Bluegrass and Rock scenes. Bassist Jon Weisberger has played Bluegrass with acts like Union Springs and Prospect Hill, while guitarist Bob Sheets laid it down with the acclaimed Bluegrass Convention. Dave Purcell also has been a part of the local Bluegrass scene, but he's played with Rock bands like Holsum and several groups in the Chicago area. Drummer Adam Renchen was a member of the popular Rock act Papertown.
All of the varied influence and experience produces a band that knows its history but is also hellbent on kicking it up a notch, making for a raucous live show in the vein of Jason and the Scorchers or Steve Earle.
Purcell says when he formed the band just over a year ago, the group's sound developed naturally, but he still had a pretty clear idea of what kind of band he wanted.
"It was definitely meant to be a Roots Rock band from the start," he says. "My heroes are folks like Jason and the Scorchers, Steve Earle, Dylan, Richard Thompson, etc., and I've been writing songs in that vein and playing in those sorts of bands for years."
Purcell says there aren't many local players who have the chops to pull off the Country side of things but who can also rock out.
"That's why I was glad to have Jon come along, who's been playing Bluegrass and Country since the early '70s," he says. "And to find Adam, who likes the same stuff I do. Bob was a great find, because he was just starting to get into the more Rock side of things and he's having a blast. It's a rare combo of guys who can play both sides of the line."
Purcell says that the connection between Rock and Bluegrass is getting stronger as younger people are starting to show interest in Bluegrass. Still, there are some fundamental differences between the two scenes.
"I think the Bluegrass scene is a little more tight knit, partially because all the musicians have played together so often," Purcell says. "Because so much of the music is cover materal, everyone knows the same songs, and it's not unusual for them to get a call and go sit in with someone at the last minute. It's not like I could go sit in with (an original Rock act) and know all their songs."
Another big difference - besides the fact that Bluegrass folks often have steady paying gigs - is just the general approach to music, Purcell says.
"Coming from the Clifton/Indie Rock side of things, the last thing I want to do is sound like someone else," he says. "But in Bluegrass, playing it just like Ralph Stanley or Bill Monroe is something to shoot for. It leads to some interesing discussions in practice, that's for sure."
Purcell says the music's current popularity is just part of a natural, cyclical process. He feels that about every 10 years or so, there's a Roots Rock revival of some sort, from The Byrds to Gram Parsons to The Blasters to the current resurgence led by bands like Son Volt and The Jayhawks.
"Maybe it's just like every other musical genre that comes and goes every so often," he says. "Ultimately, I think too many people are afraid to admit that they like anything that sounds like real Country music - they don't want the hillbilly or white trash associations, which is garbage - for it to ever stay on a high level of popularity for good. I'm amazed at how many folks hear our more Country-ish stuff and say, 'I don't like Country music, but I liked that one song you did.' Ditto with, say, Dylan or Springsteen's more Country-ish songs. But even when the popularity goes away, the music is still there."
The tight collective of local Roots bands in Cincinnati right now does bode well for the music's future locally. Purcell - who also runs an excellent, insightful Roots Web site at http://w3.one.net/~newport/ - says that keeping the "competiton" close and supportive is the key to making the scene continue to grow.
"The main thing we need to keep the Roots scene healthy and growing is to keep working together," he says. "All of the bands draw from different demographics and different parts of the area. The more we work together, the more people will see good bands they might not have seen otherwise. Big In Iowa, for instance, draws more from the Hamilton area than we do. The Stapletons have a younger following. Eddie Cunningham (of Prospect Hill, among other groups) has a more Bluegrass following. The more we all work together, the more those crowds are going to grow."
PIKE 27 will perform at The Comet
Oct. 8 as well as at the Planned Parenthood Rock for Choice benefit at the Southgate
House Oct. 21.