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Open Road goes for a lucky drive

By John Lupton, July 2005

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"We have a lot of friends in Northern California that are friends of the Vern Williams Band and Vern himself. When we've traveled and performed out in California in particular, we let people know how excited we are about that band and encourage people there to check it out if they haven't already heard of him or have his records, and when we're close to home, I carry a few copies of his CDs and sell them to people just to sort of evangelize, you know?"

Pausing to laugh again, Roberts goes on, "But from that, we've built a relationship with some people, where sometimes we get a box of cassette tapes of live recordings from the Vern Williams Band that just come in the mail, and so it's that kind of shared love of Vern's music that's helped us build some relationships with people...(we got a call from) an old friend of Vern's. He played bass in the band for a while, and he called up Brad one day and said 'Hey, I think I can get Vern to do a song or two with you. I heard that you're going to be in the studio'...and that's pretty cool because (Vern's) the oldest gentleman, and you meet him and talk to him, it seems like he told us, he wasn't interested in playing any music and jamming with anybody. He's done with all that, you know...(he's) a guy who's one of our great influences and heroes in the music."

That love of history and tradition in the music emerges consistently in the songs they perform on stage and on record, and a major part of that has been Folk's emergence as a gifted writer with a knack for writing songs that sound as if they could have been debuted on the Opry stage in 1935 instead of 2005.

The new disc features a pair of Folk originals, the title track and "Wanderin' Blues." Both Roberts and Folk are inveterate "tune hounds" though, searching earnestly through record stalls and cut-out bins everywhere they travel.

As on previous albums, choosing the right material for "Lucky Drive" has been a labor of love, and in some cases, Roberts says, it's just a matter of waiting to put the right song on at the right time.

"We go through a lot of material. I've been a collector of LPs for a long time, and I like to collect LPs and recordings in general...I collect a lot of recordings from musicians who I feel like are really great bluegrass singers or country or what have you, but maybe aren't as well known and stuff from the past that might have been forgotten for the most part, maybe on a smaller label that didn't get the distribution, and that's a good source of material for us. But it takes going through a lot of albums, you know, maybe a hundred albums for one song."

"So we got some songs that way, like 'Take My Hand And Tell Me.' I've had that record for years and listened to it a number of times, and every time I listen to it or an album like that, a different song will come up, and I'll say 'that might be a good one for us now', or 'that one might be good for us in a few years'. And, I share some of that with Brad, and he's doing the same thing."

"For example, about a year ago he found a collection of 78 rpm country records in a hip-hop store in Fresno, and he got about 230 (of them) for 200 bucks, and he stacked those things up in a shed and just listened to them one after the other, and that's how we found 'If I Never Have Anything Else', the Ernest Tubb song...Every now and then, we can find somebody who's heard that song. So, there's that searching through stuff that we feel like would be obscure, but yet good material."

It may be true that Open Road's strong suit is their love for bringing back to life the old and obscure artifacts from country music's forgotten closets, but Roberts is unmistakably proud that they've been able to do it in a way that keeps it fresh, not only for the audiences, but for themselves as well.

"This (album) is the best one yet, and that, too, this is an album where we did something different - record a lot of songs that we had been playing a year. A number of these we learned right as we were getting ready to record them. We feel like there's a certain spontaneity to the music and our approach and our playing it - a lot of it's new to us, and so there's a different energy of performing a song that way. And it'll also, when people come out to see us, there'll be some kind of fresh energy to us performing those songs, too, that we haven't been doing a really long time."

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