California Swampgrass might seem like a weird name for a Santa Cruz band, as there are no swamps around these parts, but the members of the California Swampgrass Band have in fact spent their fair share of time in the Georgia swamplands, playing traditional bluegrass.
“We’ve all experienced that Georgia thing. It’s kind of a way of life. There’s something about it that makes you play kind of different,” says guitarist Curtis Leslie. “It’s helped our playing to create a more authentic sound.”
Their story began some years back when they met Larry Gillis, a Georgian bluegrass musician well-known in the ’80s as one half of the Gillis Brothers. Leslie describes him as the real deal.
“He lives in the rural parts of Georgia. He’s in the swamps, and he’s an alligator farmer, and hunts snakes and fishes and eats all the food that he catches. He’s kind of a swamp person. So he created this band called Swampgrass,” Leslie says.
Leslie, his wife, and their circle of musician friends have travelled to Georgia to play with Gillis. Leslie even filmed a documentary on him, which sells well at festivals back east. At some point it occurred to Gillis and Leslie that this group of players could be his West Coast backing band, hence the California Swampgrass Band.
After doing this for a couple of years, the California Swampgrass Band decided to start playing shows the rest of the year without Gillis—though they still play with him when he comes to town. The only difference in the lineup is that they add Linus Tremaine to play banjo.
“We’re really true to the form of what we’re portraying of bluegrass people from the ’50s and ’60s. And we try to have a little flair of that Georgia sound,” Leslie says.
INFO: 9 p.m. Thursday, May 28. Crepe Place, 1134 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz. $8. 429-6994.