A FEW MINUTES WITH: Barton Davies of Boy Named Banjo

December 14th, 2017, 1:30 pm by Greg

By Don Wilcock

“I’ve always wondered what the future is holding for me,” sings Barton Davies on “The Road Ahead” from the group Boy Named Banjo’s 2014 sophomore album Long Story Short. “I started writing that song as a freshman in college, at a time where I guess I was really thinking about what am I gonna do with my life. Who am I? Who am I gonna marry? What lies in store for me?”

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The Nashville-based quintet – headlining at Caffe Lena in Saratoga Springs on Saturday night (December 16) as part of the Caffe’s Bright Series – has come a long way in the intervening four years. They’ve played the vaunted Bonnaroo music festival, signed with one of the most respected talent agencies, William Morris Endeavor, and expect to be signed by a major record label for their fifth release next year. In the meantime, four of the members of this young group that Sonicbids calls “Tennessee’s Americana apostles” have graduated or are about to graduate from college.

Davies who plays banjo and guitar is the fulcrum of this band that is built on a solid foundation of bluegrass, but this is not your wannabe Bill Monroe clone. In fact, Davies compares the group to The Eagles rather than the Avett Brothers, a label they were handed by The Tennessean newspaper early on. He would like to see the group break into the country music charts. Their excellent three-part harmonies and arrangements include more than a dollop of rock guitar and Bob Dylan harmonica licks. Their songwriting is contemporary and timeless at the same time, wistful and exceptional.

Davies’ foundation is traditional. He grew up listening to his dad play banjo every Saturday morning, and his senior thesis in college was on the late three-time Grammy Award winner John Hartford, the eccentric fiddle and banjo player who regularly performed his hit “Gentle on My Mind” on both “The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour” and “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour” back in the ’60s.

“I studied American studies with a focus on American music and actually wrote my senior thesis on Hartford. He was one of the first banjo musicians that my dad showed me when I was first starting out on the banjo. I immediately fell in love with him.”

It may be unusual for an Americana act to have four members with college degrees, but Davies says the experience was worth it and that his research on Hartford helped him to decide on a career in music. “He had one foot in the past, but he was also wild and crazy, and just didn’t care what other people thought of him. I thought that was really cool, and that’s sort of how everyone should be. That’s why John Hartford was so interesting to me, but I learned a lot in the process of researching him.

“I wouldn’t change a thing about what I studied. I loved it, and it’s really cool because everyone in the band has a different background. William (Reames on vocals, guitar and harmonica) is a natural resources major. So, he studied rocks and trees. I don’t know anything about that, but he can get into the detail if it. Willard (Logan on vocals, acoustic and electric guitar, and mandolin) went to the University of Tennessee in Knoxville and studied business. He still has a year to do at Chapel Hill, and he was a performance music major, I believe. Sam (McCullough on vocals, drums and percussion) also went to UT Knoxville and studied business.
Ford Garrard (vocals and bass) went to the University of North Carolina for music. So, it’s kinda funny. We have this eclectic group of guys with different histories and backgrounds.”

Expect to hear new songs Saturday night from a band that’s hot on Spotify and ready to record their next album for a major label. “I think our goal with this album is to record these songs we’ve been playing live and maybe vamp them up a little bit on the production side and maybe pitch a few of these songs to country radio if we could just squeeze in there. I don’t wanna be the next Florida Georgia Line or anything. There is no definition of country music these days. I just wonder how the country music world would accept us, or if they would not.”

“The road is mighty long/With twists and turns, rights and wrongs/The road ahead goes on and on/But at the end, you’ll be home/But at the end you’ll sing this song.”

That road is a lot clearer to Davies now than it was when he wrote that song. “Oh, absolutely. Yeah, I’m in it for the long run now. We all are. At that point in your life you know what you want, but you really don’t know who you are as a person yet. We all couldn’t just hang it up for good, so we just kept on doing what we love to do, and once we got to the point where we were graduating, all of us were kind of thinking in the back of our heads, ‘Is this really gonna work?’ But we made it happen so far, and I think that’s really cool.”

WHO: Boy Named Banjo
WITH: Richie & Rosie
WHERE: Caffe Lena, Saratoga Springs
WHEN: Saturday (December 16), 8pm
HOW MUCH: $18 in advance; $20 at the door