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Blues Redeem Me: GravelRoad And The Reykjavík Grapevine

Blues Redeem Me: GravelRoad And The Reykjavík Grapevine

Words by
Photos by
Anna Domnick

Published October 19, 2015

The scores of shitty decisions I made during my fevered dream of a run as editor of this beloved magazine sometimes haunt me. On the bright side, I hired and trained the staff that would see this magazine into solid stewardship. On the down side, I fired a lot of good people, I consumed something called Smirnoff Ice on a spring night, and I once spent money we didn’t have to fly our exhausted asses to Orlando so that we could drive a PT Cruiser to New Orleans to cover Hurricane Katrina. Why would an Icelandic travel magazine cover Hurricane Katrina, you ask? I don’t have a great answer. I wish I could blame a Montessori education, but I was raised on public school discipline with a focus on fear over creativity.

When I was destroying this paper by dragging a shitty car through the Mississippi Delta, having fled New Orleans due to gun shots, the literal fucking smell of death, and overwhelming indignation—what does a bratty journalist do in the face of true suffering and abandonment, when it’s time to drop the pen and pick up a shovel?—we turned to a search of the American bluesman scene. R.L. Burnside had just died, and I thought maybe we could talk to his peers. David “Honeyboy” Edwards had just visited Iceland, so octogenarian bluesmen were on the mind.

Enter T Model Ford. James Lewis Carter Ford, then guesstimated to be 88, was famous with a booking agent, etc., but that didn’t stop him from showing up at Red’s juke joint in Clarksdale, Mississippi, where he was promised $200 cash and a pint of Jack Daniels.

For six hours, we talked. He told me about the time his dad beat his testicle off, for example, and he also explained how he held women’s breasts properly. He told me I had the devil in me, which was a surprising thing to hear from a man who had committed murder and served time on a chain gang. We drank moonshine, and we listened to our new friend T Model perform his raucous electric guitar and drum blues to a crowd of three dozen blues aficionados. The music was fascinating—expressive to its core, exciting, full-throated. It is a night I will never forget, and having made countless bad decisions in life, I somehow came out of that night with a feeling of redemption through art.

GravelRoad

Fearless ‘Road

The Grapevine survived my bullshit better than I did. So it was years after my wanderings before I started to get my bearings. One night after a long day in an American office I shared with a collector of unicorn lamps and electric blankets, I met with the one DJ in America who was interested in my music. And he also loved T Model Ford. And he turned me on to the band GravelRoad.

GravelRoad found Mr. T Model a little after I did, and they offered their services—this group of three earnest if exhausted blues fans helped T Model Ford put out his two best albums: ‘Ladies Man’ and ‘Taledragger’. As a backup band, they put T Model up front, playing tastefully, with heart, in a way very few bands have with a blues singer. They did that thing that great blues bands rarely do—they dropped their egos entirely to allow a (90-year-old!) frontman to genuinely cut loose.

This isn’t the last thing GravelRoad did, nor probably the best thing they did. American music critics love them for ‘Psychedelta’ and their almost punk-infused ‘El Scuerpo’. But when I got the T Model records, I played them relentlessly. I had the strange experience one night of explaining the importance of GravelRoad to an extremely lubricated former office co-worker who was starting a record label.

GravelRoad are now on a record label with me. Since they signed to the label I’m on, they’ve released three full-length, more and more psychedelic blues rock albums. They are fearless. They are one of the few bands with the intelligence to touch the third rail of classic rock without turning into cliché.

This October, GravelRoad will perform two shows in Reykjavík. If you’ve ever enjoyed the feeling of blues played through electric guitars, if that joy has been drained by overly rote performances by blues-by-numbers Stratocaster-bearing individuals, I can’t recommend them more highly. Their music stands on its own, and it is joyous and clean and redeeming. And of course they’ve also helped one of the great bluesmen in history, a man who once spent six hours with an editor who sent this magazine into a crazed nosedive from which it somehow recovered. God bless those who helped T Model.

Want to see GravelRoad perform? You’re in luck—they’re playing Gaukurinn this Wednesday, October 21, at 21:00! For more info, check out our listings page!


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