Artist Feature: Will Kimbrough of Willie Sugarcapps May 26, 2015 23:02
Will Kimbrough, the Willie in Willie Sugarcapps, the Alabama coast supergroup appearing at Montgomery's Capri Theatre this Thursday, decided that he wanted to pursue a career in music on May 1, 1976. That was the night he heard Bruce Springsteen at the civic center in his native Mobile, AL. Kimbrough, 12 at the time, told himself after hearing the Boss, “This is what I am going to do.”
He was encouraged by his parents, who gave him his first guitar, and his sister, who had a “great album collection,” which included records by the Allman Brothers Band, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Willie Nelson, Jerry Jeff Walker, The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, and Seals & Crofts, among others. He was also the beneficiary of a great radio station, WABB in Mobile, that played rock and roll hits in the ‘70s.
Kimbrough learned the guitar, formed a band, and started performing as much as he could – at the skating rink, at dances, and at bar mitzvahs. By 16, he was playing with a band, Ground Zero, at clubs around Mobile, and writing his own songs. By 19, he had formed Will and the Bushmen, a rock and roll band that landed a deal with a major record label, and toured, almost incessantly, around the country, until they disbanded when Kimbrough was 30.
(Video by Phillip Sunkel - Hype Music Festivals)
Kimbrough spent the next two decades becoming the go-to sideman in Nashville. He wrote songs for Jimmy Buffet, Little Feat, and Todd Snider, among others. He recorded and toured with Emmylou Harris, Rodney Crowell, and Todd Snider, among others. He produced Doug Seegers’ gold record. While he was on tour with Emmylou, he shared the stage with Pete Seeger at the Newport Folk Festival, and played the banjo on Seeger’s “Turn, Turn, Turn,” and he saw Robert Plant dancing in the wings with his eyes closed as Kimbrough and Emmylou jammed before thousands in San Francisco.
A couple of years ago, Kimbrough made a commitment to play his own music. He still plays on other musicians’ records, but, he said, “I want to make a living doing my own stuff. I had great experiences on tour; I reached the top playing with Emmylou. But I have done that. I want to play what I believe.”
His decision was likely influenced by a performance in Silverhill, a small town between Fairhope and Robertsdale in Baldwin County. In late 2012, Kimbrough was asked by Cathe Steele to perform at the Frog Pond Sunday Social at her farm in Silverhill. Also performing that afternoon were Sugarcane Jane, a husband and wife duo comprised of former Neil Young sideman Anthony Crawford (from Birmingham) and former Nashville recording studio owner Savana Lee Crawford (from Baldwin County), singer-songwriter Grayson Capps (from Fairhope by way of Brewton, New Orleans, and Nashville) and former Black Oak Arkansas guitarist Corky Hughes (from Fairhope). From the first song they performed together, Kimbrough could tell there was “a spark, a chemistry.” When they played again at the Frog Pond, the audience got bigger, and Kimbrough “felt there was something going on.” They were asked to perform at the 30-A Songwriters Festival (if you love music and you haven’t been, you should go), and needed a name. Restauranteur Johnny Fisher (Fisher’s, Orange Beach) suggested Willie Sugarcapps. Kimbrough sometimes calls the band Willie C. Sugarcapps to account for Corky Hughes, the only member of the band who does not sing, but who plays a monster guitar.
(Video by Music Fog)
The band released its first album, the self-titled “Willie Sugarcapps,” in September 2013. The first song on the album, also titled “Willie Sugarcapps,” tells the story of a touring musician who, after having “been gone too long,” is urged to return home to perform and to share what he has learned from seeing the country. There are nine other songs on the record, including an enthusiastic “Energy,” written by Sugarcane Jane; an evocative “Mud Bottom,” written by Kimbrough about the Dog River; andan excellent “Poison,” penned by Capps. Kimbrough plays acoustic guitar, electric guitar, banjo, and mandolin on the record. The record was awarded 2013 Americana Album of the Year by the Independent Music Association, and has done “very well.”
A second Willie Sugarcapps album, recorded in Muscle Shoals, is scheduled for release in August 2015. According to Kimbrough, a couple of the songs are “heavier, darker” than what’s on the first album, while others are “pure lighthearted fun.”
Meanwhile Kimbrough has released his seventh solo album, ”Sideshow Love,” a nuanced collection of insightful songs with sharp lyrics and melodious guitar and banjo lines.
Willie Sugarcapps brings its distinctive music to Montgomery for the first time on Thursday, May 28, beginning at 7:30 p.m. at the Capri Theatre. According to Kimbrough, music fans who attend the benefit concert can expect to hear music that “is rooted in the past and embraces the future.” Tickets are available at the Capri Theatre, 1045 E. Fairview Avenue, 334-262-4858, and online at williesugarcapps.brownpapertickets.com.