““Each member of this band has enjoyed the music of the Grateful Dead for quite some time,” says vocalist and guitarist Robert Greer. “It seemed only fitting for Town Mountain to pay respect to some musical heroes in this year, their 50th year of existence.” They recorded an impromptu set of two of their favorite songs from the Grateful Dead’s catalog, “Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo” and “Big River” at the widely acclaimed Echo Mountain Recording Studios in their hometown of Asheville, NC.
This is the Grateful Dead done in Town Mountain’s hard drivin’ style filled with a honky tonk edge and barroom swagger. The resulting sound is touched by Jerry Garcia with Jimmy Martin and John Hartford… Fitting since Hartford played a short stint in Old and In The Way before Vassar Clements filled out the band on fiddle, and Garcia’s first instrument was a banjo as he was influenced by bluegrass music throughout his career. Narrowing down to just two was not an easy task for Town Mountain.
“What can I say about “Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo”? It’s just perfect. Lyrically it’s amazing,” says banjoist Jesse Langlais. “Robert Hunter can be so descriptive yet so vague in the point he’s trying to get across. Which is great for the audience because it allows listeners to choose what they want the song to be about. In my opinion that’s what a good songwriter does. He leaves the song open to interpretation.”
Langlais says, “Musically, Mississippi was extremely fun to play with exciting changes and a lot going on melodically… almost like there’s two songs in one. On the original studio version of this song Vassar Clements plays fiddle. Bobby and I tried to mimic the interplay that Jerry and Vassar had on it. This is just an amazing song, and and it made sense for us to record it because it had a bluegrass master involved. We adopted it into Town Mountain’s repertoire without changing the integrity of the song.”
“Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo” was written by Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter and originally released on Wake of the Flood in 1973. It was performed over 230 times live by The Dead over the years and the song was also the second set opener of the second night of the Fare Thee Well shows in Santa Clara this year.
“Big River” was written by Johnny Cash in 1958. But true to The Dead’s fashion they would take other people’s songs or traditional songs and make them their own. They had a knack for finding covers that were transcendent of the original artist and they played it in almost 400 live performances.
“We’ve always liked their version of country music. Even their original albums we’re steeped in that sound. Workingman’s Dead is full of country music influence,” explains Langlais. “The Dead kept the sentiment of ‘Big River’ but translated it to make an audience, who may not have known what country music was, love it. That audience for them was typically a younger more rock or jam influenced fan but they still ended up knowing the song and singing along.” “Big River” fits right into Town Mountain’s sound and wheelhouse.
The core of Town Mountain is Robert Greer on vocals and guitar, Jesse Langlais on banjo and vocals, Bobby Britt on fiddle, Phil Barker on mandolin and vocals, and Adam Chaffins on bass (Adam is featured on “Mississippi”). Evan Martin plays drums on both tracks. Jon Stickley fills in on bass and guitar in “Big River” and Jack Deveroux lays down the pedal steel on “Big River.”
For the cover art, Town Mountain turned to long time Grateful Dead artist Taylor Swope. Taylor has been creating official Grateful Dead art since the former VP of Grateful Dead Productions discovered her in a parking lot at a show in 2003 and offered her a license on the spot. Her work has become iconic in it’s own right, having become widely associated with the generations of Deadheads who have grown up in the wake of Jerry Garcia’s passing.
Riding the wave of excitement that followed Fare Thee Well where her poster was one of only four featured at both stadiums, and sharing Town Mountain’s deep appreciation for American roots music, Taylor says she “thoroughly enjoyed creating this image. I am obsessed with swimming and water in general, so when Town Mountain asked me to draw them a river with a Steal Your Face, it was a natural fit.”
Town Mountain is no stranger to playing covers, and what has become one of the group’s more memorable live performance songs is their version of Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m On Fire,” which they first recorded in 2008’s Heroes & Heretics. Town Mountain’s version “I’m On Fire” has reached over 1 Million listeners on Spotify and has garnered over 430,000 views.
Town Mountain is also prolific in songwriting; each member contributes their well-supplied vat of original material. They’ve been finalizing their next studio release which was produced and engineered by GRAMMY winner Dirk Powell in his studio, The Cypress House, in south Louisiana. For a sneak peek at what to expect on the future album, watch the band perform a new original song, “Wildbird,” in this wonderful session filmed by Hype Music Festivals at the 2015 Suwannee Springfest in Live Oak, FL → http://bit.ly/Wildbird_byTownMountain_HYPE.”