A Rising Star Feature

by Melissa Minners


            Some time ago, I was given the opportunity to review The Darndest Thing, a new album from the country blues band known as Sassparilla.  I loved the unique country/blues sound the blend of guitars, harmonica and typical bluegrass instruments like the washboard, washtub, bass and accordion made.  I recently had the chance to speak to the lead singer of the group, Kevin "Gus" Blackwell.  Here's what he had to say: 

When did you begin to realize that you wanted to have a career in music?

When I realized I would never be a firefighter, professional boxer or astronaut.  Thatís when I picked up the guitar. In retrospect, I should have been a firefighter.  24 hours on 48 hours off.  The pay is steady too. Insurance, good rig.

Some folks describe your sound as folk-rock. How would you describe your sound?

Wow.  Iíve never heard that before.  Like Dexy's Midnight Runners???  I guess thatís cool.  I love Come on Eileen.  I guess I donít know what folk-rock is.  

There are a lot of bands that are brining music back to an archetypal space.  Something that everyone can grab onto.  If that is folk-rock, then I am proud to be a part of it.  Bands like Hillstomp, McDougall, Langhorne Slim, Deer Tick, Tom Waits.  This is the music I love.  You know it, but youíve never heard it before.  Stripped down, heard through the walls.  I donít like to describe our sound because it sounds pretentious.  We most often are described as Indie Roots.  The past few records have been described as Punk Americana, Punk Blues. 

More important than how we describe our sound is the responsibility we feel to the people who listen to our music.  Times are hard right now.  When someone buys your record or comes to your show you are honored.  For that hour or hour and a half our job is to make them forget whatís happening outside of the clubÖto check their guns at the door.  So, our sound is like a temporary amnesia.  At least that is what we are aiming for.

You have such a unique sound thanks to the variety of instruments making up your music.  How did the members of the band find each other and create Sassparilla?

It was a collective vision to deconstruct and reinvent.  All of us love both new and old music.  We wanted to reconcile the two.  It helped that we all drank at the same bar.  You know how that goes.

I've always liked the drink, but why name your band Sassparilla?

It was an accident. Itís hard to talk about.  I hope you forgive me.

When some people write songs, they already have lyrics in mind and write the music around them. Some have the music and write the lyrics to fit. What is your song-writing style?

I agree with you.  Some people do this, some people do that.  Some people do both.  I guess I start with a feeling first.  I write most of the songs in the morning when I am feeling the worst about myself or things.  Iíll play the guitar and just talk about what Iím feeling.  Sometimes those feelings need to be shared and come easily to melody.  Other times, they need to go back into the guitar.  I donít get to choose which ones come out.  They tell me.  I appreciate that.  I am a poor judge of character.  I like everybody.

A lot of the songs on The Darndest Thing sound like they come from personal experiences, like Fumes and New Love.  Do most of your songs come about in this manner?

Without a doubt.  Or they come from the experiences of my friends.  I have the terrible gift of empathy.  If someone confides a feeling or an experience to me I feel it.  Viscerally. These come out in songs too.  Because the experiences of my friends impact me.

What sort of message do you hope to send with your music?

As we said before, check your guns at the door.  Lets have some fun together and forget whatís happening outside for a bit.  That is my job and my pledge to you.  Thank you for coming.

Is there anything you would like your fans to know about you that hasn't been previously revealed?

Nothing that is bursting at the seams to get out.  I really love the smell of cedar.  I love Argyle socks.  Apple T.V is much cheaper than cable.  Boxed wine is much cheaper than bottled wine.

Any upcoming recording or touring plans?

Lots of plans.  We go back in the studio in December to make our first record on Fluff and Gravy out of Portland.  Our touring will start this summer.  Both North America and Europe.

            Now that you've learned a bit about the band, why don't you head on over to and check out their music.  The unique aound of this band is captivating and their lyrics are heartfelt.  I have a feeling I'll be hearing more from this band before long.  They truly are Rising Stars.


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