If your in Southern California, and feel an earth-groaning rumble, dishes rattling in your cabinets, and your instincts tell you to take cover under the nearest door jam, it’s probably because The Freightshakers are playing in your neighborhood. The only choice you have is to put your boots on, and go out partying with the outlaws. This hard driving, honky-tonk group lead by Gethen Jenkins is a perfect way to spend any night, wherever it may take you.
We caught up with this hard working group last week as they performed a rare show in Los Angeles. Residing in Orange County, where the boobs are bigger, the surfing is harder, and the fans aren’t afraid of two-stepping, it isn’t difficult to understand why LA only gets a visit or two per year from these bad boys.
I originally met Jenkins at a Billy Jo Shaver concert, through a mutual friend, at The Troubadour last March. Jenkins had his arm signed that night by the Outlaw legend, and then had the signature tattooed over the very next day. I immediately liked him and couldn’t wait to hear what his band could do. Judging from his complete lack of pretension, they probably weren’t like anything we had been witnessing locally (aside from a select few). The Freightshakers had just won The Ameripolitan Award for Best Outlaw Group, an honor they share with Whitey Morgan and the 78’s, and now break out star, Margo Price. They also opened for David Allan Coe in December at the M15 saloon in Corona, and although a lot of great bands played that night, The Freightshakers brought the roof down, making it nearly impossible for Coe to follow.
About to leave for another Midwest tour that will take them through my hometown of Wichita, Ks before they end up in Texas, they grace us once again at the trendy Grand Ole Echo, in Silverlake. Unseasoned and boyish in front of the camera, they completely lacked any sense of vanity. Stasi said they were refreshing to shoot and “nervous about what to do their hands,” something I found hysterical because they are pros when holding instruments. “We’re an outlaw band, remember,” Gethen tells him. Yet when they are lined up against a wall for a photo, they immediately break into a patented Rockettes, synchronized leg kick. “They’re just really big kids,” Stasi says.
Jenkins leads the band with a strangely familiar, smoky baritone voice while David Gilliard (The Duck) on stand up bass, is a jovial contrast. The stoic, sophisticated Gary Brandin on the pedal steel is a master class in the art of subtlety. Firecracker Dale Daniel provides the classic backbeat we have come to look forward to in the California Country sound and Jeremy Long plays a mean lead guitar. Less is more with this whole band but somehow you still walk away feeling like you’ve been completely schooled on what Outlaw Music should sound like.
Post-show shenanigans with Jenkins are always anticipated. Last time we hung out with him, after a Jamey Johnson show in Anaheim, our group took over a hotel lobby, pulled off of some birthday whiskey, and talked about Country music until someone finally delivered some Mexican food around 2:00 a.m. Since I arrived a few songs into their set this time, I missed “Strength of a Woman,” Jenkins new song inspired by the relationship between Jessi Colter and Waylon Jennings. But in the way of his hospitable nature, Jenkins played a private acoustic version for me in the green room after the show, and it’s one of the prettiest things I have ever heard. When I encourage him to send it to Colter, Jenkins expresses that he is careful not to use other musicians to get ahead. “I’m just happy to be able to do what I do. I don’t want to profit off of anyone’s name or hard work.”
Someone in the group got word that DJ Harley Isaac Rother was spinning some Haggard, and off we go. Seeing the 6’5” Jenkins squeeze into the front seat of a tiny Prius is a good time in itself, but it’s hard not to adore the way he is sincerely interested in people. He asked our tiny driver about his girlfriend situation and gave him advice on how to handle blondes, seeming since that was what the guy was into.
Footsie’s is something straight out of a Bukowski story and everyone in the place looked like a cereal ad from 1975, including Rother, who we met at the entrance carrying in a crate full of vinyl. The swinging saloon doors, long bar facing the front and low padded horseshoe shaped booths was the perfect setting for some Merle memories. The girls two-stepped and twirled in our dresses, while Jenkins got to know most of the bar. Having served as a marine in Iraq, he is sensitive to his surroundings and the culture that makes up any space. He’s the kind of guy that is the first to buy a round for strangers and always sticks up for his buddies, even when they aren’t around.
Before long, Jenkins had requested a list of his favorite Merle songs, which are played between some Loretta Lynn, Buck Owens and Waylon Jennings. We talked and reminisced about country legends mostly, Jenkins still visibly upset by Haggard’s recent death. “Who is going to replace these guys? They are our bridge to the great ones before them,” says Jenkins. He acknowledges Jamey Johnson, Whitey Morgan and a few others as being “our generation of greats”, but admits that he gets disturbed at the lack of publicity these guys sometimes get. “It took Billy Jo Shaver so long and his songs influence a lot of what I do. The fact that I get to share a stage with him here and there is still unreal to me, but that won’t always be. I just want to spend every second I can with these guys.” The Freightshakers have a show scheduled the following week with Shaver in Orange County.
We all agree with him and that feeling has definitely been superabound since Merle cancelled his first show in Los Angeles this year because of his health. But now that it’s been said, I couldn’t help but think about where we were. As a long time fan of the Outlaw genre, I never imagined I would be sitting in a hipster Los Angeles bar listening to a guy wearing a righteous Afro spin Merle Haggard on vinyl. So, maybe there’s hope for this music, even without big radio play. After too many IPA’s and swirls on the tiny dance floor, Silver Wings by Haggard comes on, as requested by Jenkins. We remove our hats, set them in the middle of the table and end our night in silence.
Article by Bylle Breaux / Photos by Matt Stasi
Published in National Country Review