Talent, hard work and a certain unity of spirit are the key ingredients that make a band successful. The Desert City Ramblers possess exactly that – the shared creative vision that encompasses so much more than lyrics and chords. It’s blazingly evident on every track of their debut album that this is an outfit built to go the distance.
Each band member could be a solo force, but there’s just something about the chemistry when they play together that transcends their individual gifts. “The entire band was formed by one person knowing another, who knew another…the same way old West gangs came together back in the gunslinging days,” Brian McComas says. “Somebody knew a hired gun, who knew another player, et cetera.”
The Desert City Ramblers’ sound is hard to pin a label on. It combines a gritty Southern rock edge and blistering
musicianship with the kind of compelling storytelling that is the foundation of old school country music. McComas is the band’s lead vocalist/principal songwriter, and many of the band’s best moments, such as the infectious “Hillbilly Rollin’ Stone” and “Me and My Friends,” are anchored in his boisterous swagger.
As a former Top 10 solo artist, McComas had begun writing songs reminiscent of the ones he grew up listening to by the Allman Brothers, Roy Orbison, the Eagles and Lynyrd Skynyrd. “I went to places where I’m really comfortable: the deserts in Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada and California. I drove through all of them and literally spent some
nights out there in the bed of my truck. During that season, I felt like a ‘Hillbilly Rollin’ Stone,’ and that’s when I was able to think about the mindset of being attracted to a ‘Gypsy Angel’ or the thought process of writing something like ‘Coming Home,’” he says, referencing songs on the Ramblers’ forthcoming debut album. “All of those thoughts and sentiments were actual experiences that I’ve had over different times in my life. I was able to put them down into words, and as I did, I realized: these are not songs for a solo artist. It’s is going to take a group of musicians that relate to this lifestyle.”
McComas knew what he wanted to do: put together a band that shared the same influences that made him want to write songs in the first place.
Joining him on this latest musical effort are guitarist Scotty Bratcher, keyboard player Andy Smith, bassist Kieran Cronley, drummer Matt Salvo and guitarist Bart Walker (who also plays in Hank Williams Jr.’s band).
The band members—even 24-year-old wunderkind Cronley—all have an appreciation for ’70s era music and classic Southern rock. “They genuinely love this style of music, and that was important to us, to not get a good musician, but to get a good country and Southern rock musician,” McComas says. “There’s a different approach and a way that this style of music is played, specifically with our two guitar players.”
Award-winning Southern and Blues guitarist Bart Walker says the songs were one of the things that drew him to The Desert City Ramblers. “I just had a good feeling about it as soon as Clint [Thomas], of the bands’ record label) called me. Then, after meeting Brian and hearing the music, I was in 100%,” he says.
Bratcher echoes that sentiment. “I think at the end of the day, it’s the other members and the songs,” he says of his reasons for joining the band. “I’m really proud to be a part of both aspects. A lot of times you get one or the other, but this one is the whole package. The fact that we all come from completely different backgrounds is a big part of sounding and being unique. It’s like a good recipe, when all these ingredients that are crazy different on their own come together to make one really great thing.”
Their passion for playing bursts from the speakers on raucous anthems like “Red Moon,” a cautionary tale about a woman who may be more trouble than she’s really worth and on “Gypsy Angel,” a tour de force love song with an edge that came together uncharacteristically fast. “The title just kept coming to the forefront of my mind, and I didn’t know what I wanted to do with it. On our first tracking day, during the drive back to the studio from lunch, the melody and concept of the song came to me. It had the gritty edge we were looking for, and within an hour, the song was recorded and album ready.” “Coming Home” is a tribute to the importance of deep roots that was inspired by a trip to Las Vegas. “I was looking out the window of a hotel in Vegas, and I thought everybody comes to this town kind of like they do Nashville,” McComas says. “They have an expectation or a hope of something, whether it’s getting away from their real life, or they showed up with the last $5,000 they had to their name to try to turn it into $100,000. A lot of them go home disappointed. It’s easy to lie to yourself in cities like that, and the music business is the same way. If you don’t return home to your roots—and what really made you want to show up there in the first place—then you are going to be disappointed, because most of it is like an amusement park anyway. It’s a two-hour wait for a two-minute ride. You just want to get back home. That’s really what that song is about.”
Each song on the album is strong and brings an honest and relatable perspective. Listeners are sure to get an authentic experience when the unique chemistry of The Desert City Ramblers takes stage. Drummer Salvo is a Boston native whose stand-out skills anchor the band. Smith played in a Southern rock band before the Ramblers and brings that depth of experience to his new gig.
However, there’s no doubt this is a guitar-driven band. “Bratcher’s a great guitar player, period, but ’70s rock and Southern rock resonates with him,” says McComas. “He’ll say, ‘If it didn’t happen in the ’70s, I probably can’t tell you much about it.’ He’s only 32, but I promise you, he stepped right out of 1976.”
Walker admits there’s just a natural dynamic among the members. Bratcher agrees. “Musically, there is a very cool chemistry that happens when we just jam and make noise,” he says. “But even bigger and more importantly in my mind is the off-stage ability we have to be friends and get along when we’re right in each others’ spaces 20 hours a day.”
The Desert City Ramblers are already out on the road, taking these songs to a growing number of fans hungry for this genuine approach to music. McComas admits he couldn’t have written these songs earlier in his career, and he can’t imagine playing them with anyone else. “To be honest, I wasn’t road worthy enough to write some of this stuff 15-20 years ago. I just wasn’t,” he says. “I hadn’t experienced enough life, done enough stupid things or suffered their consequences. The second we all hit the stage, it just made sense. These players and this music came together at the right time, and we couldn’t be more excited about what the future holds for us as a band.”