The Moss Brothers Band
Interview by Luc Brunot.
Original version of the interview published in Bands Of Dixie #55 (March - April 2007)
What a pleasant surprise was this first Moss Brother's album. We wanted to meet Jeff and Troy to learn more about this combo coming out of the Great West. Originating from the South, it remains attached to it, particularly to New Orleans, who inspires his music. Long life to the Moss Brothers Band!
Hello the Moss Brothers,
How many Moss brothers? Others brothers or sisters than Jeff, Troy, Billy and Pat?
Troy: There are only 3 brothers. Pat Moss [Editor's note: guitarist on Rebel Storm's "Stormin' South"] is actually not related. Quite a coincidence.
Jeff: I'm sure my parents would tell you three boys were enough! We fought like hell when we were kids and always seemed to be in some kind of trouble. Our mother was very thankful when we started directing all that energy toward music.
Are you parents musicians?
Jeff: our mother plays the piano and had an old guitar that the three of us learned to play on. One day when we were young Billy and Troy were fighting and Billy grabbed that guitar and smacked Troy a good one with it. That broke the guitar but we fixed it with some duct tape and continued to play it!
Troy: Our dad loved music, especially country music. He liked Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings and Hank Williams Jr. I also remember him listening to Greg Allman's version of Midnight Rider. I think this helped shape the musical direction we would take later on.
Could you tell us about the musical story of the younger days of the Moss brothers?
Jeff: The three of us learned to play guitar when we were growing up in rural south Alabama. We lived way out in the country and there were hardly any other kids around so we played guitar quite a bit together and basically taught each other how to play. We got to be pretty good pickers for our age. On winter evenings Troy and I used to walk a quarter of a mile up the road to our friends house (on the red clay road that inspired the song) and play guitars with their Dad, Grandfather, and some other gentlemen drinking strong smelling liquor out of mason jars.
Troy: That is where we were introduced to a certain "glaucoma medication". They liked to play with us because we taught them how to play "Lay Down Sally". We played the Eric Clapton version and did not know that this was an old J.J. Cale song. We also taught them how to play "Gimme Three Steps". They taught us a bunch of Merle Haggard and Hank Williams songs.
We really learned by sibling rivalry! Billy and Jeff talked our grandfather into buying me a bass guitar for my birthday, I was not pleased at all, but at least we had a bass player for the band. Kevin Dale taught me how to play "Stranglehold" on it.
I've read that the Moss Brothers Band was formed in 1980. Who were the members and how old were you?
Jeff: We moved from Mobile, Alabama to Puyallup, Washington when we were teenagers and started the Moss Brothers Band shortly after that. Talk about a culture shock. We had southern accents so thick no one could understand us. Troy was probably 14, I was 15 or 16, and Billy was 17. Our first drummer was a guy named J.D. Poach. The last time I saw him was when I was living in Orlando, Florida. Billy came down to stay with me and we drove up to Jacksonville, Florida to visit J.D.
Did the band exist from 1980 to today?
Troy: No, there were many different versions of the band. The original lineup was the only one with all three brothers. Former members of the band include Bobby Nesbit [Editor's note: Rebel Storm's drummer] and David Smith [Editor's note: current band's drummer]. Speaking of Bobby, someone recently emailed me an old picture of him from the late 80's or early 90's. He had the biggest hair you have ever seen!! I would send you the picture but I think I'll use it for blackmail. Anytime there were two of us brothers playing together we would call it The Moss Brothers Band.
Was it always the same musical style?
Jeff: The original lineup was a Southern Rock band. We played Skynyrd, Hatchet, 38 special, and Allman Brothers songs and were just starting to write some of our own music. Billy and Troy had a great version of the band that played blues including a great deal of original music. Dave Smith and Phil Suggs were in that band.
How were you brought to play Southern rock at this era?
Troy: We just didn't sound right playing Polka! Jeff and I were just writing songs for fun without consciously trying to sound Southern or Southern Rock, I think it is the combination of our influences that makes our songs Southern Rock. We did however purposely avoid playing blues.
How long id the current lineup?
Troy: The current lineup has been together for about one year now. Kevin started playing with us in October of 2005 and Dave came on board in March of 2006 about 3 weeks before we recorded "Royal Orleans".
How did you meet Kevin Dale (bass) and David Smith (drums)?
Jeff: Kevin grew up playing bass in the Puyallup area and we have known him forever. Kevin is a great all around musician and I have always wanted to play in a band with him. Troy and I originally wrote and performed the songs for "Royal Orleans" on acoustic instruments. We knew that Kevin had an upright bass and thought it would fit in well with our music. Well, it took us a long time to track down Mr. Dale and by the time we did he had sold that bass! I know Dave Smith from Billy. They played quite a bit together in the blues clubs. When Dave was in the Moss Brothers with Billy and Troy I had the pleasure to sit in with them several times and was always impressed with how Dave is always "deep in the pocket".
Troy: Jeff and I are really fortunate to have such an outstanding rhythm section playing with us. Playing with these guys is effortless. They really understand the "New Orleans Groove" we are going for.
What are their musical careers?
Troy: They both have played on a professional level for many years, touring and recording a variety of musical styles. That experience and versatility really makes a huge impact on our songs.
Why did it took so long to record a CD?
Troy: Jeff and I just found ourselves sitting on a pile of good songs that we wanted people to hear, at a time in our lives when we could devote the many hours necessary to a project of this magnitude.
Jeff: This project has had a life of its own. Troy and I wrote these songs and performed them occasionally as an acoustic duo before we hooked up with Kevin and Dave. People were very enthusiastic about the songs and kept encouraging us to record them. So Troy and I put together a studio at my house intending to record some demo's to give out to friends and family. "Collard Greens" is one of the songs from these sessions and that is why Dave and Kevin do not play on that recording. We wanted to add Drums and Bass to some of the other songs such as "Plantation" and "Southern Son". One thing lead to another and the result is "Royal Orleans".
How do you define the style of the band?
Jeff: I think we sound like a cross between Bill Monroe and Dr. John after being run over by the Lynyrd Skynyrd train. We are very much influenced by the rhythms from New Orleans. The song "Royal Street" is a good example of the "second line" grove that is pure New Orleans. Kevin calls our style "Alabama Soul". There is a definite southern accent in our music. Because we are brothers, our vocal harmonies just come together naturally and are a key component of our sound. In addition the dobro and mandolin add an organic component that we continue to leverage.
Who are the musical influences of the musicians?
Troy: My biggest influence has come from Allen Collins and Ronnie Van Zant from Lynyrd Skynyrd. The open G tuning of Keith Richards and Lowell George has had a big impact on my guitar playing. The influence that has really shaped my approach to songwriting is The Band, they may be from Canada but "The Weight" and "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" are southern songs.
Jeff: I like all types of music and therefore my influences are very diverse. Jerry Douglas is without a doubt the greatest dobro player on the planet.
Troy and I were very inspired by Allison Kraus + Union Station featuring Jerry Douglas when we were writing songs for the CD. We love bluegrass music and this inspired us to take up dobro and mandolin. I'm very moved by slide guitar and the New Orleans style of music and therefore enjoy Little Feat, Ry Cooder, and Bonnie Raitt. The Band has also been an influence and their work with the Tower of Power Horns and Alan Toussaint connect them to New Orleans as well. Finally, I'm a total Allman Brothers fanatic! My favorite line up is the one with Dickey, Warren, and Woody. Emmylou Harris, Motown, Jack Bruce and John Entwhistle influence Kevin. The Drummers that have inspired Dave are Ginger Baker, John Bonham and Carmine Appice.
Did you write the songs especially for the CD or are they old songs?
: We wrote these songs as a collection that all fit together. The only exception is "A Little Lovin'" which originally appeared on the Rebel Storm CD "The Hard Way". Troy and I came up with a totally different arrangement build around the "open G" acoustic guitar part that the piano plays over. It was also a good vehicle for Troy and I to sing a duet. We had several other songs written but decided to leave them off the CD because they did not fit the theme. One of these, "Once in a Blue Moon" can be heard on GarageBand.com
: We began writing a lot together in'03 without intending to record a CD.
Could you tell us about the recording sessions?
Jeff: We recorded half of the CD with Joe Riggio at House of Sound, and half at the studio Troy and I put together we call "Dapper Dan" with Kevin producing. Joe is a vintage gear fanatic and one of the great things about recording there is we get to use all his wonderful instruments. I recorded "Red Clay Road" with Joe's '64 Gibson Hummingbird.
Troy: I used his '51 Fender Nocaster, previously owned by Willie Nelson, his '62 Stratocaster and 1918 Gibson Mandolin for many of the songs and Kevin used his '65 Fender Jazz Bass. These instruments helped us get that "old school", organic sound that fits the songs so well. We recorded all the basic tracks in one day at House of Sound, and overdubbed electric guitar and mandolin there as well. The vocals, dobro, and acoustic guitars were recorded at Dapper Dan as well as the final mix down we did with Billy and Vadim.
Is there a main singer? How to know who sings on each song?
Troy: Jeff sounds like me with my nuts in a vice!
Jeff: Well, I'd be very happy if Troy would sing lead on all the songs! The general rule is the primary songwriter sings lead. One exception is "Collard Greens". I was the primary writer but felt it was a better vocal for Troy and allowed me to sing the harmony. I sing lead on "Red Clay Road", "Harpers Creek", and parts of "Little Lovin". Troy sings lead on the others.
As it is written in the booklet, the music of the disc is inspired by New Orleans and your ties with the Deep South. What are these ties?
Jeff: Troy and I have fallen in love with the city of New Orleans. We have been making pilgrimages every few years and are very inspired by the culture, music, food, and history. The song "Royal Street" tells that story. New Orleans is very unique to the United States in that it was settled as the eastern most port of French colonial agriculture operations. In addition, when France was defeated by the British in Canada, the French Canadians migrated to New Orleans, the only other French colony in North America. Those people were called the Acadians and from them descended the "Cajuns" of the Louisiana Bijou. [Editor's note: A language distortion transformed Acadian into cadian, Cajun then. Coming to New Orleans, these people have taken refugee in bayou and have colonized the entire south of New Orleans.]
Troy: Jeff and I were born in Mobile Alabama, another former French colony. All of our kin on our fathers side still reside in the south, in fact our last family reunion took place in New Orleans.
How are the sales of "Royal Orleans"?
Troy: Much better than we could have ever hoped for. Billy talked us into pressing twice the number we had planned. He told me "this music is better than you think it is and people in Europe are going to love it". If sales continue at the current pace, we will do another pressing before the end of the year. [Editor's note: 2007]
Are you touring intensely?
Jeff: We have been spending most of our time promoting the CD and booking shows for the spring and summer. Troy and I have also been going through a very creative period and have a half a dozen new songs. I think these are our best songs to date because Kevin and Dave have provided a great deal of input.
What kind of venues: bars? Clubs? Festivals?
Jeff: All of the above. Seattle is very famous for the amount of rain we receive. However, during the summer months we are blessed with blue skies and there are many outdoor festivals that we plan to play.
Where? Around the Washington state or always in the USA?
Jeff: We play primarily in Washington state but will be playing down in Oregon as well. We would love to play in Europe if the opportunity presents itself. Maybe this fall?
What does your audience look like?
Troy: There are an amazing amount of people that come to our shows that also saw us in the early '80's. We are rapidly gaining a following of all ages and all walks of life.
Do you play the same music than the one on your disc? Some covers? What is the set-list?
Troy: we play our original material and add in a few covers. We play a "Cajun" version of "Jambalaya" by Hank Williams, a killer version of "The Weight" by The Band, "Willin" by Little Feat and a "twangy" version of "Let it Bleed". We also play "Drinkin' Muddy Water" a song I wrote that appeared on the Rebel Storm album "Stormin' South".
Jeff: For an encore we usually play "Sweet Home Alabama". Many bands play this song, but it has a special meaning for us because Troy and I were born in Alabama and we play it very true to the original version.
Troy, why didn't you play on the first Rebel Storm's CD and were you on the second?
Troy: Billy really wanted me to... and I nearly did. I didn't want to interfere with the band and the chemistry they had together.
Jeff, didn't you have an opportunity to play in Rebel Storm?
Jeff: At the time I was taking a break from playing to focus on my family, besides they had a great band put together!
What are your main memories on the road?
Jeff: The road goes on forever.
Are you all only playing with the Moss Brothers Band or do you have parallel projects?
Troy: That Kevin will play with anybody, anytime, anywhere! He loves jammin' like a dog loves a bone, though he does make us his first priority. He recently performed on and produced a CD by Country artist Carry Cunningham. I also played mandolin on that CD. Billy has asked Jeff to help with production on the next Rebel Storm recording, and I am hoping to play a little guitar with them.
Therefore, not many things. Do you spend virtually all your professional time with the Moss brothers Band?
Troy: This band takes up all of our time! Besides rehearsing and gigging, the business end requires constant attention from both of us and is becoming nearly a full time job.
How is the musical life in your area?
Jeff: For the most part dominated by dance oriented music, classic rock, and blues. We have had an enormous amount of positive response to our performances and I'm confident that we are going to change some thinking around here.
After this disc, what are the projects for the Moss Brothers Band?
Jeff: Our new material is better than anything we have ever done and we would really like to record again this year. I'm playing electric guitar on several of the new songs so they have a little bit more energy and edge. I'm a big fan of digital downloads and have been toying with the idea of releasing a couple songs at a time for download only and not release a CD.
Your brother Billy had a heart attack last summer. How is his health?
Jeff: Billy is better than ever. Troy and I were on vacation together with our families when we were notified of Billy's heart attack. We cut our trip short and were in his room when he woke up after surgery. We stayed by his side until he was released from the hospital. I have a phobia about hospitals and Billy keeps telling me the only reason I stayed with him in the hospital is that I'm up next for a heart attack (I'm the middle brother) and want him to stay with me when I have mine. We are very grateful to Billy for helping us create and promote "Royal Orleans".
Troy: When the doctors did the bypass surgery they used the artery of a Sumatran Rhinoceros, which really improves the blood flow!
As I know, he has reformed Rebel Storm. Do you have some info about that and about a new record?
Troy: Billy has been helping us promote the CD and I talk to him just about every day. He is working hard on new material and will be returning to House of Sound in March. They have their work cut out for them to surpass "The Hard Way" which will be re-released very soon, but I'm confident that they will.
What are your favorite Southern rock albums?
Troy: With out a doubt "One More From The Road" by Skynyrd, "Strikes" by Blackfoot, and "Waitin' for Columbus" by Little, Lowell George's slide, Tower of Power Horns, and the New Orleans sound just "knocks me out".
Jeff: This is my favorite question. "Rockin' into the Night" by .38 special is my favorite Southern rock album of all time. Don Barns and Jeff Carlisi were on fire!! I also have to include "Seven Turns" by the Allman Brothers. This is my favorite lineup for the band and Warren Haynes' slide solo on the title track is arguably one of the best slide solos in history.
Well, I'm very interested with your answer about "Rockin' Into The Night", which is also my favorite 38 Special's album. But here, in Bands of Dixie, it seems I'm the only one with this preference: most seems to prefer "Wild-Eyed Southern Boys". Why this preference for "Rockin' Into The Night"?
Jeff: "Rockin' into the night" is less commercial, more raw and more "rootsy" than "Wild eyed Southern Boys". How can you beat Stone Cold Believer, You're the Captain, and Robin Hood? Definitely a Southern Rock album, with guest appearances by Billy Powell and Dale Krantz.
Kevin Dale - Dave Smith - Jeff Moss - Troy Moss