The Mississippi Delta is hallowed ground in the world of the blues. From Robert Johnson and Howlin’ Wolf to B.B. King and Jimmy Rogers, you would be hard-pressed to find a state more steeped in the traditions of the genre than the Magnolia State. And that’s to say nothing of its rock 'n’ roll proclivities; some guy named Elvis was born there and all. Building off this Mississippi juju is a hot-lick quartet from Natchez called Bishop Gunn.
“Natchez is an old city, 302 years old, in fact,” says Travis McCready, the band’s sturdy-voiced vocalist. “We walked around town a lot and took our band name right off of an old tombstone in the city cemetery.”
Comprising friends and longtime musical cohorts, the band — McCready, drummer Burne Sharp, bassist Ben Lewis and guitarist Drew Smithers — is riding a wave of positive momentum spurred on by the release of Natchez, their conveniently titled debut album. Consisting of 11 smoky, swamp-influenced tunes, the album entered the Billboard Blues chart at No. 4 while amassing a bevy of critical acclaim from established media outlets.
Like the barn burners of yore, McCready & Co. have spent most of their existence as a band out on the road, playing towns and cities both on and off the beaten path.
“Our third, fourth and fifth shows were actually performed on the Kid Rock Cruise," McCready says with a hint of astonished wonder. “Everyone had been around each other for a bit, so that made the rush of it all easier to handle.”
(Rock, by the way, hosts a yearly serving of music and bacchanalia aboard a cruise vessel each spring.)
This summer, Bishop Gunn has held court at Midwest music festivals, hallowed Southern venues and will add their name to the marquees of some of the Pacific Coast's finest establishments before year’s end.
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“I like all the songs we recorded on the album. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have included them,” McCready offers when asked to assess how the live show comes together. “We’re such a live band so I wouldn’t want to put something on a record that I wouldn’t want to play at a show.”
On the road, the band embraces the rich cultural heritage their home region has amassed. From playing sweat-soaked, crowd-hollering raucous shows to name-checking other kindred bands of importance, McCready seeks to affirm the blues tradition.
“Our logo and cymbals are that of the Natchez Indians, who were around prior to the French settlement in the early 18th century. We’re really committed to our culture,” he adds with pride.
Another notch in the band’s collective belt was added when they were granted the opportunity to record eight tracks, four of which were included on Natchez, at the iconic Muscle Shoals and FAME studios in northern Alabama.
“The history there is truly present,” McCready says. “Being there brought out the pros in us. We were pretty tight as a band going in, but something special happened there. It was a time to step up your game, and it definitely brought out the best in us.”
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The members now reside in a farmhouse out in the middle of the Tennessee countryside. Their accommodations include a built-from-scratch home studio, which the band utilizes for a bulk of their recordings. What the homestead does not feature are many of the modern amenities we all tend to take for granted.
“There’s no TV allowed at the house,” McCready chuckles. “For a while, there was no cellphone reception or Wi-Fi either. It kept us isolated and focused on creating the album, though it also had the benefit of us having to make constant conversation.”
That type of isolation is how Bishop Gunn’s heroes drew focus and inspiration. It’s only fitting that the four friends follow suit in their methods.
Bishop Gunn open for The Marcus King Band at 7 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 26 at The Cambridge Room at House of Blues, 2200 N. Lamar Street. Tickets are on sale now at livenation.com.