Interview: Eric Gibson of The Gibson Brothers

Note: Read the interview with Leigh Gibson and Mike Barber.

The Gibson Brothers, Eric and Leigh, will be performing at the Poughkeepsie Day School on April 17th.  In advance of this event our News Editor, Doug Mathewson, spoke with Eric by telephone for this interview.  Enjoy!!!

Eric Gibson – Photo by Doug Mathewson

D:  We are all excited about the upcoming Gibson Brothers concert on April 17th at the Poughkeepsie Day School.  We’d like to let more people know about the Gibson Brothers.

D:  Who were the musical influences for you and your brother Leigh?

E:  Well, Junior Barber was around when we were growing up. We’d see him at local festivals.  Junior, a dobro player, who later played with us for 7 years, he was our biggest musical influence.

He taught us so much about making music, about playing our instruments to serve a song – not having the instruments compete with the vocal – but supporting the vocals. Probably the best musician I ever played with backing up the vocal.

Our teacher Eric O’Hara, great musician, he taught us for a year and a half.  He never toured much, staying local, a wonderful electric guitar player, steel player, plays anything with strings.

Dick Decosse, who owns Dick’s Country Store, is a musician we have thought a lot of. I’ve written some songs with him. He’s a good singer, plays a lot of different instruments. He encouraged us from the time we started taking lessons at his store in Churubusco, NY.

Another local guy, Doug Knight, who just passed away unfortunately, he was the first good banjo player I ever got to hear in person, the first professional level player. He was from Keeseville, N.Y.

Donny Perkins is another guy, a good fiddle player, from Plattsburgh, N.Y.

D:  Well Junior Barber is a great dobro player. Is Mike Barber, your bass player, his son?

E:  Yes, I met Mike before I met Junior. He was dating a girl who went to our school. We went to different schools. He had a day off and came to our school and I met him there.  He’s been with us now in his 17th year with our band.

D:  He looks like he’s only 17 years old!

E:  ( Laughs ) He hasn’t really changed that much. I’m a little jealous about that.

Photo by Doug Mathewson

D:  I was at your songwriting workshop at this year’s Joe Val Bluegrass Festival and was impressed with how down to earth you guys were and what a great set of personalities you and Leigh have.

E:  Well thank you. The three of us have grown up together. And Mike, we always call him the third Gibson brother. He’s such a good friend and we’ve been through all the highs and lows together. Every good thing and every bad thing that’s happened to this band he’s been there with us. We treasure Mike being a member of our band.

D:  You seem to have a lot of country music in your life that influenced your writing.

E:   We did. I still love Merle Haggard, Willie and Waylon. Even farther back I like Hank (Williams) Senior, Webb Pierce, Faron Young, Marty Robbins. We grew up listening to that stuff. Don Williams, it’s just been announced, he’s going into the Country Music Hall Of Fame–I’m so happy about that.

D:  Don Williams, “Good Old Boys Like Me.”

E:  Yeah, one of the best songs ever!

D:  And that song speaks to some of the things you speak to in your music, as in one of your songs, “Farm Of Yesterday.”

E:  Yeah, I think that’s my best piece of writing to this point. I’m very proud of that song. I’m so close to it on a personal level. Maybe it’s not as good as I think it is, but it really does seem to be connecting to people.  I look out when we’re doing it and there are tears being wiped away. I had a former farmer come up to me and for the first thirty seconds couldn’t talk to me, couldn’t get the words out. Even though it’s a personal song people have similar experiences. You’re dad didn’t have to be a farmer.

D: On the internet radio program, Bluegrass Unlimited, “Farm Of Yesterday” is number 26 on their Top 30 chart.

E:  Yeah it’s climbing. It’s not one that I thought, to be honest with you, I didn’t care that much about airplay, I just wanted to get it on that record [Ring That Bell] and right after we recorded it my dad had a heart attack and we didn’t know if he was going to make it. He hadn’t even heard the song yet.  He’s recovered and he’s doing really well. He got out of the hospital and heard it for the first time. It meant a lot to me to get it on the record.

D:  It’s a great rolling melody on that song.

E:  It’s funny how that little mandolin riff at the beginning really sets the tone too, and Joe Walsh just came up with that on the spot. And I said, “Yeah, do that!” We had never worked that one up heading into the studio. We were about a day in [to the recording process] and I woke up with that song in my head. I had written it about a year earlier. We hadn’t tried this and I showed it to my brother and he was all for it. So there was very little preparation for that song.  And it came easy.  Sometimes the best songs on your record are ones you didn’t expect to record.  There were other times when we’ve gone into the studio and just can’t capture the magic with a song we’ve done on stage hundreds of times. I remember before Lynrd Skynrd went into record “Sweet Home Alabama,” Ronny Van Zant told the record producer, “We’ve got a new song and I want to record it before we know it too well.” And I know what he means. If you can capture a feeling or a vibe, it’s more important than everything being technically perfect.  I’m not saying there is anything wrong with it [“Farm Of Yesterday”] sometimes it’s hard to do if you played the song hundreds of times.

Another thing that set the tone for it, before we went in to record it, I listened to a John Hartford record called “Gum Tree Canoe.”  Roy Husky is playing bass on that album, and he is so great. And Mike was keyed in on it and that is a different feel than any other songs we’ve done. After recording, Mike said, “Could you tell I was listening to the “Gum Tree Canoe” this morning?”

D:  Another thing I noticed your song, “The Open Road,” I don’t know if you know this, but, “The Open Road” made the Federal Highway Administration Road Songs list.

E:  No I didn’t know that. When did that happen?

D:  Your chorus fit the definition of a road song:

“There’s a 100 million miles of blacktop
Coming at the speed of sound
She’s flying right by the police
Ain’t nothing going to slow her down.
She’s bona fide
She’s a number 1
And we smile through every mile we make,
Every single one
She’s the queen of style
So sweet and bold
On the open road.”

Songwriter Leigh Gibson, BMI

“On The Open Road”

Photo by Doug Mathewson

E: That’s really good. I’d like to see that list.

D: You made that list but also “Ring The Bell” is number one on Bluegrass Unlimited’s Top 30.

E: Yeah, it’s been number one on a few charts. It’s been number one for 3 months. I came home from playing in Florida. We kicked off our show with “Ring The Bell” last weekend and here we are playing 1300, 1400 miles away from home and maybe 2000 people out in the crowd. Before I even sang my first note they recognized the song and started clapping. I thought, “Wow!”  I said to my wife coming in the door, “We got a hit!”  I know what it feels like to have a hit song in the bluegrass world.  We’ve had a lot of songs that charted, and we had a number one in “Mountain Song,” but this one is getting folks’ attention. A woman came up to me in Florida and said, “I’m hearing “Ring The Bell” in a lot of jam sessions.” That’s a good feeling.

D:  That song was written by Chet O’Keefe.

E:  Yeah, I think he’s originally from Maine. He lives in Nashville now. We met Chet out in Indiana where his band was opening for our band. He kicked off his show with that song. Immediately my ears perked right up and I said, “Where’d they get that?”  Maybe it was some Carter family song I never heard. It just had that timeless quality to it. It seemed like it could have been written 100 years ago or more. I made a beeline to Chet and said,  “Where did you get that song?” and he said, “I wrote it.” So I asked him to send it to me and he did. So he’s written a number one bluegrass hit. He has a cookin’ little three piece band called Chet O’Keefe & The Farmer’s Co-op.  Chet plays guitar and he has a bass player and a drummer. They played it real simple and played it well. I thought it would make a great call and response song and it’s kind of a way to showcase both of our voices. We try to play to our strengths and that song allowed us to do it.

“Ring The Bell”

D:  We have a Bluegrass Memories Contest on the HVBA website and the winner will get two free tickets to the Gibson Brothers concert on April 17th.  Do you have a bluegrass memory you could relate to us?

E:  I can tell you one of my favorite bluegrass memories.  I think it was 1995 when Ronny McCoury won mandolin player of the year–not for the first time–he had won it several times. He said he could not accept this award. Mandolin player of the year is always Bill Monroe and he brought it out to Monroe, who was out in the crowd.  It was one of Bill’s last IBMAs and Bill just raised that statuette up in the air and the spotlight was on it. And it was just a moment and everyone cried. Everybody in the room had tears. That was really classy of Ronny. It was beautiful.

D:  What do you do when you’re not playing?  Do you have any other interests?

E:  Well I’m a full time musician now. I don’t have a day job.  I hang out with my family as often as I can. I’ve been doin’ a lot of snowshoeing. I’m married and I have two sons. I used to waste a good share of my year wishing it [winter] was gone. Winter would just get it over with. Now I’ve kind of embraced the winter. My kids are trying to get me into skiing. I haven’t done that yet. Basically that’s what I do when I’m not on the road is make up for lost time.  I like baseball and football. I can’t say I have any hobbies.

D:  Well Eric, it’s been great talking to you.

E:  You too, Doug. If you need anything else give me a ring.

Photo by Doug Mathewson
Photo by Doug Mathewson

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