Gibson Brothers took slow, steady approach to bluegrass respect

CorrespondentDecember 27, 2012 

Gibson Brothers.

COURTESY OF COMPASS RECORDS — COURTESY OF COMPASS RECORDS

  • The Gibson Brothers When: Noon, 6 p.m. Sunday Where: The Rooster’s Wife, 114 Knight St., Aberdeen Cost: $25 Details: 910-944-7502, www.theroosterswife.org

The Gibson Brothers were so sure they would not win Entertainer of the Year at the International Bluegrass Music Association awards show in September that they did not invite their families to the event.

After all, it had been 14 years since the band was named Emerging Artist of the Year. But perseverance, devotion to quality songwriting and recording, and a consistently delightful stage show brought the popular quintet the honor many covet, but few achieve.

“It was the highlight of our musical career to receive that kind of recognition,” says banjoist Eric Gibson, who will perform two shows with the band Sunday at the Rooster’s Wife in Aberdeen.

“Deep down, you hope for those kinds of things but you never think they’re going to happen. That’s not why you play music. But when you are recognized by your peers like that, it sure does feel good.”

It’s been a 20-year odyssey for Eric and his brother, Leigh, who grew up on a dairy farm in upstate New York a few miles from the Canadian border. Early in their career, the band struggled for recognition by the bluegrass community, which is centered in the American South.

But with their close sibling harmonies, which hark back to such popular brother acts as the Blue Sky Boys and the Louvin Brothers, Eric and Leigh began winning fans one song, one album and one gig at a time. With a sound as fresh as it is creative, the brothers gained airplay on bluegrass stations as their CDs climbed to the top of the chart.

Their latest recording, “Help My Brother,” was named Album of the Year in 2011; and in September, “Singing as We Rise,” a Joe Newberry-penned song from the album recorded with Ricky Skaggs, was honored as Gospel Recorded Performance of the Year.

Entertainer of the Year has brought the Gibson Brothers peer recognition and an increase in bookings for the new year. Beyond that, Eric says nothing much has changed.

“We’ve been around for so long that I don’t think we snuck up on anybody,” he says. “We’ve been after it for a long time. I think it’s a little different story than a lot of winners of years past. A lot of the winners burst on the scene and just dominated for a few years. . . . We’ve been a slow and steady band that has won respect over time.

“Sometimes that can be frustrating. We’ve been at it 20 years. Yet, we’ll play a venue and people will say, ‘I never heard of you before, but I like you.’ I’ll say to Leigh, ‘What do we have to do to be known?’ And Leigh will say, ‘Look at it this way: We’ve been at it so long and there are still people to reach.’ That’s a good way to look at it.”

The brothers’ plan for keeping their hard-won fans and gaining new ones includes writing and recording good songs. They are working on their 11th album, which they hope to release in early 2013. The album will consist largely of original songs penned by the Gibsons. Their originals, delivered duet-style, have been a hallmark of their sound. They want the new recording to move forward, yet be consistent with the albums that have propelled them to the top.

The new CD may also include songs by Mark Knopfler, Hank Williams and Raleigh’s Joe Newberry.

“Leigh and I chose songs that we thought would highlight our brother duets,” Eric says. “We’ve always done that, but we really tried to hone that into being the thing people talk about most when they talk about the Gibson Brothers.

“The band is champing at the bit. It’s been two years since we recorded. We want the material to be right. What’s the use of recording mediocre songs? I think we waited long enough to find the right material.”

Eric believes the biggest challenge facing the Gibson Brothers is to keep moving forward with good songs and a consistently entertaining stage show that features good-natured sibling needling and spontaneous humor. While some artists may be content to live on past achievements, complacency is not in the Gibson Brothers’ DNA.

“I think we just have to prove to people . . . that we’re going to keep getting better, and adding new songs to the genre,” Eric says. “I think never doing a set list keeps us from getting stale. If it’s not fresh for us, it’s not going to be fresh for the audience. We haven’t done a set list in many years.

“People who have been following us for years want to hear the old stuff. We’ll do that, too. We have to juggle the old and the new. Hopefully, the new stuff will grab their ears.

“If we can keep writing and finding the right songs, then we’ll be all right.”

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