Brother Act Eric and Leigh Gibson Return to Rooster's Wife
BY KATHERINE SMITH
Special to The Pilot
The Gibson Brothers' five voices blend together like a sixth instrument. Their standard five-piece bass, mandolin, fiddle, guitar and banjo have distinct notches, making their music a precise science.
But their "tameness" and lyrics are notched in a time that spans from their "Dad's old stories" to his "Celtic and Irish and cowboy music" to "'Andy Griffith' and 'The Beverly Hillbillies,'" says Leigh Gibson. "You don't get far away from where you started."
The Gibson Brothers will be performing at The Rooster's Wife on Sunday, Dec. 30. Doors open at noon, and the show starts at 12:45 p.m. Tickets are $25 and available at theroosterswife.org.
The Gibson Brothers won the 2010 IBMA Awards for Song of the Year and Gospel Recorded Performance of the Year for "Ring the Bell." They were the first brother duet to win the IBMA Vocal Group of the Year, awarded in 2011, and won the 2011 PopMatters Album of the Year.
They received the 2011 IBMA Album of the Year for "Help My Brother," the album that held the No. 1 position on the Bluegrass Unlimited Chart for eight months. Recently, they won the 2012 IBMA Entertainers of the Year and Gospel Recorded Performance for "Singing as We Rise."
Brothers Leigh and Eric Gibson grew up with their hardworking dairy farmer father in a house strewn with instruments in the New York Adirondack Mountains.
When Eric was 12 and Leigh was 11, their father said, "There's a guy giving lessons at Dick's Country Store, and I'd like one of you to play the banjo and one to play the guitar."
Eric chose banjo and Leigh chose guitar. They began singing at suggestion of church members and were introduced to bluegrass front-men like Lester Flatt, Earl Scruggs and Bill Monroe.
"We were Monroe fanatics," Leigh Gibson says. "We started out by copying music that we really admire." Their beginning influences were five-part groups like the Johnson Mountain Boys and the Seldom Scene.
Like most musicians, the Gibson Brothers baptized their instruments with classics, but were also infatuated with the culture surrounding the classics. Songs on their 10 albums are like placard folk tales, woven by their rural upbringing, black and white TV, observed chivalry, and local storytelling.
"It's almost like we had a relationship with the previous generation that other people, younger, don't have," Leigh Gibson says.
Eric Gibson had been writing music since childhood, and Leigh Gibson started writing when he was 19, when the two attended SUNY Plattsburgh, in upstate New York.
While there, the two met Junior Barber, a dobro and resophonic guitarist and father of their now-bass player, Mike Barber. The three picked through the same classics and the brothers began performing their own songs. In the winter of 1991, the brothers named themselves the Gibson Brothers and played from local coffeehouses to festivals in Vermont and Southern New York state.
The current other band members are Mike Barber on bass, Clayton Campbell playing fiddle, and Joe Walsh on mandolin.
Barber has been with the band since 1993, and started with "a rock 'n' roll edge," he said in an interview with the Hudson Valley Bluegrass Association. His love of the stoic rock beat translates into his "underlying but supportive" bass, cinching in the unified driving sound.
Campbell started playing fiddle, mandolin, guitar and singing backup at age 7. His years performing with the Kentucky Opry, a family-owned entertainment attraction on Kentucky Lake, made his 2004 transition into the Gibson Brothers seamless.
Walsh was the first student at Berklee College of Music in Boston in 2004 to graduate with a degree in performance specializing in mandolin. He played with Northern Lights and the New England Bluegrass Band before becoming a founding member of Joy Kills Sorrow.
Walsh now teaches three days a week at a music school in Portland and has two solo projects. Yet he joined the Gibson Brothers in 2008 because "these are people who are at the top of the game and who do what they do really, really well," he said in an interview with the Hudson Valley Bluegrass Association.
The Gibson Brothers' 10th and most popular album, "Help My Brother," was released in February 2010.
It features songs like "Safe Passage," a shadowy biography of the Gibson lineage. "One Car Funeral" is a biting view at wasted life, and the title track, "Help My Brother," is a climb out of selfishness and into restitution and deeper breathing.
"Every song should have its own little identity," Leigh Gibson says.
Their songs are weighted with the same "sunk-in attention to that sort of detail" that their father used in storytelling.
After 21 years of writing and producing music, the brothers' motivation has not changed.
"When we make music and write, we're playing for ourselves - there's no market strategy," Leigh Gibson says. "When playing live, what keeps you sane is to try to play every performance better than the last. And I have to say our bandmates give us everything, always."
For more information, visit gibson brothers.com or call The Rooster's Wife at (910) 944-7502.
Katherine Smith is a former Pilot intern. She is now a student at Appalachian State University.
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