There was a time three or four years ago when Whiskey Folk Ramblers were seemingly everywhere. They gigged constantly, drinking tons and bringing a wild party wherever they landed. Few local bands hit the road as often as the Ramblers and fewer still trekked as far. But even as they continued to pop up on the local media radar and win music awards, it seemed the band was in danger of fizzling out.
The last record they made debuted four years ago, and along with the natural ennui that ensues after an album’s newness wears out, two core players departed for another band in 2015, which nearly closed the book on WFR’s story. But the band played on, and now, with some new members in their ranks, the Whiskey Folk Ramblers are ready to roll again.
Frontman and founding member Tyler Rougeux thinks the biggest difference between the Whiskey Folk Ramblers of 2017 and the iteration that crisscrossed the country in bassist Jack Russel’s ramshackle Dodge van is that this year’s model takes itself more seriously. We were sitting at a picnic table in the Flying Saucer’s biergarten ahead of the Ramblers’ Sunday evening gig. It was their third of the weekend, second of the day, and I pointed out that taking themselves more seriously was an odd thing to say for a band that was more or less living the wandering gypsy/punk rock band dream for a really long time.
“We used to get drunk and fuck around,” Rougeux said, sipping on a soda of all things. “For like a decade, all over America. “It’s funny listening to myself now.”
Though he’s only 31, he started the band when he was 22. Nowadays, he has higher priorities than hopping in the van for a week or whatever and waiting for mayhem to ensue. For one thing, he’s married and the father of two boys. But more than that, he believes his band has a renewed sense of focus, for which he seems grateful.
“It’s strange that it’s not strange,” he said. “I should be weirded out by it, but I’m not.”
Whiskey Folk Ramblers formed in 2006 as a trio, Rougeux singing and playing guitar along with banjo player Richard Davenport and drummer Trey Ownby. After a couple bassists came and went, upright player Jack Russell joined a few months prior to the band’s first recording session, and he’s been with the band ever since. But other members have come and gone. Rougeux’s friend Jeremiah Christensen played fiddle and guitar. He left after a while, and the band added Mark Moncrief on electric guitar and Chris Carmichael on drums. Quaker City Nighthawks bassist Pat Adams used to play trumpet in WFR. When he left, he was replaced by Cory Graves. Eventually both Graves and Moncrief left to be in the Vandoliers, the Dallas-based country-punk band started by Josh Fleming of The Phuss.
“There’s a lot of history,” Rougeux said. “I guess personal issues involving some people joining, some people leaving the band … it’s like having to hit reset every now and again, but from that reset we’ve evolved into this new sound we like even better. We could’ve called it quits a long time ago, but every time we get a new member, it’s like they add something to the band that we really love.”
That Rougeux speaks in the present is sort of telling, as his band was set to perform with its three newest members. Over the past year, the Ramblers added guitarist Conner Farrall, trumpet player and pianist Kevin England, and singer Jenna Clark. The latest to join, she was playing only her second show with the band at the Saucer.
Born and raised in Central Florida, Clark came to Texas on a whim and got into the scene playing her own music –– currently her backing band is the Hazardous Dukes (of which Farrall is a member). Rougeux said he saw her play at the Kessler Theater in Dallas one night and thought her voice would sound good with his, so he invited her to record on a new Whiskey Folk song called “Going Back to Clarksdale.” A week or two later, she came to one of the band’s rehearsals, and it turned out that she was a great fit for the group’s back catalog.
“Right now,” she said with a laugh, “I have about 10 years of material to learn. “I’m still flipping through a lyric book onstage.”
While she learns a bunch of old Whiskey Folk songs, she’ll also be contributing on vocals and keys on the band’s upcoming album. Drummer Chris Carmichael is also a producer at Rex-Tone Recordings in Dallas, where the band rehearses.
“Whenever we get a new song tight enough, we record it,” Rougeux said. “But we already have three albums out. It’s not like we’re on a deadline.”
Rougeux hopes to have their new album ready for a summer release and get back to touring.
“We nicknamed ourselves ‘Whiskey Folk’ for a while back then,” he said. “But now we’re back to ramblin’.”
Whiskey Folk Ramblers w/ Vincent Neil Emerson and Cody Lynn Boyd. Wed, Mar 22, at The Live Oak, 1311 Lipscomb St, FW. Free. 817-926-0968.