Velvet Truckstop stays basic

by Gus Lubin

Velvet Truckstop believes in rock and roll. Lead guitar player Dorsey Parker describes it with religious sincerity: “Music can look at human experiences, like love and loss. When you listen to it, you realize, ‘Hey, we all experience together.’” Parker looks like Garth from “Wayne’s World.” He is gawky and tall, with thin blond hair. In a moment his face shifts from prophetic to desperate. “And if you’re having a hard day, it’s a real psychological help to beat on your instrument and make music.” Based in Black Mountain, the band shares an honest devotion to classic Southern rock. Their attitude and style is evocative of a bygone era, perhaps the early-’90s. Lead singer Jamie Dose and Parker both have shoulder-length hair. The drummer, Fuzzy Coomes, looks like a troll beneath his massive black beard. Jerry McNeely, the bassist, is carefully clean cut and Brad Curtioff, the piano player, is shy and dorky. They are just the sort of misfits who belong in the church of rock.

Velvet Truckstop barely fits onto the small stage of the Garage in Winston-Salem. Their front section is packed with three guitars and an electric keyboard and organ. Behind them are two full drum sets, courtesy of a guest performance by Artemis Pyle. They hesitate before starting. Dose and McNeely repeat into the mic, “Check. Check check check. Check.” Then they begin, with a loud blast of sound. The two drums keep a steady beat and the front section plays thick and tight. Dose sings a few original compositions. Most of them build to a rocking climax — a high electric guitar solo and a virtuosic piano cut — followed by a drumsmashing cadenza. It’s the kind of rock you can lose yourself in.

There is a twist to the band, however, in that its members come from a wide variety of backgrounds other than classic rock. Dose and Parker played most recently in Rufus Grove, a rock-funk-electronica jam band. McNeely played for the bluegrass James King Band. Coomes played in a Grateful Dead cover band, the Dragonflys. Most unexpected is Curtioff, who is trained in classical piano and works as the staff accompanist at Mars Hill College. In other words, the band could easily play something other than basic Southern rock. But they don’t. That choice explains their musical and emotional intensity. It also demands discipline. “We’ll play six-, seven-minute songs, but those extra three minutes are too much,” Dose says, grinning.

“There isn’t anything you can’t say in a four-minute song,” McNeely adds.

One way or another, they are all veteran musicians. They understand things like song length — and what it takes to make it as a band. Since their formation in 2007, they have worked diligently to tour and prepare albums and songs for radio. “We’ve all been in a few bands, so we know how bands can stagnate,” McNeely says, “so we kept a schedule. After a few months we were like, ‘Okay, we have to get in the studio.’” As they approach their second anniversary as a band, Velvet Truckstop is talking about putting out a second album. They get good radio play at home in Black Mountain, and they look forward to their biggest gig yet at the Christmas Jam in Asheville. At the same time, they know that a small band lives and dies on regular live shows.

“Real music now,” Parker affirms, and his bandmates nod in agreement, “Real music lives on stage.” There’s a good audience Friday night at the Garage, and they seem to like Velvet Truckstop. One young couple, beers in hand, tries dancing. Mostly people sit at tables and listen, stoned by the noise, or stand at the bar and talk. It’s the kind of music you can listen to or zone out.

They are totally different from the opening act, the Toughcats, an idiosyncratic bluegrass-rock trio. Velvet Truckstop offers nothing special, no gimmick and not much stage presence. But throughout the night, their passion breaks through. A piano riff has a sudden gleam of Chopin. The bass line moves like jazz. A slide guitar itches a soulful note. One time the instruments cut out, and Dose more shouts than sings a refrain: “And it just so happens, I’ve wagered by soul.”

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Velvet Truckstop enjoins in a Southern rock revival at the Garage. (photo by Gus Lubin