The Scrappers' genesis story is about as perfect as it gets for a bunch of late-'60s/early-'70s loving music nerds. It almost sounds like the story of the recording of Neil Young's 1972 landmark album Harvest. The Scrappers started in a barn.
By 2014, Sights guitarist and frontman Eddie Baranek had seen his 15-year-old band run its course through numerous lineup changes — lineups that read like a who's who of Detroit rock musicians. In November, 2014 Early Jones vocalist and guitarist Nick Lucasian asked Eddie to play his friends Robert and Diane Ruffer's annual barn party in Ira, which the Sights had played a few times previously.
"I don't really have a band," Baranek replied, to which Lucasian suggested he play solo. "I go, 'That doesn't sound like fun.' So I ring (bassist/vocalist and former Sight) Dave (Lawson) and we started singing. It sounded like the Everly brothers and I'm like, it'd be nice if we had Pete (Ballard, also a former Sight) on pedal steel. That would kind of work. And then we wondered whose drumming would lend itself to this vibe, so we called Ben (Luckett). It just fell into place quickly after a few rehearsals."
Out of an impromptu show, the band was born. "It was only going to be a one-show band, but then we said we have to keep doing this because it's too fun," recalls Lawson. And thus the band born in a barn got to woodshedding.
"We started rehearsing once a week," Baranek says. "And then on top of that, Dave recorded every rehearsal. We would listen to those tapes and then would edit ourselves. We would go 'that part doesn't work, throw that out,' and I'd never been in a band like that. And I think it really does play into who we are sound-wise."
"Totally," Lawson says. "I think that we are good listeners as a band to each other's parts, but not only in the recordings, but in the moment. And like we'd give each other space, and I think that comes through in the sound of the band."
So what is the sound of the Scrappers then? Given Ballard's pedal steel and the band's occasional nods to the Flying Burrito Brothers, one might expect a straight-up 1960s West Coast country rock/Sweetheart of the Rodeo sound. Or given that three of the members were in the Sights, is this Sights II? The Scrappers' sound is a lot more than that and a lot harder to pin down.
There is indeed a country waltz like Lawson's slyly nostalgic "Everything's in Style," a Sights-esque rocker like "Don't Hold Your Breath," and some vintage Baranek humor in "Had a Friend" ("I'm feeling like a sinner/ might need a baby sitter"). But there's also a New Orleans shuffle (Lawson's "Too Far Away"), a Lennon-esque song complete with a Ringo-ism in the chorus' lyric (Baranek's "Seem to Act Surprised" with the line "can yesterday come again tomorrow?"), a Roy Orbison like ballad (Lawson's "Since I Met You"), and a Meters/country mashup (Lawson's "Other Side").
"We're not trying to be one sound," says Lawson. "We all have a lot of things we like, and we want to be all those things at different times."
Also differentiating the Scrappers from the Sights is there's not the feeling it's primarily Eddie's band. The Sights albums did feature songs from Dave Shettler, Bobby Emmett, Dave Lawson, and Gordon Smith over the years, but the majority of the songs were always Baranek's. On the Scrappers' album, four of the 12 songs are Lawson's. While Baranek has always been good at putting together bands, he also clearly enjoys stepping out of the spotlight and being a supporting player. Ben Luckett's drumming also swings more than most Sights albums, giving the songs a deceptively loose feeling to them.
Another big difference from the Sights is that Pete Ballard is arguably the star on the record. Anyone who's seen him play knows he's one of the greatest instrumentalists in the city. His playing is a reminder of what a versatile instrument the pedal steel is in the hands of a virtuosso like him. His acrobatic solo on the Faces-inspired stomp "Wonder Where I Even Start" is the hottest guitar solo on a Detroit record this year hands down (or slide down). His playing adds the perfect bite to the song's lyric fitting for the age of Trump: "You open up your mouth/ but you don't know what you're talking 'bout do you?" "Pete and I do the Ron Wood/Keith (Richards) thing, where I'll ask the question and he'll answer it," Baranek says. "We're not doing like a Bob Wills thing. I'm very selfish and I don't want another guitar player in a band that I'm in. But with Pete we do a good job of listening to each other and getting out of each other's way."
The Scrappers' first recordings were among the last recordings made at Jim Diamond's legendary downtown Ghetto Recorders before it closed. The remaining tracks were recorded at Adam Cox's Hamtramck Sound Studios. Given the amount of demoing the band had under its belt, the majority of the songs are live with minimal overdubs. New Fortune records is handling the vinyl while the Scrappers' label, Barn Party Records, is handling the CD and digital distribution.
The 12-song album also clocks in at a short and sweet 35 minutes — harking back to the vinyl era of albums.
"We all appreciate a well-constructed 3-minute song with nothing that doesn't need to be there," Luckett says.
"We definitely don't want to overstay our welcome on a song," Lawson says. "Maybe live, if people are having a really good time and it feels righ,t we'll stretch it out."
The Scrappers' self-titled debut album will be released Saturday, June 15 on New Fortune Records with a release party with Early Jones and Don "Doop" Duprie at The Parliament Room at Otus Supply; 345 E. Nine Mile Rd., Ferndale, 248-291-6160; otussupply.com/parliament-room. Doors at 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $12.
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