By Matt Minich
On the CSU campus, Musketeer Gripweed frontman Jason Downing doesn’t stick out. A sociology instructor during the school year, he looks every bit the part. Tall and thin, he has a bushy red beard and long hair tucked back into a ponytail. His movements are a bit jerky, and he has a seemingly involuntary tendency to pull his shirt collar up over his nose and mouth.
Onstage with the other members of Gripweed, however, Downing exudes an entirely different kind of energy. Dressed in pioneer garb, he dons the persona of a manic, harmonica-clutching preacher who might just as well have crawled straight out of the pages of Flannery O’Connor. He jumps, stomps and twirls around the stage, and it’s not unusual to see him leading the audience in song or shouting about the need for a new American revival.
Meet the Reverend Monkey-Paw Patterson, the driving force behind one of Northern Colorado’s most unique live acts.
Snake Oil and Rock ‘n’ Roll
In a state where emerging bands typically rise from the worlds of jamgrass or electronica, Gripweed has managed to carve out a solid niche for roots-style rock. The band’s music has an irresistible foot-stomping energy, and sounds equal parts Delta blues and ’70s southern rock.
“There are lots of people in Colorado that dig rock ‘n’ roll,” guitarist Ehren Crumpler said. “And there aren’t a lot of rock ‘n’ roll bands.”
The secret to the band’s success is not as simple as meeting that need, however. Musketeer Gripweed has created an entire world with their music – one populated not only by Rev. Patterson but also by southern belles, monster catfish and snake oil salesmen. Through their music, their lyrics and their appearance onstage, the band taps into a core part of the western American mythos.
“It’s mythology, man,” Downing said. “It’s part of the vibe. We’re visual listeners.”
That mythology is part of a story that the band plans to tell over several albums, starting with their 2011 album Dyin’ Day, which helped transform the band into one of the state’s fastest-rising acts. Since the album’s release, Musketeer Gripweed has played with bands like Trampled by Turtles, the North Mississippi All Stars and Los Lobos. For Downing, that puts the band a bit closer to its rightful place in the hierarchy of live music.
“I always thought of these guys as our peers,” Downing said. “But I guess you can’t really say they’re your peers until you play with them.”
There is no doubt that the band exists in a different world now than it did six years ago, when Downing and bassist Ben Hockett started playing together in their home on the west side of Horsetooth Reservoir. The group played shows in venues like The Vault with a changing roster of members, which Hockett and Downing selected with a three-rule method they say they still use today.
“You’ve got to be a good person, you’ve got to be a good person, and you’ve got to play an instrument,” Downing said.
The band first performed in its current incarnation at NewWestFest two years ago, a show the members of the band describe as a watershed moment of sorts. Fit into the Sunday morning slot, the group had little hope for a serious turnout or an energetic crowd.
As it turns out, of course, Sunday morning was the perfect time for Rev. Patterson to shine.
“We all finally came together at that show,” Hockett said. “It really felt like it was a Sunday morning revival.”
Straight Razor Revival
With their upcoming album, Straight Razor Revival, the men of Musketeer Gripweed are aiming nowhere but up. Tracks are tighter and more polished than those on Dyin’ Day, and the tempo has accelerated.
“It definitely rocks harder than Dyin’ Day,” Hockett said.
The album’s seven tracks range in both musical intensity and lyrical theme, but present everything fans hope for and love about Musketeer Gripweed’s music. The sounds range from distorted swampy blues to sunny guitar riffs reminiscent of the Allman Brothers Band.
Two tracks on the album feature Luther Dickinson, the lead singer of the North Mississippi All Starts and lead guitarist for The Black Crowes, on guitar and vocals. A friend of the band, Dickinson actually recorded his tracks for the album in a single 4 a.m. session after a late show at the Aggie Theater. Several tracks also feature The Black Swans, an incredibly talented group of local gospel singers.
Straight Razor Revival will be available on CD and vinyl on April 7 at the band’s album release party at the Aggie Theater. Find out more about Musketeer Gripweed by finding them on Facebook, or by visiting musketeergripweed.com.