“You’ve gotta hear this record!” That was the emphatic statement uttered by roots music legend Chuck Mead at an informal vinyl listening party in Nashville a couple of years ago. The album in Chuck’s hand was Signs & Signifiers by JD McPherson on Hi-Style Records from Chicago.
As he cued up the album’s first cut, “North Side Gal,” any skepticism held by the assembled vinyl hounds vanished instantly. JD’s voice, combined with a red-hot backing band, poured from the speakers in delicious analog splendor, combining the past and present in an intoxicating mix. We listened to several other cuts from the LP, and our initial impression was confirmed song after song. Driving home, I was left wondering, “Who is this guy?”
I didn’t have to wait long for an answer. Rounder Records re-released Signs & Signifiers to universal acclaim, and suddenly, JD was everywhere, on tour, on late-night television, and in heavy rotation on the BBC and other radio outlets. Raised in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, JD was first captivated by punk/alternative rock and came to vintage recordings courtesy of a free Buddy Holly double-LP collection given to him by a record store clerk.
When JD and I sat down in the offices of Florence, Alabama-based designer Billy Reid, prior to JD’s performance as part of Reid’s annual “Shindig” celebration, the conversation naturally revolved around records.
(After relating the Chuck Mead story) Wow, that blows my mind! I used to go see BR-549 at Cain’s Ballroom…jeez Louise, that’s crazy.
Signs & Signifiers has been out for a while now and I imagine you’re ready to start working on the follow-up. Do you have plans to record again soon?
Yes, we go back in the studio in two weeks.
Your debut album has a timeless sound, so much so that some people might imagine you grew up listening to a stack of blues and country 78s. Is that an accurate assessment?
No, among the first records I bought was Dinosaur, Jr.’s Fossils, which I remember was pressed on red vinyl. Actually, to hurt my feelings, a girl broke that album over her knee in front of me! She knew that was the worst thing she could do. [ED: Vinyl lovers everywhere shed a tear in sympathy.]