On a night when the news calls for storms and meteorologists issue area-wide tornado watches, I found David Clemens and the rest of the DC3 sitting on the upstairs patio at Jimbo’s in Porterdale. The band was having a round of Pabst Blue Ribbon — the standard beer of choice in the music industry from what I’ve been told. Clemens hovered over a basket of fresh onion rings and he was quick to introduce the rest of the band, Andrew Carroll on drums and Clayton Ferguson on bass, as well as his wife Tamra. Clemens stood up and greeted me, firmly shaking my hand with the kind of handshake you might expect from someone who spends his time manipulating the strings on a guitar.
Clemens pointed out that, even though he plays solo shows and a number of gigs with the three-man DC3, he is really trying to push his full band project, Little Dawg.
"Little Dawg is us three guys plus Courtney Bozaich and Curtis Barrett," he said.
Bozaich was on her way, I’m told. The guys all sang her praises as the second vocalist in Little Dawg. Clemens talked about how the band had wanted a female voice to sing alongside him, so they auditioned a couple of girls before Bozaich was recommended.
"We were going to let her audition, but then I saw a video of her singing and we just offered her the spot." Carroll chimed in from the next table: "She’s really able to take any song and make it her own," he said. "Wait ’til you hear her do ’30 Days in the Hole.’"
That’s about when the white SUV pulled into the Jimbo’s parking lot with Bozaich in the passenger seat.
While we wait for Bozaich, Carroll, the drummer, explained the group’s dynamic: "Me and Clayton — we’re the class clowns. Courtney is kind of there with us, too. She’s able to take our jokes and roll with it. Clemens is like the father of the group." Courtney, having just stepped outside, threw a few "old man" jokes in Clemens’ direction. "But, we run like a democracy," Carroll said. "We vote on venues and gigs, and the majority always rules."
The conversation turned to the origins of the band and Clemens gave his wife Tamra, a lot of the credit for his current projects.
"After we got married, I didn’t really play anymore. I just put it to the side. I did a lot of hunting and fishing. I just didn’t play. Tamra always asked me why I wasn’t
doing anything with my music anymore, and she always tried to get me to go back to it. One day, she signed me up to audition for ‘The Voice.’ I got to sing about four words for those guys before they cut me off." But Tamra had succeeded in sparking the fire for Clemens, and it wasn’t long after his audition that the DC3 and Little Dawg started coming together piece by piece.
Ferguson checked his watch and let the group know that it’s about time to start playing, so I moved in to a table in the corner of Jimbo’s roomy upstairs bar. The DC3 hosts the weekly open mic night here every Thursday at 8 p.m. As the music cranked up, I’m surprised by the diversity of tunes the band played. They opened with an original song called "Walkin.’" I was struck immediately by the quality of the composition — a narrative tune that is some fusion of late 90s alternative rock and contemporary country. During their set, they played through covers of popular songs by John Mayer, Kenny Chesney and Eric Church with Clemens taking the lead on vocals. Bozaich got her chance to shine, too, belting out tracks by Miranda Lambert, Gov’t Mule (really) and Otis Redding.
The other musicians on the stage also earned their keep. From stage right, Ferguson ran his fingers up and down the frets on his bass guitar. He told me between sets that he really likes the bass lines that he gets to play in some of cover songs. The more unique the riff, the more fun it is to play. He cited Grammy award-winner Victor Wooten and American jazz composer Marcus Miller as his musical influences. In this setting, he seemed to be the quiet one, but I’m not buying it.
On the opposite side of the stage, Carroll worked through the percussive portions of the songs. The instrument that he was sitting on, the cajon (pronounced cah-hone), really just looks like a big wooden box, but when Carroll plays it with open hands, it creates the bass and snare sounds of a more sophisticated set. In front of him was an upright African drum called a djembe (pronounced jem-bay) as well as a line of chimes. The crowd goes crazy when he (or Bozaich) ran a hand down the line of chimes, setting them to ringing.
The other guitarist, Barrett, wasn’t able to make it out to these open mic gigs as he has to commute from Stockbridge, so you’ll have to catch a show to meet the fifth member of Little Dawg. Even in his absence, though, the other musicians praised his talent. Clemens even went as far as calling Barrett a type of mentor. "He really taught me to slow things down," Clemens said. "He’s taught me a lot about guitar."
Even though the group identified Clemens as the front man, I get the impression that Little Dawg is a band of equals. Everyone praised everyone else in my individual conversations with the members of the group. Little Dawg, is not a band full of big egos. Instead, Little Dawg is a band of artists. The members have roots and inspiration in different genres from gospel to blues to country. They have the ability to play most anything, the talent to make it sound familiar and the courage to take the familiar and make it new. There is no arrogance, though. The band remains modest and humble.
"If just a handful of people find our music and decide they like it, that’d be a dream come true," said Clemens.
• May 11, at 5 O’Clock Somewhere in Covington
• Open mic at Jimbo’s every Thursday night.
For more information and other dates, check out their Facebook page at facebook.com/LittleDawgBand.