THE RESILIENCE and continued popularity of Jam Band culture is one of the most notable, if underreported, phenomena of modern music.
With roots in the late ‘60s, the genre has weathered every trend and seismic shift in the industry to stay as popular as ever, through several generations.
CBDB is one of the main purveyors of the art form these days, and arguably at their musical peak. Initially tongue-in-cheek, the name they coined for their particular brand of feel-good music — Joyfunk — caught on.
The Tuscaloosa, Alabama quintet was voted “Jam Band of the Year” in a huge Reddit poll, and they play Victory North this Saturday, Aug. 17.
Of the timeless appeal of the jam band phenomenon, CBDB vocalist Cy Simonton says, “It’s definitely a culture thing. It’s got a fun, free spirit to it. There are no rules. It makes people feel free. The Grateful Dead started it, and it’s become so huge.”
Simonton says that the genre’s popularity continues despite — or because of? — being almost completely ignored by radio.
“It’s just not something you hear on the radio. It’s more personal. It’s something shared between friends, family, and fans.”
CBDB’s sound centers on two things: Their off-the-charts musical chops, and Simonton’s own vocals, which he considers “definitely like a separate instrument.”
With most jam bands, he says, “the vocals are way off to the side and not really so important. For some bands the vocals are more about silly words. We write full lyrics, with an emphasis on hooks.”
Also, Simonton says, having strong, identifiable vocals “really opens up the fan base to other people. I can’t tell you how many times people have come up to me and said, ‘I really enjoyed your show, and I usually hate jam bands!’”
The band’s new record, Out of Line, was recorded in Nashville at the legendary Southern Ground studio, now owned by Zac Brown.
“It was an incredible experience recording there,” says Simonton. “It used to be a house. It has such history behind it. Many of the great country singers have recorded there. It’s a big beautiful room, with floors made with extra wood from Taylor Guitars.”
The album’s top-shelf production values are due largely to producer Dan Davis, Simonton says.
“We evolved a great working relationship on this album. It was a situation where we really trusted him and listened to his opinions. If something wasn’t working like we all thought it should, we’d talk about it and work it out together.”
Out of Line features a B-3 organ once played by the late Gregg Allman himself. Also featured on the album are backing vocals by Maureen Murphy, who has sung with Phish, STS9, GRiZ, and other stellar names in the genre.
While the album is next-level stuff for the band, needless to say the heart of any jamband is in live performance.
“The whole point of a jam band is to get creative and get loose,” Simonton says. “Something that happens on a record may or may not happen live.”
Simonton says their tune “Opelika Jam” is probably the band’s purest expression of this ethos.
“We’ve always seen that one, especially, as a jam vehicle. The first big jam comes after the first verse.”
CBDB’s live pedigree continues to stack up, with festival gigs at Hulaween, Okeechobee, Sweetwater 420, Summer Camp, Electric Forest, Sloss, Aura, Backwoods, Euphoria, and The Werk Out.
They’ve shared the stage with Umphrey’s McGee, Papadosio, Galactic, Kyle Hollingsworth Band, Perpetual Groove, Kung Fu, The Wailers, Blues Traveler, in addition to having played Barrelhouse South locally.
The band has a large following in their native South, but Simonton says they don’t do anything special to identify as Southern when they play out of the region.
“Whatever is Southern about us just comes naturally. We don’t do it consciously at all,” he says.