The singer and guitarist from Denver takes a deep dive into his formative musical influences

Rollin’ Stone – Muddy Waters, 1950

You get chills when you hear things sometimes. I remember being five or six years old, I wasn’t ready for this, I’d never heard anything like it. I didn’t know who it was, didn’t know if Muddy Waters was black or white, none of that was in my consciousness. I just knew he sounded like the coolest dude in the world. The vanity in me would like to think I can achieve some semblance of what that guy was up to, but no, I must humbly say I’m nowhere near as cool as Muddy Waters in my delivery or execution.

Cannonball Rag – Merle Travis, 1952

Right here on my nightstand is the new Merle Travis book by Deke Dickerson, so I’m digesting a bunch of Merle now. I’ve had his records since first picking up a guitar. I used to play with a thumb pick when I was just strumming rhythm for myself because I wanted to be a wild man onstage, and picks would go flying. When I decided I was going to really learn the guitar, the thumb pick was already there and the Merle Travis style was the first thing I gravitated towards. He’s been my North Star from day one.

You Belong To Me – Dean Martin, 1952

I grew up in an old Italian neighbourhood, Catholic church. My grandad was a deputy sheriff, but he had a little gentleman’s club with some friends, an illegal gambling place. I’d go there and empty ashtrays, serve sodas to the old farts and listen to their stories. They always had Dean Martin, Al Martino or Tony Bennett playing. Of those, it was Dean Martin’s music that was the first one that spoke to me. He had a little humour in the way he delivered stuff – and You Belong To Me is a beautiful song.

You Don’t Owe Me A Thing – Marty Robbins, 1956

Marty came to me from a cassette tape that my grandma left in the car. The cover was him with longer hair, sun-tanned, bell-bottom jeans. I was like, ‘This is not my kind of thing’. Then the cassette tape got stuck in the player, so it would just play. This guy’s voice is amazing! I got obsessed and tracked down Rock’n Roll’n Robbins, his first foray into rockabilly, more uptempo stuff. It had this ballad on it, You Don’t Owe Me A Thing. The way he goes up into the falsettos, just a masterful singer. That dude can sing anything.

Do Me No Wrong – Pat Cupp And The Flying Saucers, 1956

There’s an idea that the 50s was a bubblegum era of poodle skirts, switchblade combs and everybody is dancing. When you really get into it, this music was made to scare the adults. This guy sounds like he could steal your girlfriend just as soon as stick a blade between your ribs. Then, of course, I met Pat and he’s the sweetest, most affable man – but the song had this attitude. It’s punk rock – young, pi**ed off, the parents don’t know, the kids are right, you can’t tell me nothing.

Milkcow Blues Boogie – Elvis Presley, 1955

From what I understand, this was Elvis’ least favourite song that he ever recorded, but it’s actually one of my favourites. Scotty Moore’s guitar lick is just perfect. I remember being a kid, discovering rockabilly and blues, and Elvis was a goofball in a jumpsuit. There was the famous documentary, This Is Elvis, that featured him playing an old country blues – it was right up my alley. This young Elvis looked cool with his greased-up hair. On my next trip to the record store I bought the Sun Sessions stuff and was hooked.

The Humpty Dance – Digital Underground, 1989

Digital Underground was the first time I heard a hip-hop artist who wasn’t taking himself too seriously. This was a guy who invented a bunch of silly characters, put on a fake rubber nose, and rapped about having a good time. All the samples were old funk and soul records. It had cool jazzy piano parts, so I could tell the guy was really musical. I’ve caught them live a few times – they were among the best shows I’ve ever seen – just a huge party. It’s what I use to remember to not take myself too seriously.

Goodbye Goodbye/Get On The Right Track Baby – Joe Clay, 1956

Joe Clay is another guy who helped shape my musical education as a kid. He played in Denver in 1998 and I got to meet him. Maybe five, 10 years later, it might have been down in New Orleans or in Wisconsin, I ended up playing a little guitar and singing with him at one of those rockabilly festivals. Joe was also an excellent drummer, so he’d sit behind the drum kit. He was just as excited to back you up as he was to front the band himself. Joe was a cool guy, I really liked him.

Travelin’ Man – Dick Curless, 1966

I didn’t discover Dick Curless until the last 10 years or so. He’s got this low bass voice that shakes your speakers, then in the same line he’ll do a high yodel. The guy can do anything. I think he was one of those artists who wasn’t the most comfortable touring, he was a homebody, so didn’t get as much recognition as I think he deserves. The emotion and power he put into his songs is like nothing else. Travelin’ Man, it’s got this cool slap bass, the guitar part is amazing, I love everything about this record.