Golden Delicious – How ’bout them apples?
While they were far too cordial to admit it, the members of Golden Delicious seemed a bit uncomfortable sitting down for an interview with No Depression. Not that they mind a little attention. Just don’t try to tag this band of Portland all-stars with a trendy label like “alt-country” or “Americana”. Fiddle player Marilee Hord summarized their feelings: “When you categorize music, you degrade it.”
Given the varied, pedigree backgrounds of the five members of Golden Delicious, it isn’t surprising that they are suspicious of musical categories. Guitarist Pete Krebs also plays in Hazel, one of the Pacific Northwest’s best and most popular indie-rock bands. Golden Delicious’ other singer/frontman, Kevin Richey, studied Eastern folk music and picks a mean banjo. Hord, who Richey declares has “perfect tone,” played classical violin for many years but also admits to being a huge Jerry Garcia fan. She had to break some classical habits and learn new techniques to fit with Krebs and Richey’s infectious front-porch vibe. As Richey, puts it, “You gotta have some grease on that bacon sandwich, man.” Bassist David Reisch played in the legendary Holy Modal Rounders in the ’70s. In fact, Reisch, who Richey affectionately calls “the king of slack,” still lives on the Rounders’ old bus, now parked on Portland’s southeast side. And drummer Jessie Spero, who gets my vote for coolest member of this very cool band, is an alum of punk rock girl band the Frances Farmer Gals.
Since forming a year ago, Golden Delicious has attracted a rabid local following with high-energy acoustic shows that meld bluegrass, swing, country and traditional folk music. While each member is a remarkably good player, the band has a bit of a reckless bent that allows their shows to soar off into spirited improv sessions, leaving some audience members gaping in awe and dancing on tables. Their shows have the energy of rock ‘n’ roll but are solidly traditional in material and instrumentation. And Krebs and Richey have charisma to burn.
Most of Golden Delicious’ material is in the public domain, or consists of covers by the likes of Merle Haggard, Vassar Clements, George Jones and Hank Sr. Any rock stuff, such as David Bowie’s “Suffragette City”, is rearranged in a furious, twisted bluegrass style. And the originals are rave-ups such as “Cletus, for the Very Last Time, Get the Hell out of Your Sister’s Dress for the Very Last Time” (featured on a live EP released in November on Portland’s Cavity Search label) and “White Knuckle Breakdown”, the true story of a run-in with Utah police and illegal drugs that took place on the band’s first tour. (“We had to get out as fast as possible,” said Krebs.)
Richey serves as the band’s principal spokesman, union organizer and spiritual leader. “My attitude is if it’s not fun, fuck it. Seriously, relationships, hanging out with your friends, playing music, whatever. I mean if it’s not fun, what’s the point?”
In short, Golden Delicious is a party. It’s summed up in one of their staples, “Hoodoo Bash”, an old Holy Modal Rounders stomp that Richey sings in a kind of Tom Waits boozy drawl. “It’s about an amazing party,” Richey explains. “Crazy people were coming in from everywhere and staying up for a week. But they knew it was an event they’d want to tell their kids about in 20 years. Basically it was ‘responsible irresponsibility’.”
“Responsible irresponsibility” might be the tag for this band. While Golden Delicious plays regularly in Portland and is hoping to do more touring, they don’t practice. “We don’t have time,” says Hord, explaining that she and Richey each played 300 shows in the last year with Golden Delicious and their various other projects. “Golden Delicious is a feeling thing,” says Richey. “We just go right off the runway.”