“We should be sponsored by Drano,” laughs Travis McCready, lead vocalist of Mississippi blues-rock outfit Bishop Gunn. Three of the four band members have been living and writing together in a house in Leiper’s Fork, Tennessee—a house with only one bathroom, where the luscious-locked men fight a clogged drain on the regular. Even so, they wouldn’t have it any other way. “Whenever we go back to Natchez it’s funny because everybody lives in different places. The phone will ring and it’s Travis and he’ll be like ‘What’re you doin’ man? Wanna come over? I’m cooking some food,’” laughs bassist Ben Lewis. “And then before you know it, we’re all back in the same house.”
Interestingly, Bishop Gunn was formed virtually by accident; almost four years ago, a small group of players with a big dream were slated to play their hometown’s signature music festival. “I thought, ‘Well this is great! Now we just need a band,” says drummer Burne Sharp. “Everybody in town was telling us about Travis, so we scouted him, followed him to his gigs. We got him to come jam with us, and we put together a band, but still needed a name for the bill for the festival.” Bishop Gunn was a name plucked from the headstone of a grave in a historic cemetery in Natchez, where some of its occupants have been laid to rest for almost 300 years. “It’s also a really cool place to go burn a doob,” McCready adds with a laugh.
After the festival, Bishop Gunn was essentially done, their one gig behind them, and McCready and Burne decided to move to Nashville to work on music. “We lived in this farmhouse outside Leiper’s Fork, just working on songs,” McCready recalls of their adventure. “We built a little studio in one room, and we’d just write. There was no TV and or internet, and there was barely cell phone service.” Meanwhile, people kept asking about Bishop Gunn, inquiring about more music, more shows, more of everything. The pair paid attention and decided to put a band together. “We met Drew here in Nashville, he was working at Carter’s Guitars, but we’d seen him play one night in Leiper’s Fork,” remembers McCready of the gig guitarist Drew Smithers played outside of an antique store, of all places. “Who books a gig outside of an antique store?” laughs Smithers. “Well, I’m glad you did!” interjects McCready.
With Natchez-based friend and bassist Lewis rounding out the lineup, the foursome embarked on making music together, and recently released their new and appropriately-titled LP Natchez, where the idea of “place” deliciously oozes from every note. The album’s songs were recorded at their producer’s house, in-studio during the actual ribbon cutting ceremony reopening at Muscle Shoals Sound after four decades, and at iconic studio Fame in Muscle Shoals.
“We wrote a song called ‘Alabama,’ and decided at the last minute to put it on this album,” McCready recalls. “We went to Fame to record it in January, on the day that Rick Hall had passed.” The band was apprehensive about recording the song, the hook of which says “I hope I don’t die in Alabama,” worried that it would be disrespectful or intrusive in the midst of the Hall’s family’s tragic loss. “We talked to his son, and he told us we had to come do it,” explains Lewis. “He said that Rick would be upset if they ever closed the doors on the studio just because he passed away, that that was no excuse to stop working. His son was on board and the whole crew was there, so we just went in and did it. It was an interesting day,” he adds. “The record reflects that–it’s the last tune on the record–if you don’t know anything about and it listen to it, it’s already kind of eerie, but knowing that piece of history, it’s crazy.”
With its eleven powerful tracks that pay tribute to the swampy southern blues of their origin, edged with gut-punching rock n’ roll, the album represents the sound of the South as they know it. We can’t get enough.