The Gully Boys, a ragtag group of friends who found common ground in the music of the Grateful Dead, Phish, Little Feat and other jam bands, celebrate 13 years together next Friday. “Together,” however, doesn’t quite describe their many permutations.
Says leader and vocalist Bill Temple, “there’s been at least 20 guys that have come and gone, and come back and left, and come back again” to the Gully Boys, who typically hit the stage as a five-man combo. The “Groundhog Day Reunion Jam” February 2 at Royalton Academy came about after a friend of the band assembled eight years of live recordings together. The fan, JoJo Levasseur (who also does the band’s artwork), then pressed the compilation into a CD and gave it to band members last Christmas.
Listening to it, says Temple, “really got me thinking. For each song they put who was in the band at that point. This idea began percolating in my head that we should get everybody back together and just have this jam.”
The original Gully Boys lineup formed in the mid-90’s at Bentley’s Restaurant in Woodstock. “A bunch of guys were living on the Gully Road, which runs along the back of Suicide Six,” says Temple. To blow off steam from their various day jobs, “we just started jamming down there, they weren’t paying us much. We knew a few songs and we’d make it up as we went along.”
When Jerry Garcia died in August 1995, Temple organized a memorial at Quechee Gorge, which drew a surprising crowd of over 300 people. Afterwards, they headed over to Seven Barrels Brewery in West Lebanon, where Temple tended bar, and plugged in. “The manager said we could just bring the whole thing down there … that was really the first official gig as the Gully Boys.”
The Gully Boys motto is “if you can’t make it up while you’re playing, you shouldn’t be playing,” and an improvisational spirit still guides the band. “We’ve always been about the jam,” says Temple. “Just throw a basic musical structure out there and get your rocks off, take it as far as you can.”
“Sometimes, it’s a train wreck, but not THAT often,” he says. “But other times you get to that point that makes Deadheads Deadheads – where that bubble pops in your head, and you go, ‘wow, that’s so awesome!’”
They’ve released only one studio album. In 2005, Temple and drummer Tod Moses took charge and, with eight other musicians, made “Diluvian Dreams” in a home studio. They’d already tried to make a record “at least four times, and hadn’t finished because someone would quit or get fed up,” says Temple. When that happened, “they’d either say we couldn’t use their tracks, or because they weren’t in the band anymore, we didn’t think it was right to use them.”
“Diluvian Dreams” features nine original songs, all emblematic of the footloose Gully Boys sound, including the bluesy “Big Rocks,” the Dead-flavored “Cosmic Love” (a sped-up “Scarlet Begonias”) and a soulful ballad, “Beautiful.” A highlight is the humorous “Flatlander Song,” a playful dig at tourists – “you’d think they’d never seen two or three trees in the same place,” sings Temple.
Gully Boys bassist and archivist Dave Clark has also posted numerous live shows on his website, www.yellowhousemedia.com, which is an unofficial but pretty reliable band home page.
There should be between 15 or 20 people at next Friday’s show, says Temple, who hopes that kismet and organized chaos will guide them. The plan is to perform four sets. “I’m just gonna say at the start of the night, OK, who wants to play what tune,” he says. “The drummers will be the biggest challenge. There are so many, but we’ll have two drum kits. You know, the classic Dead/Allman Brothers setup.”
With any luck, the Gully Boys will reunite again in a year, but in the meantime the band’s shifting lineup will convene once a month at Seven Barrels, as well as places like Middle Earth and McGee’s. They’ll play, says Temple, “anywhere that will have us,” but they try to schedule only one gig a week. They don’t want to burn out on making music; it keeps them sane after toiling at a regular job.
“It’s something to look forward to,” he says. “When you’re pounding nails or making steaks, if you know on the weekend that you’re gonna be a rock star for a few hours, it gets you through the week.”
Upcoming Gully Boys shows:
Saturday, January 27 – Seven Barrels Brewery, West Lebanon
Friday, February 2 – Royalton Academy Building, Royalton
Middle Earth Music Hall Soundboard Recordings (2/06)