Since their inception last July, the Alt-Country combo known as Tweed & Dixie have been steadily gaining traction and building a substantial fan-base with their combination of top-notch musicianship, engaging showmanship, and a steady string of original songs that are difficult to categorize.
Consisting of former 10 Hands Tall members Barry Forster on vocals & guitar, Billy Gunther on vocals, guitar, banjo & keys; former Burnaround bassist Rick Maida on vocals & bass; and drummer Justin Clifford, the group is currently in the studio working on their Debut EP, which is slated to be released in April; and according to Barry, one of the key components involved with why their sound works so well is because “we’re an awesome contradiction.”
While the team of Billy & Barry are more Country oriented musically, Rick and Justin are more firmly grounded in the world of Rock ‘n Roll; and their collective focus is to mash these two divergent genres together in a way that is both fresh & engaging. Meeting somewhere between Waylon Jennings and Whitesnake, their sound has been crafted from growing up in the working class, grease-driven madhouse of Buck City and running the backroads of the Great Lakes. Their chemistry is balanced between the country-rock soul of Forster, the pop-driven energy of Gunther, the gut-busting bass lines and soaring vocals of Maida, and the soulful thunder-drumming of Clifford.
Since their debut last summer, they’ve had the opportunity to share the stage with artists ranging from Josh Thompson, Dave & Julia, Jason Michael Carroll, Mickey Buyton and Outshyne. With Barry earning the honor of being selected Country Musician of the Year at the Review Music Awards in 2013 & 2014; Maida earning Rock Bassist of the Year last year, and Clifford picking up the Rock Drummer honors in 2015, the group says the germination of the group actually started at last year’s 2015 Review Awards Ceremony.
“Billy and I have been playing music since 10 Hands Tall and started writing a lot of songs and felt it would be cool to be able to sing these songs together,” reflects Barry. “By happenstance, we had some mutual friends that hung out with Rick and last year at the Review Awards I said to him, ‘Dude, we should jam sometime’. And then we did and our first rehearsal together was magical. We needed a drummer and Rick said that him and Justin had been friends since kids, so from that initial start everything has flourished and grown.”
“There was no ugly break-up with 10 Hands Tall,” he continues, “we just developed different goals. Billy and I wanted more of a part in the songs than just playing them; and we clicked and shared so many musical visions that we just developed a solid groove together.”
Similarly, Rick says that he also needed a change. “Burnaround was an awesome thing for me and each member of that band is an awesome musician, but I wanted to start doing more original material and was getting bored playing Rock. I needed a change and found that I wanted to start playing more Country as much as they needed to do more Rock. In the process, we’ve discovered that we really don’t have any boundaries in terms of genre anymore.”
Having played live all over the Midwest in places like Chicago, Columbus, and all over Michigan; within the Great Lakes Bay region the group usually performs at the Willew Lounge in Bay City every Thursday and every other's Wednesday at Sherman's in Flint. They also perform Mondays at Tavern 101 in Bay City and will play the 702 in Midland on some weekend. They will also be playing at The Party on McCarty this year, along with the Walleye Festival in Freeland; and will be opening for Josh Thompson on April 14th at The Machine Shop in Flint.
“Crowd reaction has been strong,” continues Barry, “and we’ve been really lucky to get signed to a Nashville management company after only being together for four months. If we need something we can call them; and they help us out a lot internally.”
Because of their divergent bridge between both Country & Rock idioms, each of their live performances is an unpredictable roller-coaster ride into the popular American songbook. “Keith Urban is one of our natural influences,” reflects Barry, and in the early part of our set we’ll do material by Ronnie Milsap and Randy Travis, and then progress into Modern Country and then Rock. By the end of the night we might be playing something by Rage Against the Machine, its almost that extreme. It’s a crazy transition but that’s the fun of it.”
“It’s funny,” notes Billy, “because all our original material is pretty much centered around love stories – loving and drinking – those are about the best universal topics for any Country Band. But we strive for high-energy in each of our performances.”
The band says they got their name, Tweed & Dixie, when riding in their car to a gig. “Billy and I both have Tweed amplifiers,” explains Barry, “and we were driving down Dixie Highway and talking about how Grand Funk Railroad based their name on the Grand Trunk line; so we just looked at each other and said, Tweed & Dixie – that’s it! Billy and I were just doing acoustic shows together as a duo for awhile, but when the band expanded the other guys liked the name as well, because its one of those things where when you see it, you know what its going to be about – country roots rock & roll soul.”
“It’s funny because the biggest compliments we get is from people that will come up to us at a show and say, ‘I really hate country music, but love you guys!’,” reflects Rick. “I was never a huge country fan until I saw these guys, too. Plus its like a changing of the guard over the night – during the earlier part of the show we’ll have older country fans that will come out for a set or two and then go home; and then the crowd changes halfway through the show and we start cranking out the AC/DC.”
“It’s cool with all the various musical genres evolving into one big genre,” concludes Barry. “Boundaries are not what they used to be and some of our fans that don’t expect to like the Rock stuff actually end up getting into it, so we try to bring everybody out of their shell.”
“Breaking barriers is what we’re trying to do and this region has big Country crowds and big Rock crowds, so we’re finding ourselves in a pretty cool pace to be. There’s so much we can do now by not being tied to just one style of music.”