Crazy Chestur

Born in a Barn & Serving Up a Distilled, Blended, Potent Concoction of Innovative Folk/Rock

    icon Apr 27, 2023
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The energetic purity of the collective known as Crazy Chestur may appear to be a new brand and blend of intoxicating musical folk-rockers weaving their homespun magic  upon the stages of clubs & festivals throughout the great state of Michigan, but in actuality they consist of a group of highly respected and gifted musicians that have been laying serious musical tracks for decades.

Consisting of Jim Gilmore on guitar, Charlie Walmsley on piano, Andy Rogers on violin, and drummer Rob Clendening, in truth Crazy Chestur was born in a barn - specifically, Jim and Lori Gilmore's barn near Shepherd, Michigan, which has been home to regular weekly rehearsal sessions since 2013 when the guys first got together to form their innovative folk-rock fusion.

Surrounded by open fields, wooden walls, vintage artifacts and modern farming equipment, these guys have developed a rich and resonant wooden, earthy sound that is brilliantly displayed on their new 5-song EP release 5x5,  which kicks off on the first track with the flowing revelry of a jacked-up barrel-house piano riff accompanied by lushly decorated acoustic instrumentation.

Musical director Tom T Ball leads this crew of seasoned craftsmen through song arrangement sessions punctuated by detailed discussions of far-reaching topics. Distilled grains are occasionally sampled, but not until most of the work is done.

Chemistry is one of the most important components of a band, and Jim, Rob and Charlie have worked together off and on for decades in bands like Spice, No Brand Blues Band, Pepper Pie and The Bluegills.  Pre-dating that Andy and Charlie began jamming music together since their high school days in Bay City; and currently Andy is also working on a new recording with noted folk-blues troubadour, Andy Cohen.  

Punctuating their legendary ancillary accomplishments is the fact that Rogers is also a gifted and nationally renowned photographer, with many of his photos gracing the walls at The Ark in Ann Arbor. Meanwhile, Tom and Charlie also work together in Jive at Five, a favorite at summertime music festivals, while Tom is long-time host of Homespun on CMU Public Radio and has been involved with Wheatland Music Organization since the early days.  Charlie's songs have also been performed and recorded by several artists, including local blues legend, Larry McCray.

Crazy Chestur's 2015 debut album Harvest Party, featured mostly original material and was listed among 'Best of 2015' by Roots Music Report.  And In October 2022, under the direction of producer, Michael Crittenden, aka The Colonel, Crazy Chestur recorded five songs for their new release 5X5, including three originals and two covers

Recently, The REVIEW had the pleasure to interview this group of Americana genre-blending pioneers to discuss their new release and what they feel distinguishes their uniquely warm and embracing sound.

RM: What prompted you to join forces to form Crazy Chestur and what does each member contributes to the overall architecture of the band?

Charlie:  I had a pipe dream a little over ten years ago that I wanted to start a folk-rock band.  Rock bands I’d been in might do one Band song and one CSN or Neil Young, but I wanted to do all that stuff.  So I recruited Jim and Rob to get started, then I ran into Tom downtown and told him I was starting a folk-rock band and he said , ‘Do you need a bass player?’  So I said, ‘Yeah, show up at Jim’s barn next Tuesday.’  Eventually I got hold of Andy and said ‘Hey Andy, we got a gig in Mt Pleasant, come and jam with us.’

Tom:  But Andy was a little bit later to the party.

Andy:  I played with you guys at The Gem Theater in St Louis when you opened for Ray Bonneville and then I got drafted.

Rob:  I had come to see you play some solo gigs.  I was sitting there in front singing along with you.

Charlie (interrupting):  Yeah, you put up those great harmonies.

Rob: We had a lot of fun with that, so later when you decided to put this thing together, you gave me a call and we’ve been having fun ever since.

Charlie:  Shortly after we put the band together, I took it upon myself to appoint Tom T Ball as our musical director and our chief Chief.

Tom:  Well, you had a pretty good book going when I showed up.  There were quite a few songs that you all had been working on.

Charlie:  It was a wish list.

Tom:  Yeah, it was a wish list.  I think the list that I still have says wish list on the top of it.  I’ll go farther to say that one part was a wish list and the other part was ‘here are songs, let’s learn these later.’

RM:  What are some of your goals musically and with this latest release; and what do you feel distinguishes your sound from other bands working in similar genres, or blending genres?

Tom:  It felt like we started out as sort of a folk-rock band, but I think it’s evolved a little bit from that.  It really feels like we are in Americana setting, especially with the new record 5x5.  There are a couple of originals on there and the covers certainly are of the Americana setting, one of them very bluesy Who Will the Next Fool Be and then Sending Me Angels I would throw into the Americana category.

Charlie:  The cover we did of Who Will the Next Fool Be, that Charlie Rich song is being grabbed up by Spotify blues playlists and by blues radio programmers.

Rob: I loved doing the record itself and all the tunes on it.  And I really enjoyed where we recorded it in Grand Rapids at The Colonel’s (aka ‘Michael Crittenden’s)  studio there called Mackinaw Harvest. He took really good care of us and did a great job with us.  He always does.

Andy:  I think we are playing music that we love and it’s what we want to share with our fans.  The tightness of everybody playing together is exceptional.  It’s the fruit of our hard work over that last couple years.  Enjoying each other’s company on stage and in the recording studio and it’s about making fine music for our fans.

Jim:  I enjoyed making the recording.  I sure appreciate playing with all you guys.  Looking to keep working on these vocals and guitar and tightening everything up the best we can.  It’s a good feeling to have the music come together for us.

Tom:  Being dubbed musical director, which is a nebulous term, I think we are all musical directors in our own way.  With the combination of originals written by Charlie, I feel proud that we are playing songs, some well-known, but we really do try to seek out songs that are not that well known.  Even a song like Charlie Rich’s Who Will the Next Fool Be, not many other people have covered that original.  We do put our own spin on it, but it’s a song you just don’t hear anyone else play.  So, I’m really thrilled about those aspects of the band.

RM:  How many original compositions would you estimate you've pulled together and what types of musical directions do you hope to explore moving forward?

Charlie:  Our first recording we did Harvest Party in 2015, I think we had six originals on there.  I think we had six originals and one that was a co-write that I wrote with Larry McCray (Sunny Monday) so that was sort of an original.  And on this record (5X5) we had three originals and the one that stands out is the first song Easy on Me because that was one that the entire band wrote.

Tom: That came about by you Charlie when you were vacationing on Florida and leaving us poor losers in the cold Michigan winter.  You sent this package of lyrics up with a thumbnail sketch of a melody, a rough demo.  So Jim, Rob, Andy and myself got together while you were still down south and started working on this song Take it Easy on Me.  Through rehearsals and working with the rough demo, we came up with the arrangement that we play today.  Which is way different from your original rough demo.

Charlie:  I think I wanted my rough demo to sound like Levon Helm and Rick Danko but it ended up sounding something like the Statler Brothers.  And I sent it to you guys saying try to make something of this and you came up with this really cool arrangement.  I mean the New Orleans style and the you jump into the swing.  So that song is pretty special.

Andy:  And it happened pretty quickly.  We called you on the phone and played it for you while you were in Florida and you were taken by it.

Rob: It all happened pretty organically.

Andy:  The whole experience of being out here in the barn has really shaped how we play.  I think that being away from the big cities out in a space that is so far away from everyone and all the noise.  There is very little noise and no people coming in.  We’re in a very secluded and beautiful setting for playing music.  The set up is just wonderful thanks to Jim Gilmore.  So it’s really helped us listen to each other.  The surroundings have helped shape our sound.

Charlie: We were born in a barn.

Andy: Absolutely!

Crazy Chestur’s new release ‘5x5’ is available here and is also available on all the streaming services.

Upcoming shows include:

May 6 – Crazy Chestur at Scotty’s Sand Bar, Bay City

May 20 – Crazy Chestur at Wade & Paula’s Houghton Lake Concert Series

You can also check them out on their Facebook & YouTube channels.



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