Musician/writer/author/broadcaster Sid Griffin rose to fame in Los Angeles as leader of Island recording artists the Long Ryders, one of the first bands of the alt-rock era to incorporate the influences of Gram Parsons and the Flying Burrito Brothers and the Byrds. Yet in recent years, he’s made his home in London, where he leads the Coal Porters. The band has played only a limited number of American shows since their formation in the ’90s.
This spring, the Coal Porters will return to the scene of the crime — Los Angeles and the West Coast — where they will play three shows in the L.A. area, one in San Francisco and a coveted spot at the Stagecoach festival on Sunday, May 1.
When the Ryders ended, native Kentuckian Griffin formed the Coal Porters, which initially had a fluid lineup, and relocated from L.A. to London, where he hooked up with Scottish stand-up comedian Neil Robert Herd (sound engineer on Wasp, Best Live Action Short Film winner at the 2004 Academy Awards). The duo started out playing electric, but quickly tired of hauling around amps and drums. As a result of a dare, the Coal Porters decided to play acoustic bluegrass versions of their material at a charity concert in London. The crowd reaction affirmed that the band had found its true calling and said goodbye to electric instrumentation forever. En route from then to now they picked up Canadian fiddle virtuoso Carly Frey and London’s noted local attorney and doghouse bassist Andrew Stafford. In 2010 they were blessed to secure the services of one of Britain’s best young banjo players, John Breese. With this impressive lineup, the Coal Porters were ready to take on the world.
With a published author, a professional comedian and a barrister in their ranks they are the only band who can sue themselves over copyright and joke about it.
In April 2009, after traveling halfway across the globe, the Coal Porters arrived outside of Durango, Colorado, played two killer shows at the famous MeltDown Festival (Colorado’s answer to the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival in San Francisco), and laid down the tracks to their first album in two years. Durango was recorded in two weeks in the Colorado mountains at the Kozy Tone Studio of legendary producer Ed Stasium (Ramones, Mick Jagger, Phil Spector, Smithereens, Belinda Carlisle, Jeff Healey Band, and the Long Ryders).∂ƒƒ The entire album was cut Basement Tapes style, with the same authenticity of Dylan and The Band. Everyone crowded in one room. Overdubs were few and laughter frequent.
Durango was released in January 2010. It faithfully represents the Coal Porters’ hot live act, and creates new moods of its own. This highly anticipated follow-up to 2007’s Turn the Water On, Boy! is a clear country-mile step forward, evoking the sounds of a bluegrass Clash, or a Bill Monroe for the 21st century.
David Fricke wrote in Rolling Stone, “The Coal Porters [have] been going for nearly two decades . . . and [have] evolved from a deeper mining of the country in the Ryders’ acid-tinted drive to a pure acoustic bluegrass written and played with natural — in Griffin’s case, native — flair on Durango.”
Fricke appeared with Griffin in a one-on-one interview panel at the Americana Music Festival & Conference, held in Nashville in September 2010.
Awarding Durango four stars in March 2010, MOJO magazine said: “The audio equivalent of a feel-good movie . . . recorded all in one room, with everyone as much intent on capturing the vibes as much as the undoubted quality of the music . . . gorgeous.”
Blurt noted, “Seven albums on, the Coal Porters have a reputation they can bank on. And with Durango this durable bunch has successfully added even more fuel to their fire.”
The Coal Porters are five musicians from four different parts of the planet who came together as an incredibly powerful fusion of talent, the world’s first “alt-bluegrass” act.
“For all the satisfaction of success in Europe and becoming the UK’s leading ‘alt-bluegrass’ ensemble,” says Griffin, “there is nothing to compare to the Coal Porters heading for my musical home in California. My days in Los Angeles with the Long Ryders were so wonderful and I was so blessed with so many friends that it is high time I took the band to the left coast to show ’em all what we can do. I am extremely proud of my time in the Golden State and extremely proud of the music my Coal Porters are making right now so to put the two together is gonna be a true, true week to remember.”
The Spring 2010 West Coast Tour
Fri., April 29 SAN FRANCISCO, CA Hotel Crescent/Burrit Room Lounge
Sun., May 1 INDIO, CA Stagecoach Festival (3 p.m. stage time)
Mon., May 2 LOS ANGELES/CULVER CITY, CA The Cinema Bar
Tues., May 3 LOS ANGELES/ALTADENA, CA The Coffee Gallery
Wed., May 4 LOS ANGELES/ECHO PARK, CA Taix, 321 Lounge