John Cranford and the three cohorts in his Americana/Celtic/rockabilly band Cranford & Sons may still be performing almost nightly around their Hilton Head hometown, but they’ve got their sights set on a horizon even wider than a Lowcountry salt marsh sunrise.
“We feel like what we’re doing can have a bigger reach than just Hilton Head, or even just the Southeast,” Cranford says while on the phone after loading in at a Tuesday night bar gig down the street from his house. “Charleston is the first big step for any band out of Hilton Head. Unless you want to stay here and play Jimmy Buffett songs for the rest of your life, you have to get to Charleston.”
The group makes their Holy City debut with a special Thursday night event at Molly Darcy’s, a collaboration with local ginger-infused bourbon company Virgil Kaine. They’ll perform again on Friday night, just around the corner at the Wild Wing Café on Market Street.
“We drink a lot of Jameson as is, so being whiskey fiends that play Celtic music with a raw Southern spirit thrown in, we thought that the whole Virgil Kaine thing fit what we’re doing,” Cranford says.
And what they’re doing is regularly filling crowded bars full of revelers eager to dance along to their energetic, fiddle-driven sound. Bassist Phil Sirmans often plays a custom “banjo” bass named Jamama, while Randy Rockalotta handles drum duties (“Rockalotta” isn’t his birth name, but Cranford claims that the drummer holds a checking account with the adopted moniker). Violinist Eric Reid adds the Celtic and bluegrass touches to Cranford’s originals, which vary from fast-paced, Flogging Molly-esque rock-jigs like “East Virginia” to more pop-country tunes like “Radio,” a tune with shrimp boat, Gulf of Mexico, and Hurricane Katrina imagery that’s chock-full of a hit song’s catchy-vibes, even on the first listen.
“For ‘Radio,’ Phil had that first line [“There was a boy from Atlanta/He was a little bit slow/His Christian name was Jimmy/But they called him Radio”], and I started banging around on chords and wrote out the rest of it,” Cranford explains. “We kind of laughed at it because it’s such a poppy country song, but it was really effortless compared to other songs on the album that we worked and worked on.”
The quartet recently wrapped up sessions for their self-titled full-length debut, recorded entirely on two-inch tape at Retrophonics Studios in St. Augustine, Fla.
“I’ve made records before on Pro Tools where it’s really easy to get in there and perfect everything,” Cranford says. “For this band and this recording, what you hear is exactly what was played. Hypothetically, we could have gone back to 1970 and made the whole record with each instrument and the amps and the vintage gear that we used. I’m really proud of the warmth that it has.”
On the first of January this year, each band member quit their day jobs. By fall, they aim to tour as far as Duluth, Minnesota and across the Midwest. Before they get that far, however, they’ve got work to do in Charleston.