“All my friends around town are just the greatest guitar players — Joel and Ward from Sol Driven Train, Sadler from Leslie, all the guys are my brother’s old friends … they’re like guitar wizards,” says local singer, guitarist, keyboardist, and drummer Derek Cribb. “I started banging on the guitar when I was 15 and it was really hard for me to pick up.”
He’s being modest. As his friends and fans already know, Cribb shines during his weekly Thursday night gig at the Acme Cantina on the Isle of Palms with a groove-heavy mix of original songs and classic-rock favorites — many of which have been totally reworked and rearranged.
His “loop” work (live digital recording and playback) has become more complex and his set list has expanded to include some seriously obscure rock material — from Hendrix, Zep, Marley, and the Dead to The Police and Warren Zevon.
“I got into doing loops on stage because I’m originally a drummer and I can’t really just settle on playing an acoustic guitar and singing [laughs],” Cribb says. “What first got me into it was playing percussion with Graham Whorley in 2004 or so. I’d sit in on percussion with Graham on Wednesday nights at Bert’s for a while. I have a lot of respect and admiration for Graham. He showed me how it worked and it was really cool. I ended up picking a loop pedal and working on it … then I pulled an old keyboard out of the closet! Yes, I incorporated the crappy, polyphonic sounds of the old ’80s Yamaha and people seemed to like it.”
Calling itself “a sunny place for shady people” (and “the island’s best-kept secret”), the Acme Cantina is located just a block up from the Windjammer/pavilion scene on Ocean Blvd. Cribb started performing regularly on Thursday nights last year.
He started up another series last year, booking two weekly gigs during summer season at the Boathouse on Breach Inlet. On Wednesdays and Thursdays, he sets up with the acoustic and a small P.A. and plays a mixed set of originals and classics from 6-9 p.m.
“It’s pretty cool, even though gigs like that can be pretty mindless,” says the guitarist. “I don’t play all my more upbeat stuff. I’ll do my more mellow stuff here and there and do a little of everything … except for Jimmy Buffett, of course! When they first asked me to play, I told them I was worried that their patrons would demand stuff like Buffett, but they assured me that they did not want me to do any of that.”
While the summertime, yacht club/tourist crowd that tends to dominate the dining room at places like the Boathouse may applaud lightly to Cribb’s renditions of CCR, Allmans, Zeppelin, and Dylan hits, the boozier crowd at Acme Cantina totally embraces Cribb’s “more upbeat” sets.
“Honestly, Acme is my favorite gig right now,” Cribb says. “Everybody just likes to just go with the flow and they like my decisions on what to play next and where to go. It’s very easygoing.”
The local vibe is evident and balanced between the audience and artist. He’s one of their genuine East Cooper guys and they’re genuinely his people, on the same page and at the same pace.
“The bartenders are great and the people who hang out there on a regular basis are always positive and really stoked to be there,” Cribb says of the place. “It’s like a weird void on the island, which is really cool. It’s one of the coolest spots over there.”
Cribb, 27, first started working in professional bands right out of high school, playing with jam-oriented rock band Sol Driven Train and with his older brothers, Rik and Billy, in a twangy pop-rock four-piece appropriately named The Cribb. By 2002, The Cribb relocated to Los Angeles (with Andy Carini on lead guitar), and independently released a full-length album in 2003 titled Theo Wilson Square.
“At that time, I was really into classic rock and reggae — almost exclusively,” remembers Cribb. “But out West, I got turned on to bands like Wilco, Radiohead, Galactic, Ween … all sorts of newer stuff.”
They returned to Charleston in late 2004 and each Cribb brother aimed in a different direction. Rik formed his own band (The Problems) and Derek gradually established himself as a solo act, occasionally filling in with friends at bar gigs and festivals.
Rik and Derek perform every Saturday at the newly-rechristened Off The Hook Cantina on Middle Street at 10 p.m. under the duo name “The Crib.”
“Saturday nights at Off the Hook are interesting,” says the younger brother. “We get a lot of people requesting stuff like Jack Johnson, Sublime, and stuff like that.”
Derek’s “loop show” skills developed quickly. It’s impressive how much is going on at once during his live sets — between the sampled guitar chords and accents, vocal affects, and keyboard work. The multiple sound sources propel the set — which could easily bend from a deep Van Morrison cut and a B-side song off of Led Zeppelin III over to Wilco’s “Handshake Drugs” and a bluesy version off of Hendrix’s Axis Bold As Love. And a dozen Marley tunes.
“I definitely do things a little differently,” Cribb says. “With the loopers, you can hit the record button and hit the same button and it will pick up at a certain time, but sometimes it doesn’t work. I hit it a certain way and re-hit it so that it’s more exact. It’s tricky.”