JD McPherson: “Fire Bug”

Punk rock, cattle ranching, visual arts, and rockabilly: pretty different backgrounds, but Oklahoma’s JD McPherson can claim them all as a part of his own. The singer lived a rural existence for most of his life, yet he was originally drawn to the power of punk. But as he conceded to NPR a few years ago, it’s hard to be a ’70s British punk rocker growing up in Buffalo Valley, Oklahoma in 1995. A chance encounter with the music of Buddy Holly soon had McPherson diving further back to the original rock-and-roll sources, like Little Richard and Fats Domino, all while teaching middle school art.

Soon, McPherson was rockabilly-obsessed. It certainly helps when you have a voice like his, which jumps off the recordings like a rocket. Credit also goes to Jimmy Sutton, a Chicago-area bassist and producer who took McPherson under his wing and showed him how to truly sound like his idols. Sutton captured McPherson’s performances the old-fashioned way: with beat-up microphones, an analog tape machine, and plenty of live takes. The result is Signs & Signifiers, a roaring debut first released in 2010 before getting a wider push in 2012 via Rounder Records. And thanks to constant touring and can’t-miss live shows, McPherson is now spreading the rockabilly gospel across the country. Songs like “Fire Bug” charm with banged-out pianos, steady beats, and screamed vocals, and it sounded even better live in our Studio 1A. For McPherson, rock-and-roll is more than just an outfit.

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