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Trail Mix: Big Daddy Love

This Carolina roots rock band thrives on the road…

Just looking at the tour schedule of Big Daddy Love is exhausting. The North Carolina-based roots rock crew hits the road with reckless abandon, typically playing shows in front of growing crowds four or five nights a week.

Since forming in 2009, the group has been turning heads at festivals and underground music haunts in the Southeast. An energetic sound the band self-dubbed “Appalachian Rock” mingles gritty electric blues guitar licks with mountain-bred banjo rolls. It’s an Americana amalgamation that can move in a number of versatile directions: the airy newgrass of Carolina favorites Acoustic Syndicate, the gonzo punch of Colorado slam-grassers Leftover Salmon, or even a distorted Southern-flavored blitz in the vein of the Allman Brothers Band.

When the band first emerged, there was immediate success, including a win at FloydFest’s “Under the Radar” contest in 2010, but a line-up shuffle threatened to thwart the early momentum.

In the past two years, though, the band—formed in Sparta but now primarily calling Winston-Salem home—has solidified a new roster, adding guitarist and songwriter Scott Moss, as well as drummer Scotty Lewis, who joined founding banjo player Brian Swenk, bassist Ashley Sutton, and guitarist Joe Recchio. Things are back on track.

“We’ve really started finding the pocket with each other,” said Swenk. “The playing is as good as anything we’ve ever known.”

The songbook and hearty vocals of Moss, who replaced original lead singer Daniel Smith in 2012, has particularly given the band a revived spark.

“His songwriting is growing with our comfort level and all of us are willing to try new things,” Swenk continued. “We’re not relying on bluegrass as much as we used to. We’re incorporating some country rockers and blues songs—finding different grooves.”

On last year’s live album, Live at Ziggy’s, the band harnessed the seasoned precision of its 200-shows-a-year touring ethic into an impressive sampling of its dynamic performances. Fist-pumping originals including opener “Nashville Flood” mix with twangy takes on interesting covers like Guns N’ Roses “Sweet Child O’ Mine” and the Grateful Dead’s “Shakedown Street.”

More fresh material is on the way. Earlier this year the band recorded a new album at Applehead Recording in Woodstock, N.Y. The upcoming effort could be released as early as this summer on the small North Carolina label Little King Records, which put out Syndicate’s early albums. As the first studio output with the new line-up, the Big Daddy Love band members decided to call the album This Time Around, named after a song Moss brought to the table late in the recording session. “As soon as we heard the phrase, we realized it fit us on so many levels,” Swenk said.

Before the album surfaces, the band will continue traversing the country, earning more fans one show at a time. The group has found support in the Northeast and Rocky Mountains, but in June the tour docket lists familiar cities in the South: Wilmington, Savannah, Charleston, and Johnson City.

“It’s fun to find the little pockets of coolness where people really appreciate us coming,” Swenk said. “We’re discovering a lot of brand new favorite places, many that are unexpected small towns. We’d much rather play for a smaller crowd that appreciates every note than a bigger crowd that’s just there for the bar scene.”

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