Oh, the brother band.
Ralph and Carter. Jim and Jesse. Noel and Liam. Chris and Rich.
In so many cases, brothers as singing partners and band mates can work out so well. Witness above the Stanleys and McReynolds, two pairs of brothers who count among bluegrass music’s luminaries. Theirs were extraordinary partnerships.
Also witness the Gallaghers and Robinsons, of contemporary rock fame. Their collaborations were equally brilliant and fractious and, ultimately, spelled for the demise of their respective bands.
Continuing in the vein of country brother duos come Page Burkum and Jack Torrey, brothers who seem more akin to the Stanleys than the Gallaghers. Together, the two form the core of The Cactus Blossoms. This Minnesota based vintage country outfit takes inspiration from those old, raspy 78s and 45s, bearing names you didn’t recognize, that you might have, once upon a time, found squirreled away in your grandparent’s closet.
Jack and Page fell in love with the guys who taught Hank Williams, Jimmie Rodgers, and the earliest heroes of The Grand Ole Opry what country music sounded like.
The brothers recently celebrated the release of their latest record, You’re Dreaming, which was produced by J.D. McPherson.
I recently caught up with Jack and Page to chat about rhyming dictionaries, old country singers, and dreaming.
BRO – Minnesota is a long way from cactus country. How did you come to fall in love with classic country?
JT – The little plains prickly pear is the only cactus you’ll find in Minnesota, and they’re out west where the bedrock starts peaking out of the prairie. Our band name was never intended to be literal or geographic, though. I fell in love with some of the early country stuff the hardest, probably, when I got my first real dose of heartache. Somehow, it unlocked the space between the lines on certain songs I was hearing and I could relate to the singer in a way I never had before.
PB – Minneapolis may be a long way from Nashville, but remember that Hank Snow was from Nova Scotia and Merle Haggard was born in California. There’s always been country music lovers up here. There was a club called The Flame Cafe running in Minneapolis in the 1960s that all of the country stars of the time played. I’ve heard Dave Dudley had a regular gig there for a while, and I’m guessing it was before he had a hit with “Six Days On The Road.”
BRO – Can you name an obscure country artist or two that our readers should get to know?
JT – Wade Ray is an obscure artist whose work falls somewhere between vaudeville and 60’s country. He was a prodigy fiddler, a great singer, and he worked with all sorts of people in his later years. He’s even playing bass with Willie Nelson’s band on the album Live At Panther Hall. And does Bob Dylan count as an obscure country artist? Nashville Skyline is one of my favorite country albums of all time.
PB – Rex Griffin. He never became famous, but he was a huge influence on many, including Hank Williams and Ernest Tubb. Hank Williams definitely learned “Love Sick Blues” from his version. He wrote the ultimate sad country song in “The Last Letter” – about a suicide note – but he also wrote “Everybody Wants To Be My Baby,” which was later covered by both Carl Perkins and The Beatles.
BRO – What’s the best part about playing music in a band with your brother?
JT – We’ve had a lot of experience working together on different projects throughout our lives and I think it transfers well to playing music and traveling. Even though we are really different, we understand each other and speak the same language.
BRO – We are featuring “Clown Collector” on this month’s Trail Mix. What’s the story behind the song?
JT – “Clown Collector” was one of those songs that I never thought I’d write. Who wants to rhyme with “collector” that many times! I didn’t use a rhyming dictionary or anything, but that probably would have been smart. Something about it seems like cheating. When it popped into my head, I could almost hear Chuck Berry singing it, or maybe Woody Guthrie, if he ever got rock ‘n roll with one of his lighter hearted tunes.
BRO – In keeping with the title of the new record, are you an avid dreamer? Care to share what you remember about a recent dream?
JT – I’ve had some dreams that were pretty significant in my life that I think have altered my perception of the world, but you never know when one will pay you a visit. I had a dream within a dream a while back. I don’t remember what it was about, but there’s something about waking up twice that is pretty bizarre feeling. The bulk of my dreams are on par with a Labrador Retriever, and I’m probably just running through a field somewhere.
Jack and Page will be celebrating the release of You’re Dreaming with shows in St. Paul, Minnesota, in early February. The rest of the month has The Cactus Blossoms playing across the Midwest and Northeast.
For more information on the band or how you can grab a copy of the new record, check out the band’s website.