CONTINENTAL DRIFTERS

CONTINENTAL DRIFTERS

Obengenannter Künstler ist auch zu hören auf folgenden Alben / Artist also worked on the following records:

COWSILL, SUSAN
Lighthouse CD € 5.90 Info
Lighthouse 2-LP (Personal Vinyl Edition) € 19.90 Info
Just Believe It 2-LP (Personal Vinyl Edition) € 19.90 Info
Just Believe It (Americana Remix) CD € 14.90 Info

Als wir Anfang 2000 von einem Veranstalter für ein mehrtägiges Festival eingeladen wurden, war uns bewusst, dass wir unser bestes (Live-) “Pferd im Stall” anbieten wollten - die CONTINENTAL DRIFTERS. Um das Ganze auch finanziell auf solide Beine stellen zu können, wurde eine Zwei-Wochen-Tour um das Festival “gebaut”.
Eine gewagte Sache, war doch das letzte Album Vermilion fast 2 Jahre zuvor erschienen, und von einem neuen war noch keine Rede. Denn Vermilion war - zumindest im Heimatland des Sextetts - noch eine relativ “neue” Scheibe, da die CD dort erst im Oktober 1999, also 17 Monate nach dem Blue Rose-Release, beim Razor & Tie-Label erschienen war.
So unglaublich es ist - niemand war an der Band aus New Orleans interessiert, allein das Problem, die Band marketingtechnisch verkaufen zu können, da sie in keine Musikkategorie zu stecken ist, hielt die US-Labels davon ab, die Gruppe unter Vertrag zu nehmen. Ihre kategorische Ablehnung, mit Hilfe des Name-Droppings auf all die Bands hinzuweisen, mit denen die einzelnen Musiker in den 80er Jahren bis zum Indie- oder gar Super-Star-Status gelangt waren und sie dadurch besser verkaufen zu können, machten sie es sich und den Plattenfirmen nicht gerade leichter.

Bis zum März 1999. Im Rahmen des SXSW-Festivals in Austin, Texas spielte sich die Band in ihrem 40-Minuten-Auftritt die Seele vom Leib. Es war die Chance, auf die sie jahrelang gewartet hatten. Alles hatte gepasst: die größte Halle der Stadt, gut gefüllt (der Headliner an diesem denkwürdigen Abend war Lucinda Williams, die zu dem Zeitpunkt mit ihrem neuen Album “Car Wheel On A Gravel Road” in aller Munde war), toller Sound, große Bühne, und die Gruppe selbst vor der Show ausgelassen wie selten zuvor. Die Continental Drifters belehrten mit ihrem knackigen Programm alle Zweifler und Ignoranten eines besseren, keiner der Besucher konnte sich der Magie dieses Auftritts entziehen, und kurz danach gingen endlich die so sehr erhofften Angebote ein. Razor & Tie bekam den Zuschlag.

Das war, wie gesagt, im März 1999, und ein halbes Jahr später kam Vermilion dann endlich in den USA auf den Markt. Für die Deutschland-Tour im Juli 2000 gab es also keine “Rückendeckung” von der Promotionseite her, und dennoch wurde diese bereits 3. Tour die erfolgreichste. Was schließlich zur Erkenntnis führte, dass eine außergewöhnliche Band auch ohne neues Album erfolgreich Clubs füllen kann.

Im Januar 2001 begab man sich wieder in die Dockside Studios in Maurice, Louisiana, idyllisch gelegen am Ufer des Vermilion River, um "Better Day" aufzunehmen. Die Band feiert damit ein Jahrzehnt organischer und gegenseitiger Kreativität, indem sie ihre einzigartige gemeinsame Vision erweitern und mit ihren individuellen Vorstellungen verspinnen. Mit dem Willen, nur großartige Songs zu schreiben, gleitet das eingängige musikalische Gemisch der Drifters mühelos durch perlenden Soul, Country Rock, Pop, Psychedelia, R & B, Rock’n’Roll, Walzer und sogar Gospel - was es nicht nur schwierig macht, die Band einzuordnen, sondern unsinnig ist, auch wenn Wolfgang Doebeling im deutschen Rolling Stone schreibt: „Der definitorische Wert des Begriffs „Americana“ ist durch inflationären Gebrauch inzwischen arg geschwächt, doch wenn es auf diesem Globus eine Band gibt, auf die er noch passt wie „Punk“ zu den Pistols oder „Genie“ zu George Jones, dann sind das die Continental Drifters. Im Spannungsfeld zwischen Folk und Rock, zwischen souligem Pop und swampigem Country stehen ihnen mehr Tönungen und Nuancen zur Verfügung als der gesamten „No Depression“-Konkurrenz.“

Jeder der Drifters hat auf seine Art mit früheren Projekten Erfolge vorzuweisen. Die Wege haben sich Mitte der 80er Jahre gekreuzt, um Anfang der 90er in Los Angeles zu einer losen Gemeinschaft unter dem Namen Continental Drifters Musik zu machen. Nach mehreren Besetzungen hatte die Band ihre zwischenzeitliche Stammformation mit Mark Walton, Vicki Peterson, Robert Maché, Peter Holsapple, Susan Cowsill und Carlo Nuccio gefunden. Drummer Russ Broussard ersetzte Nuccio zwei Jahre nach Erscheinen des selbstbetitelten Debütalbums von 1994. Dieses Line-Up besteht nunmehr seit 5 Jahren unverändert. Im Laufe der Jahre zogen alle Mitglieder der Continental Drifters nach New Orleans, und dieser mystische, einfache Fleck auf diesem Planeten ist seit Mitte der 90er Jahre die Heimat der Band.

Trotz unzähliger atemberaubender Live-Shows und andauernder Jubelgesänge der Medien muss die Band immer wieder gegen das „Side Project“-Image ankämpfen. Zur gleichen Zeit waren „Major“-Labels und Hochglanzmagazine sowohl fasziniert und verwirrt von der Absage der Gruppe, in eine vorgefertigte Marketing-Schachtel gesteckt zu werden, bei einem möglichen Name-Dropping wie Bangles, dB’s, Dream Syndicate oder Cowsills eigentlich eine leichte Sache.

Was erwartet uns nun auf "Better Day"? Mit Vicki Petersons kühn-aufsässigem „Na Na“ zum Beispiel rockt das Album direkt vom Start kräftig los, begleitet von ihren harten Gitarrenriffs und Holsapples Keyboards, Mark Walton kommt zum ersten Mal als Sänger bei seinem und Tom Boles‘ Stück „Tomorrow’s Gonna Be“ zum Zuge, das auch gleichzeitig den Albumtitel beinhaltet und ein beherzter Uptempo-Song ist. Auf „Live On Love“ laufen Peter Holsapples Bläserarrangement (mit Mark Mullins an der Trombone) und beschwingte Orgel mit dem Funk-Drive der Band zusammen, während Petersons „Long Journey Home“ mit aufdringlichem Elan schlittert und hüpft. Susan Cowsills gefühlvolles „Cousin“ wird schnell tief und unheimlich dank einer außergewöhnlichen Anlehnung an Früh-Siebziger-Jahre Rock-Schemen, dann zeigt Holsapples „Too Little, Too Late“ lautstark, wie Elton John geklungen hätte, wenn er ein WIRKLICH cooler Junge gewesen wäre. „Snow“, ein weiterer Cowsill-Song, fährt fort, ihre schaurige Verbindung zu der fremden, magischen Verführung der Melancholie zu entdecken. Petersons „That Much A Fool“ bringt einen herzerweichenden Walzer.
Die erste Zusammenarbeit von Cowsill und Broussard (und Broussards Debüt als Drifters-Songwriter) ist das Ergebnis von „Peaceful Waking“, und „Where Does The Time Go?“ bringt das Album mit einem sogar für Drifters-Verhältnisse ungewöhnlichen, bluesigen, gospelbeeinflussten Stück zu Ende.

"Better Day" – das ist nicht nur der Name dieses Albums; es ist auch, wie man sich fühlt, wann immer man dieses kleine Stück Musik auf den Plattenteller oder in den CD-Player legt.




Dieser Artikel erschien in der September/Oktober '99-Ausgabe des No Depression Magazins:

Driftin’ way of life
New Orleans’ supergroup finally gets its Continental due in the States
by Neal Weiss



In a perfect imaginary world, six musicians of a roots/pop collective all live, eat, sleep and breathe together. In the same bucolic setting — maybe a big, woodsy house with a fireplace that always burns — do they rise and start the day with perfect cups of coffee in a living room where stringed instruments outnumber pieces of furniture. Soon, outside, they sit lakeside with guitars and mandolins and percussion amid the colors of a perpetual Louisiana autumn so brilliantly hued that not even a good psilocybin buzz could improve it. Musical phrases come naturally, like wind through the trees. They come all day long, fully inspired, and practically without labor.
Is this heaven? No, it's the Continental Drifters.
One peek at the photo from the inner cover of Vermilion, the New Orleans band's stirring new effort, and such a setting seemingly comes to life in full, fairy-tale splendor. Yeah, so real life isn't that perfect — but if there's a band out there that could ultimately achieve such a state of Zen, it just might be this group of rock veterans. Theirs is a story about family, about aging with grace and integrity, about commitment to their craft, about living a life of music beyond the hit single, about eyes on a prize more spiritual than material. To hear vocalist/guitarist Vicki Peterson describe it, the Drifters are like "a perfectly worn-in piece of furniture that you always head for." And vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Peter Holsapple: "like your favorite pair of sneakers that you can slip into and feel like you can run a mile in them immediately."
Better yet, as Holsapple suggests, it’s about what Emmylou Harris once spoke of in a snippet recorded for the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band's landmark 1989 album, Will the Circle Be Unbroken, Vol. 2:
"Years ago I had the experience of sitting around in a living room with a bunch of friends singing and playing, and it was like a spiritual experience — it was wonderful. I decided then that that's what I wanted to do with my life, was to play music, to do music. In the making of records I think over the years, we've all gotten a little too technical, a little too hung up on getting things perfect, and we've lost the living room — the living room has gone out of the music. But today I feel like we got it back."
"I always thought that was a really, really kinda spot-on description of what we like about music and the Drifters," says Holsapple, speaking from New Orleans along with Peterson and guitarist Robert Mache. "This is a band that, for all intents and purposes, if it stayed in a living room and played to itself for the rest of its collective, born days, it still wouldn't be too bad. We really just enjoy each other's music immensely."
Or, as they sing in "Drifters", their emerging soul-sweet anthem: "We're all drifters/Singers and sisters/Brothers and mothers and confidantes/We were born alone/We're alone when we're gone/So while we're here/We might as well just sing along."



Community has always been a crucial thread in the fabric that has woven the Continental Drifters together since their inception — even if, eight years gone by, only bassist Mark Walton remains as a founding member.
The Drifters’ current, and presumably most durable, roster includes Walton (ex-Dream Syndicate), Holsapple (ex-dB's, ex-sideman for R.E.M. and Hootie & the Blowfish), Mache (ex-Steve Wynn Band, Sparks), Peterson (ex-Bangles), Susan Cowsill (of the ’60s sibling band the Cowsills, after whom the Partridge Family was modeled), and drummer Russ Broussard (ex-Bluerunners, Terrence Simien's zydeco band). Holsapple and Cowsill are married.
"I think we're all kind of amazed and grateful that we found each other," says Peterson, and the band's collective decades-long experience in the music industry no doubt strengthens their bond. Being in a group such as the dB's, who struggled for years to get in the game only to find a futile final resting place, or the Bangles, who achieved wild success but eventually had their souls drained from the experience, likely gives an artist the resolve to grab hold of the steering wheel and not let go.
That explains, in part, why they took so long to release Vermilion in the United States (it’s due in October on Razor & Tie) when it was issued overseas by German label Blue Rose a full 18 months prior. They needed to find the right situation instead of inking with just any label that offered the world to them, of which there were several after the band stepped off the stage at this year's South By Southwest. They found it in Razor & Tie, which was responsive to the band's special needs, tour concerns and guarded ambitions.
Yes, this time, it's different. Sure, the band welcomes success — Peterson, for one, suggests the Drifters could be the new Fleetwood Mac — but it's more about chasing their muse. "If this album has a great long shelf life, which I think it will, that will be the success of it," says Mache. "Look at Van Morrison's catalog or Neil Young's catalog; there are albums in there that 20 and 30 years on sound as current as anything right now."
That's how it has always been, ever since the band formed in Los Angeles in 1991. Walton had hooked up with New Orleans expatriates Carlo Nuccio (drums) and Ray Ganucheau (guitar) to form the Continental Drifters, a named borrowed from a group that Nuccio, formerly of the Subdudes, once played with back home in the Big Easy. Along with guitarist Gary Eaton (former Ringling Sisters) and keyboardist Dan McGough (ex-7 Deadly 5 and currently a part of Bob Dylan's touring outfit), this was a band rooted in the loose-limbed Americana of Little Feat and The Band, and was instantly worth hearing.
Keep in mind that this was the pre-Nirvana era; L.A. clubs were still infested with Guns N’ Roses clones and countless troopers of the spandex nation. The local indie-rock-based underground — a few years earlier a dizzyingly talented array of punk, cowpunk, new wave and paisley underground acts — had just about withered and died. But the Drifters rekindled that lost community through a Tuesday-night residency at the popular if dingy Hollywood punk/pop club, Raji's. It was a come-one, come-all atmosphere that showcased not only the formidable talents of the "official" members but of the countless friends who happened by, including Victoria Williams, Giant Sand, John Wesley Harding, Freedy Johnston, Syd Straw, Rosie Flores and Steve Wynn. They played originals, they played a bucketload of covers, and, on one particularly monstrous evening, they all stepped aside for a gloriously ragged reunion by Wynn and Walton's former band, the Dream Syndicate. Holsapple was there around this time too, hopping onstage to play some keyboards, as were the Psycho Sisters, Cowsill and Peterson's songwriting duo-in-progress.
"When I first met the Continental Drifters, even as they existed in 1991, I immediately fell in love. And I just tenaciously stuck to this band," recalls Peterson, who had been on the road for much of the ’80s with the Bangles and felt disenfranchised from the local scene after that band's demise. "I never really felt musically at home except for that one brief little time in the early ’80s with these other bands, when we'd go to Long Ryders shows all the time, and the Dream Syndicate. We went to each other's shows and played on each other's bills and nobody cared about who was playing first and it was really a pretty generous musical environment. And that's what Raji's reminded me of."
Soon, McGough left the band and Holsapple shed his "auxiliary Drifter" tag for full-time membership. This lineup that released a 7-inch single for Bob Mould's S.O.L. imprint featuring "Mississippi" and "Johnny Oops", two twang-soul tracks that were highlights of the band’s live set. Cowsill and Peterson joined soon after; suddenly, the Drifters were a seven-headed singer-songwriter monster highly regarded enough to open for Bob Dylan at the stately Pantages Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard one night in 1992. Still, the band's casual attitude remained intact. "We would go up into the hills where Mark and Gary and Carlo lived and play these songs that we had written to each other," says Holsapple, recalling his earliest days of Drifterdom that were often whiled away in a house nestled above the San Fernando Valley. "We'd all sit around with acoustic guitars and accordions and the bass and people's girlfriends and a couple cases of beer and a bottle of tequila and whack these songs into existence."









LEGENDS: (1) The dB's (l. to r.) Gene Holder, Peter Holsapple, Will Rigby, and Jeff Bininato, 1987; (2) The Cowsills on NBC (l. to r.) Susie, Bill, Barb, "Today" host Hugh Downs, Barry and Bob, 1966; (3) The Dream Syndicate (l. to r.) Karl Precoda, Dennis Duck, Steve Wynn, and Mark Walton; (4) The Bangles (top to bottom) Debbi Peterson, Vicki Peterson, Annette Zilinskas, and Susanna Hoffs.

It took several years of metamorphosis to finally amass the current lineup. In 1997, the Drifters released a 7-inch single of Peterson's rollicking road-trip tune "Christopher Columbus Transcontinental Highway", backed with a spirited take on Richard Thompson's "Meet On The Ledge". By then, several changes had taken place, much of which stemmed from the decision by Nuccio and Ganucheau to return to New Orleans in 1993. Holsapple and Cowsill decided New Orleans would be a better place to nest than Los Angeles and followed suit.
Walton was also game, and, while Eaton decided against the relocation because of fatherhood considerations (he later formed the like-minded but painfully undernourished Kingsize), Peterson relocated too, albeit only after spending two years commuting between the two cities. There were more changes to come: Ganucheau left for health reasons, replaced by Mache, yet another talented guitarist within the Drifters' commonwealth. Finally, after a self-titled release in 1994 on New Orleans label Monkey Hill that was a decent, if disappointing, affair of murky production quality, Nuccio departed. Ultimately he was replaced on drums by Broussard.
But time was taking its toll. This revolving door, coupled with the Drifters' overall lack of output — just one CD, two singles and two tribute-album contributions through 1997 — suggested a band that was either underachieving, underwhelmed, or, in the least, too casual to be taken seriously, especially in light of the collective talent it possessed.
But that issue was put six feet under with Vermilion. Less Little Feat and The Band in favor of the Mamas & the Papas and Fairport Convention, the new album finally fulfills the promise that has always hovered over the band. Graceful, poetic, intimate and deliciously harmonized, but still plenty rock-minded, Vermilion demonstrates not only the strength and reach of the band, but also its uncanny ability to unify the vision of four songwriters and six strong musical personalities.
Granted, the loss of Nuccio's ghost-of-Levon rasp, originally one of the Drifters' most appealing charms, is to be mourned. But there’s also plenty of revitalization, including a more massive version of "Christopher Columbus Transcontinental Highway"; the bittersweet jangle-pop of "The Rain Song"; the fragile "Heart, Home"; the buoyant, Celtic-tinged "Watermark"; and the indie-rockish barn-burner "Don't Do What I Did". These songs are written by Peterson, Cowsill/Peterson, Mache, Peterson and Holsapple, respectively, but they’re all performed with a cohesiveness that is the hallmark of this band.
It's a point not lost on Holsapple. "The synchronous behavior of six wildly different individuals each playing a different instrument sort of functioning as a different card in the deck, that's pretty amazing," he says.
Vermilion is also an album that cries of wisdom, as on the nearly hymnal "Drifters", or the tender, commitment-oriented "I Want To Learn To Waltz With You". Holsapple's epic "Daddy Just Wants It To Rain" portrays, novella-like, the life and family of a broken man; Cowsill's "Spring Day In Ohio" relates the fractured upbringing of a girl, replete with the hard-lesson chorus: "This is your life, how do you like it so far?"
Maybe most striking is "Who We Are, Where We Live", Peterson's haunting, eye-of-the-hurricane attempt to come to grips with her fiance's death from leukemia. Ignited by Mache's Crazy Horse-like shards of lead guitar, Peterson sings: "You're headed down the highway/Suddenly jacknifed/When somebody blows a hole in your life/Now the bed's too big and the pillow's too small/And you gotta try and make sense of it all/You are one of us."
"You get over it, you move on with your life, you will eventually not be in classic grieving mode,” says Peterson of the song and the experience. "Eventually you will stop breaking into tears in the middle of the produce section, but you are never the same.…It's one of those songs I completely consider a gift from God. It showed up."
Holsapple might consider the band a gift from God as well. More than once he refers to it as a "reward," marveling at the fact that, as a fortysomething musician, he gets to be part of a project with co-members he "adores." By no means is it an easy life: There are day jobs to tend to (Holsapple, for one, has a day gig at Borders Books & Music), children to provide for, screwy schedules to accommodate. And that Fleetwood Mac comparison Peterson offers — it's not just because there's several singer-songwriters in the band, if you know what I mean.
Yes, the Drifters have their issues, but they also have their hard-fought payoffs. Like Vermilion, like backing 13 talented artists at the Sandy Denny tribute in Brooklyn last November, like resurrecting the love-in that is the Tuesday-night residency at the Howlin' Wolf, a New Orleans club.
"It has that kind of, um, healing nature," says Holsapple, "such that you could be having the worst day of your life and the minute you get up onstage with the Drifters and hit that first chord — assuming everybody's in tune [laughs] — it's this kind of juggernaut of emotion that gets you from one end of the show to the next. And it just kind of buoys your spirit. It's a real spiritual experience for a rock band."

No Depression contributing editor Neal Weiss often looks back fondly on the days of wine and roses that was the L.A. club scene of the pre-Axl ’80s. In fact, it's very possible he wrote this article just as an excuse to invoke the Dream Syndicate in print one more time.


With "Better Day", the New Orleans-based Continental Drifters celebrate a decade of organic, back-porch creativity by continuing to expand and interweave their unique collective vision. They have realized an American musical hybrid which is completely unfettered - whether by ego, the expectations of others or by self-imposed stylistic boundaries.
In Rolling Stone's 1999 Year in Review issue, critic David Fricke praised their previous album, Vermilion, as one of the top albums of the year. He wrote, "The Continental Drifters stand straight and sing into the light . . . There is a backwoods Jefferson Airplane feel to the close lustrous harmonies and the bayou impressions of their spins on romance, family and the road is flecked with surprises . . . Best of all, there is a warm, wide welcome in the Drifters' hearty twang."
Like with critically acclaimed Vermilion, this determinedly democratic sextet passes singing and songwriting credits throughout the band. On Better Day, the band effortlessly embraces numerous disparate genres while maintaining an unmistakably integrated band sound and ethos.
Anchored by a commitment to great tunes, crisp musicianship and chiming harmonies, the Drifters' easy-rolling musical stew glides effortlessly through vintage soul, country-rock, pop, psychedelia, R&B, rock 'n' roll, waltzes and even gospel (often more than one within a given song) - making pigeon-holing the group not only difficult, but counter-productive. As have such similarly unchained American treasures as NRBQ or Los Lobos before them, the Continental Drifters have allowed only their communal bond and the elusive 'Quality Song' to dictate the course of their melodious ventures.
Each of the Drifters earned notable measures of success in their various prior encounters with the music biz's "star-making machinery," and each, in their own way, bristled at and rejected its regimented assumptions. Paths crossed on the road in the '80s led to a gradual convergence in Los Angeles at the beginning of the '90s in the many liquid incarnations of the fledgling 'Continental Drifters.' From the ranks of founding members, auxiliary players and guests, the line-up eventually coalesced into Mark Walton, Vicki Peterson, Robert Maché, Peter Holsapple, Susan Cowsill and Carlo Nuccio. Drummer Russ Broussard replaced Nuccio two years after the release of the band's 1994 self-titled debut disc (which has recently been re-mixed and re-issued on Razor & Tie).
The resulting roster has remained intact for nearly five years to date. Over time, the Continental Drifters relocated to New Orleans, and that mystical, singular spot on this planet has been home base since the mid-'90s.
Their brand-new "Better Day" boasts a stylistic scatter-pattern not unlike a sawed-off shotgun blasting against the side of a barn - it's all over the place, but it IS the same side of a beautiful old barn. Like Vermilion, Better Day was recorded during a camp-style band getaway at bucolic Maurice, Louisiana's state-of-the-art Dockside Studios on the lazy, hazy banks of the Vermilion River.
Vicki Peterson's boldly defiant "Na Na" cracks the rock right from jump street with carpet-laying organ and blistering guitars holding center court between riveting percussion and soaring vocals. Mark Walton (whose "Get Over It" from the band's debut has been an enduring fave) makes his career lead singing debut on his and Tom Boles' "Tomorrow's Gonna Be"-a brave, uplifting tune which also happens to yield the disc's title.
On "Live On Love," Peter Holsapple's bodacious horn arrangement (featuring trombone by New Orleans' Mark Mullins) and swirly-bird organ converges with full-boat band funkiness to bathe his uptown strut through Memphis in rich, clinging sauce. Peterson's "Long Journey Home" skitters and hiccups with brash, two-step panache.
Susan Cowsill's tender, probing "Cousin" quickly becomes deep and scary via an extraordinary group plundering of early-'70s heavy rock maneuvers, then Holsapple's "Too Little, Too Late" brashly suggests what prime-time Elton John might've sounded like if he'd been a REALLY cool guy. "Snow," another Cowsill entry, continues to explore her eerie connection to the strange, magical seduction of melancholy. Peterson's "That Much a Fool" drops a heart-wrenching waltz in the middle of the mix.
"(Down by the) Great Mistake" rides a serious "N'awlins" junk-trap riddim as Peter and Vicki call-and-respond with reckless, brain-damaged fervor. The first collaboration between Cowsill and Broussard (and Broussard's debut as a Drifters songwriter) has created "Peaceful Waking," a lovely benediction. "Where Does the Time Go?" meanders toward the answer to a question it dares not quite ask with bluesy, gospel timelessness.
At nearly every turn, the Continental Drifters avoid the predictable by revealing yet another facet pulled from their seemingly bottomless trick-bag.
Despite an unbroken string of exhilarating live shows and routinely slack-jawed critical hosannas, the band has battled a widely held misperception that they're some kind of a "side project." At the same time, 'major' labels and high-profile publications have been both intrigued and confounded by the group's refusal to be shoved into a ready-made marketing box.
But the Drifters have been around the block enough times to know that such befuddlement goes with the territory. They've fashioned a groove that works for them and they await like-minded listeners to discover the copacetic joys that they've found. Altogether, "Better Day" takes you to a full-bodied assortment of places (musically and emotionally) that only a handful of bands on this planet could (or would dare to) go themselves.
Shit happens, and time passes, but as in Susan Cowsill's "Someday" (which manages to echo/reinforce Vermilion's "Drifters" as a "fuck-it-all" band credo) - "I'm gonna pay my bills and stand where I stand and maybe even start a little rock 'n' roll band/and maybe my friends will give me a hand/and if that doesn't take away my sorrow/I'm gonna get up again and do it tomorrow" - the force of life keeps movin' on. Better Day - it's not only the name of this record; it's what you're in for any time you slap this wondrous biscuit in on the ol' music box.




This article appeared in the Sept.-Oct. 1999 issue of No Depression magazine:

Driftin’ way of life
New Orleans’ supergroup finally gets its Continental due in the States
by Neal Weiss



In a perfect imaginary world, six musicians of a roots/pop collective all live, eat, sleep and breathe together. In the same bucolic setting — maybe a big, woodsy house with a fireplace that always burns — do they rise and start the day with perfect cups of coffee in a living room where stringed instruments outnumber pieces of furniture. Soon, outside, they sit lakeside with guitars and mandolins and percussion amid the colors of a perpetual Louisiana autumn so brilliantly hued that not even a good psilocybin buzz could improve it. Musical phrases come naturally, like wind through the trees. They come all day long, fully inspired, and practically without labor.
Is this heaven? No, it's the Continental Drifters.
One peek at the photo from the inner cover of Vermilion, the New Orleans band's stirring new effort, and such a setting seemingly comes to life in full, fairy-tale splendor. Yeah, so real life isn't that perfect — but if there's a band out there that could ultimately achieve such a state of Zen, it just might be this group of rock veterans. Theirs is a story about family, about aging with grace and integrity, about commitment to their craft, about living a life of music beyond the hit single, about eyes on a prize more spiritual than material. To hear vocalist/guitarist Vicki Peterson describe it, the Drifters are like "a perfectly worn-in piece of furniture that you always head for." And vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Peter Holsapple: "like your favorite pair of sneakers that you can slip into and feel like you can run a mile in them immediately."
Better yet, as Holsapple suggests, it’s about what Emmylou Harris once spoke of in a snippet recorded for the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band's landmark 1989 album, Will the Circle Be Unbroken, Vol. 2:
"Years ago I had the experience of sitting around in a living room with a bunch of friends singing and playing, and it was like a spiritual experience — it was wonderful. I decided then that that's what I wanted to do with my life, was to play music, to do music. In the making of records I think over the years, we've all gotten a little too technical, a little too hung up on getting things perfect, and we've lost the living room — the living room has gone out of the music. But today I feel like we got it back."
"I always thought that was a really, really kinda spot-on description of what we like about music and the Drifters," says Holsapple, speaking from New Orleans along with Peterson and guitarist Robert Mache. "This is a band that, for all intents and purposes, if it stayed in a living room and played to itself for the rest of its collective, born days, it still wouldn't be too bad. We really just enjoy each other's music immensely."
Or, as they sing in "Drifters", their emerging soul-sweet anthem: "We're all drifters/Singers and sisters/Brothers and mothers and confidantes/We were born alone/We're alone when we're gone/So while we're here/We might as well just sing along."



Community has always been a crucial thread in the fabric that has woven the Continental Drifters together since their inception — even if, eight years gone by, only bassist Mark Walton remains as a founding member.
The Drifters’ current, and presumably most durable, roster includes Walton (ex-Dream Syndicate), Holsapple (ex-dB's, ex-sideman for R.E.M. and Hootie & the Blowfish), Mache (ex-Steve Wynn Band, Sparks), Peterson (ex-Bangles), Susan Cowsill (of the ’60s sibling band the Cowsills, after whom the Partridge Family was modeled), and drummer Russ Broussard (ex- Bluerunners, Terrence Simien's zydeco band). Holsapple and Cowsill are married.
"I think we're all kind of amazed and grateful that we found each other," says Peterson, and the band's collective decades-long experience in the music industry no doubt strengthens their bond. Being in a group such as the dB's, who struggled for years to get in the game only to find a futile final resting place, or the Bangles, who achieved wild success but eventually had their souls drained from the experience, likely gives an artist the resolve to grab hold of the steering wheel and not let go.
That explains, in part, why they took so long to release Vermilion in the United States (it’s due in October on Razor & Tie) when it was issued overseas by German label Blue Rose a full 18 months prior. They needed to find the right situation instead of inking with just any label that offered the world to them, of which there were several after the band stepped off the stage at this year's South By Southwest. They found it in Razor & Tie, which was responsive to the band's special needs, tour concerns and guarded ambitions.
Yes, this time, it's different. Sure, the band welcomes success — Peterson, for one, suggests the Drifters could be the new Fleetwood Mac — but it's more about chasing their muse. "If this album has a great long shelf life, which I think it will, that will be the success of it," says Mache. "Look at Van Morrison's catalog or Neil Young's catalog; there are albums in there that 20 and 30 years on sound as current as anything right now."
That's how it has always been, ever since the band formed in Los Angeles in 1991. Walton had hooked up with New Orleans expatriates Carlo Nuccio (drums) and Ray Ganucheau (guitar) to form the Continental Drifters, a named borrowed from a group that Nuccio, formerly of the Subdudes, once played with back home in the Big Easy. Along with guitarist Gary Eaton (former Ringling Sisters) and keyboardist Dan McGough (ex-7 Deadly 5 and currently a part of Bob Dylan's touring outfit), this was a band rooted in the loose-limbed Americana of Little Feat and The Band, and was instantly worth hearing.
Keep in mind that this was the pre-Nirvana era; L.A. clubs were still infested with Guns N’ Roses clones and countless troopers of the spandex nation. The local indie-rock-based underground — a few years earlier a dizzyingly talented array of punk, cowpunk, new wave and paisley underground acts — had just about withered and died. But the Drifters rekindled that lost community through a Tuesday-night residency at the popular if dingy Hollywood punk/pop club, Raji's. It was a come-one, come-all atmosphere that showcased not only the formidable talents of the "official" members but of the countless friends who happened by, including Victoria Williams, Giant Sand, John Wesley Harding, Freedy Johnston, Syd Straw, Rosie Flores and Steve Wynn. They played originals, they played a bucketload of covers, and, on one particularly monstrous evening, they all stepped aside for a gloriously ragged reunion by Wynn and Walton's former band, the Dream Syndicate. Holsapple was there around this time too, hopping onstage to play some keyboards, as were the Psycho Sisters, Cowsill and Peterson's songwriting duo-in-progress.
"When I first met the Continental Drifters, even as they existed in 1991, I immediately fell in love. And I just tenaciously stuck to this band," recalls Peterson, who had been on the road for much of the ’80s with the Bangles and felt disenfranchised from the local scene after that band's demise. "I never really felt musically at home except for that one brief little time in the early ’80s with these other bands, when we'd go to Long Ryders shows all the time, and the Dream Syndicate. We went to each other's shows and played on each other's bills and nobody cared about who was playing first and it was really a pretty generous musical environment. And that's what Raji's reminded me of."
Soon, McGough left the band and Holsapple shed his "auxiliary Drifter" tag for full-time membership. This lineup that released a 7-inch single for Bob Mould's S.O.L. imprint featuring "Mississippi" and "Johnny Oops", two twang-soul tracks that were highlights of the band’s live set. Cowsill and Peterson joined soon after; suddenly, the Drifters were a seven-headed singer-songwriter monster highly regarded enough to open for Bob Dylan at the stately Pantages Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard one night in 1992 Still, the band's casual attitude remained intact. "We would go up into the hills where Mark and Gary and Carlo lived and play these songs that we had written to each other," says Holsapple, recalling his earliest days of Drifterdom that were often whiled away in a house nestled above the San Fernando Valley. "We'd all sit around with acoustic guitars and accordions and the bass and people's girlfriends and a couple cases of beer and a bottle of tequila and whack these songs into existence."









LEGENDS: (1) The dB's (l. to r.) Gene Holder, Peter Holsapple, Will Rigby, and Jeff Bininato, 1987; (2) The Cowsills on NBC (l. to r.) Susie, Bill, Barb, "Today" host Hugh Downs, Barry and Bob, 1966; (3) The Dream Syndicate (l. to r.) Karl Precoda, Dennis Duck, Steve Wynn, and Mark Walton; (4) The Bangles (top to bottom) Debbi Peterson, Vicki Peterson, Annette Zilinskas, and Susanna Hoffs.

It took several years of metamorphosis to finally amass the current lineup. In 1997, the Drifters released a 7-inch single of Peterson's rollicking road-trip tune "Christopher Columbus Transcontinental Highway", backed with a spirited take on Richard Thompson's "Meet On The Ledge". By then, several changes had taken place, much of which stemmed from the decision by Nuccio and Ganucheau to return to New Orleans in 1993. Holsapple and Cowsill decided New Orleans would be a better place to nest than Los Angeles and followed suit.
Walton was also game, and, while Eaton decided against the relocation because of fatherhood considerations (he later formed the like-minded but painfully undernourished Kingsize), Peterson relocated too, albeit only after spending two years commuting between the two cities. There were more changes to come: Ganucheau left for health reasons, replaced by Mache, yet another talented guitarist within the Drifters' commonwealth. Finally, after a self-titled release in 1994 on New Orleans label Monkey Hill that was a decent, if disappointing, affair of murky production quality, Nuccio departed. Ultimately he was replaced on drums by Broussard.
But time was taking its toll. This revolving door, coupled with the Drifters' overall lack of output — just one CD, two singles and two tribute-album contributions through 1997 — suggested a band that was either underachieving, underwhelmed, or, in the least, too casual to be taken seriously, especially in light of the collective talent it possessed.
But that issue was put six feet under with Vermilion. Less Little Feat and The Band in favor of the Mamas & the Papas and Fairport Convention, the new album finally fulfills the promise that has always hovered over the band. Graceful, poetic, intimate and deliciously harmonized, but still plenty rock-minded, Vermilion demonstrates not only the strength and reach of the band, but also its uncanny ability to unify the vision of four songwriters and six strong musical personalities.
Granted, the loss of Nuccio's ghost-of-Levon rasp, originally one of the Drifters' most appealing charms, is to be mourned. But there’s also plenty of revitalization, including a more massive version of "Christopher Columbus Transcontinental Highway"; the bittersweet jangle-pop of "The Rain Song"; the fragile "Heart, Home"; the buoyant, Celtic-tinged "Watermark"; and the indie-rockish barn-burner "Don't Do What I Did". These songs are written by Peterson, Cowsill/Peterson, Mache, Peterson and Holsapple, respectively, but they’re all performed with a cohesiveness that is the hallmark of this band.
It's a point not lost on Holsapple. "The synchronous behavior of six wildly different individuals each playing a different instrument sort of functioning as a different card in the deck, that's pretty amazing," he says.
Vermilion is also an album that cries of wisdom, as on the nearly hymnal "Drifters", or the tender, commitment-oriented "I Want To Learn To Waltz With You". Holsapple's epic "Daddy Just Wants It To Rain" portrays, novella-like, the life and family of a broken man; Cowsill's "Spring Day In Ohio" relates the fractured upbringing of a girl, replete with the hard-lesson chorus: "This is your life, how do you like it so far?"
Maybe most striking is "Who We Are, Where We Live", Peterson's haunting, eye-of-the-hurricane attempt to come to grips with her fiance's death from leukemia. Ignited by Mache's Crazy Horse-like shards of lead guitar, Peterson sings: "You're headed down the highway/Suddenly jacknifed/When somebody blows a hole in your life/Now the bed's too big and the pillow's too small/And you gotta try and make sense of it all/You are one of us."
"You get over it, you move on with your life, you will eventually not be in classic grieving mode,” says Peterson of the song and the experience. "Eventually you will stop breaking into tears in the middle of the produce section, but you are never the same.…It's one of those songs I completely consider a gift from God. It showed up."
Holsapple might consider the band a gift from God as well. More than once he refers to it as a "reward," marveling at the fact that, as a fortysomething musician, he gets to be part of a project with co-members he "adores." By no means is it an easy life: There are day jobs to tend to (Holsapple, for one, has a day gig at Borders Books & Music), children to provide for, screwy schedules to accommodate. And that Fleetwood Mac comparison Peterson offers — it's not just because there's several singer-songwriters in the band, if you know what I mean.
Yes, the Drifters have their issues, but they also have their hard-fought payoffs. Like Vermilion, like backing 13 talented artists at the Sandy Denny tribute in Brooklyn last November, like resurrecting the love-in that is the Tuesday-night residency at the Howlin' Wolf, a New Orleans club.
"It has that kind of, um, healing nature," says Holsapple, "such that you could be having the worst day of your life and the minute you get up onstage with the Drifters and hit that first chord — assuming everybody's in tune [laughs] — it's this kind of juggernaut of emotion that gets you from one end of the show to the next. And it just kind of buoys your spirit. It's a real spiritual experience for a rock band."

No Depression contributing editor Neal Weiss often looks back fondly on the days of wine and roses that was the L.A. club scene of the pre-Axl ’80s. In fact, it's very possible he wrote this article just as an excuse to invoke the Dream Syndicate in print one more time.

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