C2 PROFILE: Cranford & Sons
Author: Courtney Hampson | Photographer: Photography by Anne
When you sit back and think about music. Good music. Good raw music. You know, the kind that isn’t fraught with techno-beats, and club mixes, and simulated voices, you have to dig deep. Deep to the 1940s and ’50s when Johnny Cash, Hank Williams, and the Carter Family (June, not Jimmy) were making their mark. The fellas of Cranford & Sons certainly mix it up with Carter and Cash, but they dig even deeper, almost a century deep to the 1920s when jazz was being played in dance halls, roadhouses and speakeasies all over the country; and to the 1930s when the country was in a deep depression, and the music reflected the country’s sorrow.
Grime and grit
So in 2011, some may find it odd that a gang of 20-and 30-somethings are dusting off the tunes of the dust bowl. Especially when, like the rest of us, they are living on “island time” where the flavor of the day at most bars is beach music, Buffet, and the requisite Sweet Caroline. Instead of going with the flow, Cranford & Sons is swimming upstream, to the beat of an 1845 fiddle (no kidding), all in an effort to make people feel something. Their generation (our generation) is suffering. We’re in the midst of our own depression/recession—whatever the pundits call it—so it only seems apropos that Cranford & Sons sing about it.
This is certainly the road less taken. And, they self-admit it may be a total bust. But they forge ahead, in their vintage duds, with their vintage instruments, with a sound that is more than interesting, hoping to be “in the front of the train, not the caboose.”
Cranford & Sons is just one year young, still in the honeymoon stage of their relationship, but ever-committed to making a go of it. And making that go full-time. Meaning music isn’t the hobby they pursue after they come home from the office each day. Instead, they each dedicate more than 40 hours a week to making music together and creating an identity.
The band name happened almost by accident. John Cranford, who has played with multiple musicians on Hilton Head Island, gathered this crew of merry men, and as a joke, someone suggested the name, a play on Sanford & Son. It stuck. But what’s in a name?
For them, it’s more about the sound, which according to Cranford is a “dirty, twangy, twist” on whatever they play. “Lowcountry stomp, I call it,” pipes in Randy Rockalotta, the drummer with the pink Mohawk. “When John is playing, he stomps his foot the whole time. It creates this amazing power; he projects,” Rockalotta said, “And suddenly the audience is stomping their feet and the crowd becomes a part of the music.”
Men among men
Cranford got his musical start playing “Say It Ain’t So” with his band Weezer People, in the seventh-grade talent show back in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. They didn’t win. But he forged ahead nonetheless.
For Rockalotta, it was also middle school, in the Buckeye state, where he got his start. He began touring as a drummer right out of high school. “I tried other things, but nothing else really works for me,” he said. Ah, an honest man.
Eric Reid is a graduate of Hilton Head Prep via Ohio, Alabama, Florida, and Michigan. Ah, a rambling man. The cowboy whose mom told him at age three, “You need a hobby.” He shrieked, “Karate!” After a quick mom-veto against three-year-old karate, Reid caught someone playing fiddle on CMT, and the rest is history. Including the fiddle that he got when he was 10, crafted in the mid-1800s, (which he was extremely hesitant to jump with on the photo shoot trampoline!).
Phillip Sirmans is the quiet man behind the upright custom-made banjo bass that he tracked down somewhere in north Florida. He’s a chef in his “spare time” and the Dad to six-year-old twin girls. As if he hasn’t already mastered multi-tasking, he’s also tackled an interesting talent. While the banjo bass is his primary instrument, when he borrows someone else’s bass, he has to play upside down because he’s a southpaw. Playing upside down isn’t as simple as flipping your instrument—all of the chords (is this the right word?) are in reverse. That’s a sticky wicket.
Music and melody
Here’s the cool thing. I was fortunate enough to watch the crew play live and unplugged during their photo shoot, set along the May River, with Spanish moss dripping from every tree limb, only furthering the mystique of their sound.
Cranford’s vocals are, in fact, gritty and gravely, with an old 45 record quality to them. And I mean that in a good, no, in a great way. Cranford was indeed stomping his foot to the beat of the song, his band mates almost taking their musical cues from that stomp.
Reid played his fiddle with his head tucked, while his fingers moved deftly. It was as if he was also watching his instrument for its cues. Reid sings a lot too, which you’ll find as you watch them play at any venue in the area (not everyone gets a personal concert!). His voice, paired with Cranford’s, speaks to the old-fashioned sound that they are working so hard to re-invent.
Standing tall with his banjo bass is Sirman. The two could almost be dance partners—musician and instrument both showing off their chops, shining, and then receding in deference to each other.
With a crooked grin on his face, Rockalotta plays his drums, and sings along, shouting out some lyrics louder than others. He is clearly having fun; it’s almost as if he can’t believe this is what he gets to do every day. He’s just as enamored by music now as he was in middle school. His passion has never died.
Cranford & Sons is producing a different sound, one you haven’t heard since your grandparents were spinning their old 45s in the basement. It’s an unexpected sound that speaks volumes about the men of the band and their mindset.
As our interview wound down, and Rockalotta convinced the whole band that there was no harm in playing on the trampoline, it all became clear. Work hard. Play hard. And by all means, enjoy what you do.
Find them on Facebook at www.facebook.com/cranfordandsons.
EVERYTHING YOU WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT ROCKALOTTA’S HAIR
Yes, it changes colors. Yes, he has it in his wedding pictures (sorry ladies, he is married). Yes, he just shaved it for the holidays—apparently, sometimes it helps its stature to start fresh. Rockalotta’s thinking platinum for the next one and wants to thank Cassie Menz Krupa, the creator of the Mohawk color. “I told her about an idea for a zebra Mohawk three years ago and we haven’t looked back,” he said.
SEE THEM LIVE
January 14 at The Big Bamboo – Hilton Head for battle of the bands
January 21 at The Electric Piano Hilton Head (Electric Piano)
January 28 at Freebird in Jacksonville, FL
February 2 at The Chop Shop in Charlotte, NC