- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 8, 2015

Their songs are maddeningly simple — a few basic chords sans any tricky guitar solos or much in the way of showmanship. Yet for such lack of pretension and flair, Lucero’s work is endlessly relatable and repeatable.

“Why people relate to the band so well is that we are a working-class, blue-collar band,” bassist John C. Stubblefield told The Washington Times. “At the end of the day, we’re just down-to-earth guys who wind up hanging in the crowd, and we’re accessible to a certain degree.”

Lucero, born in Memphis, Tennessee, and still based in the River City, has carved out a do-it-yourself ethos, a mantra of hard work suited to their proletarian nature. The band plays hundreds of shows a year and has released 10 albums, but is largely unknown outside its rabid fan base. The music has been alternatively described as alt-country, swamp rock and even punk country.

Whatever label is attempted to conveniently cage the Lucero sonics, the Memphis rockers are bringing their unique sound to the District’s 9:30 Club on Saturday, a personal favorite venue for Mr. Stubblefield, who recalls the thrill of stepping inside it for the first time as a young man.

“I visited D.C. several times as a kid, and we even went to the old 9:30 Club,” he said of the iconic juke joint’s former incarnation, which he described as “a little shoebox of a place.”

Mr. Stubblefield — along with singer/guitarist Ben Nichols (whose beer-slicked vocals are typically described as “raspy”), drummer Roy Berry and guitarist Brian Venable — lived in a crowded room with his fellow band members at 1372 Overton Park in Memphis, the address lending its name to the band’s 2009 album that featured new member Rick Steff on keys and added a spirited horn section.

For Lucero’s still-gestating next album, the sound will shift yet again.

It’s “kind of going back and rediscovering some sounds that we started out with,” Mr. Stubblefield said of the shift in sonic footprint. “So now we’re going back and re-examining some of the things that made Lucero Lucero from the get-go,” which includes bringing back acoustic instruments.

Lucero is co-headlining on its tour with Ryan Bingham, a roots rock artist from Los Angeles. It is a first for both acts.

“It just feels like there’s a lot of people in our crowd that should know about Ryan Bingham, and there’s a lot of people in his crowd that he feels should know about us,” Mr. Stubblefield said.

It’s a hard time to be a musician, what with CD sales bottoming out, all but requiring bands like Lucero to tour constantly. The goal posts have also been moved by the industry counters themselves, with the numbers defining gold or platinum records just half what they used to be.

“The struggle is real,” Mr. Stubblefield said. “I mean, it’s a struggle for everybody out there doing anything. It’s really a conundrum: On the one hand, people just pull up their Spotify accounts, tell everybody about Lucero,” the end result of which, while spreading the gospel of Lucero, fails to line the band’s pockets.

“It’s not just us,” he said. “There’s a lot of other bands that are underneath the radar a little bit. I think people are just looking for something kind of genuine and real that they can relate to.

“On the other hand, we’re kind of right on the cusp,” Mr. Stubblefield said. “I don’t know, it might be a benefit,” he said of music sharing, “which I know sounds crazy, but had we not had the exposure and the people being able to find out about us through the broken system that everyone speaks of,” their fan base wouldn’t be nearly as large as it is.

Hence the need to be out there, and stay out there, constantly preaching the evangel of women, whiskey, good times and great fans — enjoying themselves all the while.

“Kind of what we do in our live show is what we’d be doing anyway,” Mr. Stubblefield said. “So in a way, it kind of works out, I think, for bands like us.

“We [live by] the adage: ‘You’re only as good as your last show.’ We have to set the bar for ourselves every night and have some growth. Because we’re having fun — that’s how it has to be. And if you’re not having fun, then what’s the point?”

Their fun-loving disciples have grown legion, often following the Southern lads from city to city or even state to state.

“The fans [are part of] the Lucero family,” Mr. Stubblefield said of his inspiration of returning to the stage night after night. “Going to the shows is as much a part of the music as meeting members of the Lucero family.”

Of the religious devotion of their acolytes, Mr. Stubblefield confesses, “It is a little bit of a phenomenon that I can’t put my finger on.”

Yet come they shall, in city after city, night after night, helping earn the Memphis fellows a reputation as the best band you’ve never heard of.

“The more we play, the better it gets,” Mr. Stubblefield said. “One of my good friends and mentors, Jim Dickinson, who produced [the Lucero album] ‘Nobody’s Darlings,’ said: ‘Play every note like it’s your last.’ It just might be, you know.”

IF YOU GO

WHAT: Lucero, co-headlining with Ryan Bingham

WHERE: The 9:30 Club, 815 V St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20001

WHEN: Saturday; doors open at 8 p.m.

INFO: For tickets, call 202/265-0930 or visit 930.com.

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