Band has Tupelo connections, but no local shows right now

You say you've never heard of the Emma Gibbs Band.

That's OK, since a gig in Memphis is the closest the band has come to Tupelo.

But Tupelo native Richard Upchurch, one of the band's singers, hopes to get the group to the All-America City one of these days.

"I would love to play there. It's my home. We've played in Memphis and in Alabama. We've sort of hit around it," Upchurch said. "Next spring, I think we're supposed to be in Oxford at Proud Larry's, but I'm not sure exactly when."

A few weeks ago, Upchurch was in town visiting his parents, Robert and Joann Upchurch, and he gave me a call wanting to know if I'd like a copy of the band's CD.

"Is it free?" I asked.

"You bet."

"Send it on."

A couple of days later I got a copy of "Out to the Country" as well as a press packet, complete with photos and everything.

Now, I get CDs on a fairly regular basis, and I don't choose to write about most of them. If I don't like a CD, I stick it in a wicker basket on my desk, which is a signal to my co-workers that the CD is free for the taking.

"Out of the Country" is not bound for the wicker basket. It's nearly an hour's worth of mellow, picturesque songs. I'm already singing to "Worn Out Shoes" and "'99 Flood," and the mix of melancholy and longing on "California" is flat-out inspired.

Upchurch said he wrote that one about his girlfriend, who was living far away in San Francisco at the time. She told him that she missed thunderstorms, and that fit with an experience Upchurch had.

"I was driving through a rainstorm and lightning struck this tree," he said. "It was pouring down and here was this tree burning. There were these huge flames."

The chorus to "California," which sounded both new and familiar the first time I heard it, goes like this:

"And I saw lightning and I dreamed in color,

"Burned out TVs, toasters and things that remind me of you,

"And I felt fine in California,

"As dreams of you, a better view."

Upchurch's girlfriend is now his wife, Gaye Taylor Upchurch, from Jackson. They live in Winston-Salem, N.C., where the Emma Gibbs Band is based.

The group has a growing following in the Carolinas, Georgia and Virginia. They also have fans in Washington, D.C., Baltimore and New York.

Their music is mostly played on college radio stations, but they've appeared on a few rock stations.

They could just as easily end up on country stations, since their songs are apt to feature harmonica, mandolin, lap steel or dolbro as well as electric guitar.

"For us, folk would be a great label," he said. "When I think of folk, I think of Bob Dylan."

He also thinks of mellow rock legend James Taylor, whom the Emma Gibbs Band has opened for.

"That was a real highlight for me. I grew up listening to James Taylor and started out playing his tunes," Upchurch said. "He's a genuinely nice man."

Taylor made a point to listen to the Emma Gibbs Band perform. Afterward, Upchurch went over to thank him.

"He said, You have it wrong, my friend. It's a real pleasure to play with you,'" Upchurch said. "That was amazing."

The group has performed at venues with Widespread Panic, Train, Blues Travelers, Bare Naked Ladies and more. John Keane, an Athens-based producer who's worked with R.E.M and Widespread Panic, produced the album, which was independently released.

"We've talked to several record labels, but we're just waiting for the right moment, the right deal," he said. "A record deal isn't always a deal. We've been able to organize and manage our business. We feel like we can get out there and present our music the way we want."

The band is a full-time proposition, and the group plays anywhere from 150 to 180 dates a year.

Maybe there will be a Tupelo performance someday. If so, remind me to tell you the story behind the band's name.

For now, "Out to the Country" is available at BeBop Records/Album Alley in Tupelo. Or order straight from the band at www.emmagibbs.com.

M. Scott Morris is the Daily Journal entertainment writer.

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