Keeping It Pure and Simple
The old-fashioned country of Clampitt, Gaddis & Buck refreshes.

Like a deer bounding from a lonely stand of pine, the spare string arrangements and three-part harmonies of Clampitt, Gaddis and Buck ooze stark and naturalistic beauty. Not since oft-missed Old Time hellraisers the Dickel Brothers has the Portland underground-rock scene harbored as talented a group of folk musicians as this Americana trio. Truth through simplicity is their aim. And their aim is good.

"The music is completely sincere," assures singer Erik Clampitt, 29, who also plays harmonica and guitar. "Nothing is a posture."

Lack of artifice is important to Clampitt; about two years ago, he found himself frustrated by the sonic clutter and "extraneous musicians" in the pop and rock he'd been playing. Last year, when his band the Gleaners called it quits, Clampitt decided to try his hand at something a little more stripped-down and bare.

At the time, he'd just joined raucous honky-tonkers Buck Dagger and His Handful of Honest Men on lap steel guitar. Clampitt found himself headed directly for the wellsprings of American folk.

A little over a year ago, Clampitt turned up a strong singing partner in Marley Gaddis, age 28. Gaddis had a known talent for song, but save for an "ill-fated" stint with an emo band in college, no serious singing experience. A road trip spent belting out Elvis songs with Gaddis convinced Clampitt that she was exactly the kind of person he could write for and work with.

Friends in bands soon hollered down into their basement practice space, wanting to know if they wanted to open shows. What began as a simple "recording project" soon hit the stage. Together the two enjoyed an eight-month run as Clampitt & Gaddis. Their austere Carter Family/Jimmy Rodgers style established them as a strong country-folk talent, albeit one exercised almost exclusively within the local rock scene.

At the same time, Buck Dagger (born Sean Burke and now 25) had found country-and-western a soothing change of pace from his days with big-beat garage rockers the Real Pills and current duties with jet-powered punks the Flip-Tops. Dagger was hanging out with Clampitt, working on sundry music formations (one of which, a full-scale recreation of Johnny Cash's Folsom Prison Blues, is slated for this fall).

To Clampitt and Gaddis, the introduction of Dagger's familiar face seemed a natural progression. It seems Buck has given a C&G a confidence boost.

"Sean has added a great deal of stability to the project," Clampitt says. "With that two-piece it was scary as hell. We feel more confident now. It just makes things a hell of a lot easier."

Buck's baritone voice, along with his mandolin and upright-bass abilities, have advanced the Clampitt & Gaddis Americana songbook 15 years--"A lifetime," according to Clampitt. The band now works within the basic context of Bob Wills and the Louvrin Brothers, playing in a bare-boned, bluegrass-inflected 1940s country tradition. Their set consists mostly of covers, but the band continues to craft originals that dovetail with their 60-year-old standards.

And, unlike the Dickels, who enthusiastically played to segments of the Portland folk community, C,G&B seem happy to avoid Portland's pervasive "hippie dippy" roots Americana scene.

"We're not going to be showing up to open mic on Thursday nights," insists Clampitt. "I'm still happy playing rock clubs. I don't want to preach to the choir."

Clampitt, Gaddis and Buck should find many converts to their timeless, simple purity in the years to come.
(Sam Dodge Soule)

Clampitt, Gaddis & Buck play at 9 pm Friday, July 18, at Chez What?, 2203 NE Alberta St., 281-1717. 21+.