Like a wild mountain man on a rampage, songwriter Blake Burris is known in the Asheville, N.C. scene as the wide-eyed, fuzzy-headed, one-man band Shake It Like a Caveman. Over the last four years he's stomped, jumped, strummed, and hollered like a maniac on stages around the Southeast.
"When I started out, I initially wrote a song called 'Shake It Like a Caveman' and played it opening for a friend's band. I booked it as the Blake Burris Blues Machine. When I played the song, a bunch of river rafters there went wild and started dancing around. They all looked like cavemen, dancing drunk around a campfire. I thought it worked well as a name," he says. "The caveman thing is really just a connection with the root of saying, 'Fuck it. Let it rip.'"
Burris grew up near Kingsport in the Appalachian corner of eastern Tennessee. He settled for a while in Asheville, but in recent years, he's maintained a fairly nomadic lifestyle, traveling around the Southeast and across the country in a customized Dodge van.
"It's awesome landscape up there, and the mountains are pretty cool," Burris says of his home turf. "These days, I'm only home for a few days before heading out. For a few weeks, I live in Europe during the summers. This year, I'm heading to Iceland, Holland, and France, where I usually stay the longest," Burris says. "It's awesome to perform there. People have zero inhibitions, for the most part. People get rowdy, and that's great for my type of music."
On most of his previous tours, Burris stomped a four-on-the-the-floor bass drum beat with clanky high-hat accents while simultaneously banging out fuzzy tones on an electric six-string. But this time around, he has new reinforcements: a two-man rhythm section comprised of keyboardist/horn player Justin Stanton (of Snarky Puppy) and drummer L.V. Wood.
"L.V. was my next-door neighbor growing up," says Burris. "He's a great guy and he can play just about any instrument. We nicknamed Justin 'XD,' which stands for 'Extra Dirty.' He's more of a jazz guy. They're both great together. I feel like I'm getting free lessons every time we play."
The trio calls this month's trip from the Blue Ridge Mountains to the Carolina coast the Coastal Surge Tour. A garage-rock duo from Madison, N.C. called Pleasure Chest is slated to open. It features former Man ... or AstroMan guitarist Erich Hubner, who produced Shake It Like a Caveman's debut album, Or Will It Take Everything.
"With the one-man band, it is what it is," says Burris. "You just go out there and let it rip. I'm definitely not trying to get away from that, but it's nice to mix it up a little and stretch it out. With a trio, we get to work on arrangements and writing in a different way. I'm still writing the songs, and there's still an element of being ridiculous, which I love. It's about not taking things too seriously and pushing things to see what you can get away with."
Shake It Like a Caveman's shows still pack a ton of riffy blues renditions and hell-raising originals, but Burris has added some glam-rock gems by the likes of T. Rex and David Bowie to the set list as well.
"I still love all the dirtiest, most beat-up hill country blues, like Elmore Williams and Paul 'Wine' Jones," says Burris. "But I've been listening a lot to Marc Bolan and a lot of old, rugged, hot, raw soul and funk compilations, too. The shows will have the same rockin' vibes as the one I've done before."
Shake It Like a Caveman and Pleasure Chest share the bills at four venues this week. They perform at the Surf Bar on Folly Beach on Thurs. May 26, at the Mill in North Charleston on Fri. May 27, at the Tin Roof in West Ashley on Sat. May 28, and at Fiery Ron's Home Team BBQ on Sullivan's Island on Sun. May 29. See shakeitlikeacaveman.com for more.