Local gutter country band Whiskey Diablo has a lot of enthusiastic fans. Take this one naked guy. "For several years in a row, we've gone to the NASCAR race in Bristol, Tenn., set up, and played outside of the track," says singer/guitarist Patrick Blake. "The crowd's out there drinking, and we start playing at around 3 p.m., way before the race, and this random naked guy just comes streaking through the crowd and jumps up onstage, and we just stood there and kept playing like nothing was going on, like nothing abnormal was happening. So the police tackled him and got him offstage, and they took him to his car. His girlfriend was there, and the two of them had obviously been doing some kind of illicit substance and they claimed that they had 'rescued 'a baby raccoon from the park. They had it in the back of the car. The following night we saw his mugshot on the news. It was pretty interesting."
Quite a gig to be sure, but just one of the 200 or so shows that Whiskey Diablo has played every year since forming in 2011. They're one of the hardest-working bands on the Charleston scene, which is what a band has to be to survive if they're doing it as a full-time job. That being said, Blake says that the group is careful not to over-saturate their market. "The remedy to that is to play on the road more, which we've been doing," he says. "Over the last few weeks, we've played in Daytona, St. Augustine, Georgia, and North Carolina."
But Blake says the really nice thing about Charleston is that it's kind of spread out. "So the people who go to a show, say, at a bar on Pawley's Island, are different from the people who go to Park Circle or the Royal American or the Music Farm," he says. "Drinking is a short-distance sport, so people like to stay close. That's why some of the shows we play aren't full-on, balls-to-the-wall Whiskey Diablo shows. We were playing High Cotton for a while, which is bizarre. We were a rock 'n' roll band playing to a high-end dinner crowd."
Perhaps it's the variety in their sound that's allowed the group to pop up in so many different places. They label their style as "gutter country, jazz, and swing cut with booze drenched chainsaw rock 'n' roll," and it's difficult to argue with their assessment. Their songs cross the honky-tonk twang and rock swagger with a bit of rockabilly's stutter-step and Western swing thrown in. It's a hybrid style perfect for, as one of their song titles tells it, "Smokin', Drinkin', & Dancin'."
"We never really worked with any particular sound," Blake says. "We kind of just let it happen organically. Where it goes, it goes. We don't want to be boxed in by anything. It's like cooking — it's about taking the ingredients and experimenting to see what you can cook up."
Theirs is a sound that works best onstage, so when the band — Blake, upright bassist Brad Poplin, drummer Marshall Hudson, and fiddle player Jonathan DePriest — went into the studio to record their second album, Gas it and See What Happens, the aim was to work with producer Wolfgang Zimmerman to recreate that in-concert feel. "I think as a band, that's what we wanted to do, capture what we do live," Blake says. "I think when our first album came out [2012's Wail & Serenade], the band was in its infancy, so I don't think we'd had time to evolve into a sound just yet. Whereas after years of playing 200 shows a year, we were able to put it together better."
Yet despite four years of exhaustively breaking in their new songs live, the album still took about six months to make. Shouldn't all that road-testing have made the process easier? "You would think so," Blake says, laughing. "Unfortunately that wasn't really the case. We thought we'd knock it out in a week, tops. I'm a man, so I'll never have the experience of giving birth to a child, but I would imagine the experience of recording this album was somewhere along those lines. Trying to keep that live-show energy was the stump that we kept driving into."
So how did they pull it off? "There were a couple of things we came up with to try to get around that, like having people come to the studio, recording at two o'clock in the morning to stay loose, but finally we somehow figured out that after the second take, if you don't have it, move on," Blake says. "Move on and come back to it later."