Emerging Artist Spotlight:
Dustin Pittsley Band
The Current By Bridget K. Wood
When this story assignment first came up, the discussion was whether to put Dustin Pittsley in the “Emerging Artist” or “Established Artist” category. While Dustin may not yet be a household name, he certainly has the resume to backup a claim of Established Artist. He laughingly says “If I am emerging, I’ve been emerging for how many years now?” Dustin has been playing professionally since he was 17, performing at both of Tulsa’s most historic venues, Cain’s Ballroom and the Brady Theater, by the time he was 20. Most recently, DPB [Dustin Pittsley Band] won the 2007 [Tulsa World's] Spot Award for best R&B band and performed at Cain’s during the ceremony. This was Dustin’s seventh nomination for a Spot Award, the first being in 2001. To add to his claim of establishment, he has shared the stage with such heavy hitters as Ian Moore, Kevin Bowe, Arlo Guthrie, Chris Duarte, Tab Benoit, Watermelon Slim and Bernard Allison.
The Dustin Pittsley Band is set to release their new CD in January, Pittsley’s third album since his music career began. Staring into the Sun, the title track, is an insightful look into Dustin’s state of mind. The song starts out with what might turn out to be the most personal lines he has ever written: " Not the man you thought I was, you thought you knew enough. Not the man you’ve come to know, slipped thru the cracks but never let go." At first listen you might think this song is directed at a specific person, but it’s really more the catharsis for a struggle that has been going on for quite some time.
Dustin, for all these years past, has primarily been a Blues player making his living playing festivals in Oklahoma and the surrounding states. Mention his name to any self-respecting Blues aficionado in the area and most likely they have heard him. Now he is breaking free from that label. "The past few years I have had an internal fight with myself to find out where I stood in the music community, and finally I realized that it’s not important what I’m called, you either like it or you don’t." Coming to this conclusion hasn’t been easy for Dustin “I felt a lot of pressure, doubting myself and figuring out where I fit in and realizing it doesn’t matter. As long as I am making music, I am happy."
While the new CD is leaving behind the Blues label that people have to come associate with Dustin, he feels that his new direction won’t alienate his established fans. “(The album) is going to be split down the middle with Hard Rock, Blues, Jam, and Folk - although I hate to say Folk because people get the wrong impression of it. Maybe I should say Folk flavored.” Part of that Folk flavoring can be blamed on some longtime Tulsa musicians who have had a strong influence on Dustin since he first popped up. "My whole music style has changed because of how Tom Skinner, Don Morris, and Rocky Frisco treated me. Those guys totally welcomed me out to everything, they helped me out more than anybody else in this town did and they never treated me like the new punk in town." Dustin first encountered these folks at Tom Skinner’s Wednesday Night Science Project which is well known for being a musical melting pot of solid musicians playing lots of Red Dirt, Folk, Americana and anything else homegrown and organic.
Aside from taking direction from a new musical compass, change has been a factor in the band itself. DPB has gone back to its original three-piece sound since rhythm guitarist Jesse Aycock left the band to focus on solo endeavors. The decision to leave was a difficult one, justified shortly afterwards by Jesse’s recent win of a Spot Award for Best Singer/Songwriter. Although no longer a DPB member, school is still in session for Dustin and Jesse at their weekly project, Higher Education, every Thursday night at McNellie’s in downtown Tulsa. "Higher Education is more of a rootsy, Folk sort of band with a Bluegrass twang. It’s very upbeat, and it was a chance for Jesse and I to show off our acoustic talents the most, and gives us an opportunity to do a lot of harmonizing." Jesse will also appear on a few tracks of Staring into the Sun. "We will always, always, always play music together," Pittsley said, "We are the best of friends."
Making up the remainder of DPB is noted Oklahoma bassist Don Wood and drummer Doug joined the Organic Boogie Band that was comprised of Don Wood, Brad James and Jack Wolfe. The Organic Boogie Band is best described as a Jazz infused version of James’ and Wood’s prior band, Medicine Show. They then moved on to become Stoney LaRue’s touring band for two and a half years. Since that demise, Don and Doug have remained a solid rhythm combo for not only Dustin, but have worked as fill-ins for many Red Dirt legends including Randy Crouch, The Red Dirt Rangers, Don Morris, Bob Childers, Scott Evans and up and comer Jimmie Johnson. The end result of playing so many years on the road together is a groove that just can’t be shaken. Dustin says: "The combination is really good for me because they have been in several different bands for so many years, they can play so many different styles, and it lets me be free to do whatever I want to do when they are back there holding it down. I could go to LA and get the best drummer and bass player I can find (and he has) and it wouldn’t feel right without them."
Doug [Wehmeyer] has been described as a very laid back groove drummer, all the way to the point of being called Helmesque, referring to drumming legend Levon Helm of The Band. "He’s as funky as the smell of his shoes," says bassist Don Wood, "and a noticeable fashion maverick in his own right." Doug started playing drums at the age of six growing up on Jazz standards and a heavy Dixieland influence thanks to his father J.D. Wehmeyer, a well-respected Jazz guitarist in his hometown of Bartlesville.
Bassist Don Wood is best known as a Red Dirt musician, having been a founding member of Medicine Show and an active participant of the Stillwater scene when The Farm was in it’s glory days. "I can remember meeting and playing with Scott Evans, who at the time was all guitar-slinger Blues. Meeting Dustin was like jumping back 18 years and meeting Scott all over again. They both have that same kind of pure and unbridled natural talent." Pittsley describes Wood’s style concisely. "His playing is a mix between George Porter Jr. from The Funky Meters and Allen Woody from Gov’t Mule, who was always one of my favorite bass players ever. Donnie has that same vibe about him." Wehmeyer adds, "My playing with Don gets pretty rootsy - he has a lot of Delta influence in his playing, which is what I had growing up, with a side of R&B."
With the much-anticipated Staring into the Sun set to be released in a matter of weeks, one might expect some tension within the band, but this is simply not the case. Dustin says "I think we all look at music the same way and we are all on the same page about where the music should be going," reflects Pittsley, "the arrangements, the layouts of the songs, we don’t just don’t disagree." The new disc includes such live DPB favorites as “Dig My Grave” and “In the Morning” with guest appearances made by Tulsa blues legend Steve Pryor, Leon Russell’s original Hammond organ player John Gallie, and Don Geesling of Three Penny Upright. A new album, a new focus and renewed energy make for an exciting time for the Dustin Pittsley Band. Making their living playing music leaves a lot of options open for these guys and they plan to take advantage of every opportunity they get. "I want to see everything," Dustin said, which he can do - unless he really has been staring into the sun.