JD McPherson may not be a household name yet, but his music is eminently familiar.
In one guitar power chord of, oh say, "Fire Bug" or "North Side Gal"—probably the closest that the Oklahoma-born-and-bred musician has to hit singles—it sounds distinctly from one specific time and place in musical history—like Buddy Holly or Little Richard—but then, at the next drum roll and clinking piano chords and big noted guitar solos, the music sounds so much more cheeky—like the bumble-gum punk-pop of the Ramones or early '70s London, like Ziggy Stardust David Bowie or T-Rex.
"I primarily see myself as a rock-and-roll fan," explains McPherson. "I'm really into the early impressions of rock-and-roll; raw, primitive, visceral, yet fixing into something sophisticated."
A week before his first show in Bend, we are talking on the phone while McPherson waits for a tow truck to take away his broken rental car. "Sorry, if I'm distracted," he tells me, with a voice far softened from his growling singing voice; he punctuates many of his sentences with an easy three-note laugh.
He goes on to excitedly explain the varied constellation of influences he has pulled into his music—T.Rex, Buddy Holly, the swampy Delta blues, "and, Led Zeppelin," he adds, "who doesn't like Led Zeppelin?"
"I like the contrasts between high brow and low brow," he continues.
Five years ago, at age 33, McPherson released his first album, Signs and Signifiers. The title song is a stripped down number with a booming drum backbeat and crooning that borders on chanting before melting into oohs and aahs, a song that feels as if its slow pulsing pace is being held back by hands tight on the reins. Other songs on the album, like "North Side Girl"—an peppy lament, with lines like "she gets colder every time I try to hold her," horns on the up-beat, drum rolls, and big-note guitar solos—and "Fire Bug"—which starts with plunking ragtime piano keys—are simply just unbridled enthusiasm.
But although energy leaps out of the songs from that first album, its was a slow burner in terms of commercial success, kicking around public radio stations and picking up fans one by one at small clubs. In 2012, though, the album was picked up by a bigger label and, since then, McPherson has been consistently playing to bigger audiences.
On Monday, McPherson will open for Robert Plant for the first time.
JD McPherson/Robert Plant & The Sensational Shape Shifters
6:30 pm, Monday, May 25
Les Schwab Amphitheater