Music That Lasts

Delta Spirit concludes its latest tour in Tucson--and hopes to avoid further legal entanglements

The strident and charismatic voice of San Diego-based Delta Spirit singer-songwriter Matt Vasquez first came to the attention of the rest of his band when he was busking on a street corner.

Bass player Jon Jameson tells the story.

"Matt lived in a house with five people at that time, and he has a really loud voice. He often has a hard time singing quietly, so he usually had to get out of the house when he wanted to sing," Jameson said during a recent phone interview from a tour pit stop in Philadelphia.

"(Vasquez) had just gotten his driver's license, so he decided to drive downtown in San Diego. Our drummer, Brandon (Young), was coming out of his job late at night, and he practically stumbled on Matt singing."

It was 2005, and Jameson and Young were forming a new band after their last--the punk-oriented Noise Ratchet--had dissolved. With the addition of guitarist Sean Walker and multi-instrumentalist Kelly Winrich, Delta Spirit was born.

Although most reviewers seem intent on labeling Delta Spirit as Americana-meets-Northern Soul, they are, at heart, a pure rock 'n' roll band, seasoned with pinches of R&B, blues, classic '60s pop and a little ragtime.

Delta Spirit has spent the last couple of years touring around as the opening act for such bands as Cold War Kids, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah and Dr. Dog, but they haven't played extensively as a headliner. Now on tour, Delta Spirit is set to headline on Tuesday night, Dec. 16, at Solar Culture Gallery, the last stop before the band hits Interstate 8 for its trip home to San Diego.

"We like Tucson; we stayed there at the Hotel Congress on our way out on this current tour," Jameson said. "We're looking forward to coming back and actually playing this time."

It was soon after leaving Tucson, though, Delta Spirit encountered a snag: As the band crossed into Texas, Jameson was arrested for possession of prescription drugs. He blames his mother.

"My mom gave me these alertness pills for the long drive; she got them from her doctor. She was worried I was going to fall asleep at the wheel. The border agents in Texas searched our van and decided to put me in jail. They said 12 out of the last 14 bands from California got caught with drugs when they came into Texas, and we weren't going to get away with it."

Jameson laughed, but sounded a little exasperated, too.

"Now I have to hire a defense lawyer to go to court in Texas, so I am cleared to go to Europe."

Delta Spirit will embark on a month-long headlining tour in Europe in the new year, he said.

The band released an EP, I Think I've Found It, in 2006, and when the time came to make their debut album, Ode to Sunshine, they did it on their own terms: First, they headed to the mountains, to a cabin in a small town named Julian.

"Being up in the mountains influenced our perspectives a bit, our discipline and way of looking at the music. The thing that we all agreed upon was that it was important to get out of our comfort zone and get away from distractions," Jameson said.

"It wasn't like we were going out to bars and stuff each night after we recorded. Once in a while, everyone just took a hike or something. One day, we went out and set up a Slip 'n Slide."

The group also released the album on its own in 2007, but this year, they signed with Rounder Records, which for almost 40 years has helped define American roots music. In August, Rounder issued a remastered version of Ode to Sunshine, with an additional song, "Streetwalker," borrowed from the EP and re-recorded.

Jameson said it took a while for Delta Spirit to settle on a record label.

"We were kind of looking at a lot of labels when we first put out the album, but we just didn't think any of them made sense for us. Later, when we found Rounder, we realized we could sign with them without compromising any of our core values. They've released a lot of really great, respectable music, and they've done it their own way."

He said the partnership with Rounder Records "definitely hasn't meant huge budgets or videos or pushing big-time radio singles, but we can feel it's the kind of situation that's right for us--they are all about making music that lasts."