“My older brother was the only white kid in an all-Filipino gang in Vallejo,” says Kevin Russell, in one of the most unexpected openings to an interview about music ever.
Yet, Russell explains, in addition to cruising the streets of the East Bay in the ’60s, his brother and the gang would come over and play music in the Russells’ living room, rocking the hits from Elvis and Johnny Cash in spirited jam sessions.
Attracted to his brother’s guitar at a young age, Russell had to wait his turn. “There was only room for one guitar player in the house,” he says. So he took up drums first.
By the time he left home, Russell finally got his hands on a guitar and started playing traditional bluegrass, folk, country, rock ’n’ roll, and everything in between.
The rest is history. For over 30 years, Russell has played in groups like the soulful country band Modern Hicks, blues-rock outfit the Rhythm Rangers and Americana act Laughing Gravy, as well as fronting his own ensembles, the bluegrass-centric Kevin Russell & His So Called Friends and his current country and rockabilly band, Kevin Russell & Some Dangerous Friends, who play the Rancho Nicasio on March 10 in a release show for the group’s new live album.
Featuring 12 tracks recorded at the spur of the moment last November while the band played a set at Lagunitas Tap Room in Petaluma, the live album features cuts from country’s biggest stars as played by the six-piece band.
In addition to Russell’s guitars and laid-back vocals, the group features guitarist Sean Allen (the Jones Gang), singer Maria Nguyen (Twang Ditty), longtime Nashville-based vocalist and bassist Markie Sanders, drummer and educator Rick Cutler and multi-instrumentalist Steve Della Maggiora.
“The trick is to surround yourself with extremely talented musicians,” says Russell. “These guys are so good that they make me sound great.”
Whether they’re swaying to Loretta Lynn’s “Blue Kentucky Girl,” harmonizing on Merle Haggard’s “Running Kind” or shaking things up on Carl Perkins’ “Restless,” the band’s live shows always end up with audiences dancing along, and that energy is perfectly captured on the live album.
“I just want to surround myself with music as much as possible,” says Russell. “That’s what it’s all about.”
Kevin Russell & Some Dangerous Friends play on Sunday, March 10, at Rancho Nicasio, 1 Old Rancheria Road, Nicasio. 5pm. No Cover. 415.662.2219.