Jessica Blankenship is the owner and founder of Kentucky Country Music website. The Berea College graduate has been a music journalist and historian for over 20 years. She enjoys providing concert photography, reviews, historical articles, red carpet event coverage, and exclusive interviews of your favorite musicians. Jessica is proud to be a Kentucky Colonel and alumni of the FFA and 4-H Clubs. In 2018, she was named one of Laurel County’s Ten Under 40 Award Recipients. In 2019, she was a member of the Inaugural class of BRIGHT Kentucky as part of Leadership Kentucky. She has been featured on the Kentucky Music Preview podcast, Hollercast podcast, Overtones radio show, WFKY Nashville News Roundup, KET, and more. Beyond music, she enjoys traveling, helping her community, collecting gnomes, and Volkswagens.
Tonight, Austin, Texas, will be showcasing musical talents of many that make their homes in the honky tonks across the United States. The Ameripolitan Awards will be handed out, awarding those in with a prominent roots influence that includes honky tonk, rockabilly, western swing and outlaw music. The awards will take place at the Wyndham Garden Hotel & Woodward Conference Center in Austin.
One of the nominees, The Freightshakers, has been making a name for themselves in California and beyond. The Freightshakers have been nominated for Best Honky Tonk Group with the Ameripolitan Awards. I recently spoke with Gethen Jenkins, lead singer, about the awards, as well as more about the sweet honky tonk sounds rising out of California.
Where did the name, The Freightshakers, come from?
The name of the band came from a friend of mine. I was in another band previous to this one. We went on a road trip one afternoon and just threw it out there. A freight shaker is what they use to call Freightliners back in the seventies. A lot of the music that we play and style of music that we play is from the sixties and seventies. So it was a great fit. We do a lot of trucking songs and so we kept it.
That is pretty cool to hear. Now tell me who the band members are and what do they bring to the band as a whole?
The guitar player/piano player is Jeremy Long. He’s the guy that put the band together. He’s from Long Beach, CA. He went to Nashville to school for jazz piano. He’s the band leader as far as musically. He did work with the other members for several years. I was the last missing part. He heard me sang and asked if I wanted to join. He also plays steel guitar, but mainly plays guitar and piano. He’s a phenomenal talent and one of the most humble guys you’ll ever meet.
Our upright bass player is David Gilliard. He’s plays the doghouse bass. He’s from Athens, Ga. He’s been playing bass for several years and has been with several bands. He moved out to Huntington Beach a few years ago. He was playing with some pick up bands. Once I joined the band, he quit the other projects and worked with us.
Gary Brandin, our pedal steel guitar, has been playing since the seventies. He went on tour with Merle Haggard for a while. He’s one of my heroes musically. You just have to meet him. He’s wonderful. He plays lap steel.
Dale Daniel, our drummer, played with a band called the Hacienda Brothers for years. He played with Dallas Wayne and just about all of them. He’s a phenomenal drummer. Between him and Gary, they have the most musical experience having done even European tours.
Now you are from West Virginia, so how did you find your way to California?
I was born in Huntington, West Virginia. Then I grew up in Southshore, Ky., until I was 8 years old. My parents got divorced and my dad moved up to Alaska. I went up to Alaska and was raised the rest of my time up in the interior of Alaska in an Indian village in the middle of no where. It was pretty interesting. So from 8 to 18, I was in Alaska.
Then I joined the Marine Corps and did 8 years with them. My first and last duty stations were in California. once I got out of the Marine Corps after Iraqi Freedom, I went and lived in San Diego for ten years. I played in couple of different projects and nothing really panned out. Then I met with Jeremy Long and David Gilliard. I’ve been playing in this honky tonk band for a couple of years.
While in the Marine Corps, did you play in any bands?
I was in a band shortly after I got back from Iraq. A buddy of mine and I played for a little bit, but nothing major.
Who would you consider your musical influences?
I would say Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings; Billy Joe Shaver is a big one for me. I got to meet Billy Joe Shaver and actually wrote a song about him on the When the Whiskey Calls album called Honky Tonk Life. It is a song that I wrote the minute I hung up the phone with the lady that called us and said we would get to play with them. It was the first time in my life that a song came to me that fast and hard. He’s just a magical man. I don’t know what it is about him, but he’s a big influence. All of the guys from that era, I just idolize them. They definitely speak for themselves.
You can tell that you are influenced by them. Now you recently were showcased with the NAMM Convention. How did that come about?
We met the gentleman in charge of booking at one of our shows. We had been playing pretty heavy. He was impressed with our live performance, which is our strongest aspect. We enjoy playing live and I love playing live. He asked us to do it.
In talking about your live show, what can fans experience when they come to a Freightshakers concert?
We’re pretty high energy when we put on our shows. Connection – I love to talk to people. We play a lot of the classic stuff. We put our heart and soul into what we’re doing. We really feel passionate in what we are doing. We pay homage to the traditional stuff we do, and put our own spin to it. We also like breaking down the barrier between the band and the people. I don’t take breaks. I go out and meet people, shake hands, and take pictures. I’m a real people person. I enjoy it a lot. We play every chance we get.
With the Ameripolitan Awards, the Freight Shakers were nominated for Best Honky Tonk Group. What ran through your head when you first heard about it?
I was very excited to say the least. That’s another story of how that came about. The Daliens of Bakersfield encouraged us to get something together for this award. We were in the middle of recording and put together the EP. We decided to go ahead and cut the songs. We sent them to the Ameripolitan for a review and was shocked that we came out top 5 out of 100 bands. I couldn’t believe it. It is phenomenal we were even considered for the award. We are very excited to being a part of it. It’s a great honor to have our name with those nominated.
Will you be doing any touring outside of California soon?
Absolutely. First step is getting this album out. We need to get this full length album out first. Right now we are doing it all by ourselves. We don’t have a manager or anybody really producing us, so we are doing it by ourselves. It takes a little bit longer when you are doing it yourself. You have to have a full length album to tour after. Once we get that out, our plans are to branch out and head east.
Be sure to check out the Freightshakers online at www.thefreightshakers.com, as well as like them on Facebook at www.facebook.com/TheFreightShakers.