On tour with his band The Avett Brothers in 2005, bassist Bob Crawford began reading a thick tome entitled Washington’s Army. Little did he know that seeds were being planted for his future side project, The Overmountain Men.
“Sometimes,” Crawford says, “people ask, ‘Why do you read those history books? It’s like a textbook.’ I do it because I want to understand where it all began—how’d we get to this spot right here? … People love romance, action and adventure, suspense and intrigue, good guys and bad guys, good guys who turn bad, bad guys who turn good—and that all exists in American history. It’s all there—all the greatest aspects of literature.”
Along the way, Crawford found kindred spirits who shared his passion—singer/guitarist David Childers (of rock ’n’ roll band The Modern Don Juans) and his son, drummer Robert Childers—and they eventually began collaborating on songs rooted in American history.
“I’m more toward the military side, and Bob is more toward the political side,” the eldest Childers explains in his deep Carolina drawl, “and that colors the songs. I love to write about people—historical people like Rembrandt or Stonewall Jackson … but there’s the unknowns, too, like the guy in ‘Leaving England’ who’s heading to America.”
Some other relative unknowns are the project’s namesake, The Overmountain Men, a band of fierce frontiersman from just west of the Appalachians who played a key role in the American victory at the Battle of King’s Mountain during the Revolutionary War—and from whom Childers and Overmountain Men guitarist Randy Saxon are directly descended. “My people were from back up in the hills,” Childers says, “where the Overmountain Men came from. Scotch-Irish savages.”
Fittingly, Childers, Crawford and their gang of musicians —Crawford likens the band to “a little militia crossing the mountains to meet the British and picking up different people along the way”—recorded their rootsy, eclectic debut, Glorious Day, at Gastonia, N.C.’s Old House Studios, built out of a tiny, 150-year-old farmhouse just 15 miles from King’s Mountain.
The main challenge in pulling off these historical songs, Crawford says, is, “Can you capture another world, but not make it a novelty? The point for me, ultimately, is to take some of these characters I meet and fall in love with when I read about them, and tell their tale in a way that’s not like ‘Yankee Doodle Dandy’ or some novelty song like ‘Davy Crockett.’”