Winston Ramble, a group of musicians from North Alabama, have been jamming around the Southeast for the past three years and steadily earning new fans along the way. Together, Drew Benefield (vocals/guitar), Justin Oliver (mandolin) and Jud Mize (guitar/vocals) have crafted a style of music that they call “folk ‘n’ roll.”
It’s familiar folk and bluegrass mixed with a Southern and roots rock attitude, then accented with impeccable three-part harmonies. While their style maintains its acoustic purity, classic rock overtones cannot be ignored. The creation of their style is a perfect example of natural musical evolution at work.
“We started off picking in our living room” Oliver said. “We’ve grown around more rock. We come from a classic rock style background. When we got more into the folky aspect of playing music, I think we naturally gravitated towards the more acoustic sound and still tried to maintain that rock ‘n’ roll edge to it too.”
The musical camaraderie between Benefield, Oliver and Mize began to take shape during their high school years. Eventually, the three decided it was time to take it to the next level. When it was time to share what they created with others, the three decided to launch at legendary Birmingham venue Marty’s PM, the Magic City’s premiere watering hole for sampling acoustic-based, organic sounds.
As time passed, their folk ‘n’ roll sound demanded more depth, and the trio decided to expand their lineup. Coty West (drums), Max Millwood (bass/vocals) and Heath Simmons (Dobro) were recruited to add their own influence to the band’s style. Together, they have been touring under the name Winston Ramble.
“Winston Ramble was inspired by Levon Helm’s Midnight Ramble,” Mize said. “We took that idea of having a bunch of friends come over and play music. That’s where we started. We started doing that in Haleyville, Alabama, where we’re from in Winston County. So, we put the two together and came up with Winston Ramble.”
The bond between the young musicians is reflected in their songwriting. According to Oliver and Mize, creating their folk ‘n’ roll masterpieces is truly a group effort. Song ideas and structure tend to bounce off the members of Winston Ramble until a worthy finished product is created. Their process of songwriting allows all band members to have a hand in composition.
“Our songwriting process is a lot of give and take, most of the time,” Oliver said. “One of us will come up with an idea or something to go off of, be it lyrics or something with the music. We send a lot of stuff back and forth to each other and play around with it, until we all find something we’re happy with. We take turns working on different melodies and harmonies until we find what we like.”
“You really don’t ever know what the song is going to sound like until everybody in the band has got together and played it,” Mize added. “You can really hear that pure sound.”
Unfortunately, there are currently only two ways to experience Winston Ramble. They have been gathering fans through live performances and sharing online videos of their performances. But more recently, the band has been busy laying down tracks for their debut album.
According to Mize, the band employed the engineering services of their manager Alex Cape (Southeastern Attractions). He said Cape had the knowledge and equipment to help make their debut album a memorable experience for both the band and their fans. Currently, they are aiming for a March release, but no title has been chosen yet. Mize said the title will come after the album has been fully tracked. Oliver said recording has been a positive experience thus far.
“It’s been going really well,” he explained. “We’ve put most of it together. Starting in December, we started putting together our basic ideas and working off those. It’s coming out really well. We’ve got a pretty decent blend of different styles of music coming out on it. We definitely got some bluegrass sounding stuff, some rock sounding stuff and even some smoother soul type stuff.”
Meanwhile, their audiences appear to thoroughly enjoy the band’s folk ‘n’ roll in a live setting. Mize and Oliver guarantee those unfamiliar with the band will be amazed by its live delivery. Shows tend to be energetic and extremely crowd friendly. In fact, Winston Ramble encourages crowd interaction and makes it their mission to have people on their feet and moving to their “foot-stompin’ style of music.”
“People don’t expect us to sound like we do when we first get up. I really like the look on people’s faces when we sing three-part harmony,” Oliver said.
“Mine is just the energy we all have when we’re onstage,” Mize offered. “It’s what we’ve been doing our whole lives, and it’s what we’ve been waiting on.”
After the release of their debut, the band plans to expand its audience. In the past, they have limited themselves to playing around Alabama. In 2015, Winston Ramble will hit the road, with further plans to travel to new locales and spread their folk n’ roll along the way.
Date: Saturday, Jan. 17, 7:30 p.m.
Venue: Callaghan’s Irish Social Club,
916 Charleston St.,
Tickets: $7 at the door