For the Deslondes' Sam Doores, it was a book about Bob Dylan that convinced him to be a musician. While he had been bitten by the music bug early on, it wasn't until that book that he knew he wanted to be a traveling troubadour. And after he was finished reading about Dylan, he picked up Woody Guthrie's 1943 autobiography Bound for Glory, and it was all over. "I read Bound for Glory, and before you know it I was getting rid of all my possessions," Doores says with a chuckle. "I had a guitar, and I was hitchhiking and catching freight trains. My mom was, 'I never should've given him that Dylan book.' "
Rambling around this way and that is how Doores discovered his future bandmates in the Deslondes. After settling in New Orleans, he hooked up with bassist Dan Cutler and started a band, Sam Doores and the Tumbleweeds. While attending the Woody Guthrie Folk Festival in 2010, Doores saw raspy-voiced singer/guitarist Riley Downing, who he'd first met at a previous Guthrie Fest. Downing's singing and songwriting skill intrigued Doores.
"I like collaborating on songwriting and harmonies, plus the fact that he had a lot of great original songs was probably the main reason. Then we had twice the repertoire of good songs," Doores says. "Plus, he's a good rhythm guitar player, so I can work more on some electric guitar and lead stuff, and play more piano and harmonica."
Adding Downing necessitated a name change, but as it turns out there's a band in Holland called the Tumbleweeds that released several albums in the 1970s. When the Alabama Shakes asked Doores and company to open for them on tour, the decision to find a new name became more urgent. They settled on Sam Doores + Riley Downing & the Tumbleweeds, and in October 2012 released their debut album, Holy Cross Blues.
Then early last year, Doores reconnected with current drummer Cameron Snyder who'd played with Doores in one of his earliest bands, while touring with the Shakes. "At the time he was an upright bassist and piano player. So we said just come on and play tambourine on a couple songs. We know you have good rhythm and we'll get you in the show," says Doores. "I had a kick drum and a snare with me and he played that on a couple songs too, and it was like, wow, that kind of fills it out. He ended up singing a few harmonies on a couple songs, and he's a great singer.
"It all fell together that night. We felt like a real band," he continues. "So the next morning we asked if he'd like to continue the tour with us, and he dropped everything that he was doing and hopped in the van."
With Snyder joining, it became even more essential that the band change its name. It'd begun to look like a damn math equation. Doores and the gang chose Deslondes because it's a street in New Orleans that many of them had lived on.
Today, the Deslondes are almost finished recording an album with their new lineup. They've got over 20 songs, including contributions from Cutler and pedal steel/fiddler John James, in addition to main writers Doores, Downing, and Snyder. They've talked to several labels and are in negotiations with one to release their debut sometime this fall, if everything goes right.
For a long time, Cutler and Doores played in Hurray for the Riff-Raff. They eventually parted ways because it was too difficult balancing the two bands' schedules. Last year Hurray signed to Dave Matthew ATO Records and in February released Small Town Heroes to substantial commercial success. For Doores, seeing his friends in the Shakes and Riff-Raff do well is a sign of things to come.
"We all love each other dearly, and we're all fans of each other's playing and being inspired to take it up a notch each time," he says. "I've felt like in the last three years or so things are really starting to pick up. I mean good music is made all along, but I feel like people are starting to really notice it and like it, and it's just getting so much more exposure. It's encouraging."