Blues quartet Herbie D & the Dangermen hook up on a Craiglist connection 

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Herbie D & the Dangermen eschew amps in favor of an old-school sound

Sherry Boylan

Herbie D & the Dangermen eschew amps in favor of an old-school sound

Oftentimes the phrase, "We met on Craigslist" is not the best indicator of a successful relationship. But that's how singer/guitarist Herbie Desseyn (a.k.a. Herbie D) and upright bassist Chris Gifford met four years ago. Not long after that they formed the acoustic blues band Howie D & the Dangermen.

The Hampton, Va.-based quartet, which also includes drummer Michael Salazar and saxophonist Art Martin, takes a stripped-down approach to Herbie D's gritty originals, laying down sinewy rhythms and smoky sax solos underneath Herbie's leering swagger of a voice. They eschew electric instruments entirely, preferring to use their own skills instead of amps to power their songs. On the band's most recent album, 2013's Dangerous With Blues, Gifford's bass carries a surprising amount of the melodic weight, Martin's sax provides accents and atmosphere, and Herbie D's guitar can either take center stage (on the slide-heavy "Franklin County Shine") or chop out the rhythm (like on the album's woozy, aptly titled opener, "I'll Have Another").

The group came together after Herbie D decided he wanted to stand out in an electric-blues-saturated market. "Herbie was playing electric guitar with a blues band," says Gifford. "And he kind of wanted to do something different. He didn't really know any upright bass players that weren't already working, so he just put a Craigslist ad out there."

The ad was just vague enough to attract Gifford's interest. "It didn't say what kind of music or anything like that," he says. "So I sent him an email and he got back to me saying it was a blues thing, and if I was interested, to learn a couple of songs that he'd sent along and meet him the next night at an open mic and we would try it out. So I showed up, we played a couple of songs, and I guess I did okay, because he gave me another three songs and told me to come back the next week to try it again. And from there, we came up with about 30 more songs and started gigging together."

There were definitely challenges as the band tried to create a big enough sound to be heard in clubs. "What we really worked on was making sure everyone had their own sonic space," Gifford says. "Herbie never uses a pick; his playing is all fingerstyle. So on the upright bass, which has a nice attack and a big sound, if I stay on the rhythm, then he'll play in between, and it fills the space up. Then when we add our drummer and saxophone player, we all have our space that we stay in and we've worked at that. We're not playing on top of each other; we're playing with each other."

Gifford says that playing all-acoustic opened doors for the band. "You can play a lot more venues and you can get a lot closer to the audience," he says. "You can still play the bigger stages and festivals, but we also wanted to do smaller and more personal shows. What we'd found is that most of the electric blues bands in general were loud and that kind of kept people back," Gifford says. "We wanted something different where we could talk to people and make a better connection. And we felt with the acoustic thing that we could do that."

At intimate shows, the people are there to watch and listen. "And what that does to the band is require us to have a great show and be engaging," Gifford says. "You can't just play your music and go from one song to another. You have to engage the audience, and to us, that's the best part of the experience.

"We're not just playing music," he continues. "We're getting to know the listener. That feedback helps us become better performers and better musicians."

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