It was a long journey from Clarksburg, West Virginia, to the recording studios of Nashville, Tennessee, but brothers Chris and Donnie Davisson made their way from playing the bars and the “animal circuit” of Elks, Eagles and Moose clubs in their native state to opening for some of country music’s top artists performing as the Davisson Brothers Band.
The band’s second album, “Fighter,” was released May 25. The first single, “Po’ Boyz,” was released in Australia first, where it topped the country music charts. The brothers say this album is a snapshot of their lives — where they’ve been, where they are and where they’re headed. Rolling Stone Country recently named the Davisson Brothers Band one of the “new country artists you need to watch.”
You can watch them in Frederick on July 4 when they take the Country Stage for the 99.9 WFRE Party in the Park. The stage is near the Fleming Avenue tennis courts. Music starts at 1 p.m. with the National Anthem, followed by Debbie Williams and the Rockin’ Ridge Band at 1:15 p.m., the Davisson Brothers at 3 p.m., Stephanie Quayle at 5 p.m. and Trent Harmon at 7 p.m.
Still ‘wild and wonderful’ at heart
West Virginia is still home, the brothers say, but they are spending more time in Nashville. The FNP caught up with Donnie at his home near Clarksburg, West Virginia, where he was making hay on the family farm. Brother Chris lives near Fairmont, West Virginia.
“Pretty much, we live on the road,” Donnie said. “I’m in Nashville more than West Virginia, but we all still have homes in West Virginia.” How much touring? Their tour schedule is called the Always on Tour tour.
Donnie is the lead vocalist and plays rhythm guitar. Chris is the lead guitarist, and childhood friends Rus Reppert is on bass with Aaron Regester on drums.
It was on the road, many years ago, outside Castle Recording Studios, near Nashville, that the band met Chris Janson (“Buy Me A Boat,” “Drunk Girl,” Fix a Drink”). It was late at night and Janson’s vehicle had run out of gas. The Davissons gave him a lift and they became fast friends.
They had arrived in Nashville at about the same time, along with Tyler Farr, Chris Stapleton and Maryland’s Brothers Osborne.
“People don’t realize how tough that life is. We slept on each other’s couches,” Donnie said. “TJ and John [Osborne] have family in Elkins [West Virginia] where my family has a fishing camp. Chris Janson’s parents are like parents to me and my parents are like parents to him. He comes to hunt and fish.”
“He’s like that third Davisson brother,” Donnie said. “I love him like a brother.”
The group of country music hopefuls, who met through mutual friends in Nashville, made a pact that whoever made it first, would bring the others along. Chris Stapleton played in the Moose and Elk lodges of West Virginia, opening for the Davisson Brothers Band. So did Chris Janson. And the band now opens for them on their tours when their schedule allows it. They have a pretty busy tour schedule, too, from CMC Rocks — the biggest international country and roots music festival in Australia — to playing the Country Stage in Baker Park on July 4.
Moving on up
With the release of their song “Big City Hillbilly” from their debut album, the band saw the wheels of music fortune start to turn faster.
“Then that ‘Jesse James’ song got to the Top 20 on Sirius Satellite’s ‘The Highway,’” Donnie said.
They went from touring regionally to the East Coast to “touring the U.S. We did a lot of radio shows with that first record,” he said, visiting 97 cities in 19 weeks.
As they did with the release of their self-titled debut album, the band embarked on a West Virginia Walmart tour for the release of their second album, “Fighter.” They wrote or co-wrote most of the songs, including the title track.
“I got the idea for that song out in my yard, or somewhere like that,” Chris said. “We have a little studio here in West Virginia. When we were kids, growing up in rural West Virginia, the pack of kids we ran around with fishing, in the hay fields, we always said if you fight one of us, you fight us all. That saying hit me and I said, ‘Let’s go in the studio and do a little recording.’ This song represents what The Davisson Brothers are all about — family and sticking together.”
“It’s kind of patriotic, too,” said Donnie.
Back in Nashville, working with award-winning album producer Keith Stegall, they agreed that “Fighter” was the perfect title for the album.
Even though the first single from the album, “Po’ Boyz” sounds like it was written by the brothers, it was written by Brian Dean Maher and Justin Wilson. “When we heard this song, we said we can not not record it,” said Donnie.
“That would be something we would write,” Chris said. They did, however do some re-writing to make the lyrics fit their West Virginia roots.
“My favorite song, if I had to choose one, would be ‘Breathe,’” Chris said. “We’ve had a lot of good times on the road, we’ve got to see and do a lot of good things. [‘Breathe’] talks about some of the hard times we’ve been through,” when you have to remind yourself to just breathe.
“We started writing it at about 9 o’clock at night until about 3 or 4 in the morning,” Chris said. “When we finished the song, and were back in the studio to record it at 9.” And Stegall loved it; it was the ballad the album needed.
“I learned so much from [Keith Stegall],” Donnie said. “I love to write a slow ballad. I feel it more. I write about the world around me and my life,” raised in a blue-collar family. “I can’t sit in a room with other songwriters and write. Songs come from strange places,” he said, including waking up in the middle of the night with a full song in his thoughts.
The last track on the album, “Appalachian American,” talks about their pride of being from Appalachia and the people who live there: “We ain’t afraid to grow our own; And help take care of those who don’t; And we’ll pass around; All that we’ve been handed down; And we believe in God and guns; We ain’t got much use for anyone; Who ain’t into that; Aw, but we still got your back; Appalachian American.”
The song closes with the old-time mountain fiddling of Chance McCoy, of Old Crow Medicine Show. “He’s one of the last ones still playing that old mountain fiddle,” Donnie said.
“In Appalachia, they would bury these people to these fiddle songs,” said Chris. “Back then, they were called burial songs. People would carry the caskets, with the fiddler walking and playing behind it.” Played with several strings at one time and slow strokes across the strings, it can be described as the sound of a fiddle crying. “It’s difficult to play,” said Chris.
The brothers are proud of their West Virginia roots. They are descendants of Daniel D. Davisson, a Revolutionary War hero and founder of Clarksburg, West Virginia. “He built a court house and a saloon and went on to be high sheriff of [what was then] Virginia,” said Chris. The family still owns Daniel’s farm.
Their father, Eddie Davis, is one of 10 kids and Donnie said all of his siblings sing and play instruments. “All my dad’s brothers and sisters played fiddle and guitar.”
“The neighbors on the hill would ride over on horse and buggies with their instruments, and they would play music all weekend,” he said. “Some of the neighbors were coal miners. A lot of that music comes out of the coal mines.”
The brothers started playing with their father and uncle as boys. “I was in the fifth grade,” said Donnie. His dad played bluesy-rock; his uncle was more country. “My dad is our biggest supporter and the greatest man I ever met,” Donnie said. “He worked at the hospital and played music on the weekends. Back in the day, he played with Kathy Mattea and Sawyer Brown. He still does the Elks, Eagles and Moose lodges.” And he and other family sometimes join the band on the road.
On July 4 in Baker Park, Chris said expect a high-energy, family-oriented show.