Published November 07. 2013 4:00AM
Baltimore is associated with many things, including crab cakes, Orioles, and Edgar Allen Poe.
Rockabilly? Not so much.
But Baltimore native Danny Kay and his band the Nightlifers are changing that last part in steadfast fashion.
"I grew up on oldies and classic rock stations in the '80s and, truthfully, the music just didn't make sense to me," Kay says by phone last week before heading out on a tour that brings him to New London's 33 Club Sunday. "Then I heard Eddie Cochran and the Sun Records guys, and I immediately got into it. And then I saw the High Noon Rockabilly Trio live - and I started just buying everything like that I could get my hands on."
His affection for the music was so complete that Kay learned guitar and started writing his own material. The more he learned, the more he began exploring tangential musical styles, and his influences grew beyond just rockabilly to include similarly structured honky tonk artists such as Hank Williams and Ray Price - and certainly modern practitioners like Wayne "The Train" Hancock, BR5-49, Big Sandy and His Fly-Rite Boys and Williams' grandon, Hank III.
"With myspace and Facebook, all of a sudden we could discover all sorts of new bands that we otherwise wouldn't have heard of," Kay says. "There are so many artists today who explore rockabilly and country and put their own stamps on it. You'd go to a club and see this amazing rockabilly act - and they were punked out and had Mohawks. It completely opened my eyes and made me want to be involved."
In 2003, Kay decided to jump into music 100 percent. He formed The Nightlifers along with bassist Johnny Ray "Lawless" Carroll and lead guitarist Jimmy Swope. The band toured so relentlessly that they decided to take a hiatus. Kay continued as a solo act until 2010, when he reformed the band with a new guitarist, Zach Sweeney - renowned for his work with Hancock and Lucky Tubb, the latter of whom is the great-nephew of Ernest Tubb.
Filled with new energy, they recorded their debut album, "Headin' Home," in 2011 and hit the road. As their reputation grew and tours expanded beyond the region, Kay became convinced they had a genuine shot at a career.
Earlier this year, Kay took the Nightlifers back into the studio and, with a variety of guest artists pitching in to fill out his musical vision, they cut the "Crazy Lonesome Blue" CD.
"It's actually kind of weird that we recorded 'Crazy Lonesome Blue,'" he laughs. "We came home from a festival in Montana and had a stretch with no dates booked. I thought, 'Well, maybe I'll start writing some songs.' That went fairly well, and then I decided to try and arrange a few cover songs I've always loved that I felt had sort of escaped notice. Pretty soon, I had enough material for an album."
They knocked out the basic tracks over one busy weekend - all recorded live - and then Kay quickly overdubbed his vocal and guitar parts.
"You're in the studio as it's happening, and you think, 'This could be good.' And then it all worked so magically, with such chemistry, and the musicians just took the songs to different levels," he says. "I think it's a really nice record, and now it's nice to be able to take it out on the road."
Danny Kay and the Nightlifers, 8 p.m. Sunday, 33 Club, 33 Golden St., New London; $5; (860) 443-1193.