OKLAHOMA COUPLE JEANA AND CLIFF DOWNING, THE DRIVING FORCES BEHIND THE “BLUEDIRT/REDGRASS” MAGIC OF CAPTAIN LEDGE, CONFIRM THAT ‘RUMORS OF THE GREAT WHITE SKUNK’ ARE TRUE ON THEIR NEW FULL LENGTH ALBUM
Down about two and a half hours South of Tulsa, around where Highways 270 and 2 meet, is Wilburton, OK (population a bit under 3,000). These are the kinds of small towns where great love stories give rise to some of the coolest, rootsiest music you’ll ever get wind of. That’s where you’ll hear the colorful tale of how Jeana and Cliff Downing met, fell in love, got hitched and combined their musical passions to create a homespun hybrid they call “bluedirt / redgrass,” a spirited fusion of bluegrass and red dirt music. That’s the vibe driving their popular Captain Ledge Band, which lays the groundwork for all the colorful narratives on their new full length album Rumors of the Great White Skunk.
The widespread acclaim for the collection earned The Captain Ledge Band an IMEA Award (International Music and Entertainers Association) for Bluegrass Album of The Year and nominations for Bluegrass Band/Group of the Year and Bluegrass song of the year for “Bucket Mouth” an edgy, pointed acoustic tune about the widespread problem of small town gossiping. That track was penned and sung by Jeana, who handles the lead vocals on most of the band’s tunes, with Cliff and other band members filling out the lush harmonies. The Jeana-led songs create a cool contrast with others like the opening track, the hypnotic “I Wish,” which features Cliff talk-singing through his lofty hopes and wishes for mankind in light of all the sociopolitical strife these days.
Among the Downings’ other favorites on the album are the playfully strummed vocal harmony tune “Waiting on Angels,” inspired by an old man selling used beads to survive in New Orleans; the introspective ballad “No Need To Cry,” which was the first song they ever played together; and the imagery-rich, laid back counting your blessings tune “Mimosa Tree,” which wraps the set on an uplifting note.
The titles of The Captain Ledge Band’s two recordings, starting with their 2014 debut Great White Skunk, refer to the white skunks that roam the land Cliff’s grandparents bought in 1949 in Southeast Oklahoma. As Cliff says, “Per family members, they’ve just always been there and no one has ever really thought anything about it.” The skunks may be a constant, but the band has had a unique rotation of members, including Jimmy Henley, formerly of The Roy Clark Band for 26 years and two time winner of the “Best Banjo Player in the World” award; and guitarists Tony Adams (of the Grammy winning Michael Ginsburg Band), Justin Joslin and Lonnie Lay, who performs with The Captain Ledge Band in a trio format.
After some years performing at regional clubs, they now perform mainly at festivals, including the Made In Oklahoma Festival, Houston’s Woodland Waterways Arts Festival, the Mayhaw Festival in Eldorado, AR and the Malibu Wine Festival in Malibu CA. The Captain Ledge Band has also performed at the House of Blues in New Orleans.
The story of Jeana and Cliff’s emergence with The Captain Ledge Band includes Cliff’s miraculous comeback from a catastrophic wrist injury (shattered during a softball game), which allowed him to return to his first love of music after a decade off. In the 80s, he toured as a sound tech and musician with numerous hair bands, then moved to Tulsa in the 90s. The surgeon who pieced his wrist back together told Cliff that playing the bass was out of the question – and he gave up in frustration after several attempts. A decade later, after he met and married Jeana, she started singing and playing the mandolin and urged Cliff to try to play bass again so they could make music together.
Jeana says, “We love to play together and Cliff is one of those rare people I can be around 24/7 and always have a great time.” Cliff adds, “Everyone out there can just give up trying to find the best wife because I found her! I love the way Rumors of the Great White Skunk flows, starting with my aggressive song, ‘I Wish’ and ending up on ‘Mimosa Tree,’ celebrating who you’re with and choosing to kick back and enjoy life.”
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