BY MARTA HEPLER DRAHOS email@example.com
Traverse City Record-Eagle
---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Gunnar Nyblad may be “outlaw” country music singer David Allan Coe’s biggest fan.
“Every time he’s performed, I’ve never missed it. I’m right up there and taking notes,” said Nyblad, whose band, Gunnar and The Grizzly Boys, opens for Coe Saturday at Streeters’ Ground Zero. “I never take him for granted. I tell the guys he’s not going to be around forever and we can be the band to carry on the kind of music his fans like.”
Coe achieved popularity in the 1970s and ‘80s with songs like “Mona Lisa Lost Her Smile” and “You Never Even Called Me by My Name,” both of which are still “hugely strong,” said local country radio personality Cary Carlson. Also a talented songwriter, Coe penned the number one hit songs, “Take This Job and Shove It” and “Would You Lay With Me (In a Field of Stone),” covered by Johnny Paycheck and Tanya Tucker.
But his outrageous performances and lifestyle — he once lived in a hearse, spent several years in prison, and sometimes rode a Harley-Davidson motorcycle on stage and cursed at his audience — made Coe too rogue for mainstream country.
“He’s had his foot in folk and rock and hung out with an outlaw band that was kind of on the outskirts of country,” said Carlson, midday show and music director for WTCM Radio in Traverse City. “But he’s one of those performers people go to see over and over. He has a huge, loyal live following.”
That following includes Nyblad, frontman for the Grand Rapids-based Gunnar and The Grizzly Boys. The band formed in 2009 while its members were students at Michigan State University, and since has played its high-energy brand of Americana country rock around Michigan and the Midwest.
“We’re a little more traditional, but we definitely draw a lot of influences from David Allan Coe’s music,” said Nyblad, whose band opened for Coe at Streeters last year and is touring with him this year for several Michigan performances. “We’re someone his fans can turn to for the same kind of music.”
The Grizzly Boys’ 2010 debut album, “Homegrown,” and recent EP, “Country My Whole Life,” highlight the songwriting skills of Nyblad, a fruit farmer with his family’s company.
“I live on a 160-acre farm four miles from downtown Grand Rapids,” said the musician, whose family also has orchards on Old Mission Peninsula. “Most songs are either conceived or even finished while I’m driving the tractor. I’ll spend countless hours maintaining and spraying the apple trees. It’s like when you go on a long drive and you mind is free to entertain itself. Luckily my mind thinks of different, funky ways to write songs.
“I always look forward to the spring. It’s a nice season. I don’t know how or why it happens, but there’s always a good crop of songs that come out of spring.”
Advance tickets for Saturday’s show, also featuring Tommy Steele, are $22 plus fees at groundzeroonline.com. Doors open at 7 for the 8 p.m. show.