When Lyle Lovett says his Large Band is “large,” he’s not kidding. At 14-strong, it’s a small army that travels across the country with him this summer, many of them musicians who have stood by his side for decades.
Sure, there are larger bands making the rounds. But to match the Texas crooner’s genre-hopping set list every night, it’s the perfect size.
“I get an opportunity to play big-band, swing, rockabilly, country, blues, folk and bluegrass — all in one night,” says drummer Russ Kunkel, who’s recorded with everyone from Bob Dylan and B.B. King to Linda Ronstadt and former fiancée Carly Simon.
Over the years Lovett, 56, has always been generous about giving interviews when he rolls through Sonoma County. On one tour, he even invited a video crew to film him riding a tiny scooter through Santa Rosa wearing a big “Texas” helmet.
But, since we talked to Lovett last November when he shared a stage with John Hiatt, it seemed like a good idea to shine a light on a few of the guys in his Large Band. Before they play the Green Music Center Sunday night, we chatted with a drummer who had a cameo in “This is Spinal Tap,” a pianist Lovett nicknamed “Snake” and the brother of Alison Krauss on bass.
Russ Kunkel, drums
Years in the Large Band: 10.
Favorite songs to play: “That’s Right (You’re Not From Texas),” “Brown Eyed Handsome Man.”
On meeting Lyle: “I got called in on a Grateful Dead tribute album; we were recording ‘Friend of the Devil.’ I’d always been a huge fan. I just thought he was one of the most professional artists I’d ever worked with and I’ve worked with a lot of people.”
Banter between songs: “He appears on stage to be a little shy and vulnerable. When you can show an audience your vulnerability, they inherently fall in love with you.”