By Jewly Hight
In today’s bluegrass world, brother duos are a dying breed, which makes the gifted, close harmony-singing Gibson Brothers—who came up in the ‘80s, not the olden days—a rarity. And a bluegrass group with two strong singer-songwriters in it is almost unheard of, which puts prolific Leigh and Eric Gibson in a class by themselves. Not that the brothers limit themselves to the style fathered by Bill Monroe. Folk, country, Americana and rock flavors show up both in their writing and their taste for Tom Petty, Tom T. Hall, Gordon Lightfoot and Kieran Kane covers. The Gibsons have a new album called Help My Brother on the way, and it’s well-stocked with originals and the kind of classic brother duets they cut their teeth on.
From the time you started making albums, you were already writing more than half your material. Were you singing and playing together before you were writing songs?
Eric: Yeah. Leigh and I grew up on a dairy farm in upstate New York. It was really a very rural area. I had never been anywhere, really, until I got out of high school. We just didn’t go places. We played baseball or I’d go to a local fiddle contest, things like that. But we were pretty sheltered. We had each other and we grew up playing together. But we’d been playing several years before we started trying to write songs. I think I started writing about my senior year of high school. Very little exists from those days. There weren’t very many keepers. But you have to start somewhere. I knew early on that I really enjoyed being able to sing something that I felt was mine. I really got a charge out of that, and my brother was the same way. By the time we had a band going in the early ‘90s, one of the guys who plays music with us—his name’s Junior Barber and he’s a great dobro player—he really encouraged us to write. He said, ‘That’s where you get your identity as a band, is doing your own songs.’ Even if some of our early efforts weren’t very good, they were at least ours.
It’s not that typical to have a group in bluegrass that writes, especially a group that has two songwriters.
Leigh: I have the most admiration for guys who write bluegrass songs that sound fresh and new...
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