Jason Morton and The Chesapeake Sons owes their geographical roots to the Atlantic seaboard, but its sonic heritage connects the band firmly to The Black Crowes, the Allman Brothers Band, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and the Marshall Tucker Band.
With Jason Morton and The Chesapeake Sons, a 10-track collection on indie Copperline Music Group, the four-piece ensemble blends effusive melodies, fierce musicianship, convicted vocals, and smart lyrics in a diverse song stew that dips – in Southern-rock fashion – into rock, blues, country, gospel, and even psychedelia.
Jason Morton and The Chesapeake Sons are a talented bunch, but they’re also a working-class group, determined to keep a firm hold on the everyday-American spirit at the heart of their music.
“If you want to go get a thousand new fans, go shake a thousand hands,” founder and lead singer Jason Morton said. “The people that are still here with us today are the people that we developed long-term relationships with, and they come to the shows because they know that not only are they gonna see a kickass show, but we’re gonna hang out with them after.”
Those shows have found Morton and his band sharing stages with ZZ Top, Kid Rock, Skynyrd, Eric Church, and Shooter Jennings. They were once handpicked by Slash to open for him, and Paul McCartney’s manager personally asked them to represent the U.S. at an internationally-themed music festival in Lithuania.
Jason Morton and The Chesapeake Sons are exciting enough that Rusty Harmon, who managed the multi-platinum Hootie + The Blowfish during its heyday, took the Sons on as clients before he’d even met them. And Jason Morton and The Chesapeake Sons is produced by Will Edwards, an under-the-radar creative force whose credits are as far-flung as Latin superstar Shakira, country singer Craig Wayne Boyd, the movie Shrek, and the HBO show “The Sopranos.”
Jason Morton and The Chesapeake Sons shows why such significant figures have gravitated to the group. Morton’s vocals veer from sweet leads to snarling shrieks as the album takes the listener on a journey. The trip slips into the swampy “The Things I’ve Done,” includes the wiry, blues-based boogie “Round the Corner,” and reaches its full-tilt Southern-rock fury with “Southern Sound,” a seven-minute odyssey that includes intricate guitar passages, a gospel-tinged vocal trio, and even a drum solo. The extensive mix includes the breezy “Matacumbe,” which offers a comforting island feel – replete with a brazenly retro horn section – while “No Time” is fiercely trippy, and “Before It Gets Better” throws down Dickey Betts-like tones.
The album, just like the band, clearly works in different ranges.
Like plenty of bands that started local, Jason Morton and The Chesapeake Sons took a rich, long ride to get from its humble origins to its on-the-verge national status. Morton hails from Kent Island, the largest island in the Chesapeake Bay. He spent a lot of time early on immersed in the music scene of the nearby city of Annapolis, a coastal town with a military foundation that attracts enlistees from all 50 states. As a destination for all kinds of backgrounds, the bay area is awash in multiple sounds, stretching from hard rock to reggae to rap, and Morton absorbed all of it.
“There’s something about growing up around the water,” Morton said of his home state. “It’s a very blue-collar vibe with hard-working bands and people that appreciate good music. They come out and they support and they buy merchandise, and they’re very loyal and they’re that way to the core. It’s not just with music. It’s the same with their family and their friends, and life, and it’s the same people that maybe you haven’t talked to in three months and you can call them and say, ‘Hey, man, I'm stranded.’ It’s loyalty to everything.”
Morton founded the band originally with the name The Cheaters in the mid-2000s, playing clubs up and down the coast and building a solid following in the process. As edgy and amusing as the band name was, it was also a bit of an albatross.
“I got emails over the years from people who would think it was the show ‘Cheaters,’” Morton laughed. “So, it would be like, ‘Hey, my name is so-and-so from Austin, Texas. I think my husband’s cheating on me. Can you please investigate this?’ And the funny part is that person would go on our website, see the home page, see a picture of a bunch of long-haired dudes. Why would they think of us as TV producers?”
While they did well booking their own concerts, they knew the right connections could bring a busier slate and better prices. A friend of a friend introduced them to an agent, who liked the music but didn’t feel like it fit his company’s profile. But he recommended they record their best two songs on an iPhone and send him the tracks. That agent, in turn, forwarded the music to Harmon, who’d set up shop in Nashville. He asked them to make a smart phone performance video, then offered to sign them over the phone.
“He ran in a van with Hootie every weekend,” Morton said. “He really understands it on our level, and that’s really important.”
So is the roll-up-your-sleeves, set-up-your-own-future attitude that led to their association.
“Musicians need to push for everything,” Morton offered. “If I never called the agent, we may not even be where we are today. You can’t take any phone call, any handshake, for granted because you never know where it may lead.”
A key, creative Music City transplant was producer Edwards, the godson of late super-producer Tom Dowd, whose history included Skynyrd and the Allmans. Edwards was intrigued by the rawness in Jason Morton and The Chesapeake Sons’ music and produced Jason Morton and The Chesapeake Sons at his 18-acre Copperline Ranch, a secluded Nashville spread formerly owned by Kenny Rogers. Edwards co-wrote some of the tracks and contributed keyboards, using the same piano that was pivotal in Derek & The Dominos’ signpost “Layla.”
The songs on Jason Morton and The Chesapeake Sons work in any part of the rock era, though the band isn’t worried about how many generations its sound might actually survive. Instead, they’re living in the here and now, making a racket and relentlessly kicking it on the road, connecting with a growing fan base and taking a blue-collar approach to a line of work they consider more a lifestyle than a job.
“I guarantee Lynyrd Skynyrd or the Allman Brothers, they didn’t think about making music that would be so timeless that people would be listening to it 50 years later,” Morton said. “In the moment, it’s about creating good songs and playing rock and roll.”