Rockabilly’s J.D. McPherson has friends in fine places

J.D. McPherson’s mentors and fans include Eric Church and Emmylou Harris. (Courtesy Kelly Kerr)

When Oklahoma R&B-rockabilly revivalist J.D. McPherson was formulating the followup to his gravelly 2012 debut recording “Signs and Signifiers,” he was hit with a double whammy — an initial case of writer’s block, and then the fear that the music he was creating was darker, more dissonant than what he created before. He was so nervous about the material that he didn’t play it for anyone, not even his band members, until he was safely ensconced in the studio. “So it really was a rite of passage,” he says of his great new album “Let the Good Times Roll.” “I had a lot of self-made obstacles to overcome making this record, so I’m more proud of it for that reason.”

You’ve been befriended by the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach, who co-wrote the song “Bridgebuilder.” What did you learn from him?

He made me come out of my shell a bit. I had some verses and part of the chorus, and he threw out some weird chords, but I said, “Hey, man – I’m not really comfortable with those chords.” And he said, “Well, do you like The Everly Brothers?” And I said yes, and he was like, “So what’s the matter with you then? Play these chords!” I had it in my head that I had to stick to this one thing, but Dan said, “Man, just write the songs.” And since then, I’ll write anything, I’ll put any idea out there.

And you’ve been hanging with country’s toughest rebel, Eric Church, too.

Eric has an almost supernatural ability to produce lyrics. I sat with him for one afternoon, and three songs came out of it. So from him, I learned about the industry of song craft. He used to work for publishing companies, and he would just lock himself in a room and write five songs a day. So he told me, “You’ve just got to do it. You’ve got to get in a room, look at a package of paper towels, and write a song about it. Just write and write, until you strengthen your muscle for songwriting.” And it’s true.

Who else have you met?

I did some shows with Robert Plant, and what I learned from him is that you rehearse all the time. And Emmylou Harris shook my hand at the Americana Music Awards – which was like a bolt of electricity – and said, “I’ve got I don’t know how many ex-husbands in the audience tonight, but one of the cool ones who has good taste in music told me that I would really like your album. And I loved your performance, so I’m really looking forward to hearing it!” It was the coolest thing, ever.

J.D. McPherson
Where: Great American Music Hall, 859 O’Farrell St., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. July 31
Tickets: $21
Contact: (415) 885-0750;

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