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Rockabilly’s JD McPherson looks forward to cartoon career

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JD McPherson manages to be retro and edgy on his 2017 album “Undivided Heart & Soul.” (Courtesy Alysse Gafkjen)

As a kid growing up in rural Oklahoma, R&B-rockabilly revivalist JD McPherson would watch “The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle” and be transported to a magical universe far away from his cattle ranch.

“Not everybody dreams of being a cartoon one day, but I did, and now it’s been a dream come true,” says the singer, 41, who was invited to guest star with his band — in animated form — on Netflix’s “The Mr. Peabody & Sherman Show,” an update of “Bullwinkle” staples Mr. Peabody and Sherman, the professorial time-traveling dog and his bespectacled boy assistant.

McPherson — who plays The City this week, backing 2017’s “Undivided Heart & Soul” on New West — isn’t sure how the DreamWorks “Peabody” producers found him.

Someone fairly high up must have heard his first two rollicking records, 2012’s “Signs and Signifiers” and 2015’s “Let the Good Times Roll” and suggested him as an episodic musical guest. “They wanted to do something cool and weird for today’s kids, and also have actual groups for this late-night talk show,” says the singer, who was asked to submit band member photos and an original historically-themed song for the avatars to perform.

Familiar with Native American culture from his years teaching art class in Tulsa, McPherson chose to focus on Crazy Horse.

“I did some research on him, wrote the song [called “Crazy Horse”] and then they made a whole rock video for it,” he says. It didn’t have much in common with the “Peabody/Sherman” plot line that edition — in which everyone was contracting prehistoric bird flu. But, McPherson says, “At the end of our cartoon, we catch it, too. Our spines grow out of our heads then turn blue.”

The retro-style drawings of McPherson and his band were completed digitally, so there were no hand-painted cels to collect. “But the company sent us framed screen shots of us animated,” says McPherson, who has them hanging in his office.

Cartoon Network also came calling, assigning him voiceover work for its hilarious “Squidbillies” series.

“So I’ve got a huge career in cartoon work ahead of me, hopefully,” he says.

Still, he and his trusty crew have a settled into a great sound on the Link Wray-rumbling “Unidivided,” with slapback grooves on “Bloodhound Rock” and “Crying’s Just a Thing You Do” that are both edgy and Sun/Stax old school.

There’s a reason for that. “My band has a certain skill set that’s unusual, compared to others,” he says. “So I tend to write to them, because I definitely know what they can bring to a song.”


JD McPherson
Where: Independent, 628 Divisadero St., S.F.
When: 9 p.m. June 16
Tickets: $25
Contact: (415) 771-1421, www.ticketfly.com

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