David Mayfield has been in bands all of his life, starting with a family band that toured the bluegrass festival circuit. He went on to play with country singer Andy Griggs, was part of progressive bluegrass group Cadillac Sky, and spent a couple of years playing bass for his younger sister, Jessica Lea.
He racked up a lot of miles and priceless experience, but never had a song released under his own name until last year, when “The David Mayfield Parade” album snuck up on the indie community.
“I was always writing and working in the studio, coming up with things, but I never really felt like the time was right to plunge myself into a frontman position,” said Mayfield, 27. “Then Cadillac Sky broke up and I got some encouragement from friends, but even then I was not real hopeful. I’ve been really overwhelmed by the response, but I wasn’t expecting it, for sure.”
As his profile rises, Mayfield is back on the road with Jessica Lea, who has enjoyed a good run since the 2008 release of her debut, “With Blasphemy So Heartfelt.” But this time they’re equals. The “Sibling Rivalry Tour” comes to the Zanzabar Tuesday night and finds the Mayfields trading originals and songs they’ve sung since they were children in Ohio, accompanying each other on guitar and mandolin.
“It’s really just kind of a fun, intimate look at the music we each write and the music that shaped us,” Mayfield said. “It’s a lot of fun, and I think it’ll be interesting for people to see Jessica, whose music is often very serious and dark, play a Stanley Brothers song and take a guitar solo.”
There have even been times when fans of The David Mayfield Parade have shown up and been surprised that Mayfield has a singing sister, much less one with two albums and a stack of glowing reviews for her atmospheric, brooding style of alternative country.
“With Blasphemy So Heartfelt” made a number of best-of lists when released, and last year’s “Tell Me” did the same. Jessica Lea works with producer Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys, and David played bass on both albums. Until three years ago he also toured with her, but only as a sideman.
Being part of a band has always been his thing. He enjoys being the guy who comes up with just the right guitar part to make a song blossom, or one who brings an original song to the table for someone else to sing. The spotlight has never been that important to him.
But in The David Mayfield Parade, he has become a “ham,” he said.
“At parade shows, the comedy aspect is as present as the musical aspect,” he said. “It’s very much a complete show, with dancing and comedy, that kind of harkens back to vaudeville entertainment, where the idea is not to get up there and play with any kind of pretentiousness or ego, but to realize that people paid money to get entertained.”
Mayfield also learned a lot as a sideman, and from more than 100 recording sessions. When he finally decided to make “The David Mayfield Parade,” after much encouragement from The Avett Brothers, among others, he had a tight plan. They finished the record in a week, although it certainly doesn’t sound rushed, and he’s already powered through a second that should appear early next year.
“I had a clear idea of what I wanted the album to be, and I had waited so long that I knew what I wanted to do,” he said. “But with this second album, I really feel like I’ve come into my own as a frontperson.
“With that last record, it was ‘Like, OK, the time feels right to try this and here’s what I’m going for,’ but it was untested. I hadn’t toured, and hadn’t really found my voice, but after touring so much and finding out what gets people going and how I can connect with an audience, that’s fed this new record, and I’m excited about that.”
Reporter Jeffrey Lee Puckett can be reached at (502) 582-4160.