The roads by which each of the five members of Cole Deggs & the Lonesome came to Nashville to fuse themselves into a band are too long and winding to describe here. Suffice it to say that the group consists of two sets of brothers — Cole and Shade Deggs and Jimmy and David Wallace — plus drummer Brian Hayes, whose sole relationship to the others is musical.
They’ve just released a new single, “The Girl Next Door,” and are on the road with fellow newcomers Bucky Covington and Jason Michael Carroll for the Raisin’ the Bar tour.
In July, the band released its self-titled debut album, paced by the single “I Got More.” As bandleader and chief songwriter Cole Deggs observed, “Every song on that record, except one, is something about being lonesome or losing somebody or missing somebody.” Deggs had a hand in writing four of the album’s 11 cuts.
While loneliness may be the album’s prevailing emotion, its musical styles and subject matter run the spectrum — from the nostalgic heartbeat of “The Girl Next Door” to the profound despair of “Twelve Ounces Deep.” The exception to the rule here is the decidedly inspirational “Everybody’s Beautiful to Someone.”
The band had been on the road for 40 days nonstop when Deggs called to chat with CMT.com. “We have a great time,” he said, noting that they’ve been headlining some dates as well as opening shows for acts with bigger names. “If they’re expecting anybody to come [to the show],” he says with a chuckle, “we definitely don’t headline.”
It’s been a busy year. The band kicked it off in February by fronting a college tour sponsored by a major sunglasses manufacturer. It took them, by Deggs’ count, to “14 or 15″ campuses over a period of three months. The tour, which was built around fishing and hunting, was “tailor made” for the band, Deggs says.
“I’ve been an outdoorsman all my life,” he continued. “My granddad turned me onto fishing as a small child. When somebody from the label approached me about Costa Del Mar sunglasses, my ears just like popped up — because I’d been wearing [that brand] for a long time.”
Besides providing major exposure, the tour also gave the band the chance to introduce songs from its impending album. “We’ve been doing songs off the record now for well over a year — close to two years,” said Deggs. “We would play covers, too. The good thing about the guys is that they can play anything from Prince to Van Halen to Merle Haggard. … We actually got real tight as a band on that little college tour. It was a lot of fun.”
Deggs planted the seeds for the band when he came to Nashville from his native Texas in 1994 at the invitation of veteran singer-songwriter Ed Bruce. (Deggs’ aunt and uncle had given Bruce a tape of their nephew’s songs.) The two men became friends, and Deggs even spent some time working on Bruce’s ranch.
“I lived here for about three months,” Deggs recalled. “Then I went back home and started college. Then I quit college and moved right back [to Nashville]. It was all within a year. … I’ve written a bunch of songs with Ed. He’s a dear friend of mine and a mentor. He’s a songwriting machine.”
Over the ensuing years, Deggs established himself as a writer and demo singer. One of his early successes was “Live Those Songs Again,” which became a single for Kenny Chesney.
“I wrote the song in an elevator with my two buddies, Chris Bain and David Lowe,” Deggs explained. “Chris passed away, like, a month ago. Very unexpected. David was Kenny’s road manager for six or seven years when Kenny was first getting out there, and they kept in contact even after David quit the road. So we wrote the song, and David said. ‘We need Kenny to cut this.’ I said, ‘Man, go get it.'”
Deggs also co-wrote the singles “The Cheapest Motel” for Tracy Byrd, “Tattoo Rose” for Andy Griggs and “Waitin’ in the Country” for Jason Michael Carroll. Like most other aspiring artists, Deggs has had his share of apprenticeship jobs. For a while, he sold T-shirts on the road for Chalee Tennison. Besides providing him an income, the experience inspired one of the new album’s songs, “Huggin’ This Blacktop.”
Always in the back of Deggs’ mind was the zeal to form a band — and gradually that happened as one player after another accepted Deggs as the musical center. The last piece fell into place when David Wallace came aboard. The band as it exists now coalesced in January 2005 and signed its contract with Columbia Records near the end of that year.
But there was always the question of what to name the band. “I’ve been in Nashville for 13 years,” Deggs said, with just a touch of weariness in his voice, “and they’ve changed my name to everything but my original name — which is Cole Deggs. It’s always been a conversational topic. You know my parents weren’t thinking when they named me.”
Initially, the group simply called itself the Cole Deggs Band. Then they toyed with the idea of taking the name Big Rig. “We thought of a thousand names, and nothing was good,” said Deggs. “My brother was reading Lonesome Dove in Chicago. He mailed me and said, ‘Hey, how about just the Lonesome.’ I loved that.” Ultimately, the powers at Columbia did, too.
While readily admitting that the Lonesome [band name] has been inspired by other bands, Deggs insists that it has not modeled itself on any of them.
“We just try to make good music,” he said. “All of us feel the same way about how blessed we are even to have the opportunity to be out here on the road. … We want to be able to look back and say, ‘Man, we played everywhere we could possibly play to make this work.'”