While working as a river guide in Tennessee, Jonathan Warren received a guitar as a gift after his beloved dog passed away. Self-taught, he’d always loved music but never had a formal lesson.
“I was living in this river community,” he recalls, talking to me on the phone from his home in Idaho.
Warren jokes he was the worst guitar player around. “I was nominated to be the bass player,” he says. And living in Tennessee, there wasn’t much choice but to play bluegrass, a style Warren says he didn’t have much interest in.
Nevertheless, he managed to make it his own.
Since then, Warren stuck with the guitar. After moving out West to Boise, he fronts Jonathan Warren and the Billy Goats, a self-described progressive psychobilly folk-grass trio.
Jonathan Warren and the Billy Goats are out on the road supporting their new release, Cletus. The record is named after another dog in Warren’s life, a companion of 13 years.
Warren says some of the dog’s personality made its way into the music. “It’s his persistent orneriness,” he says, noting Cletus hasn’t run away yet.
The Billy Goats all come from different musical backgrounds, Warren says, from formally trained to self-taught. Nevertheless, they’re bonded by a similar energy on stage, preferring a foot-stomping, rowdy vibe in their performances.
When Warren’s on stage, he builds a persona. “I like to create this image of this heartbroken outlaw,” Warren says. “A ruffian.”
Cletus is a little melancholy, a more mature record for the band, Warren explains. There’s even a love song on the album, a first. “Not even a jaded love song,” Warren adds.
The record was written during an on-again-off-again relationship with the only woman Warren has ever asked to marry him. “It didn’t work out,” he says.
Jonathan Warren and the Billy Goats return to Eugene 9 pm Thursday, Sept. 27, at Sam Bond’s: $5, 21-plus.