Brian McComas was late to the first-ever rehearsal of the Desert City Ramblers. But the band was already jamming when he walked in, and it sounded good.
“They weren’t playing a Ramblers’ song yet, which made it even cooler,” he said. “It wasn’t scripted, it was just something that they were vibing with and loosening up together.”
McComas had formed the band with the ambition of creating a fuller soundscape behind his original music, but he barely knew most of the members. He first mentioned the idea to legendary blues guitarist and friend Bart Walker. The rest came together as word traveled through the Nashville music scene.
“We’ve likened it to the way they used to put posses together in the Wild West,” he said. “You know, gunslingers knew gunslingers.”
The Ramblers will bring that Wild West energy to the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar for a show at 8 p.m. Thursday. While the six-piece has been heating up on a tour of the Southeast and Midwest all summer, this will be their first stop in the actual (high) desert.
McComas has been crafting country pop songs for more than two decades. As a solo artist he had a smash hit with 2003’s “99.9% Sure (I’ve Never Been Here Before),” but since then he has taken a backseat as a manager, producer and songwriter. He has supported countless country and blues artists in the Nashville scene. Although his solo songs no longer pop up on Billboard’s Hot Country chart, they often provide soundtracks to movies, TV shows and advertisements.
Recently, though, McComas had an itch to get back into the spotlight — this time outside of the creative constraints of a major label. While he enjoyed his stardom as a country pop solo artist, he has always fantasized about being in a band.
“I wanted to be on a team and have more than one person wearing a jersey,” he said. “As I started writing some of the songs that would become Ramblers’ songs, I knew they weren’t solo songs. They reminded me of some of the acts that I really dug from the ’70s, from the Allman Brothers to Pete Seger.”
McComas assembled the Ramblers and it all clicked. Hard rock shredder Scotty Bratcher joined Walker on guitar, and the rhythm section grew to include drummer Matt Salvo, keyboardist Andy Smith and bassist Kiernan Cronley. McComas finally had the firepower to perform the kind of music that he had wanted to write all of his life.
“It’s not that I have a sour taste in my mouth from the solo days,” he said, “but I can tell you, I’m far more who I am with this band than I ever got a chance to be as a solo artist.”
The members immediately bonded over their shared love for Lynyrd Skynyrd, Tom Petty and The Eagles. With those inspirations in mind, McComas’ compositions grew into towering country rock ballads with a retro feel.
“A lot of times when you have so many alphas, everybody is looking for a place to step out and be themselves,” McComas said. “But everybody fell right into a unified sound.”
Of course, soon after forming in late 2019 the band suffered the fat of live acts all around the world as venues shut down because of the coronavirus pandemic. In lieu of live performances they focused on recording an incredible amount of music. “The Desert City Ramblers” EP was released in 2020, and the band has kept up a steady stream of singles since.
“We have songs and videos slated for the next year and a half,” McComas said. “Literally until the end of 2022.”
He dreamed up the idea for a standout single from the EP “Comin’ Home” while on the top floor of the Aria Hotel in Las Vegas. A sea of people, each with their own story, was flowing through the streets below. Each person had come to Vegas with an idea of what their trip would be like, many with grandiose plans to win large sums of money, but very few would leave with the same idea.
“It’s a snapshot of how life can be. As time moves on and we look back on how we spent our time, we realize that the things we deemed important weren’t quite as important as we thought,” McComas said. “Coming home can be a physical place or it can just be a mental state of mind, where you realize ‘I need to get back to who I was made to be.’”
For McComas, “coming home” has meant playing live again, this time with a full band behind him. The band leader is giddy with excitement and nervousness after a too-long forced hiatus.
“I feel like a little kid,” he said. “Or like I’m just starting out again.”
General admission tickets cost $25 (VIP tables are sold out). Go to MillionDollarCowboyBar.com/whoseplaying for information or to purchase.
Originally planned for late August, the show was postponed until Thursday. Tickets purchased for the Aug. 26 date will be honored; for those for whom the new date does not work, refunds can be arranged by emailing Justin Smith, the Cowboy Bar’s talent booker, at firstname.lastname@example.org. ￼