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ACL Fest 2010 preview: The Dough Rollers

Patrick Caldwell

When Jack Byrne turned 10 years old, a family member gave the budding music aficionado the son of actors Gabriel Byrne and Ellen Barkin a book on the blues. In its final pages, it spotlighted a list of 10 essential blues albums 10 records for a 10-year-old.

‘That was kind of the beginning of the end,' says Byrne, now 21. ‘I went to the store and bought a Robert Johnson CD, a Son House album, a Sleepy John Estes album and Blind Lemon Jefferson. Those were the first ones I got, and that was it for me.'

Byrne got his first guitar about the same age and kicked off a years-long fascination with consuming, writing and playing blues, old-time music, country and gospel. But he didn't get serious until two years ago, when Byrne struck up a friendship with another Hollywood descendant, 23-year-old Malcolm Ford, son of Harrison.

‘As I like to say Jack sort of ruined my life by turning me onto this kind of music because it's a hard thing to love. It kind of makes you shun away from other things you liked before,' says Ford. ‘For me at least I think that the primitive aspect of it and the fact that there's no cheating with this kind of music is what appeals to me. You can't hide behind huge amplifiers and huge reverb and lights and fireworks. It's music that is entirely dependent on the song.'

Ford had never sung live before or played an instrument, but he honed his blues belter chops and learned to the play the mandolin under Byrne's tutelage. (‘I was so nervous before our first show I thought I was going to vomit,' says Ford. ‘Of course it was for like 10 people.') Today the two form the Dough Rollers, an acoustic blues band that's quietly released a debut album — recorded raw in a single day — and toured with Bob Dylan this summer.

The Dough Rollers' lineup is ever-shifting — singer and fiddler Julia Tepper recently departed — but Byrne and Ford are the constants. Currently spending long afternoons in the recording studio and splitting their time between New York and Los Angeles, the Dough Rollers are working on a more polished album to serve as their proper debut, with a greater focus on original songs.

‘It will hopefully be more approachable for people who aren't necessarily incredibly interested in pre-war blues music,' says Ford. ‘Old-time-y music is kind of like Dungeons and Dragons. People who are into it are really into it. So I think to narrow it into such a style is to close off some doors in terms of where you can go.'

The Dough Rollers play at 2:30 p.m. Saturday on the Clear 4G stage.