Scene&Heard: Derek Spencer

Sometimes, there’s just that singer with that voice. That is Derek Spencer, the man behind The Rooster’s Crow.

With a deep, soulful voice that immediately demands a crowd’s attention, Spencer’s lyrics draw you into a world of spirituality and sin, and a life of a different, lost time. 

Infusing his image-rich lyrics with an Eastern Kentucky upbringing in the small town of Beattyville, Spencer’s music delivers the room to a time of moonshine and stills, Bibles and damnation, and rich a capella hymns that echo through the hills of Appalachia.

Having had various incarnations over the last eight years, The Rooster’s Crow met in its most recent and steadfast form on the night of July 1 at Willie’s Locally Known to debut Winter’s Limbs, a CD encompassing the first era of Derek Spencer’s musical career. 

With Maggie Lander on fiddle and harmony vocals, Chip Minks on bass and Spencer’s cousin Justin Wall on drums, Derek and the band gave the packed house a fun, loud, tight quality night of great Eastern Kentucky talent.  “I think for a couple of country boys and girls, we did pretty good.”

Growing up in a small town of 1,100, Spencer was the boy by his mom’s side in a tiny fundamentalist congregation ministered by his uncle.  His mom “was the lady in the church that always sang a little louder than the rest of the congregation, and she had a beautiful voice.”  He gives credit for his love of singing to his mother and that voice, rising up over the others in the a capella hymns.  This influence is the foundation for his music in The Rooster’s Crow.

“I’ve always had a passion for old-timey, Scotch-Irish music, and the concepts that are associated with it.  Some kind of spirituality, which, being from Eastern Kentucky I’m very familiar with. It’s a big part of Appalachian culture…people’s religion. And I’ve always, like so many people from the area, had a conflicting relationship with it. I think these songs are just a manifestation of that. There is a big presence of God but there’s a big presence of doubt, too.”

Many of Spencer’s first songs took the form of poetry until he discovered Jean Ritchie and realized he could more fully express himself through music.

“Eleanor’s Ghost” was his first song and poem; the tale of a lamented murder of passion, and the inevitable haunting that became of it.  Murder ballads are Appalachian gold, and heavily prevalent in The Rooster’s Crow repertoire.

From there Spencer fell heavily into the songs of Townes Van Zandt, which opened his mind to the power of rich lyricism – and his songs are full of them.

Also working on a solo record that he hopes to begin recording soon, Derek Spencer follows in the footsteps of his idols with a trove of intense songs.

Winter’s Limbs is the culmination of Spencer’s first eight years of writing and performing his songs. His band has performed them together and were clearly excited to share the CD with a crowd.  The room was full of fans and family and friends, and many stood behind the tables the entire show to move with the rhythm, and dance with Derek and Maggie and the band as they made music for everyone. 

With Lander on backing vocals and fiddle their voices blend to create a dark, spiritual world that takes you with them. For a few songs Josh Nolan joined the proceedings on guitar and vocals, crowding the stage with solid talent. A few covers were shared as well, including Johnny Cash’s “If You were a Lady” as an encore.

It was a good night for Derek Spencer. The house was packed until the last song was played; merch was sold; CD’s signed; and lots of friends got hugs.

“It went really well” he commented after, with a humble smile. Another gem in Lexington’s rich music scene.

Folks, check your favorite live music calendar, get out of the house, enjoy and support. There’s something for everyone in Lexington’s music scene.

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