Rayland Baxter: Feathers, Fishhooks and Folksongs

The singer-songwriter returns to Ybor City August 26.

Fishing and birds are recurring guests of Rayland’s songs. “Feathers represent femininity to me,” he says, “women are beautiful, soft and fragile, but strong, too: they can carry themselves effortlessly over everything, like they’re flying.” Fishhooks, on the other hand, are rigid, bent and hard — and function as a tool to provide for the sustenance — an apt symbol of the rugged, strong men in Rayland’s songs. Both feathers and fishhooks show up repeatedly in Rayland’s vernacular, even on the cds he and the band packaged between gigs, hand writing, illustrating, and sealing with a wax stamp.


Rayland comes by a love for music naturally. His dad, Bucky Baxter, who plays steel guitar and mandolin, has played professionally both live and in studio sessions with music legends Steve Earl, Ryan Adams and Jim Lauderdale; in the 1990s, he toured with Bob Dylan, contributed significantly on his Grammy-winning Time Out of Mind album. And yet, incongruously, Rayland wasn’t much interested in music as a kid. “When I was in high school, all I cared about was sports and guy stuff. Music wasn’t even on radar.” In fact, he was heavy into lacrosse, and was All-American at Loyola University, where he majored in advertising. It seems though, that while it was a nod at a creative vocation, advertising and marketing weren’t really giving Rayland the voice he craved. He played his first professional gig with a cover band at Murphy’s Bar & Grill in Baltimore. “Each of the band members made $60 that night… after that, we played mostly house parties, and had fun,” he laughs.


In 2007, Rayland found himself with some time on his hands, so he travelled to Israel to spend some time with his godfather, André. He, too, is a talented musician, fronting “Bad Rib”, his kids making up the rest of the band. Bucky Baxter and André met through their mutual friend Bob Dylan while touring, and have been lifelong friends ever since. “They saved each other’s lives… their friendship is beyond anything you can even imagine,” says Rayland. It is evident that these men have made a big impact on Rayland; he genuinely admires and loves them. “They’re my mentors,” he says. While Rayland was in Israel, he immersed himself in the music of Steve Earle, Bob Dylan and Townes Van Zandt, and started writing. And kept writing. And the writing was good. If it wasn’t clear to him before, it was definitely crystal clear by the time he got home. Genes will out: Rayland was a troubadour.


He recorded his first EP, The Miscalculation of Song in the fall of 2010, and spent the early part of this year touring throughout the southeast backed by a band consisting of old friends Ben Martin on drums, Nick Bennett on guitar and Steph Dickinson on upright bass. This summer he toured with Joy Williams and John Paul White of “The Civil Wars”, beginning in Seattle in June and wrapping up in Texas in July. No band backing him up this time, it was just Rayland: his words, his voice, his guitar and his foot accompanying him as kick drum. Reviews were gushing, and the exposure important: Rayland has a new release anticipated in January 2012, and his fan based just expanded west and north in one fell swoop. He takes it all in stride. His philosophy is simple: “You can listen to your head. You can listen to your heart. But if you listen to your gut, 99% of the time, you’ll be right. Oh, and don’t let people clog your pipes.”



Author’s Note: I had an opportunity to meet Rayland when he was here in May performing at Tropical Heatwave. He’ll be making a return to the Tampa Bay Area this month, again playing at the Orpheum in Ybor City on August 26th, this time with St. Petersburg’s own Paint the Town Red and Andrew Clayton. Believe me, you want to make sure you catch this show; you’ll regret it if you don’t.



Rayland Baxter and Steph Dickinson - The Orpheum, Ybor City - Tropical Heatwave 2011
  • photo by Joe Frisbie
  • Rayland Baxter and Steph Dickinson - The Orpheum, Ybor City - Tropical Heatwave 2011


Rayland Baxter and Ben Martin - The Orpheum, Ybor City - Tropical Heatwave 2011
  • photo by Joe Frisbie
  • Rayland Baxter and Ben Martin - The Orpheum, Ybor City - Tropical Heatwave 2011

click to enlarge Rayland Baxter and Steph Dickinson - The Orpheum, Ybor City - Tropical Heatwave 2011 - photo by Joe Frisbie
photo by Joe Frisbie
Rayland Baxter and Steph Dickinson - The Orpheum, Ybor City - Tropical Heatwave 2011

click to enlarge Rayland Baxter at The Orpheum, Tropical Heatwave 2011 - photo by Joe Frisbie
photo by Joe Frisbie
Rayland Baxter at The Orpheum, Tropical Heatwave 2011

"Fishing is not an escape from life, but often a deeper immersion into it..."
Rivers of Memory, Harry Middleton

Looking like a slightly scruffy Matthew McConaughey in a trademark red knit cap, faded denim work shirt and khakis so broken in that the only thing making them wearable is blue painters’ tape strategically placed, Rayland Baxter settles his 6’5” frame on a stool on the stage, takes a breath and begins to play. He is engaging, his blue eyes mischievous, smile crooked; but don’t be deceived: this is a man who has something to say, and he’s gonna say it in a way you can’t help but hear.

Rayland Baxter is an avid outdoorsman, and he performs the same way he fly fishes, casting lines looping into the crowd, unfurling to place his fly softly, but with effect, the lure impossibly alluring. The themes of his songs are permeated with imagery related to nature, often symbolizing the eternal struggle of men and women, and the relationships between them. “I like to talk to people,” he says, “some of the stories you hear are gut-wrenching.” Rayland ties those human emotions into flies that drift around your consciousness and touch places in your heart that you didn’t know were there. “I don’t always have to feel the emotion myself; sometimes it is okay to wear the shoes for a while, walk around in them… that’s where songs are supposed to be from. Felt emotion is timeless.” [More after the jump.]

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