The Devil Makes Three thrives on music traditions

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The Devil Makes There | Giles Clement Photo

The Devil Makes Three is always at home while visiting Chicago. That’s because the California-based trio is a big fan of the city’s rich history of music, especially blues.

The Devil Makes Three 9 p.m. Jan. 21 Rivera Theater, 4746 N. Racine Tickets: $25 Info: rivieratheatre.com

“Chicago blues is a huge influence on me,” says guitarist Pete Bernhard. “Chess Records artists were a big influence on Devil Makes Three and on me as a musician. A lot of my favorite artists went through Chess Records and were from Chicago. Muddy Waters and Little Walter. There’s so many more. It’s one of my biggest influence, musicians from there.”

For nearly 15 years, the trio of Bernhard, Cooper McBean and Lucia Turino have shown repeatedly that they’re strongly indebted to the long-storied traditions of American roots music. They’ve mixed genres like bluegrass, folk, blues and rockabilly into a unique sound of their own. The band’s name is even a nod to a line in a song in the film “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”

Their latest tour takes their admiration a step further. Their 2016 album – “Redemption & Ruin” – is a covers album that acts like a love letter to many of the artists that have influenced them and made the band who they are today. It features handpicked covers of artists like Willie Nelson, Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters and Hank Williams. The band recorded the album in Nashville with engineer/co-producer Dave Ferguson, best known for his work with Cowboy Jack Clement and Johnny Cash, at his Butcher Shoppe studio.

“We wanted to let people know where our roots of our music came from,” says Bernhard. “We had this idea kicking around for a long time and it just took us awhile to get it off the ground.”

The band set out to make an album that had a distinct theme. As they started looking at songs, it became evident that redemption and ruin were a big part of many of their favorites. As a result, they split the album into two sides.

“The idea behind this album is that one side is redemption and one side is ruin,” says Bernhard. “The ruin side is songs all about messing up your life and partying and whatnot. And the other side is traditional songs and Gospel songs.”

These songs remain as relevant as the day they were written, Bernhard says.

“A good song is always relevant regardless of the time period,” he says. “These songs remain relevant because they’re great songs. A lot of them I feel are timeless.”

To top things off, the band had many musical guests show up to contribute to the songs. That included several of their songwriting heroes including Emmylou Harris, Tim O’Brien, Jerry Douglas, Darrell Scott and Duane Eddy. They had met many of the contributors previously while they were touring, including some before the album was an idea. Others were suggestions of Ferguson.

“We played with a lot of people that are big heroes of ours… just great players in the bluegrass and country world,” says Bernhard. “We recorded the album live so a lot of time we were playing in the room with them like we were playing a show, which was really fun. … It was a collaborative process and it was a lot of fun for us to play with these people that we listened to on so many records.”

The song arrangements were left open so contributors could make their mark on it.

“We let the people play on the album and co-produce the track that they were working on and come up with ideas and really steer the direction the song went in,” says Bernhard. “We really wanted them to make their mark on the songs because we were so excited to have them there. We did everything we could to let them stretch out and take a song the direction they wanted the song to go in. It was ‘why have great people if you’re not going to let them do what they’re good at?’”

With 2017 marking their fifteenth year together, the band is excited about what they’ve accomplished.

“It’s a big deal to be in a band as long as we have,” says Bernhard. “It’s a hard thing to do. We’ve definitely enjoyed ourselves along the way and I think we’re better players than we’ve ever been before so that’s great. It makes you think ‘wow, I never knew when I started this band that we’d be together for that long.’”

Joshua Miller is a freelance writer.

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