Jesse James rides back to Dayton

J esse James, the wild west outlaw, turned outlaw in part because a gang of Pinkerton private detectives threw torches into his mom’s house thinking the infamous James brothers were inside. They weren’t, but immediate explosions killed their younger half-brother and blew their mom’s arm off. That’s the sort of thing that tends to activate […]

The Pinkerton Raid at South Park Tavern


Scott McFarlane, Tony Sali, Jesse James DeConto, Steven DeConto, and Jon Depue (l-r).

By John Puckett

Jesse James, the wild west outlaw, turned outlaw in part because a gang of Pinkerton private detectives threw torches into his mom’s house thinking the infamous James brothers were inside. They weren’t, but immediate explosions killed their younger half-brother and blew their mom’s arm off. That’s the sort of thing that tends to activate a person.

Jesse James DeConto of The Pinkerton Raid leads sing-a-longs and church bands while helping his oldest kid fill out college application forms. He’s not an outlaw. But naming his band The Pinkerton Raid was a declaration. “We live in an age where expectations and notions of success are overwhelming us. People go on autopilot just to get through the day,” he says. “We’re trying to disrupt that.”

Jesse played in a folk-rock band with his family in the early 2000’s. His younger brother Marco couldn’t make it fit into his life though, and Jesse wanted to try to pull off something he didn’t think they could with the assemblage they had. So in 2009 he put an ad for musicians on Craigslist, and The Pinkerton Raid was launched. “I chose a name that referenced my namesake, one that would work in the event that I was the only constant. But it hasn’t turned out that way.”

The Pinkerton Raid typically plays with three, four, five, sometimes as many as ten musicians. It’s a logistical challenge, but one that pays off. “I’m a big believer in songcraft, so I write all the songs, I try to write good melodies and let the music serve those. Then the band members apply their skills and talents, and they add their individual touches. I feel like we’re doing what we set out to do.”

They’re on hiatus between tour dates in New England and the Midwest, and Jesse is using the time to run his life. Two teenagers, some rental properties, Sunday morning church services, sing-a-longs at a local brewery or two, whatever helps pay the bills and move the music forward. “Like a lot of people, most days I’m going in a million different directions. I get a little jealous of people who get to perform on a more frequent basis, but this is my life and it’s working.”

Playing night after night, ten or fifteen shows at a stretch is grueling, but also it’s a lot of practice. “When you play that much you start to become so comfortable on stage. It’s really not something you can replicate. One of my favorite shows ever was at the Rumba Café in Columbus, Ohio. We had lots of friends from Ohio and North Carolina in the audience, it was the last show of a pretty long tour. Our comfort level was so high, at certain points while we were playing there was no brain involved, just pure joy.”

Joyfulness is a key component of their music, which DeConto describes as classic pop folk, citing the musical heydays of the ’60s and ’70s as a big influence. Their most recent album goes back even deeper, into the musical traditions of blues and R&B. “We were aiming at a certain soulfulness on this record.”

They’re excited to be returning to Dayton this summer. The first time they played South Park Tavern they learned that “the guys in Old News curate some great artists. They built this community that’s really something else. I got the sense that people are supportive and nurturing and present. Nobody was snobby or judgmental. If you played good music, they were into it.”

Before they even started playing, during dinner and setup, a man put a quantity of money in the jukebox, then caught their attention and said to them “whenever you want to play, just go over there and pick a song.” Jesse obliged with a Beatles tune, then the man got up and played another, and they went back and forth through different songs and genres, conversing with each other about what kind of music they liked, the relationship between seemingly disparate artists, all without exchanging any words. “It was super fun. He later bought a bunch of merch, he tipped us well. He was a true patron.”

Looking forward, the band is working on a few more videos to add to their collection. They’re doing a vinyl release of their latest album at a place in Durham called The Pinhook. “That venue is great because it seems to be a rallying point for social activism in the city, and we’re glad to have the release party there.” Soon after they’ll embark on their longest tour of the year to support the effort.

“With our music we’re trying to generate human connection,” he says. It’s a declaration aimed at the forces that conspire to keep us self-involved and isolated from one another. “When people listen to our songs or come to our shows I hope they feel love, and joy, and hope, or grief if grief is what they need to feel. But let’s feel something together.”

The Pinkerton Raid will perform at South Park Tavern, 1301 Wayne Ave., Dayton on July 11. For more information call 937.813.7491, or visit southparktavern.com. More information about the Pinkerton Raid can be found at pinkertonraid.com.

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John Puckett is a former philosophy professor who ran away to join the circus. He’s now a writer, waiter, and curator of bathroom stall graffiti. Reach DCP freelance writer John Puckett at JohnPuckett@DaytonCityPaper.com

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