Featured Artist of the Month
March - Roosevelt Diggs
Albums: American Folklore (2012), Songs From the Shed (2014), Better Days (2018)
Band: Levi Duddles (vocals, electric guitar, banjo), Logan Duddles (vocals, acoustic guitar, banjo, mandolin, harmonica), Jon Shears (upright bass, vocals), and John Ellsworth (drums, percussion, accordion)
About Roosevelt DIggs
By Laurel Conrad
If you blend Folk, Country, Bluegrass, Blues, Rockabilly, and Rock & Roll into a melting pot, the result is nothing other than true Americana. The mixer of this particular melting pot is the band Roosevelt Diggs. Originally formed in 2008, brothers Levi and Logan Duddles, Jon Shears, and John Ellsworth combine their talents to create a band with a lot of heart and passion for making music.
Starting at a young age, the Duddles brothers have always been a musical dynamic duo. “Songwriting is part of us. It is part of who we are. As kids, we found an old organ and a broken electric guitar in the basement. A few of the keys didn’t work and we couldn’t amplify the guitar, let alone play it, but it didn’t stop us from writing some goofy songs.” Fast forward to their teenage years, Levi and Logan had formed a band, mostly playing covers of songs by other artists. But even in the midst of the fun, they knew they wanted to write their own music, just like they did when they were kids. And we fast forward once again…
“In the early days, we started out as a hard rock band and that is what we were for several years. Over that time, our listening musical tastes were changing, and the music that was inspiring us was also changing. We played with many different musicians, but eventually ended up a four piece, along with our oldest brother Leif, and more of a hard rock band. We were just starting to get our wheels under us. After about six months, we went from a four piece hard rock band to a duo consisting of Logan and Levi.” Luckily, losing their hard rock band wasn’t discouraging for Logan and Levi, but rather it was a turning point that paved the way for what was to come. “We went to work. It was really at that point that we put time and effort into learning how to use our voices together and started writing more acoustic-based music. We were starting to dig into bands like Wilco, The Drive-By Truckers, and Uncle Tupelo, and it was inspiring us to write different types of music.”
Though both Levi and Logan are multi-instrumentalists, they needed a few extra hands to round out their Americana sound. The first to join the duo of brothers was Jon Shears (upright bass) in 2008. “Jon had played in bands for years at that point. His past experience and positive spirit created a spark for us and truly helped create what is Roosevelt Diggs. Jon joining the band was like destiny and a life changing moment for all of us [...] After a few months, Jon switched from electric bass to learning to play the upright bass. That transition was impactful on the music we were making.” About two and half years later, the band gained a drummer in Jared Behl, who later left Roosevelt Diggs on good terms. You can hear Jared’s drumming on the band’s first two albums, American Folklore (2012) and Songs From the Shed (2014).
After Jared said farewell to Roosevelt Diggs in 2017, the band did not stay a trio for very long. “We were blessed to find John Ellsworth at the right time. John is a fearless drummer who has vast musical knowledge and experiences and he has complemented Roosevelt Diggs beautifully since day one. John spent many years laying down beats and touring in several reggae bands from Michigan to Maine and really added a nice element.” The band, now complete as the current collective we see present day, went to work releasing their third album, Better Days, in 2018.
Now in present day 2022, what’s next for Roosevelt Diggs? A new album, of course! The band is preparing for their currently untitled fourth album, hoping to release it later this year. Originally, the album was to be released in 2020, but the project was understandably put on hold due to the pandemic. But Roosevelt Diggs is ready to create! “It’s been tough, but we feel that we’re better prepared for recording than we ever have been, and we prepare thoroughly for studio time. It’s not a cheap thing to record music and we get meticulous about the details prior to stepping foot in the studio. We are talking Excel spreadsheet style meticulous. When we head into the studio here in a few months, we’ll be efficient and ready to capture these songs.”
The development of such a project is a shared composition between all four members of the band. “Songwriting is very much a collective effort for Roosevelt Diggs […] Sometimes it’s like magic, and things really come together quickly and easily, and it’s like everyone knew their part right from the beginning.” The image of a melting pot fits well not only for their style of music, but also for the group’s creative process as the musical ingredients from Levi, Logan, Jon, and John mix together to create a rich, melodic brew. “It’s a beautiful thing to be able to throw out something as personal as a song and have three other musicians make it their own, and ultimately make the song better than the original idea.”
Patient to name the upcoming album, Roosevelt Diggs is willing to wait for the perfect name to present itself. “We generally won't pick out an album title until the recording is finished. We might name the title after a song or go in a completely different direction. In the recording process, some songs rise to the occasion and really shine, and often it's not the ones you expect.”
Just as the band has been patient to record and release new music, we have all been patiently waiting for live concerts and shows. As a part of the creative structure, sharing their music for an audience is something that Roosevelt Diggs is happy to return to having played across Michigan this last summer, and with more shows to come. “We love the process of writing songs together and the extension of that is playing to an audience. Having a crowd respond positively to the work that we put into it is amazing.” And amazing it will be! A band with the kind of passion for music and great personal harmony as Roosevelt Diggs, one could only imagine the kind of liveliness and enthusiasm from their fans.
When asked if there was any message they’d like to extend to the fans of Roosevelt Diggs, a very sweet sentiment was returned. It perfectly envelops the sense of unity, and being better together that emanates from members of Roosevelt Diggs. “It has been at least months, and in many cases years, since we have seen and performed in front of many of our fans. We have been absolutely blessed by a solid fanbase. Over the years we have been delighted to see familiar faces in the most unfamiliar places. Whether we are in Detroit or Suttons Bay or Goshen, Indiana, we see our friends there supporting us. It still amazes us that people care enough about what we are creating, that they will go to such lengths to share those moments with us. I don't know if there is anything in particular we'd like to say to them, but we'd like to say thank you, we miss you and for everyone to hang in there. Good times are coming, and when they do, we will be there with you singing songs again.”