While attending college in the early 00’s at Appalachian State University in Boone, NC and several years after, brothers Jeff and Keef Debonzo crossed the state of North Carolina playing countless live shows as members of Buzzround, a rootsy, 90’s influenced pop band born out of friendships dating to high school. Bass and lead guitar duties were shared, with Jeff mostly on bass, and Keef sticking to lead guitar. Often these shows would be opening gigs for the quirky and lively Chapel Hill band, Big Pretty and the Red Rockets, of which cellist Joe Kwon would go on to join the Avett Brothers. Buzzround then crossed paths more frequently with Raleigh’s American Aquarium, teaming up for a number of performances from the mountains of their home state to the low country of neighboring South Carolina.
The brothers departed Buzzround not long after releasing a self-titled LP in 2008 to slow down and find new direction. Sitting on little original material at the time, friend Ryan Johnson (American Aquarium) suggested to Mississippi’s Come On Go With Us that Jeff and Keef open the show on the band’s next stop through Raleigh. With just weeks to write a sufficient set, the brothers holed up at home, writing many songs that Debonzo Brothers would go on to record. It was a stripped down performance at Slim’s Downtown Distillery of acoustic guitars and upright bass by Bill Corbin (American Aquarium). Following this small success, a second show was booked at Raleigh’s “The Hive”, the raucous on the weekend, dignified on the weeknights bar next to Slim’s. With Bill on tour, Grant Emerson (bass) and Chris Hibbard (drums) joined, solidifying the band, Debonzo Brothers.
From here the band quickly made plans to record their first EP entitled Places, released in 2010. The EP was produced and engineered by Raleigh’s rising recording talent, Mark McKee. Keef, Jeff, Grant, and Chris recorded over several weeks in the winter of 2009/2010, capturing refined renditions of their earliest material. Places featured an array of relatable themes and sounds hinging on Americana, southern rock, pop and hard driving indie rock. Guest musicians appearing on the EP were cellist Joe Kwon (Avett Brothers) and Grammy nominated Rick Keen on dobro. During this period the band landed billing with southern stalwarts Will Hoge, Chatham County Line, Kenny Roby, Small Ponds, Megan McCormick, Josh Oliver (the Everybodyfields), Leslie, John Howie Jr., and upstate New York’s Yarn.
Recording of Debonzo Brothers’ first LP, One Damn Heart, began in March of 2011 with producer and engineer Sean Roux. Shortly following initial tracking, founding member Grant Emerson left the group to tour and record with Durham, NC’s Delta Rae. Joining the group full time was the highly capable Jay Shirley on organ. Steadfastly filling the bass role was North Elementary’s Jimmy Thompson. Over the next year bassist Bill Corbin, fiddler Phil Lanier, and pedal steel player Whit Wright dropped in to contribute to several of the recordings. The result is a collection of poignant, heartfelt Americana tunes about youth, love, folklore, and the past packaged in photography and sketches by longtime artistic collaborators Leon Godwin and Audrey Cregan respectively. 2012 has brought a torrent of songwriting that Keef, Jeff, Chris, Jimmy, and Jay are eager to share on stage or playlist sooner rather than later.