Looking like an old-school bluegrass band, The Cleverlys take the stage and jump into a straight-ahead bluegrass song. Purists may think they know the song but can’t quite place it. They listen as the band deadpans as they play fiddle riffs and steel guitar licks.
Lead singer Paul Harris, aka Digger Cleverly, steps up to the microphone and begins singing.
Shawty had them apple bottom jeans (jeans) Boots with the fur (with the fur) The whole club was looking at her She hit the floor (she hit the floor) Next thing you know Shawty got low, low, low, low, low, low, low, low
Wait a minute. That’s not a bluegrass song. That’s rapper Flo Rida’s song, “Low,” and Digger is nailing the lyrics to a bluegrass beat.
Ladies and gentlemen, meet The Cleverlys, a campy, goofy, yet musically brilliant act straight out of Arkansas. Is it a prank? Well, not to the legions of fans who pack The Cleverlys’ shows. It seems the band appeals to both bluegrass purists and those who like the music of pop artists like Katy Perry, Beyonce’ and Justin Beiber. “We like our bluegrass to make us laugh,” says Paul. The New York Times says, “If Dolly Parton, Earl Scruggs and Spinal Tap had a litter of puppies, it would be The Cleverlys.”
The band plays well to college crowds but also appeals to an older, conservative crowd at Branson. And lately, they’ve been playing gigs at The Grand Ole Opry.
At Duling Hall in Jackson, Mississippi, The Cleverlys were musically tight and extremely entertaining. While Harris claims he is the weakest link in the bunch, he had complete command of the stage as the frontman. Part comedian, part vocalist and guitar player, he and his humor had the audience eating out of his hand with raucous laughter.
The band's fictional backstory is that Digger’s father and four uncles founded them in the 1950s as The Cleverly Trio. With five musicians on stage in Jackson, Harris still introduced the band as The Cleverly Trio and continued to do so throughout the night, never breaking character. The story continued as he introduced each band member as his nephew. Digger told the crowd that when they are not performing, The Cleverlys run an alpaca farm in their hometown of Cane Spur, Arkansas, where they produce everything from alpaca sausages and dairy products to woolly lingerie. “But that hasn’t caught on quite yet.”
Just as Harris has his “Digger” alter ego, each band member is introduced by their Cleverly name. But don’t let the silliness fool you. These are seasoned, accomplished, and talented musicians. The band features Will MacLean’s “VD” on banjo, Mike Skates's “Ricky Lloyd” on bass, Caleb Edwards's “Haggis” on mandolin, and Scott Murry's “Waspur” on steel guitar. “They really are exceptional musicians,” says Harris, who talked about stereotypes that Southern people often encounter. “As soon as we start talking, people start deducting points. We had a TV deal one time, and one of the producers wanted to Beverly Hillbilly it up. Ours is not a dumbed-down act.”
Harris says comedy comes naturally to him. “I grew up loving Monty Python and Christopher Guest movies.” That set the stage for what has become a comedy bluegrass phenomenon. “Most of the songs we do start with an idea. People give us ideas all the time. At any given time, we have about 70 to 100 songs we are working on, and we are constantly adding to the list.” The band makes all the arrangements for each song. “We are lucky that we enjoy each other’s company. Honestly, we start laughing from the time we pull out of the driveway.”
The Cleverlys have recorded several albums, the most recent of which is Solid Butter, released in July of this year. “We recorded in Nashville,” says Harris. “We asked around about who would be the best person to produce our album, and Scott Vestal’s name kept coming up. So we got Scott to produce the album, and he did a really good job.” The album opens with Dr. John’s “Right Place, Wrong Time.” You’ll want to dance along to “Love Shack” and “Gangnam Style.” And The Cleverly’s take on “Creep” by Radiohead is particularly good. “It was an idea I had while eating breakfast,” says Harris. “Caleb sent me the recording on the phone from a hotel. I thought about doing it in three-quarter time, and it’s a really unique spin on it, but it sounds so natural.”
Do yourself a favor and pull up The Cleverlys on YouTube. You’ll be glad you did.