You don't need to be a fan of country, swing, blues or soul to appreciate Johnny Dilks and the Highway Kind.
Dilks' brand of what he affectionately calls "country soul" makes his music somehow instantly accessible and, more important, adds much-needed life to exhausted genres.
Dilks starts with classic country and adds plenty of brass. Dilks and his 12-piece ensemble, replete with horn section and four female vocalists, will perform Sunday night at Sacramento's intimate Blue Lamp nightclub.
Once well-known on Northern California club scene, Dilks, 40, moved in 2009 from the East Bay to New Orleans. His parents still live in Folsom but will join Dilks in New Orleans later this year, Dilks said.
He has backed such greats as the late Charlie Louvin (of close-harmony pioneers the Louvin Brothers) and Jimmie Rivers, and has appeared on the same bills as Jerry Lee Lewis, Hal Ketchum and Wanda Jackson.
Local music fans might remember Dilks from his appearances at clubs like Old Ironsides and at events ranging from car shows to crawddad festivals. But the majority of his fan base has yet to be discovered.
Dilks and his current band are touring the West Coast for the first time, and he just finished recording a new album, "Rock Salt & Nails," which will be released next year.
Reached by telephone this week, Dilks talked about his tour and influences.
Word has it you're going to play this string of dates with a 12-piece band. Have you done any other regional touring since living in New Orleans?
This will be our first time out of the state of Louisiana with this act. We have been playing clubs in the Crescent City and on the festival circuit a little bit. It's tough to tour with a band of this size when, in many clubs, DJs have replaced live music.
What sound are you going for with your band?
When I first moved to New Orleans, I quickly realized that there was little to no country music in town. Since I grew up listening to all kinds of music, I decided to try to take classic 1960s-era country and mix it with classic Memphis, Muscle Shoals, and NOLA R&B/soul, with a little Tijuana brass thrown in.
I also wanted it to be more like a classic soul-style review and feature a female vocalist. I have gone through several different band members to get the band I have now. I am, however, incredibly lucky to be surrounded by amazingly talented musicians who are genuinely into the project and are pushing me to new levels musically.
How many of the 50 states have you played to date?
I have played in almost every state. However, I will always have an affinity for south Louisiana. I fell in love with it here in 1999 while playing on the road. The people and culture down here are like no place else I've ever been. I wouldn't have the band I have now if it wasn't for my musicians pushing me to be better and adding their own input.
Who is your biggest inspiration?
Jimmie Rivers, Lenny Breaux, Merle Travis, Chet Atkins, Barney Kessel, Joe Pass, Oscar Aleman, Jimmy Bryant and probably 20 more I'll think of later.
You played as part of Charlie Louvin's backing band during his residency at Yoshi's in the Bay Area several years ago. How did that come about?
The Louvin shows came about through a gentleman who saw us back up Jimmie Rivers in the mid-'90s. One of the first questions he asked was who I considered the greatest brother- harmony singers in traditional country music. I said the Louvin Brothers and the Stanley Brothers. Ten days later, I was on a plane headed to Tennessee to spend a week rehearsing with Charlie, staying with him and his wife, Betty, at their home in Wartrace.
JOHNNY DILKS AND THE HIGHWAY KIND
When: 7 p.m. Sunday
Where: Blue Lamp, 1400 Alhambra Blvd., Sacramento