Surly Temple: Three Valley music vets combine talents for deep grooves, sizzling playing

Last modified: Thursday, February 27, 2014

Take three veteran musicians who have gigged with dozens of other players, a pun for a band name, and what do you get?

It’s Surly Temple, the trio of guitarist Jim Henry, bassist Guy DeVito and drummer Doug Plavin, Valley music pros who have spent years backing up other bands and singer-songwriters on stage and in the studio — names like Stevie Wonder, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Shawn Colvin and Tracy Grammer.

And Surly Temple, which plays at the Parlor Room at Signature Sounds on Saturday, is something of a departure for the Northampton venue: a band that’s focused not so much on original music but arrangements of songs by some of its members’ favorite artists, from Richard Thompson and Nick Lowe to Ry Cooder and Gillian Welch.

The emphasis, says Henry, is on fun, often danceable tunes and lots of good instrumental grooves, with all three members taking turns on lead vocals while the others provide harmony.

“We started playing a few years ago just for fun, up in the hinterlands,” Henry said during a phone call from his home in Shutesbury. “We’d get together at one or the other few places to play up here, like the Shutesbury Athletic Club, and just jam.”

Then, as he recalls, they were asked to play a gig at the Deja Brew, a pub in Wendell’s tiny town center, so they gave that a shot.

“We didn’t rehearse — we just showed up and played some stuff we knew, and we had a great time,” Henry said of that gig, which took place about two years ago. “We did a few more gigs like that and we started thinking, ‘Hey, this is really good — let’s start rehearsing and see what we can do with this.’ ”

The band’s collective roots go back years. Henry and Plavin, for instance, were both part of the Sundogs, a popular Valley rock band of the late 1980s/early 1990s. And Henry and DeVito have played together in various configurations in the last dozen years or so, such as part of a bluegrass trio with ace fiddler Craig Eastman, a former Valley resident who returns to the region periodically from his home in California to play local gigs.

Among his credentials, including producing records, Henry has been a longtime accompanist to folksinger Tracy Grammer, and he’s done a number of tours in recent years as a guitarist in Mary Chapin Carpenter’s band. DeVito, also of Shutesbury, once played with Steppenwolf and Stevie Wonder and has gigged with numerous jazz and folk musicians over the years; he also was a key member of the seminal Valley rock group FAT in the 1970s, and has produced records.

Meanwhile, Plavin, formerly of Shutesbury but now living in Wendell, has a resume that includes work with some of the Northeast’s most well-known folk names of the past two decades — Dar Williams, Bill Morrissey, Ellis Paul, Catie Curtis — as well as on numerous film and TV sound tracks, including the John Sayles movies “Passionfish” and “Limbo.”

Henry says he and his friends have concentrated on “playing songs that we love” by rock and folk/country artists, like Richard Thompson, who are known for their songwriting skills. “It’s not knucklehead rock,” he said, though he quipped that he wasn’t above playing that kind of music himself from time to time. “We’re talking about really good songwriters” — the kind, he noted, who couple great melodies and structure with strong lyrics.

Though he mostly plays dobro, mandolin and acoustic guitar when he backs local groups like The Boxcar Lilies, Henry says he’s primarily on the electric guitar with Surly Temple, the better to handle the riffs on fast-paced numbers like “Tear Stained Letter” by Richard Thompson and “Play That Fast Thing One More Time” by Nick Lowe and Rockpile.

The band’s repertoire also includes Henry originals: He released three country/folk albums with Signature Sounds in the 1990s.

Signature Sound President Jim Olsen, in an email, said the label has a long history with Henry and that “his playing and singing have always been top-notch. Doug and Guy are also wonderful musicians. We look forward to giving Surly Temple their Northampton debut!”

Henry notes that until now, Surly Temple has mostly gigged up in Wendell, with a few exceptions, but that the Parlor Room show “is a good opportunity to expand our horizons a little bit.” He and Plavin and DeVito all have pretty busy schedules with other musical projects, he added, but “We’ll see where this goes.”

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at

Surly Temple plays at the Parlor Room in Northampton Jan. 18 at 8 p.m. Tickets cost $10 in advance; $12 at the door. To reserve, visit


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