Kevin Russell's longtime fans can probably picture this '70s scene in their minds: a pint-sized version of the witty singer-songwriter, grooving with his sisters during dance parties at their home in Beaumont.
"We'd watch Bandstand and we'd watch Soul Train, and I would just jam out to that stuff and try to dance like the people on there," he says. "My mom just thought it was hilarious. It kept her entertained."
This begs a follow-up question: How well did Russell -- formerly of beloved Austin band The Gourds and now the front man of Shinyribs -- do with the often-fantastic moves of the Soul Train dance line?
"I got pretty good, you know," he says. "Some of the moves I do, I used to do them then."
Russell brings Shinyribs to Grand Stafford Theater tonight. His blend of country, soul and humor comes into focus as he describes his childhood. He couldn't wait to get his hands on pop and R&B records, he says. His uncle introduced him to Willie, Waylon and outlaw country. His brother brought The Beatles and ELO. And a friend down the street -- perpetually equipped with a boom box -- blasted "the coolest tunes," like AC/DC and Michael Jackson's Off the Wall.
In a slightly more random reference, Russell mentions his appreciation for Rerun, the beret-wearing jokester with the jumpy dance moves, played by Fred Berry on the '70s sitcom What's Happening. "I thought he was the coolest guy," Russell says between laughs. "I was trying to dance like him."
Russell and The Gourds enjoyed a successful run with their brand of rootsy rock and Americana, which came to an end in 2013. The odd part is that after nearly 20 years of recording and touring, the band may be best known for a cover song. Their rollicking take on Snoop Dogg's Gin and Juice -- rap slang, expletives and all -- was a fan favorite. But Russell said it became "an albatross" for some band members.
"Those guys were very hesitant to do anything like that," he says. "A lot of them didn't like that and didn't like what it became. … I was like, 'Man, that's good, it's no big deal.' I'm a singer and I like to interpret songs. That's part of what I do."
Russell had started Shinyribs as a side project, releasing Well After Awhile in 2010 and Gulf Coast Museum in 2013. The band allows him to be the "musical director," he says, and he has more room to experiment.
"There was more of a tug of war and a compromise-laden sort of experience with The Gourds," he says. "In Shinyribs, I'm completely free to do whatever I want -- on stage, in the studio, whatever. Which can be a little overwhelming at times, too. But at this point, I'm just having a blast doing it."
So Gourds fans shouldn't count on a reunion any time soon, but Russell doesn't completely close the door on the idea. "We left it open-ended for a reason," he says. "… I have a little hope that one day we'll get back together and do something."
Meanwhile, Russell chugs along with Shinyribs, which includes Gourds drummer Keith Langford. And here's an Aggie twist: Russell married Langford's sister, Robin. Keith and Robin are the great-grandchildren of Ernest Langford, who was an influential Texas A&M architecture professor and department head, the namesake of the A&M architecture building and a longtime mayor of College Station.
Shinyribs has given Russell more of an opportunity to explore his love of song interpretation. He calls it "a dimensional thing," likening it to a picture that comes to life. He uses Neil Young's Like a Hurricane as an example.
"I heard it my whole life, and I never cared for it," he says. "I was like, 'It's OK.' But then we covered it one night and learned it, and I was like, 'Man, this is a really cool song.' I really love that song now, but before I didn't, because I didn't understand it. I didn't take time to get inside of it and see how it was built."
So in concert, the crowd might find Russell playing the ukulele or guitar while crooning such unlikely covers as TLC's Waterfalls, T-Pain's Buy U a Drank or Ginuwine's randy hit, Pony.
"People pick up on that strangeness of this big, old white guy playing Ginuwine on a ukulele," he says. "It's just a bizarre thing. It's weird, and you don't know what to make of it. But then you're like, 'This is awesome. I don't care, this is great.' And that's what Shinyribs is all about. It's being confused, and then being inspired."