All Aboard the C&S Railroad

The Barboursville band celebrates 10 years of Americana and roots.


Photo Courtesy of Chris Sutton

C&S Railroad vocalist and guitarist Chris Sutton says he does like trains, but the band’s name actually has no historical significance. In fact, it’s actually just the combination of his and bandmate Mark Cabbel’s last initials. “And we just happened to like and write about trains a lot.” That laid-back attitude defines the band, in a way. Where some overanalyze, C&S Railroad just does what it does.

Along with Chris and Mark, C&S Railroad is bass player Jim Branham and percussionist Steve Hall. The band calls Barboursville, West Virginia home, and performs a variety of Americana and roots music: blues, country, soul, and rock.

C&S Railroad tries not to limit itself to any one genre, and when working with traditional music, Chris isn’t exactly a purist. “I think it’s great that some musicians strive to keep certain things alive, but I like that we sort of do our own thing with these genres,” he says. “We help the greater tradition by helping grow the music.”

Chris, 42, is the core of the band as well as the founder. He grew up in St. Albans and describes the experience as pleasant. Besides enjoying Bob Dylan and Tom Waits, he took guitar lessons and worked odd jobs at Fret ‘n Fiddle, a now 35-year-old music store founded by Appalachian star Joe Dobbs.

With the encouragement of his wife, Chris entered a local blues competition in the early 2000s and earned second place. This lit a spark, and a few months later Chris went on to the International Blues Challenge in Memphis, Tennessee. “It’s like mid-West Virginia goes to Miss America,” Chris laughs. 

By 2003, C&S Railroad was together. The band began as a duo between Chris and Mark “the Harp,” but Steve and Jim were recruited soon. The band’s 10th anniversary is this year, but Chris doesn’t seem so concerned with the milestone. He’s more interested in new material and says most of the stress lies in writing it.

The band hopes to begin work on its third record in 2013, but needs a little motivation first. Unsure of where that may come from, Chris seems comfortable and confident enough. He even jokes that he’d probably title the new album, Thirds. “I’m not the best with names,” he chuckles. “You spend all that time on the songs, taking them seriously, and the name just never seems to hold as much weight.”

C&S Railroad will perform at Black Sheep Burritos in Huntington on January 12, 2013, from 9 to 11 p.m.

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