On this morning’s installment of Music City Roots, The Loveless Cafe brings you more amazing music, this time from Russell Moore & IIIrd Tyme Out, Sam Bush, and sets from Donna Ulisse, The SteelDrivers, and Flatt Lonesome. Jim Lauderdale hosts.
About the artists:
“Playing music is the easy part,” says Russell Moore with an ever-so-slightly rueful laugh as he looks back on more than thirty years of doing what he grew up wanting to do. “By the time we put this band together”—he’s talking about IIIrd Tyme Out, his musical vehicle for over twenty years now—“I was realistic enough to know that bands come and go. Being able to stay together is the hurdle that everyone faces. So I didn’t have a preconceived notion that someday I’d be celebrating twenty years with IIIrd Tyme Out—but I did feel like I would be playing music for the rest of my life.”
As it turns out, while many bands have come and gone since that May in 1991, Russell Moore & IIIrd Tyme Out have endured. In the process, they’ve managed to climb to the top not just once, but twice—winning a slew of IBMA vocal awards, including two Male Vocalist of the Year honors, in the mid and late 1990s, then persevering through rough times to see Moore recapturing the Male Vocalist trophy for the past three years. Along the way, they’ve made a whole new generation of fans, and with the release of Timeless Hits From The Past… BLUEGRASSED by Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, the quintet are poised to deliver their distinctive kind of music more widely than ever.
For Moore, it’s been a long journey from his childhood Texas home. Raised in Pasadena, near Houston, he heard a lot of country music growing up—“I was five miles from Gilley’s right during the Urban Cowboy craze,” he notes—but it was bluegrass that really turned his head as he moved into his teen years. “Bluegrass was accessible,” he recalls. “The bands, the musicians, they were so approachable—and even though we weren’t in the bluegrass mainstream geographically, I was able to see artists like Bill Monroe, Larry Sparks ands the Lewis Family, and you could just be around them. That was intriguing to me.”
Within a few years, Russell was playing mandolin in a regional band, and by the time he was in his early 20s, he had teamed up with a couple of like-minded youngsters to create Southern Connection, making the move to North Carolina to pursue bluegrass success—though it turned out that when he first found it, it was as a guitar-playing sideman. Joining Bluegrass Hall of Famer Doyle Lawson and his legendary band, Quicksilver, Moore quickly found himself in the bluegrass forefront, remaining there with Lawson through six years and as many bluegrass and bluegrass gospel albums. And though his tenure with Quicksilver barely overlapped the establishment of the IBMA’s awards, Moore shared in the first of many to come when the group took home the Song Of The Year crystal in 1990 for “The Little Mountain Church House.”
Still, a desire to make his own mark impelled Russell, along with bandmates Mike Hartgrove and Ray Deaton, to take the bold step of creating their own group in 1991. Naming themselves IIIrd Tyme Out—a reference to the number of professional bands they’d already been in, complete with a memorable twist on spelling—the group hit the ground running, releasing three wellreceived albums on the venerable Rebel Records label in just four years. “We weren’t immune from the same things that any other band starting up has to endure,” Moore recalls. “You have to prove yourself—you have to let people know that you’re sincere, and that you’re going to work hard. But once we were able to get enough show dates that we didn’t have to have day jobs, we felt pretty good that as long as we continued to work hard, put the music out that we knew we were capable of, be personable and humble and appreciative—we felt that we could continue on if we chose to.”
And continue on they did. In 1994, they earned the first of an unsurpassed seven consecutive IBMA awards for Vocal Group of the Year, along with Russell’s first Male Vocalist of the Year title. For the remainder of the decade and into the new century, IIIrd Tyme Out was among the most important acts in the field, earning acclaim for the compelling artistry—especially vocal—they brought both to a string of well-received albums and to stages across the United States. Yet all was not well within the group, and in the early part of the new century, partnership tensions and personnel instability came to a head—and with them, the very real possibility of an end to the group.
It was at that point that Russell Moore stepped up. “I was stubborn,” he says with a smile. “I knew there was a lot that could be done with this group, and I was stubborn enough to say, I have put too much into this to let it just get away. So when everything came down to it, I knew that it was time. I could have started something brand new, but I would have had to give up everything that we had worked for. So I decided to stick it out. I kept hoping that everyone would start pulling in the same direction—and I kept praying, too.”
With Moore in charge—and with his name now in front, recognizing both his new leadership role and the group’s single biggest musical focus—IIIrd Tyme Out began to rebuild. Signing with Rural Rhythm Records in 2007, the quintet solidified a new lineup (the same one it has today), and the 2009 release of Russell Moore & IIIrd Tyme Out, with its hit single, “Hard Rock Mountain Prison,” paved the way for Moore to take another Male Vocalist honor in 2010. Prime Tyme and its irresistibly catchy “Pretty Little Girl From Galax” followed in 2011, as did another Male Vocalist trophy, and Moore was called to the stage yet again at 2012’s IBMA awards to accept still further recognition of his preeminence as a singer.
Yet IIIrd Tyme Out is hardly a one-man show, even with a frontman as spectacular as Moore. Banjo man Steve Dilling has been with the band nearly as long as Moore, and his hard-edged drive, signature endings, strong vocals and quick-witted between-songs commentary have become integral parts of the group’s sound. Wayne Benson, who started in the band around the same time as Dilling and stayed for nearly a decade before taking a job with the John Cowan Band, returned in 2007; his tasteful, influential approach to the mandolin is a focal point of the group’s instrumental prowess even as he continues to contribute in the vocal department.
Though he’s the youngest member of the band, fiddler Justen Haynes follows Dilling when they’re ordered by length of continuous tenure. A member for nearly a decade, he’s a second generation bluegrasser who’s earned the admiration of peers and fans alike for his supple melodic lines and tasteful vocal support. And though bassist Edgar Loudermilk is the newest member of the group, he was already known to fans for stellar work with the likes of Marty Raybon—and he’s been making major contributions as a compelling vocalist in his own right, too.
Their latest release, Timeless Hits From The Past…BLUEGRASSED, is one of the first fruits of the quintet’s latest business relationship, as Moonstruck Management’s Peter Keiser alerted them to Cracker Barrel Old Country Store’s plans for another bluegrass album. “Had it not been for Moonstruck, that wouldn’t have happened,” Moore notes. “When they came back to us, Cracker Barrel wanted to know if we had a concept, so we started discussing themes. We started off thinking about a George Jones tribute, but I felt that we were leaving out too many great artists and great songs—and once we went to the more general idea, we had room not just for the country stuff that’s helped to shape who we are, but some of the key songs of IIIrd Tyme Out that have shaped us, too. And then, when [Alison Krauss & Union Station’s] Barry Bales offered to help us, it was like a light bulb went on. I thought, maybe it’s time that we did bring someone in from outside the band to put an ear and thumbprint on it, make it the best it could possibly be. It’s something different for us, and it really worked out well.”
The new project has plenty of nods to classic country in vintage numbers like “Mama Tried,” “Farewell Party” and “Golden Ring” (which features a stunning Moore duet with gospel sensation Sonya Isaacs), but there are some surprises, too. “’Modern Day Bonnie & Clyde,’ that one’s kind of different,” Moore notes with a chuckle. “It’s more rock-influenced. But Travis Tritt’s record had some killer dobro on it, and he’s a banjo player, so there were some ties,” he adds. Similarly, he calls Don Williams’ “Tulsa Time” another change of pace. “I’m not playing any kind of bluegrass rhythm on that, but it wasn’t tough to do; I’ve messed around with that kind of stuff for years. And that particular song, we’ve messed around with it backstage, just having fun.”
Yet there’s room, too, as Moore notes, for a couple of key songs from Russell Moore & IIIrd Tyme Out’s own past. Their arrangement of the doo-wop classic, “Only You”—a song that has brought audiences to its feet for well over a decade—gets a few new twists, and an all-time favorite, “John & Mary,” gets a new lease on life with some help from country chanteuse Pam Tillis.
Add it all up, and the future is looking very bright for Russell Moore & IIIrd Tyme Out. Indeed, if one measure of success is the degree to which younger and newer musicians look to a group for inspiration, then IIIrd Tyme Out is about as successful as a bluegrass group can be, for a whole generation of young pickers and singers can be heard across the country trying their hand at IIIrd Tyme Out classics. “It’s one of the greatest compliments you could ever have,” Moore acknowledges. “It’s humbling to know that they think that much of what we’re doing—and sometimes it makes you think wow, we really are making a difference. People are taking notice.
“All the awards, all the recognition, those things are just by-products of doing what we love to do —and of having everybody pulling in the same direction. So to get them is a little overwhelming, sometimes. But when you know that somebody else out there is getting something from you because of your music, well, that’s the thing about music that got me into it—just the love of the music, and the way it made me feel. It always has been therapeutic, and it still is—and you can’t ask for more than that.”
Grammy Award winning multi-instrumentalist Sam Bush doesn’t seem old enough to be a musical legend. And he’s not. But he is.
Alternately known as the King of Telluride and the King of Newgrass, Bush has been honored by the Americana Music Association and the International Bluegrass Music Association.
“It’s overwhelming and humbling,” Bush says of his lifetime achievement award from the AMA. “It goes along with the title cut of my new album, Circles Around Me, which basically says, how in the hell did we get this far? In my brain I’m still 17, but I look in the mirror and I’m 57.”
But honors are not what drive him. “I didn’t get into music to win awards,” he says. “I’m just now starting to get somewhere. I love to play and the older I get the more I love it. And I love new things.”
Among those new things are the growing group of mandolin players that identify Bush as their musical role model in much the same way he idolized Bill Monroe and Jethro Burns.
“If I’ve been cited as an influence, then I’m really flattered because I still have my influences that I look up to,” Bush says. “I’m glad that I’m in there somewhere.”
He’s being humble, of course. Bush has helped to expand the horizons of bluegrass music, fusing it with jazz, rock, blues, funk and other styles. He’s the co-founder of the genre-bending New Grass Revival and an in-demand musician who has played with everyone from Emmylou Harris and Bela Fleck to Charlie Haden, Lyle Lovett and Garth Brooks.
And though Bush is best known for jaw-dropping skills on the mandolin, he is also a three time national junior fiddle champion and Grammy award winning vocalist.
“In the acoustic world, I’ve been pretty lucky to play with almost every one of my heroes. I’ve gotten to play with Bill Monroe, Doc Watson, Earl Scruggs, I’ve been to the mountain,” says Bush with a smile.
But his greatest contribution may be his impact on the future. “I’m secure with what I can do and I know what I can’t do,” he says. “You just have to stand there and applaud the great young talent.
“Chris Thile, Wayne Benson, Shawn Lane, Matt Flinner, Ronnie McCoury, Mike Marshall—they play in ways that I can’t play,” he says of today’s younger generation of mandolin players. “I’m hoping to be around for the next generation that comes along after that group. That’s going to be something. The music keeps evolving.
Circles Around Me, Bush’s seventh solo album and sixth with Sugar Hill, is an aurally inspiring mix of bluegrass favorites and complementary new songs. “I don’t know why, but it felt right at this moment in my life to go back and revisit some things that I’ve loved all my life, which is bluegrass and, unapologetically, newgrass,” says Bush. “After all these years of experimenting —and there’s experimentation on this record too —I’ve come full circle.”
Produced by Bush, the 14-song set includes appearances by Del McCoury, Edgar Meyer, Jerry Douglas and New Grass Revival co-founder Courtney Johnson (posthumously). The album also employs the phenomenal talent of Bush’s band: Scott Vestal, Stephen Mougin, Byron House and Chris Brown.
“I get to play every show with my favorite musicians and I feel real fortunate,” Bush says of his band. “I love playing with them. I feel like this group is limitless and they proved it again on this record.”
The title cut, which Bush co-wrote with Jeff Black, “is about being thankful that you’re still here, that you’re still alive walking around,” Bush explains. “Why are we the ones still here when we’ve had fallen comrades and loved ones?”
“The Ballad of Stringbean and Estelle,” which Bush co-wrote with Guy Clark and Verlon Thompson, is the haunting real-life story of the 1973 murder of Grand Ole Opry star David “Stringbean” Akeman and his wife.
Bush and Courtney Johnson, who died in 1996, were reunited thanks to New Grass Revival producer Garth Fundis, who found a previously unreleased recording with Bush and Johnson’s fiddle and banjo pairing on “Apple Blossom” from 1976. “It’s pretty special and means a lot to me.”
Meanwhile, “Souvenir Bottles” and “Whisper My Name” are fine updates of songs Bush first recorded in his New Grass Revival days. “I guess I’m proud that I can still sing it in the key that we first cut it in,” Bush says of “Whisper,” which was on New Grass Revival’s 1972 debut album.
Del McCoury, whom Bush first met in 1970, guests on two Bill Monroe songs, “Roll On Buddy, Roll On” and “Midnight On The Stormy Deep.” “Del always encouraged me to sing,” Bush says. “So I wanted to do these songs with him. ‘Roll On’ is one of the few songs Del ever recorded with Bill.”
Songs such as “Diamond Joe” and “You Left Me Alone” have roots in Bush’s youth. The latter was on an album by the Country Gentlemen that Bush bought in the ‘60s. “It’s a great 6/8 fast waltz tune and I am almost quoting John Duffey’s mandolin playing note for note,” he says. “It’s a great tune and I’ve never heard anyone else do it.”
The Bush-penned “Old North Woods” is a “Bill Monroe-sounding waltz,” according to Bush, that features Meyer, his wife, Cornelia Heard of the Blair String Quartet, and their 16-year-old son, George, in his recording debut.
“With Emmy I learned more about singing and more about letting music breathe and I hope this CD is part of that thought,” Bush says of Emmylou Harris, his former boss in the Nash Ramblers. “Through her I realized you don’t have to whack people over the head with intensity on every song.”
There’s plenty more of course and Bush fans new and old will find lots to love.
“It’s crazy to think about,” Bush says of his influence on today’s crop of mandolin players. “I’m proud to be part of a natural progression in music. And I hope to still be playing 30 years from now.”
That said, it’s not surprising that Bush still has goals. “I want to grow as a songwriter, as a song collaborator,” he says. “There are still a lot of things I haven’t discovered about playing mandolin. I want to be able to be secure in the styles that I know how to play well, but I also want to explore other styles that I haven’t learned yet.
“I want to improve as a singer,” he adds. “I have to work harder on singing than I do on playing.”
“As long as I’m alive I hope I have the ability to play,” says Bush, a two time cancer treatment survivor. When the ability to play is taken away, it’s humbling. It teaches you a lesson: don’t take it for granted.”
Here’s to the next 30 years.
Nashville, Tennessee is a nexus – a point where tradition and innovation intersect, where commerce collides with art. It may be the only town around where salaried songwriters and full-time session musicians are as common as accountants and schoolteachers. Music is the product, and the factories line the street, from the swank Music Row mini-high-rises to the low-slung Sylvan Park bungalows. And only Nashville could give birth to a band like the SteelDrivers: a group of seasoned veterans -each distinguished in his or her own right, each valued in the town’s commercial community – who are seizing an opportunity to follow their hearts to their souls¡¦ reward. In doing so, they are braiding their bluegrass roots with new threads of their own design, bringing together country, soul, and other contemporary influences to create an unapologetic hybrid that is old as the hills but fresh as the morning dew. This is new music with the old feeling. SteelDrivers fan Vince Gill describes the band’s fusion as simply “an incredible combination.”
Since the release of The SteelDrivers (2008) and Reckless (2010), The SteelDrivers have been nominated for three Grammys, four IBMA awards and the Americana Music Association’s New Artist of the Year. They were presented the International Bluegrass Music Association’s award for Emerging Artist of the Year in 2009. That same year the band spent a week in Georgia as part of the cast in the movie “Get Low”. The movie, that starred Robert Duvall, Sissy Spacek and Bill Murray, featured a soundtrack that included four tunes by The ‘Drivers. In 2011 the English pop star Adele began performing the SteelDriver song “If It Hadn’t Been For Love” in her live performances. Her opinion of The SteelDrivers is: “They’re a blues, country, bluegrass, swagger band and they are brilliant.” They have been invited to perform on numerous radio and TV shows ranging from The Grand Ole Opry to NPR’s Mountain Stage to the Conan O’Brien show.
2012 has found The SteelDrivers traveling throughout the USA and branching out into Canada and Europe. They have recently completed their third album entitled Hammer Down which is due to be released February 5, 2013.
FLATT LONESOME is a young, new group of pickers fresh to the scene. While deeply-rooted in bluegrass music’s historic classics, they also have an energetic flair for country sounds, progressive jams, and soul-stirring gospel music while never forsaking their traditional essence. If you love high lonesome harmony, soaring sibling vocals and powerful bluegrass music, then you will love FLATT LONESOME!
FLATT LONESOME was born from the Robertson family’s bluegrass gospel band, Sandy Creek Revival. Pastor Dolton Robertson, his wife Lisa, and their three children Kelsi, Buddy, and Charli began playing as a group just a few years ago because of their love of bluegrass and the desire to play music together as a family. This quickly grew into a passion for the Robertson children with a great longing to travel, write, and record. So, in January 2011, Kelsi, Charli and Buddy teamed up with friends Dominic Illingworth, Michael Stockton, and Paul Harrigill (who is now married to Kelsi as of September 21, 2012) and became FLATT LONESOME. In February of 2011, the band entered the SPBGMA International Band Championship in Nashville, TN and placed 3rd – not bad for the band’s very first time on stage! To commemorate the band’s first anniversary in 2012, they once again entered the SPBGMA Band Championship where they were awarded 1st place! What a way to celebrate!
FLATT LONESOME has performed at many exciting places during their short time together as a band. Some of those highlights include performances at: Joe Val Bluegrass Festival (Boston, MA), California Bluegrass Association Festival (Grass Valley, CA), Summergrass (San Diego, CA), IBMA FanFest, The Grand Ole Opry’s 87th Birthday Bash, and The World Famous Station Inn (opening for friends and label-mates, The Grascals). Also, while performing with their friend and mentor, Barry Waldrep, the band has played Music City Roots where they received a thunderous standing ovation and garnered many new fans as well as opening for Marty Stuart and having Zac Brown join them on stage while performing in Georgia.
FLATT LONESOME loves to mentor and teach kids and has done so while instructing at kid’s bluegrass camps at Summergrass (San Diego, CA), the Wabash River Bluegrass Camp (IL), and various workshops. The individual band members also give private lessons as well.
In August of 2012, FLATT LONESOME signed a recording contract with Pisgah Ridge Records (a division of Mountain Home Records) and with much excitement recorded their very first CD. The self-titled recording is slated to be released on January 29, 2013 and is expected to be one of the highlight bluegrass recordings of the year!
Although, FLATT LONESOME is a young band (both age of the band and its members), you won’t find six people with more desire, dedication, and determination. When you add that to three incredible lead singers, magical harmony, and impeccable musicianship – well, you’ve got FLATT LONESOME!