Country Music People October 2017 - Page 3

contents cmp October 2017 Features Rhonda Vincent The Rage Inside The Queen Of Bluegrass KNOWN AS THE NEW QUEEN OF BLUEGRASS, RHONDA VINCENT IS EQUALLY AT HOME IN THE WORLD OF TRADITIONAL COUNTRY AS SHE PROVED RECENTLY ON AMERICAN GRANDSTAND WITH DARYL SINGLETARY. SHE TALKS TO DUNCAN WARWICK. B 11 The Fundamentals of Bluegrass luegrass queen Rhonda Vincent is equally at home in the world of traditional country as her recent duets album - American Grandstand - with Daryle Singletary conclusively proves. And it’s not the first time the multi-award winning star has lined up with a stone country singer at her side with the Gene Watson duets album - Your Money And My Good Looks - still fresh in the minds of country fans. A guide to the music that came out of Kentucky by Tom Travis. 18 Rhonda Vincent Duncan Warwick talks to the New Queen of Bluegrass who is equally at home in the world of traditional country. 18 cmp - OCTOBER 2017 OCTOBER 2017 - cmp 26 Doyle Lawson With more than fifty years in the business, Doyle Lawson is a true bluegrass legend. 56 Mac Wiseman “You try to keep the music intact, keep the tradition there, and yet stay in the current time.” Doyle LAWSON Walt Trott on how Mac Wiseman is still singing and recording at 92. TASK MASTER DUNCAN WARWICK MEETS THE BLUEGRASS LEGEND WITH MORE THAN FIFTY YEARS IN THE BUSINESS. 58 Thomm Jutz D oyle Lawson is considered a mandolin virtuoso, which ain’t bad for someone who taught themselves to play by listening to the radio. “I had a natural ear for music. I figured out…I don’t read music, I play by ear. So I figured it out and on the way developed a few bad habits,” is how the Bluegrass Hall of Famer modestly puts it. Along with his band Quicksilver the septagenarian is one of the most respected purveyors of bluegrass in the business. Between 2001 and 2007 nobody else could get a look in when it came to the IBMA’s Vocal Group of the Year award and his new album is his 41st, or is it his 42nd? Lawson himself isn’t sure, “I don’t count I just do them,” he laughs, and indeed he does with what seems like at least one album a year since the late 1970s. “Well, you know, it’s the, what we call the supply and demand. I try to stay, so to speak, in the public sphere and keep the recordings out. We live in such a fast paced world these days that you just about have to do things like that to keep their attention because there’s so much going on. That’s one of the reasons I do try to keep something going for the people to look at, listen to, and hope they buy. “You have to stay visible, and when I say visible I mean audible as well. More than ever these days the old phrase, ‘Out of sight, out of mind.’ You can kind of disappear and there’s so many things going on in the world today that people can entertain themselves with. If you’re not careful you’ll be one of those ‘What ever happened to so and so?’” Inspired by the high lonesome sound of Bill Monroe on the Grand Ole Opry broadcasts, Lawson still remembers the first time he heard the Father of Bluegrass. “I can tell you I was about five years old. I was born and lived up in East Tennessee, up in the North East corner. My hometown is Kingsport but I live about twenty miles away in Bristol. That’s where the historic recordings were made in 1927. “We listened to the Grand Ole Opry on Saturday nights and I heard this music and it just really grabbed me and my mother told me who it was. It was Bill Monroe, and he could play the mandolin and he could sing really high. But there was something about his music, as small as I was, that grabbed me and has never turned me loose to Singer, songwriter, producer, and Green Card Lottery winner. 60 Don Williams The Gentle Giant remembered. 62 Troy Gentry Tribute to half of Montgomery Gentry whose recent death shocked the Nashville community. Reviews 30 Album Reviews 49 Live Review 26 cmp - OCTOBER 2017 OCTOBER 2017 - cmp 27 Page 26 Nice to meet y’all... GANGSTAGRASS W e live in a world where every teeny bopper t hat falls out of the cookie cutter thinks they can deliver a country song like a rapper and Nashville producers lean more towards Luther Vandross than Luther Perkins. Sometimes what we need is a whole new genre. However, that’s not always as easy as it sounds. Randomly throwing things together can be fraught with disaster and what sounds like a good idea after a few beers and a couple of spliffs could well be ridiculous in the cold light of day. Other things just sound ridiculous. For many people country-rap was summed up best by Eddie Rabbitt on Country Rap (or C-Rap) back in 1991 like some prophetic warning to the world of Sam Hunt. Only Colt Ford has brought any kind of real hip-hop to that party. So… what kind of madman would try and combine bluegrass and hip-hop? A guy known as Rench, that’s who. Rench is a New York producer whose idea it was in 2006 to experimentally bring bluegrass and hip-hop together for a one-off project that was given away free online. Hundreds of thousands of downloads later Rench realised he might be onto something and Ganstagrass was born. Critical acclaim came next and it’s easy to hear why. Unbelievably, this seemingly odd combination, not only works, it works really well. It shouldn’t, but it does, and they were commissioned to provide the title theme for the TV show Justified which went on to become a hit with viewers and see Rench and T.O.N.E-z being Emmy nominated. One of the main reasons for the success of Ganstagrass is Rench’s vision to do it properly. This is so much more than somebody rapping on a bluegrass record, and a million miles from the pseudo R&B of much of the country chart. There are key elements of hip-hop, MCs and DJ break-beats in synch with more typical bluegrass instrumentation of banjos, fiddles, and Dobros giving Gangstagrass more credibility than Thomas Rhett can ever dream of. “That is an essential part of my formula for creating Gangstagrass. It has to be real bluegrass pickers and real emcees. I wouldn’t do it any other way,” states the Brooklyn-based producer and artist. Joining Rench in Gangstagrass are Dan Whitener on banjo/vocals, Melody Berger on fiddle/vocals, Landry McMeans on Dobro/vocals and R-Son The Voice of Reason and Dolio The Sleuth providing vocals. Rench sheds light on how they came together, “The musicians are into good music in all styles but were not necessarily deeply fluent in the other styles, so there has been a wonderful process of exposing each other to great aspects of each genre. “I like a few different kinds of country music - I was exposed to a lot of honky-tonk music by my dad, who is from Oklahoma. But I grew up in the 80s when hip- hop exploded into the mainstream and I was hooked on Run-DMC and early hip-hop as a kid. Now those are my influences I bring to my production. I started listening to more bluegrass in the early 2000s and that’s what led me to try also bringing that influence in,” says Rench, who admits that the whole concept is not always an easy sell. “It is hard to sell it by describing it - when people try to imagine bluegrass-hip-hop they usually imagine something bad and run away. The easy sell is when people just hear what we do first. It’s gotta be done right, in a way people may not be able to picture, but if you play people this sound they are usually into it right away.” As one might expect, not everybody gets the Ganstagrass philosophy, least of all what might be considered the major players that go to make up the record industry establishment. “The establishment is in chaos right now with the changes in the music industry and we don’t make any sense to them so the response there is total silence. We do get a lot of bluegrass fans and hip-hop fans that love what we do, even bluegrass aficionados. There are a few that don’t accept it and that’s their business. We see more when we travel there are a lot of people who already have eclectic taste in music and they are just enjoying the good stuff from lots of styles, so we make sense to them and they love it, not as particular bluegrass or hip-hop fans, just as music fans.” Rench has no qualms about upsetting any music purists from either side of the fence, and might even be rather enjoying it. “I feel fine about upsetting a few purists because they are wrong. There is no purity. All American Music is an evolution of combining other kinds of music into new forms. Bluegrass itself was a way of putting together Appalachian music and Gospel music and European ballads into a new form, and immediately from there it started growing and changing. That’s how it goes.” With bluegrass traditionally having been very resistant to change, Gangstagrass are seemingly alone in the new genre (or bluegrass sub-genre) which they have created. Rench laughs, “I wish we were part of a movement but currently it’s lonely out here for this style of real bluegrass- hip-hop. Someone please join in.” Meanwhile, Rench is more than happy to be the boot on the foot that is challenging perceived ideas. “Everything needs a kick up the arse. That’s usually how cmp things grow and change.” “ There is no purity. All American Music is an evolution of combining other kinds of music into new forms. ” Rench: Them’s The Breaks is out now. 22 cmp - OCTOBER 2017 Regulars 19 Page 18 OCTOBER 2017 - cmp 23 Page 54 MAC WISEMAN Charts 64 Americana & UK Country Charts 65 Billboard Country Charts Courtesy of Billboard Inc. Top: Mac with a dear pal he’s known since Ronnie Reno was in diapers. Reno co-produced Mac’s album with Merle Haggard. Centre: Mac with John Prine. Bottom: Mac Wiseman and the Country Boys in 1953. Chubby Collier, Mac Wiseman, Wade Macey, Enos Johnson. ac Wiseman is bluegrass and country music’s senior surviving star, still singing and recording at age 92. He’s also the last surviving founding father of the Country Music Association, and was a founding member of the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA). Known as “The Voice With a Heart,” his staying power is remarkable. W itness I Sang The Song: Life Of the Voice With a Heart, a tribute album co-produced by Thomm Jutz and Peter Cooper for Mountain Fever Records, released last January. While cutting his featured duet for that CD - ’Tis Sweet To Be Remembered with Alison Krauss - (his signature song) last fall, Mac celebrated his 70th anniversary recording, recalling his 1946 disc debut in Chicago with legendary Molly O’Day. After learning in June that he was being inducted into the Blue Ridge Hall of Fame M 56 cmp - OCTOBER 2017 in Wilkesboro, N.C., lo and behold the IBMA announced its nominees for the 2017 Bluegrass Awards in Raleigh, N.C., disclosing a surprised Mac was in the running for three awards. Actually, he’s in competition with himself via two nods in one category: Best Recorded Event. He and Alison’s . . . Remembered duet earned a nomination, as did Shawn Camp’s cut Going Back To Bristol, which gives Mac co-writer recognition. In addition, Camp’s version of … Bristol is also up for Best Song, which includes co-writers Wiseman, Cooper and Jutz. The back story to this welcome news is after Wiseman invited Cooper and Jutz to his home, they began perusing Mac’s memoirs: “Mac Wiseman: All My Memories Fit For Print” (authored by CMP’s Walt Trott). That sparked an idea to create new songs relating to different chapters. According to Wiseman, the three spent nine weekends collaborating for 10 songs inspired by the life he led, as documented in the publication, which in May won the ARSC award as best country book. In turn, these songs comprise the IBMA-nominated music paying homage to Mac’s life, thanks to Mountain Fever. Despite the career uptick, the last few years haven’t been all sunshine and roses, as Mac’s marriage to the former Marjorie Brennan came to an end after 53 years; death claimed both his sister Naomi Johnson, and his daughter Sheila Taylor; and his attorney son Randy was diagnosed with cancer. He also bid goodbye to some of his close friends, including Randy Wood, George Riddle, Charlie Dick, Hank Cochran, Jean Shepard, Merle Haggard, Jo Walker-Meador and Pete Kuykendall. Mac’s no stranger to adversity, however, having been diagnosed at six months with Infantile Paralysis of his right leg, but the Virginia farm boy never let this affliction hold him down. After studying at the Shenandoah Conservatory of Music in Dayton, Va., Mac landed a job as an announcer at WSVA-Harrisonburg. Apart from his radio role, he began performing professionally with singer Buddy Starcher (I’ll Still Write Your Name In the Sand), who encouraged the budding young talent. While at WCYB-Bristol, Mac met up and performed with the Stanley Brothers; in 1948 he became one of Flatt & Scruggs Original Foggy Mountain Boys; then Bill Monroe hired him to perform with his Blue Grass Boys, and to make his WSM Grand Ole Opry debut. Finally, Mac launched his solo career full steam in 1951, and while featured on KWKH-Shreveport’s Louisiana Hayride, recorded for Dot Records. Label head Randy Wood then summoned Mac to Hollywood to pull double-duty as Dot’s A&R country chief, producing Reno & Smiley, Bonnie Guitar, Cowboy Copas and Jimmy C. Newman. Mac, hailed for his high tenor vocals and flat-top guitar stylings, won wide acclaim was lauded with the National Medal of the Arts’ Heritage Fellowship Award (2008), presented with a $20,000 purse. Attesting to his diversity, Mac was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2014. Among his disc successes are Ballad Of Davy Crockett, Love Letters In The Sand, Your Best Friend And Me and Jimmy Brown The Newsboy, but he’s also recorded with an array of talents, including Woody Herman, the Osborne Brothers, Charlie Daniels, John Prine, David Grisman, Johnny Cash, Leona Williams, April Verch, Jett Williams and Merle Haggard. So despite that difficult childhood affliction, Wiseman has managed to put his distinctive footprint on America’s musical landscape. As Mac concludes: “Now I look forward to future endeavours and indeed I’ll confide, it’s still so sweet to be remembered!” cmp playing the Hollywood Bowl, Carnegie Hall, Newport Folk Festival and Renfro Valley Bluegrass Festival. He launched that latter Kentucky festival, after having breathed new life into the historic WWVA Wheeling Jamboree in West Va., when it was near-bankrupt. Wiseman also went to bat on behalf of fellow players, serving as secretary-treasurer of AFM’s Nashville Association of Musicians union, and five-times president of the Reunion Of Professional Entertainers (ROPE). Mac, the CMA’s first secretary, was later a member of their secret nominating committee for the Country Music Hall of Fame, but resigned when younger members were unaware of the accomplishments of some of his peers up for consideration. As most fans are aware, Wiseman is a first-generation bluegrass pioneer, named to Virginia’s Music Hall of Fame, and is enshrined in the Bluegrass Hall of Honor (1993); and by Presidential proclamation Mac Wiseman: All My Memories Fit For Print is available now. OCTOBER 2017 - cmp 57 Page 56 4 News 8 Tour Guide 10 The David Allan Page 25 Nashville Skinny 50 Nice to meet y’all - Summer Brooke 53 Americana Roundup 54 Nice to meet y’all - Gangstagrass Still A Busy Man by Walt Trott SINGER, SONGWRITER AND PRODUCER, THOMM JUTZ’S NAME HAS BECOME SYNONYMOUS WITH QUALITY. THE IBMA SONGWRITER OF THE YEAR NOMINEE TALKS TO DUNCAN WARWICK. T homm Juzt has a simple recipe for success, literally. “I just try to keep things simple and book players that I trust and that I love and put them in a room and keep even the recording simple,” he says of his work as a producer. And that recipe is working out rather nicely for him, his name gracing more than twenty albums in the past five years in that capacity, all the while his name becoming synonymous with quality acoustic-based productions. With his own studio - TJ Studio - just outside of Nashville he has recorded the likes of Hall of Famer Mac Wiseman, Nanci 58 cmp - OCTOBER 2017 Griffith, and Jason Ringenberg (Jason & The Scorchers). The ever modest and ch arming Jutz adds, “You wouldn’t believe how simple I keep it because to me that’s just the best way. It’s also the only thing I know to do really,” before admitting that, “I have had a really good couple of years.” Indeed, Jutz has had his name on the songwriting credits of four #1 bluegrass hits since April, 2016 as well as on nine other top-20 bluegrass songs over the same period. Due to that success Jutz is now in the running for Songwriter Of The Year at the upcoming International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) Awards and releases his own Crazy If You Let It album this month. “I’ve always been in love with bluegrass music. I obviously didn’t grow up in that culture but it’s the kind of music that’s really dear to my heart and everything I’ve done always has to have this very strong acoustic vibe to it. But this is a full blown bluegrass record because I’ve had good luck in that world the last couple of years as a writer and I just felt myself gravitating more and more to that.” The culture in which Thomm Jutz grew up was further removed from the grass of Kentucky than it is for most in his field. Growing up in the Black Forest region of Germany, a young Thomm Jutz was captivated by a TV performance of Bobby Bare and the dream of Nashville was first planted in the guitar obsessed boy’s mind. As well as playing in a number of bands as a teenager, Jutz learned sound engineering in local studios and studied classical guitar at the Stuttgart Conservatory. In 2003 Jutz was able to enter the USA thanks to the “Green Card Lottery” scheme. He headed for Nashville and it wasn’t long before he found work with Mary Gauthier’s band and Nanci Griffith’s Blue Moon Orchestra. “I’ve never felt like anybody did not accept me because I was from somewhere else,” says the in-demand writer and producer. “It takes a little while for people to trust you as a songwriter but people have heard enough of my songs now, I think, to go, ‘Yeah, this is genuine stuff.’ And I’ve had enough cuts for people to know that if they come to me for songs they get quality stuff. All of that takes a little while and you have to write for the right people and get some kind of credibility in that world. You have to pay your dues to get in on all of that.” It was his Civil War inspired 1861 Project which brought Thomm Jutz greater recognition and enabled him to work with many of his musical heroes, including, some 33 years later, the man whose Detroit City and Tequila Sheila had inspired him as a boy, Bobby Bare. Those connections didn’t hurt any when Jutz began work on the Mac Wiseman tribute - I Sang The Song - which was released earlier this year. “My friend Peter Cooper and I had become good friends with Mac over the last couple of years and we knew a lot of the stories that Mac likes to tell about his life and they’re such interesting stories about growing up in the Depression in rural Virginia,” he recalls. “We approached him one day and we said, ‘Mac, we need to take these stories and turn them into songs. Would you be willing to do that?’ and he was more than happy to do that. So Peter and I went over to his house - he just lives like ten minutes from my house in Nashville - so we went over there for about nine or ten consecutive Sunday afternoons and just wrote those songs sitting there with him. Mac can’t get around too well anymore but his mind is still incredibly sharp and his memory is incredibly accurate. So he sits in that big easy chair and we literally sat at the feet of the master and wrote down the stories and rhymed them and turned them into music and turned them into songs. And then we figured getting him in a studio at this point might just be a little too hard on him so we went, ‘How about we turn this into a tribute record to you, Mac, and have other people sing these songs?’ He was very happy about that idea so we called some of our favourite people like Alison Krauss and John Prine and they were all very happy to participate and pay tribute to one of the greats of bluegrass music. It was an incredibly satisfying experience because the process was so enjoyable and also because it was fairly successful in that world but mostly I would have to say it was enjoyable because it made Mac so happy. That’s his first bluegrass number one as a songwriter - Going Back To Bristol - so to see how much that meant to him was just incredible. It’s so much fun playing this kind of music; it’s so organic because at the end of the day all you do is book some players, get them in a room and play music.” The purity of the music is important to Jutz, “I think bluegrass is very much part of the real, traditional country music that’s left now. Although there’s obviously people like Chris Stapleton and Jason Isbell and people like that who are making great, more traditional country music. I think this is a great time for music and I think it’s a great time for bluegrass. The genre is a lot more open than it used to be and there’s young people who are pushing the boundaries of the genre like crazy and I think that’s very healthy.” Co-writing all the songs on Crazy If You Let It, Jutz has again called in some of his favourite muso mates to join him on the recording, including Tammy Rogers, with whom on the day we speak Jutz has just finished writing another song. “The single - Crazy If You Let It - is a song that I wrote with Bill Lloyd and Andrea Zonn, there’s one that I wrote with Tammy Rogers of The Steel Drivers, there’s a bunch of stuff that I wrote with my friend Milan Miller who’s a very successful songwriter in the bluegrass world, and then there’s one that I wrote with Jon Weisberger who’s another guy who has a lot of success in bluegrass, and Charley Stefl has. I try to figure out a way to put a song on there that I co- wrote with all of my favourite writers and I think I’ve managed to do that.” Crazy If You Let It marks Jutz’s first release as an artist on the ever more important in the bluegrass field, Mountain Fever label. “The Mac Wisema n thing came out on Mountain Fever as well,” says the proud US citizen now assimilated to the point of the merest trace of an accent. “I had written a bunch of songs that came out on Mountain Fever by other artists, like I wrote a couple of things for Irene Kelley for her last record and one of those was a song called Carolina Wind that was a good hit last year. That’s how the relationship with Mountain Fever was established and then Mark Hodges - the owner of Mountain Fever - and I became really good friends over making that Mac record. When I approached him I said, ‘Look, man, I’m working on a solo record and if you want to put it out that’s great, if you don’t want to put it out that’s not a problem at all’. And he was like, ‘No, man, we’re family now and I wanna put this out’. We’re just good buddies and there’s just a really good vibe between us. We take the work very seriously but we don’t take ourselves very seriously and that works good for me. “It’s a testament to the work ethic and the intelligence of Mark Hodges. He started seven years ago and it’s remarkable what he’s achieved. Obviously my record was recorded at my studio and the Mac record too, but he’s got a studio up where he lives and he cuts most of that stuff up there and it’s great. He’s a good guy, he’s smart, he thinks on his feet and he trusts people which is very important. We knew each other a little bit before we made that Mac record but Peter Cooper and I just gave him a call one day and said this is the idea, this is what we wanna do, this is how much it’s gonna cost, do you wanna do it? And he was like, ‘Yes, I wanna do it’. And that conversation took twenty minutes to make all the decisions.” Rarely are things quite as simple as they seem, but Jutz’s work ethic seems to be working out rather well for him at the moment. Just seeing the name Thomm Jutz on the credits assures quality. cmp Thomm Jutz: Crazy If You Let It is available on Mountain Fever Records OCTOBER 2017 - cmp 59 Page 58