The Bluegrass Standard - February 2023

Page 1

Follow us on: RCWilliamsCompany.com | 913.912.1083 Available in red for an extra splash of color. ©2022 RC Williams Company, LLC. Designed and manufactured by RC Williams. All rights reserved. DESIGNED FOR YOUR BEST PERFORMANCE Find out more about our innovative products today! THE AMAZING DBL BASS BUGGIE® We’re home of the original double bass transport. THE AMAZING BASS STAND Keep your upright bass secure and a comfortable seat while you’re performing. STUDIO G STAND A versatile option for guitarists in the studio or on the stage. Protection for your instrument and comfort for the performer. THE AMAZING MINI X STAND Unique hinged “x” format for smaller stringed instruments such as violins, violas, mandolins, and most ukuleles. Available in multiple heights and natural finish. 2
3
32 54
26 12 22 5 OUR CHOICE CONTENT MYSTIC LIZARD 08 PATTI CASEY 12 DEAN HOPPER 18 JEFF & SHERI EASTER 22 JOHN GOODING 26 JOSH GOODING 32 DAVE GOODING 38 THE EBONY HILLBILLIES 42 ANDY LEFTWICH 50 THE PO’ RAMBLIN’ BOYS 54 POTLUCK 58 FAN PHOTOS 65

Our Staff

Keith Barnacastle • Publisher

The Bluegrass Standard is a life-long dream of Keith Barnacastle, who grew up in Meridian, Mississippi. For three years, Keith brought the Suits, Boots and Bluegrass Festival to Meridian. Now, with the Bluegrass Standard, Keith’s enthusiasm for the music, and his vision of its future, reaches a nationwide audience every month! Keith@TheBluegrassStandard.com

Richelle Putnam • Executive Editor/Writer

Richelle Putnam is a Mississippi Arts Commission (MAC) Teaching Artist/Roster Artist (Literary), a Mississippi Humanities Speaker, and a 2014 MAC Literary Arts Fellowship recipient. Her non-fiction books include Lauderdale County, Mississippi; a Brief History, Legendary Locals of Meridian, Mississippi and Mississippi and the Great Depression. Richelle@TheBluegrassStandard.com

Rebekah Speer • Creative Director

Rebekah Speer has nearly twenty years in the music industry in Nashville, TN. She creates a unique “look” for every issue of The Bluegrass Standard, and enjoys learning about each artist. In addition to her creative work with The Bluegrass Standard, Rebekah also provides graphic design and technical support to a variety of clients.

Susan Woelkers • Marketing

Susan traveled with a mixed ensemble at Trevecca Nazarene college as PR for the college. From there she moved on to working at Sony Music Nashville for 17 years in several compacities then transitioning on to the Nashville Songwritrers Association International (NSAI) where she was Sponsorship Director. The next step of her musical journey was to open her own business where she secured sponsorships for various events or companies in which the IBMA /World of Bluegrass was one of her clients.

6

Shelby C. Berry • Journalist

Shelby Campbell is a writer and designer whose heart beats for creativity. A native of rural Livingston, AL, she found her passion in journalism and design at The University of West Alabama, where she received a Bachelor’s degree in Integrated Marketing Communications. Shelby also has her own photography business.

Susan Marquez • Journalist

Susan Marquez is a freelance writer based in Madison, Mississippi and a Mississippi Arts Commission Roster Artist. After a 20+ year career in advertising and marketing, she began a professional writing career in 2001. Since that time she has written over 2000 articles which have been published in magazines, newspapers, business journals, trade publications.

Kara Martinez Bachman • Journalist

Kara Martinez Bachman is a nonfiction author, book and magazine editor, and freelance writer. A former staff entertainment reporter, columnist and community news editor for the New Orleans Times-Picayune, her music and culture reporting has also appeared on a freelance basis in dozens of regional, national and international publications.

Candace Nelson • Journalist

Candace Nelson is a marketing professional living in Charleston, West Virginia. She is the author of the book “The West Virginia Pepperoni Roll.” In her free time, Nelson travels and blogs about Appalachian food culture at CandaceLately.com. Find her on Twitter at @Candace07 or email CandaceRNelson@gmail.com.

7

Mystic LIZARD

8
Shelby C. Berry

Almost two decades ago, four men who love playing bluegrass music came together to compete in the RockyGrass Music Competition. This performance at this particular competition sparked something in this group of musicians—a desire to make something of this group and pursue music together in their home state of New Mexico.

Before they could move forward, they would need a band name.

A friend of the band got creative and came up with over 300 band names, and, ironically enough, that’s all it took for Mystic Lizard to be born.

“We each picked a handful of names that we liked, and Mystic Lizard was the only one we all had in common,” said Bob Gray, mandolinist for the band.

Known most in the New Mexico area for the wide variety of music they perform, the members of Mystic Lizard pride themselves in their ability to perform progressive and traditional bluegrass, pop, swing, and jazz. They even

play a little bit of The Beatles.

“As far as bluegrass bands go, we are pretty eclectic,” Gray said. “It’s great when you’ve got great musicians that can play that variety in their music. Bob Goldstein, our guitar player, really does know so many songs. We always try to play a song at every show we’ve never played before by getting requests from the audience.”

As versatile artists, Mystic Lizard’s musical influences, such as Bill Monroe, Sam Bush, Earl Munde, and New Grass Revival, are the band members credited with influencing them most in their music. Not to mention, guitarist Bob Goldstein studied with national banjo champion Gary Davis and Grammy Award-nominated jazz legend Gene Dunlap when he was younger, attending many workshops with various artists over the years.

“I’m from Indiana, only a few miles from the Bean Blossom Bluegrass Music Festival. I went to the festival in the late 1960s with some friends and got to see Bill Monroe play in the old barn,” Gray said.

“At the time, I didn’t even know what a mandolin was.

That’s where I got my first exposure.”

Known for their progressiveness and versatility but influenced most by traditional greats like Bill Monroe make Mystic Lizard who they are as a band, but with a name like Mystic Lizard, it’s not surprising that audiences most respond to the band’s versatility and personality in addition to their traditional three-part harmonies.

“Our goal was never to make it big,” Gray said. “In New Mexico, it can be hard to get people to come to bluegrass festivals, but as a band, we work toward keeping the band going. We play the Southwest Pickers Festival every year as well.”

After a few band member changes and the survival of a pandemic, Mystic Lizard is still performing today, doing what they love most.

After semi-retiring during the COVID-19 pandemic, the members of Mystic Lizard thought it was time to hang up their hats—or their guitars. But in the last year, the world had something else for them in store.

9

People started reaching out to them, asking them to come to play at a few festivals and semi-regular events, sparking the new start of Mystic Lizard. While keeping it low-key, they are happy to be back on stage doing what they love.

“Basically, we thought the band was over, and it was a pleasant surprise that things are coming back together. If someone wants to book us, we are open to performing!” said Gray.

What is the one thing they focus on most about being back playing together? Their friendship.

“We’ve developed some great bonds and friendships in Mystic Lizard,” Gray said. “It’s nice to get together to play, and it clicks. I also play in a newer band, and it’s so different when everyone knows each other so well. Once you’ve played together so long, you jell differently.”

While the band only recorded one album about ten years ago, they have written some original music and instrumental songs over the years that they like to include in their live performances.

Some of these live performances today take place at the band’s longest-running regular gig at Range Cafe in Bernalillo, New Mexico, where they perform in none other than the Lazy Lizard Lounge, ironically enough.

As the band moves into a new era of hope and possibility, they have one goal: to keep performing together.

“We just want to keep things going and hopefully work on some new material,” Gray said. “A few of us are in our 70s, so we just want to keep playing together and see what happens.”

10
11
12

Patti Casey

Patti Casey is a musical pioneer. Inspired by her love of bluegrass and other traditional genres, Patti has created her unique signature sound that combines her love of storytelling, folk music, and bluegrass into a familiar yet delightfully original genre. Perhaps her unique sound comes from the rural area where Patti was raised. Vergennes, located in western Vermont, was once known as the smallest city in the United States. It had a population of 1,365 in the 2020 census. Like that little city founded in October 1761, Patti is an old soul.

“I had a musical upbringing,” she says. “I am one of four kids, and every one of us played an instrument. That was important in our family. If a kid showed an interest in an instrument, my parents supported that one hundred percent.” Patti’s dad was a World War II veteran who played the trumpet in a swing band. “They toured New England, so I was exposed to music through him.”

Patti started playing the flute at age eleven. “I loved it, and I got good at it fast.” She played all through high school and college. “I played classical music, and I played every chance I got. I practiced a lot and worked hard at playing well.”

Patti was on her own by the time she was in her early twenties. “I loved the female songwriters of the day.” She got a guitar and took lessons, which changed her musical direction. “When I started playing guitar, I started singing. I was really drawn to bluegrass. The Northeast has so many good bluegrass players. I made my parents take

13
Susan Marquez

me to shows.” While attending Vermont College, Patti took a course on bluegrass history. “I began playing with others early on. I was a founding member of the Bluegrass Gospel Project, and we toured the Northeast.” Patti was a songwriter and signature lead singer for the all-star band. She played with a couple of other bands, Redwing and North Union, and toured throughout Vermont, New Hampshire, and New York. “My contribution was that I brought the bluegrass.” She also did a stint with Colin McCaffrey and the Wicked Fine Players. One of her favorite gigs each year is the Summit School of Traditional Music and Culture’s Spice on Snow Music Festival in Montpelier, where Patti now lives. While music is her passion, like many musicians, Patti had to rely on her education in science to provide health insurance for her son. She studied wildlife biology in college but ended up with a writing degree. “I have been a scientist for a long time,” she says. “I work for the Agency of Agriculture in Vermont, where I run an environmental surveillance operation. I am lucky that I enjoy what I do.”

Patti says it was not unusual to play in national and international halls for three weeks on the road when doing music full-time. She toured nationally with The Woods Tea Company, a folk band from Vermont. “Now I do small weekend tours, Friday through Monday. I think my busiest summer was in 2021. Everyone was so starved for music after the pandemic. I played a lot of outdoor gigs.” The pandemic was a good time for Patti in terms of the time she spent songwriting. “I was able to get together with others and write, which was great.”

Two songs that came out of that time were “Dandelion” and “What You Think You Know,” released as singles.

A young woman, Sidney, the same age as Patti’s son, inspired “Dandelion.” Sidney was homeschooled and lived on the side of a mountain. During the Covid pandemic, she was pretty isolated. When it was time for her to graduate, her mom and dad organized a virtual event in their yard. It was so beautiful.

14
15

Her mom asked if I’d perform a song, and I wanted to write one for the event. I asked what her favorite flower was, and she said it was a dandelion. I love dandelions, too!”

“What You Think You Know” is a love song for those who haven’t had a Disneystyle romance. “I write music for Vermont Stage Company’s annual holiday event in Burlington called Winter Tales,” says Patti. The event features local actors who read funny and heartfelt stories to bring some light into the dark days of winter. Patti writes and performs songs to complement the readings. “What You Think You Know” was written for that event.

While her performance and musicianship are magical, Patti has also been recognized time and time again for her songwriting skills, winning several awards in songwriting competitions in Minnesota, Texas, North Carolina, Florida, and Colorado. She released her first album in 1993 and four more since then. Heart of a Waiting Boy was named Best Album of 2010 by the Times Argus/Rutland Herald and was the fourth most-played album in the worldwide folk circuit on FolkDJ Radio. Patti has written soundtracks for award winning independent films.

16
17

Lead Singer of The Hopper Family

Dean Hopper

Kara Martinez Bachman
18

Dean Hopper knows as well as anybody that both maturity and struggle often deepen our relationship with music. The long history of The Hoppers spans decades, and that longevity has created a solid, always-evolving devotion to faith through sound.

Hopper is the lead vocalist for this multi-generational gospel outfit that has graced the stage of Carnegie Hall, played at presidential inauguration events, and moved audiences in halls and churches across the country. His dad started the group in rural North Carolina in 1957, so Hopper grew up with gospel. Even as a little one, he was fascinated with music, even if it would take some time before he understood its role in his life and the world of gospel.

“When I was young, I wanted to play the drums,” he reminisced. “I watched from the side of the stage. I was just seven or eight years old. I was just in love with the music.” It was all about the sounds, he said.

“But as I’ve grown,” he continued, “the messages in the songs take on stronger meaning.”

It took growing up into an adult–and even more recently, facing serious illness–to further deepen his relationship with this music that infuses his family’s heart. He had a series of strokes in 2016 and 2017. Although Hopper was able to sing through it, recovering was tough.

“When you go through things,” he explained, “it has a way of re-aligning things. Seeing as it helped transform me and my family as a whole, the ministry of the music took on more meaning.”

This wasn’t the first time struggle had added more meaning to the music of The Hoppers. His mother battled cancer long ago, and he recalls how that hardship changed her.

“That really transformed her life and my dad’s life,” Hopper said, “and the ministry of music took on a new meaning at that time.”

Today, the lineup includes Dean and his wife, Kim; his parents, Claude and Connie; his brother, Mike; and his daughter, Karlye.

Whether they’re singing about hardships or sharing joys, Hopper sounds as if he loves it all. Performing runs deep, and he thinks it’s because his father–Claude Hopper–has always had a passion that made him want to delve into “every aspect of gospel music.” The Hopper children grew up immersed in it. In addition to performing, the group’s elder patriarch was part of the creation of “Keep on Singing,” a 15-volume songbook. He also serves on the board of directors of the

19

National Quartet Convention, a premier event of the Southern Gospel genre. “My dad also started the first gospel cruise in 1974,” Hopper added.

The Hoppers have withstood the test of time, from record releases that land them on the Billboard charts to their appearances on Gaither Homecoming videos and tours. All group members have their projects and accolades, including prominent roles in the Southern Gospel world, solo work, creative projects such as books, and more. As a unit, however, they have made real waves throughout 60 years of gospel music.

“It’s been a labor of love,” Hopper said, reflecting over the years. “A lot of times when the industry was down, we’d pull up by the bootstraps and keep moving…then the industry goes up again.”

“We’ve got to be innovative,” he added. “We’ve got to be always thinking; we’ve got to be rebranding ourselves.”

They recently released their first Christmas album in what Hopper guesses is about 22 years.

“We went all out on this,” he said, explaining they toured heavily in support of the release. He indicated that audiences loved it.

“We released a bluegrass album this past year, and it’s getting traction now,” he explained. “We’re out basically every weekend performing the songs and have a few of the singles on the radio.”

Many of their records are born right on the family’s property. For 25 years, they’ve had a studio.

“We have a studio on my dad’s farm,” Hopper explained. “One of the barns, a third of it is our studio. We’ll bring a producer from Nashville…lay down the vocals…lay down the basic parts.” Then, they’ll take it to Nashville for final production.

20

“We have a lot of songs still to be released,” he said, hinting that new music is always on the horizon.

What does he see as the group’s future; does he see it persisting for more decades? Yes, in some form, he assured.

“We’ve got three generations out there now… there’s dad, me and my brother…my daughter…” he said. “My oldest daughter…her interest in what we do has really, really grown.”

That cohesiveness of family may be part of why the Hopper tradition of spreading faith through music keeps on going after years and years. For Hopper, it sounds like the bottom line is that they are successful due to love.

“The persistence of my parents through the years,” he said, listing the reasons. “The love for the music. The love for the people.”

21

Jeff and Sheri Easter were born into musical families. “I started singing with the Easter Brothers when I was 13,” says Jeff. Sheri joined her family band, the Lewis Family when she was 16. “My mother was ill and had to be off the road for six weeks, so I filled in for her.” As their website says, Gospel music is genetically programmed into the Easters’ DNA. “It was natural for us to be surrounded by family who would sing praises,” laughs Sheri.

Jeff eventually left his family’s Gospel group. He ended up playing bass for The Singing Americans, a popular North Carolina-based Southern Gospel touring group in the 1980s and early 1990s. In August 1984, The Singing Americans played at the Albert E. Brumley Sundown to Sunup Gospel Sing in Arkansas. The Lewis Family was performing as well. Jeff and Sheri were introduced, and soon romantic sparks flew. They got married ten months later, in June 1985. The couple traveled and per formed with the Lewis Family band for a time. They left the Lewis Family in 1988, intending to pursue a career independently. “We went on our own full time on New Year’s Day 1989,” says Sheri. Jeff and Sheri never looked back. They have made a life and a living around music, and they wouldn’t have it any other way. “We travel every weekend,” Sheri says. “We put

about 100,000 miles a year on our bus.” Covid put a stop to that for a time. “It was the weirdest thing,” recalls Sheri. “At first, it was three weeks. It was wonderful being at home because we never have that much continuous time at home. We got projects done that we had put off or not finished because normally we only have a couple of days at home at a time.” But as the pandemic wore on, the Easters decided to work on their beach house in South Carolina. “Then we went to the lake,” laughs Jeff. “We have had rental properties for years, but we were able to really work on them and see what they needed.”

Sheri says the pandemic saved them $60,000 on diesel fuel the first year of the pandemic. “I have a Master’s in business,” Sheri says. “If someone had told me that we would have to sit it out for several months, I would have said no way. We lost 101 of the 200 dates we had booked. Yet, we had enough money saved up and the income stream from the rental properties that allowed us to pay every bill. It was such a blessing for us.”

The couple lives in Lincolnton, Georgia, near Augusta. They have three children, Morgan, Maura, and Madison. Morgan joined Jeff and Sheri as a vocalist when she was 14. Her husband, Landon, played drums for Jeff and Sheri for many years. He began touring with them when he was just 14 years old.

Jeff & Sheri

Easter 22
Susan Marquez
23
24

Madison played with the band until he was 26. He married his wife, Shannon, and the couple now resides in Los Angeles. Madison and his wife have two children, and Morgan and her husband are expecting number two.

The youngest Easter child, Maura, made her first appearance on stage with the band when she was just eleven days old. She is now a junior in high school.

The Easters traveled with the Gaither Vocal Band for thirty years, and they still do cruises with them and shows in Gatlinburg. About fifty percent of the songs they play are originals. “I write some,” says Jeff, “but Sheri writes a lot. She is a really good songwriter.” Jeff says he leans more towards country and Gospel, while Sheri likes a little more pop. The GRAMMYnominated music is tinged with country, and their harmonies are flawless. Watching them sing is like watching two people who have completed each other’s sentences for decades. Their love for one another and Jesus Christ shines through their songs, many of which describe everyday life events. “We want to encourage people with our songs,” says Jeff. “That’s what we do -- day in and day out, we try to encourage people.”

After spending 37 years on the road, Jeff and Sheri say they don’t kno w how to do anything else. “We are enjoying being grandparents,” Sheri says. But the road calls, so the Easters will gas up the bus and head to the next show. “We are so blessed to do what we love and to do it with each other,” she says. The Easters will have a new album, Treasure, released on February 10 on all retail and digital outlets.

25

John Gooding

26
Kara Martinez Bachman

If you’ve ever seen the Crying Uncle Bluegrass Band perform live, you surely know what it feels like to grin from ear to ear. The talent is palpable, and the hearty applause from impressed audiences is often resounding. Few groups can match this youthful ensemble in energy or enthusiasm.

The band’s website describes Crying Uncle as “a unique mix of Bluegrass, Dawg, Jazz, and original modern acoustic music.” Nominated in 2021 for an International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) Band Momentum Award, the band won the Pickin’ the Pines Band Contest in 2018 in Flagstaff, Arizona. The band has opened for notables, participated in myriad festivals, and has been featured in a 2018 TEDTalk with Nashville-based singer/songwriter Phoebe Hunt.

John Gooding has provided the guitar for Crying Uncle since the current full lineup came together in 2017, and the things this young man has gotten to do so early in life are impressive.

28

“We’ve done a two-week tour of Finland…we went to France…we have another bluegrass cruise to The Bahamas in January…” he said, rattling off all the cool stuff. “This past summer was our busiest summer so far,” he added.

Part of that undoubtedly included preparing the release of a new album, the 13-track recording titled The Thing of Dreams. “It has a lot of original material,” Gooding said. “A lot more than on any of our prior records.”

Something else that’s quite original about the record is the building the band used as a “studio.”

“It was recorded in an old church,” Gooding said, adding that its “beautiful view” was among the many charms of choosing this spot to record live performances. The Old St. Hilary’s Church in Tiburon, California, elicited the perfect atmosphere of inspiration and sound. They’d performed a show there, and the location stuck with them.

“It has really beautiful acoustics,” Gooding said. “We just set up there and got the whole album out in three days,” adding that it is probably his favorite among the ones they’ve released.

The guitarist hails from a musical family and believes early exposure to the bluegrass world affected him at his core. His father plays bass and sits on the board of the California Bluegrass Association. His mother is the current president of that same board.

“It was inspiring to watch my father onstage,” he said. “I first started taking lessons seriously when I was seven. Then, the first band I joined was 35 Years of Treble…I think I was nine years old. We played together for a good long while, maybe until I started high school.”

“In 2015, we started a band called The Blue J’s,” he said. That band also

29
30

included his two brothers, one of whom now plays mandolin for The Little Roy and Lizzy Show.

Gooding said he had fond memories of a certain Christmas when he and his siblings all got great new instruments as holiday gifts…and they were electric. The boys plugged in and jammed away that Christmas.

“I think it was when I was 12 or 13, maybe even a little younger,” he recalled. “That is a nice memory…we were kinda stoked on new gear.”

Growing up surrounded by people whom all love music has shaped his world.

“It’s influenced just about every part of me,” he concluded.

31
32

Josh Gooding

Tennessee-based musician Josh Gooding recently (in July) got a great gig as the mandolin player with The Little Roy and Lizzy Show. While he’s been a performer for many years, it sounds like the new band is perfect for this time in his life.

“It’s been great,” Gooding said. “I’ve never worked with a band that plays as much. We go out every weekend.”

“We’ve also played on the Mike Huckabee TV show. That was cool; everybody was enjoyable to work with.”

The devoted player hails from a musically-inclined family. His father, Dave Gooding, is a musician of many decades. His brother, John Gooding, strums and picks guitar with Crying Uncle Bluegrass Band. He recalls some early childhood memories of growing up around bluegrass in California.

“Dad had already been playing and going to festivals and playing in regional bands,” he said. Some of his earliest memories were of a band his father played bass for years ago, The Donner Mountain Bluegrass Band.

“They used to rehearse at the house, and I was influenced by it,” he reminisced.

He picked up his mandolin at the tender age of six, and unlike many who take some time to figure out which instrument will become a devoted and soothing partner through the twists and turns of life, he just… knew. When his heartstrings were plucked, they made the sound of

33
Kara Martinez Bachman

the mandolin. It was the instrument played by his heroes, such as Bill Monroe.

“I’m just gonna start playing mandolin now,” he remembers saying to himself one day. And that…was that.

It wasn’t long before he was jamming for real with his siblings in a band they created named The Blue J’s. Gooding eventually moved to Tennessee, where he performed with various musicians, including the Alex Leach Band. He was with Alex Leach for two years, during which he recorded music and had his first foray into being on the road as a musician.

When not playing with The Little Roy and Lizzy Show, Gooding loves appearing as a part of the entertainment roster at the Ole Smoky Moonshine Distillery in Gatlinburg, Tennessee.

“They have live bluegrass music almost every day, for ten hours a day, and at several locations,” Gooding said.

He primarily plays with one of the house groups, Dreamcatcher, but will also perform on a fill-in basis with other groupings and ensembles, including Midnight Run.

Gooding said he’s excited about a special event this spring: The Little Roy and Lizzy Music Festival, which is happening May 4, 5, and 6.

“We’re looking forward to that; it’s down where they live in Augusta, Georgia,” he said. “We play every day. There’s gonna

34

be a lot of bands booked there.” The lineup now includes acts such as Marty Stuart and Rhonda Vincent.

His brother from Crying Uncle Bluegrass Band, John Gooding, is also supposed to come out for the festival.

“I’m excited to have him out here and see what opportunities we can pursue together,” he said.

When asked about Christmas memories he’d like to share, Gooding said he has a particular affinity for the holiday compositions accompanying the well-known animated “Peanuts” Christmas shows.

“Me and my brother loved the Christmas music of Vince Guaraldi,” he said, explaining that he thinks those holiday classics are so good he’ll listen to them year-round. “I’ve been learning a bunch of those songs on mandolin.”

He enjoys the holiday season at his home in Elizabethton, Tennessee. He said it’s especially nice when snowing during the holidays.

“I live on a hill looking down on the town, so it’s really picturesque,” he said.

When asked about the future, Gooding sounds unable – or unwilling – to speculate. Part of the reason is he seems mighty satisfied with the present.

“I’m pretty happy with the way things are going now,” he said. “I’m really lucky and blessed. I’m fortunate.”

35
36
37

Dave Gooding

38
Kara Martinez Bachman

Bluegrass musician Dave Gooding is delighted that his passion for music passed on to all three of his sons, two of whom have become members of well-known bluegrass groups. While Gooding has been the bass player with the Central Valley Boys for 13 years, his son Josh plays mandolin with the Little Roy and Lizzy Show, and his son John is a guitarist for Crying Uncle.

You could say that music flows through the veins of this family.

Gooding had been making music professionally since the 1990s with various groups before the Central Valley Boys became his main gig. After his second son was born, he asked his wife whether or not he should slow down in performing. They both decided he should keep doing what he loved, and they should incorporate their sons into the warm and welcoming bluegrass world.

“It’s pretty much illegal to leave your kids home alone when you go to festivals,” Gooding joked, “so we just started dragging them to the festivals. They were around a lot of picking.”

While one of his sons learned to play music and has had his life enriched by it, he didn’t opt to make music professionally. The other two grabbed on, and now young men, they’ve followed directly in their father’s footsteps.

Gooding says being raised on bluegrass has been a substantial asset to all his sons’ lives.

“I’m very fortunate they developed a passion for bluegrass and love it as much as I do,” he said.

“Our kids have learned so much,” he explained. “Social skills…self-discipline… it’s proven that math skills improve in school.”

“This is what we do as a family,” he added, “and our vacations have always been centered around music,” that seems to be a tie that truly binds. “Even in the roughest times,” Gooding explained, “we still have this commonality between us.”

He is reluctant to take all the credit for creating this passion in his kids; he also gives credit to the entire bluegrass community. Believing in the value of bluegrass and paying it forward to the genre that gave his family so much, Gooding serves as a board member of the all-volunteer California Bluegrass Association.

“My wife [Theresa Gooding] is now also the president of the California Bluegrass Association,” he said. “We felt that we owed so much back to the community.”

Not only do the Goodings think investing in kids is important in creating tomorrow’s musicians, but the organization they support believes so.

“They [California Bluegrass Association] invest a lot in the youth programs,” he said.

39

While it’s doubtful he will get all his sons together this Christmas; he still has a hopeful wish. It is a wish tempered with the understanding that The Little Roy and Lizzy Show and Crying Uncle touring schedules will probably dominate the holidays. That simply goes with the territory.

“Hopefully, everybody will make it home for a few days for Christmas,” he wishes, knowing the odds are against it. When performing is in your blood, you “get it” and find a way to accept what comes with being a working artist.

Gooding hopes “what comes” amounts to more of what he’s done for decades.

“I’d like to think I’m gonna do this ‘til I fall over dead after a set somewhere,’’ he laughed. It’s pretty clear, though, that his joke holds more than a small element of truth.

41

The Ebony Hillbillies strive to evoke the spirit of joy wherever they perform. “It’s important to feel and experience this music,” says Henrique Prince. “This is music that gets you free. It connects people.”

Henrique didn’t start his musical career playing in a string band. Far from it, in fact. He came from a musical family. “My parents are from the Caribbean. I grew up with calypso music in our home, and there was a party with dancing every weekend during the 1940s and 50s.” But Henrique studied classical music, starting with the violin. He made his way from New York to the west coast, where he studied music. While immersed in classical music, even playing in a symphony orchestra, his heart led him to play the kind of music he heard while growing up.

He began listening to old music. “The musicians in the 1920s and 30s were so good for the

42
Susan Marquez

time. There are not a lot of recordings, and the ones I have heard were really good. Their instrument work was fairly sophisticated, surprisingly so, and I believe that speaks to the era. Many were rural players, and the music they created was jazz.”

While all the musicians in the Ebony Hillbillies are accomplished professional musicians, each had an interest in the more ancient music. “We are a string band,” says Henrique. “What we do is original music while extending the idea of ancient music. A lot of styles of string music encapsulate the survival technique. It was originally music played for the musicians’ own sanity; then it became music audiences paid to hear.”

Henrique got wind of a 1930s guitar/fiddle group called The Mississippi Shieks. “I was so impressed with their sound.” He then discovered the Altamont Recordings of Black String

43

band Music from the Library of Congress. Soon Enrique met his musical partner, Norris Washington Bennett, after auditioning for a New York City bluegrass band. “Norris played banjo, mountain dulcimer, guitar, and he was an excellent vocalist.” He was also a full-time “busker” in Europe.

Things began to gel when, on a whim, the duo were busking together in Grand Central Station. “We played “Shenandoah” and realized how powerful that was,” Enrique says. “We brought together a string band tradition that pre-dates jazz and a song that came from another century.”

The Ebony Hillbillies formed, and other musicians joined the band. William “Salty Bill” Salter joined on shaker percussion and vocals. His musical pedigree is impressive, with multiple Grammys as co-writer of pop hits

44

including “Just the Two of Us” and “Where is the Love.” Also in the band are Gloria Thomas Gassaway, Allanah Salter, Newman Taylor Baker, and Ali Rahman, all of whom brought a fresh perspective to the band. “Even with the other things we have accomplished individually, the music we play together as The Ebony Hillbillies helps our collective experiences add to the richness of our lives,” says Henrique. While they started playing in the streets, The Ebony Hillbillies have risen to great heights, playing in venues like Carnegie Hall and the Lincoln Center. They have had many television appearances and collaborated with visual artists at The Whitney and The Smithsonian Museum.

Their genuine passion is sharing music with others, especially children. Before Covid, the band presented music

45

workshops for children through their foundation. “Kids just naturally get it,” says Enrique. “And I mean kids all over the world. We did a workshop for children in Bulgaria, and their reaction to the music was the same. Kids take on music like it is their own. It’s refreshing and inspiring, and it keeps us going.” Unfortunately, during the Covid pandemic, Norris Bennett passed away. But Henrique says the band will still play on. “The music we play together as The Ebony Hillbillies makes our collective experiences add to the richness of our lives.”

Henrique describes the music that The Ebony Hillbillies play as “rawkus, rowdy, and celebratory. It should inspire people to get up off their bottoms. That’s what

we try to achieve. We want to connect with everyone we play for on a deeper level.”

The Ebony Hillbillies have released four CDs, Sabrina’s Holiday (2004), I Thought You Knew (2005), Barefoot and Flying (2005), and Slappin’ A Rabbit – Live! (2015). Their last album, Five Miles from Town (2017), features eleven tracks with an additional three skits. It’s a musical journey with twists and turns. From a down-home fiddle jam with “Hog Tied Man” to a hauntingly beautiful tale with a cautionary warning, “Fork in the Road,” the album showcases the broad range of talent in the band. Listening to their

version of “Wang Dang Doodle” makes it hard to stay seated. Socially conscious, soulful, funky, and even a bit romantic, don’t try to pin down the eclectic musical styles performed by The Ebony Hillbillies. Look for more brilliant music coming soon – they are currently working on a new project in the studio. Henrique didn’t start his musical career playing in a string band. Far from it, in fact. He came from a musical family. “My parents are from the Caribbean. I grew up with calypso music in our home, and there was a party with dancing every weekend during the 1940s and 50s.” But Henrique studied classical music, starting with the violin. He made his way from New York to the west coast, where he studied music. While immersed in classical music, even playing in a symphony orchestra, his heart led him to play the kind of music he heard while growing up.

He began listening to old music. “The musicians in the 1920s and 30s were so good for the time. There are not a lot of recordings, and the ones I have heard were really good. Their instrument work was fairly sophisticated, surprisingly so, and I believe that speaks to the era. Many were rural players, and the music they created was jazz.”

While all the musicians in the Ebony Hillbillies are accomplished professional musicians, each had an interest in the more ancient music. “We are a string band,” says Henrique. “What we do is original music while extending the idea of ancient music. A lot of styles of string music encapsulate the survival technique. It was originally music played for the musicians’ own sanity; then it became music audiences paid to hear.”

Henrique got wind of a 1930s guitar/fiddle group called The Mississippi Shieks. “I was so impressed with their sound.” He then discovered the Altamont Recordings of Black String band Music from the Library of Congress. Soon Enrique met his musical partner, Norris Washington Bennett, after auditioning for a New York City bluegrass band. “Norris played banjo, mountain dulcimer, guitar, and he was an excellent vocalist.” He was also a full-time “busker” in Europe.

Things began to gel when, on a whim, the duo were busking together in Grand Central Station. “We played “Shenandoah” and realized how powerful that was,” Enrique says. “We brought together a string band tradition that pre-dates jazz and a song that came from another century.”

The Ebony Hillbillies formed, and other musicians joined the band. William “Salty Bill” Salter joined on shaker percussion and vocals. His musical pedigree is impressive, with multiple Grammys as co-writer of pop hits including “Just the Two of Us” and “Where is the Love.” Also in the band are Gloria Thomas Gassaway, Allanah Salter, Newman Taylor Baker, and Ali Rahman, all of whom brought a fresh perspective to the band. “Even with the other things we have accomplished individually, the music we play together as The Ebony Hillbillies helps our collective experiences add to the richness of our lives,” says Henrique. While they started playing in the streets, The Ebony Hillbillies have risen to great heights,

48

playing in venues like Carnegie Hall and the Lincoln Center. They have had many television appearances and collaborated with visual artists at The Whitney and The Smithsonian Museum.

Their genuine passion is sharing music with others, especially children. Before Covid, the band presented music workshops for children through their foundation. “Kids just naturally get it,” says Enrique. “And I mean kids all over the world. We did a workshop for children in Bulgaria, and their reaction to the music was the same. Kids take on music like it is their own. It’s refreshing and inspiring, and it keeps us going.” Unfortunately, during the Covid pandemic, Norris Bennett passed away. But Henrique says the band will still play on. “The music we play together as The Ebony Hillbillies makes our collective experiences add to the richness of our lives.”

Henrique describes the music that The Ebony Hillbillies play as “rawkus, rowdy, and celebratory. It should inspire people to get up off their bottoms. That’s what we try to achieve. We want to connect with everyone we play for on a deeper level.”

The Ebony Hillbillies have released four CDs, Sabrina’s Holiday (2004), I Thought You Knew (2005), Barefoot and Flying (2005), and Slappin’ A Rabbit – Live! (2015). Their last album, Five Miles from Town (2017), features eleven tracks with an additional three skits. It’s a musical journey with twists and turns. From a down-home fiddle jam with “Hog Tied Man” to a hauntingly beautiful tale with a cautionary warning, “Fork in the Road,” the album showcases the broad range of talent in the band. Listening to their version of “Wang Dang Doodle” makes it hard to stay seated.

Socially conscious, soulful, funky, and even a bit romantic, don’t try to pin down the eclectic musical styles performed by The Ebony Hillbillies. Look for more brilliant music coming soon – they are currently working on a new project in the studio.

49
50

Andy Leftwich

Four-time Grammy Award-winning musician Andy Leftwich said he was competitive as a kid; he grew up on the competition circuit. While that killer instinct may be channeled differently now, this prolific musician is always a powerhouse, seeking career highs one after the other.

He’s fiddled for everyone from Ricky Skaggs, to Dailey & Vincent, to Taylor Swift. His Grammy street cred as an accompanying instrumentalist is more than any musician could ask for in a lifetime. And now, he’s recently snagged yet another brag-worthy accomplishment: appearing as a solo artist at the Grand Ole Opry.

The set billed as all his, this so-called “competitive” performer couldn’t help but add to the special evening by spreading the attention out, sharing it with those he has played with and learned from over the years. He brought along some notable friends for his big night in one of America’s most esteemed venues.

“As many times as I have played the Opry with some of my favorite artists and friends, I finally got the opportunity to play the Opry as a solo artist,” Leftwich said of his New Year’s Eve performance. “It was a huge honor and an incredible experience. Ricky Skaggs and Sierra Hull joined me as guests for two of my three songs I got to play.”

The song he did with Skaggs and the number with Hull came from his album released this past fall, The American Fiddler.

“I was overwhelmed when I looked up after the performance was over and saw the entire audience on their feet for a standing ovation,” he said. “I had a quick interview with the Opry announcer Mike Terry afterward and just couldn’t ask for a better Opry debut!”

While the Opry is beloved by most musicians and fans, for Leftwich, it’s a place with extra-personal meaning.

“I met my wife, Rachel, just to the side of the stage when I played there with Ricky [Skaggs] for the first time,” he explained, “and have developed friendships that have carried through all these years later.”

Skaggs is among the musicians he has been friends with and jammed with for a number of years. He toured for years as a fiddler for Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder starting in 2001.

51
Kara Martinez Bachman

“Ricky was a huge influence on me growing up, and obviously, as a boss,” Leftwich explained. He credits the famous performer with introducing him to different styles, including folk, Appalachian, and everything in between. He says that while he loves quite a bit of classical and other violin forms, he considers himself a “fiddler” first and foremost and not a “violinist.”

“It’s kinda like a language,” he said. “We all speak English, but there are different dialects.” With “The American Fiddler,” he aimed to showcase some of those various dialects. One example is a fiddle “accent” that hails from across the pond.

“Bluegrass is a direct descendent of Irish music,” Leftwich explained. “A lot of the licks you’d play are like Irish music, only a little different.”

Leftwich has been fascinated with music since he was a child in Tennessee. His father played banjo and guitar and loved bluegrass. A friend of his father’s put a fiddle in young Leftwich’s hands when he was only six years old.

“I learned it that night,” Leftwich reminisced. “I remember the feeling of playing and hearing my dad’s guitar accompanying that.” He was hooked.

Before long, the musician, who described himself as “extremely competitive,” was winning contests and, by age 15, was already playing professionally. By 19, he had met Skaggs. Since then, he has stood on many stages and traveled to many countries while doing what he loves.

Leftwich said his faith is essential to his career.

“I’m nothing without my faith in Christ,” he said. “The word of God… I’m nothing without that and my faith.” He hopes his performances relay that spirituality. “I want to make sure that the music I play inspires the soul,” he said. “I’m constantly praying and asking the Lord for wisdom.”

There’s no telling where that wisdom might take Leftwich in the future. While he won’t give specifics, hinting he has an idea for a project he’d like to release at some point. He describes it as “a collaboration with different artists” and said it might include “some mainstream names people would know…some very popular names.”

Now that he’s reached a kind of pinnacle–playing the Grand Ole Opry as a solo act–what does Leftwich still have on his bucket list? Where does he think his ambitious nature might take him going forward? He distills his answer down into…more questions.

“Who have I not played with?” he said, listing the things he does, and always will ask himself. “What have I not yet explored?”

Po’ Ramblin’ The

There’s a certain irony in seeing a massive 45’ Prevost touring bus laminated with the images of a band named the Po’ Ramblin’ Boys, and it’s leveled up in that one of the prominently featured “Boys” is actually a female. Once upon a time, that band name may have been a more accurate description, but it appears now that the moniker is more about nostalgia. Speaking of which, the product that claims the most real estate on the rolling billboard is Ole Smoky Distillery, the band’s primary sponsor and the reason the band exists in the first place. What started as a house band to entertain the tourists at their flagship facility in Gatlinburg has segued into four albums, an international touring schedule, multiple award nominations, and, not surprisingly, a few wins.

Their bus driver, Tommy Brown, also the father of the band’s banjo player, Jereme Brown, expertly navigated a 180 degree turnaround on a narrow side road and eased into an acceptable parking spot (the side of the road). He then picked up a guitar and filled in for then-ailing guitar player, Josh Rinkel, and took the lead vocals on several tunes that night, as well. Hands down, he earned band’s MVP award for the evening (week? month?).

For the few bluegrass fans who might not be familiar with the Grammy-nominated, IBMA

54

Ramblin’ Boys

New Artist of the Year-winning band, they consist of band leader C.J. Lewandowski on mandolin and vocals, Jereme Brown on banjo and vocals, Jasper Lorentson on bass, Josh Rinkel on guitar and vocals, and newest member Laura Orshaw on fiddle and vocals. First signed to Rounder records, who released the aforementioned Grammy-nominated album, Toil, Tears, & Trouble, the band now calls Smithsonian Folkways their label home, on which they have released their latest album, Never Slow Down.

The Po’ Ramblin’ Boys’ popularity has put them in the headlining spotlight on many occasions in the past several years, drawing in new bluegrass fans with their traditional yet edgy style and down-home cool stage presence. That night, the spotlight was shining in what might be the smallest venue they’ve played in quite some time: Dee’s Country Cocktail Lounge. A trendy dive-bar just outside the Nashville city limits, the gold fringe backdrop of the small stage looked more than appropriate, setting the scene for the rhinestone string ties and colorful suits donned by the tattooed boys - seemingly a world away from their once daily “costumes” of bib overalls.

Standing across a high-top table from the band’s founder, mandolinist/singer C.J.

55
Ashley Brown

Lewandowski and fiddler/vocalist Laura Orshaw, I couldn’t help but first address the aforementioned stand-out with the newest “Boy”.

“Coming from a female perspective, how is it joining a band that’s all about the boys?”

Laughing, she says, “We talked about it… whether it made sense to keep the band name, and I kind of wanted to keep it the way it was because it gets people thinking. Like, it’s a little bit of ‘… oh my gosh, women can play traditional bluegrass, too, and wow, she’s able to do everything that they can do and fits in well!’ It never has bothered me to be one of the boys, but I think in this aspect, it made more of an impact to keep the same name and make people think a little bit about what stereotypes are out there about traditional bluegrass music and how anybody that loves it can do it.”

As far as their luxe transportation, CJ was quick to respond, “The bus keeps us true to the name.” Though that may have been said tongue-in-cheek, in keeping with another longstanding bluegrass band tradition, the front man can also be found underneath the bus when maintenance is required. It’s also worth noting here that his other ride is none other than Jimmy Martin’s 1973 Ford F-100 pick-up.

One might think that an acquisition such as the truck once owned by bluegrass royalty would be impossible to top, but Lewandowski found a way. During the Covid lockdown era, while browsing on Facebook, he came across an ad for a Lloyd Loar mandolin for sale in Athens, Greece. If you have to re-read that jaw-dropping sentence, I get it. Months later, after a heavy amount of corresponding and authentication, he boarded a plane, headed to the

ancient city, and brought home an instrument two serial numbers away from the legendary F-model played by the Father of Bluegrass, Bill Monroe. Best of all, it can now be admired by any and all who attend the Po’ Ramblin’ Boys shows as he bought it to play, not hide under lock and key.

It’s no secret that the economy was/is taking a heavy toll on the music industry, and the Po’ Ramblin’ Boys have not been immune. 2022 included several Covid make-up dates from 2020, with pre-inflation pricing. Their growing fanbase kept them above water, however, and 2023 and beyond appears to have nothing but an upward trajectory. Dates are steadily rolling in, and a collaborative album and supporting tour with the iconic Jim Lauderdale is currently in the works.

As Jim was on his way out of Nashville to play a couple of shows in North Carolina, I gave him a call to learn more. His enthusiasm for CJ and crew was evident as he talked about hearing them for the first time at the IBMA World of Bluegrass in Raleigh.

“It’s real exciting to hear because so many of our forefathers have gone and to hear this new life put into a traditional sound is real exciting. It’s hard to do, to work within that framework of tradition and make it fresh.”

Heavily influenced by the Stanley Brothers and George Jones, partnering with Lauderdale is a natural evolution. All four Po’ Ramblin’ Boys albums contain a George Jones cover and

58

their style is more than a little reminiscent of the traditional Stanley sound. Jim Lauderdale’s love for both is found in his Grammy-winning bluegrass album with Ralph Stanley, Lost in the Lonesome Pines and, in addition to having written a song recorded by the King of Country Music, the pair can be heard on Jones’ last album, Burn Your Playhouse Down: The Unreleased Duets. Tying it all together, the last track of Never Slow Down is none other than their own creative take on the Jim Lauderdale song “Old Time Angels”.

Initially surprised to hear their new version, Lauderdale was ultimately impressed. “It takes a special creative talent to reimagine a song like that and they did a fantastic job,” he acknowledges.

As schedules permit, they all converge at Mark Howard’s Signal Path Sound studio in Goodlettsville, TN, to work on the co-produced project. When complete, it will be released on Jim Lauderdale’s label, Sky Crunch Records, though no date has been announced. So far, two songs are in the can, as they say, and the current plan is to release them as singles in the near future.

From the tiny corner stage at Dee’s to the Opry Circle, the band’s week in Nashville spanned the gamut of popular venues, a testament to their wide-ranging reach. Keep up-to-date with the latest on the band’s website, theporamblinboys.com, as well as their pages on Facebook and Instagram.

59

Comforting Potluck Dishes Perfect For After Church An Sundays

Some foods simply taste better when crafted in the seasoned hands of local church ladies. Whether chocolate-covered eggs filled with peanut butter sold as a fundraiser or a communal dinner set to celebrate an occasion, meals rooted in church traditions have created comfort for centuries.

And while certain foods - like wine or communion wafers - continue to have close ties to religion, other communal celebrations centered on food formed independently and expanded beyond faith-based partnerships.

Enter: The potluck—or covered dish. Or spread.

A potluck is a “communal gathering where each guest or group contributes a different, often homemade, dish of food to be shared,” according to Wikipedia.

The term derives from the situation in which a surprise guest turns up at dinner time, and they receive the “luck of the pot,” or whatever the family prepared that evening. Others credit Native American indigenous peoples’ “potlatch,” a communal meal. The more modern

60
Candace Nelson

definition likely came from the Great Depression when people gathered, and each brought a shared dish.

Potluck dinners are often associated with religious or community groups for a few reasons:

1) They are more cost-efficient because they spread the meal costs amongst the participants, and 2) Meal planning and options are varied yet simplified, so there’s something for everyone. For these reasons, potlucks are also popular at work events, weddings, and family reunions.

No matter the celebration, some quintessential potluck dishes in Appalachia complete the feast. Check out some of the most popular dishes and put your spin on them for your next potluck invitation:

1. Deviled Eggs - This classic picnic dish can be found at all gatherings: hard-boiled eggs are halved, and the center yolks are scooped out and mixed with mayonnaise, vinegar, mustard, and other condiments before being piped back into the eggs. Some cooks top their deviled eggs with paprika, relish, hot sauce, or chives. The culinary term “deviled” refers to food prepared with hot or fussy spices or condiments. In Appalachia, you might find some chow chow on top.

61

2. Casseroles - Filled with meat, vegetables, and some starch, a casserole is baked in a deep dish, usually topped with cheese. The combinations are endless: tuna noodles, green bean,

cheesy chicken & rice, broccoli & cheese, beef pot pie, tater tot hot dish, and many more. Paired with classic Campbell’s cream soups, casseroles are versatile and can include any number of ingredients - even wild game.

3. Salad - Prepared salads such as potato salad, macaroni salad, and pea salads are a mainstay at gatherings. While some salads are often made with green leafy vegetables, the mayonnaise-based versions are classics. Chicken salad, tuna salad, egg salad, and ham salad are all Mayo-based spreads often eaten as sandwiches. And then there’s pasta salad, which

can be either mayo or vinaigrette based and include chunks of cheese, pepperoni, olives, vegetables, and more.

4. Fried chicken - Chicken is often the main entree at events because it can be homemade, made on-site, or even picked up at the local convenience store if needed. Plus, with the options for legs, wings, breasts, or thighs, there’s something for everyone - except the

62

vegetarians.

5. Dips - Like casseroles, dips vary widely by ingredient, layers, and more. But the general premise is that it’s created for the dunking corn chip, tortilla, or cracker. From a 7-layer dip with Mexican ingredients to a buffalo chicken dip with some heat, dips can have a vegetable or protein as the main component. Other favorites include spinach artichoke, caramelized onion, and roasted corn dips. Bonus points if the ingredients are local and, in Appalachia, may contain some foraged items like mushrooms or ramps.

a. Cheeseball - As a cousin to the dip, the cheeseball is another similar potluck dish with cream cheese as a primary component, along with nuts, chicken, pimientos, bacon, and other spices to be eaten with crackers. It tends to be more solid and shaped into a ball or log, so it’s less of a dip but more of a scoop.

These dishes are just a sampling of the dishes found at various gatherings where folks bring a course from home. When putting them together, the result is a multi-course meal with everything from appetizers to desserts.

Not only does potluck food fill the tummy, but it can bring a community - no matter the kind - together to break bread. These meals nourish the attending event members but also nourish partnerships, friendships, and relationships.

63
64

FAN PHOTOS

65
66
67
www.turnberryrecords.com 68
www.turnberryrecords.com 69
70
Issuu converts static files into: digital portfolios, online yearbooks, online catalogs, digital photo albums and more. Sign up and create your flipbook.