He’s been a member of Vince Gill’s band for 20+ years, previously worked with Alison Krauss, and has produced projects for The Chieftans, Michael Cleveland &Flamekeeper, and more.

How would you classify your music?

I classify my music as hard driving Bluegrass.

Who are some of your top 5 musical influences? 

Doc Watson 2. Tony Rice 3. James Taylor  4. Flatt and Scruggs 5. Bill Monroe.

What do you want fans to take from your music?

I want them to feel how exciting Bluegrass music really is. I want the music to jump out and make people tap their feet or dance or drive fast.

Tell us about your latest release, and why, after so many years since the last solo project, you felt that the time was right?  

‘Right Beside You’  is a collection of original songs both old and new. Some have been recorded by other artists and I just wanted to do my own arrangements of those songs. Others are new and I wanted to include because I feel they are well written and have something to say about life.

You’ve played many roles in the music business … writer, performer, producer, sideman … talk about some of the things you enjoy about the business, and how you’ve seen it change over the years. 

I enjoy  collaborating  with other musicians, whether it’s in the studio or performing live. I like the give-and-take of working up arrangements of songs with fellow musicians and trying out their idea’s. I love singing harmony with great singers, trying to make my voice blend with theirs. I love seeing young players make their way in music. There are so many more ways to learn music than I had when I first got into bluegrass and folk. I really enjoy doing older songs from more obscure sources and turning folks on to lesser known writers or performers.

What is the best concert you have been to? Why?

 I saw Tony Rice, Vassar Clements, Sam Bush, Todd Phillips and Jerry Douglas play in Louisville KY in 1981 when Tony had just released his Manzanita record and everyone was in great form. That concert stands out as really special in my memory.

How have you evolved as an artist over the years? Are there specific changes in your outlook or philosophy that you can point to?

I think my voice has gotten better and my guitar playing more focused. I’ve always worked at producing a rich tone on guitar and think hard about putting lots of emotion in my singing and playing.

If you could meet, play a gig, co-write a song, have dinner, get drunk with any band or artist (dead or alive) who would it be? 

Stephane Grappelli.

What do you like most about playing live?

I like the excitement of being onstage when everyone is playing well together and connecting as a group, being in tune with how to contribute to a piece of music to make it something beautiful.

What is your songwriting process, how/when does inspiration hit? Do you set aside time specifically for writing?

I generally start by working on a melody and finding some story that strikes my interest, It could be a story from real life (like a newspaper article) or something from a dream or a book. Sometimes, as with a song like “Carry Me Across the Mountain,” it’s about some person’s actual life story. It was written about Hazel Dickens’ experience being sick as a child and her mother carrying her across the mountain to the doctor who saved her life.

You’ve been working with Vince Gill and the Earls of Leicester, as well as working on your own project. Is it challenging to “shift gears” with so much going on?

The hardest part is trying to coordinate scheduling so that I can do as many shows as possible with the different artists I work with. I have really had a fun career working with top notch country, bluegrass and Irish musicians.

What is next for you? 

I will be producing a record for Michael Cleveland this summer. Michael is one of the finest fiddle players in our music and he been voted best fiddler by the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) ten times. This will be the 6th record I’ve produced with Michael. It will have some great artist like Sam Bush, Barry Bales, Jason Carter and Jerry Douglas contributing. It should be fun to see Michael and Sam Bush together making music. There will be fireworks for sure.

About RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, but I love playing the guitar and geeking out about music. I am also a movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

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