The Grascals are among the most beloved and acclaimed bands on today’s bluegrass scene, having won SPBGMA’s Bluegrass Band of the Year award in 2010, the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Emerging Artist of the Year award in 2005 and earning its Entertainer of the Year honor in both 2006 and 2007. They take another stride forward with The Famous Lefty Flynn’s, their fourth album, available March 30, 2010 on Rounder Records. Vocally, the trio of Terry Eldredge, Jamie Johnson, and Terry Smith are tighter than ever, cutting loose on driving solo vocals and soaring trios with equal fire and passion. As an instrumental unit, The Grascals have never sounded sharper, with mandolin ace Danny Roberts, fiddler Jeremy Abshire, and new banjo player Kristin Scott Benson leading the charge. As a result, The Famous Lefty Flynn’s features cutting-edge modern bluegrass delivered with a deep knowledge of and admiration for the work of the music’s founding fathers. Timely yet timeless, The Grascals make music that is entirely relevant to the here and now, yet immersed in traditional values of soul and musicianship. It’s a unique sound that has earned two of their previous releases, The Grascals (2005) and Long List of Heartaches (2006) Grammy® nominations for Best Bluegrass Album.
Great musicians will always find a way to make good music, but for great musicians to make great music, they must find a bond – one that more often than not goes beyond the purely musical to the personal. For The Grascals, that bond has been forged at the intersection of personal friendships, shared professional resumes and an appreciation for the innovative mingling of bluegrass and country music that has been a hallmark of the Nashville scene for more than forty years. As their previous three releases prove, whether they’re digging into one of their original songs or instrumentals, reworking a bluegrass classic, or interpreting a pop standard, like the Monkees’ “Last Train to Clarksville” The Grascals’ rare musical empathy gives them an unerring ear for just the right touch to illuminate each offering’s deepest spirit.
For those who know them, the quick emergence of the group came as no surprise, for these are musicians whose roots and crossed paths reach back over more than two decades in bluegrass ensembles like the Osborne Brothers, Larry Cordle & Lonesome Standard Time, the Sidemen and New Tradition. Their roots can also be traced back to Nashville’s larger musical community, where the Grascals have been able to draw on legends like Bobby Osborne, George Jones, Vince Gill, the Jordanaires, Steve Wariner, Lloyd Green, Paul Craft and others for songs and for performances in the studio, on stage (including multiple guest appearances on the Grand Ole Opry), and for national television appearances, including on The Late, Late Show with Craig Ferguson, CBS’s Early Show and Fox News Channel’s Fox & Friends. Thanks to those experiences and those friendships, The Grascals embody a profound grasp of and familiarity with country and bluegrass tradition that made them a natural choice for Dolly Parton to turn to for recording and tour support not long after the group was created.
The Famous Lefty Flynn’s kicks off with start-to-finish three-part harmonies featured in a rousing cover of “Last Train to Clarksville.” The energy doesn’t let up as Terry Eldredge takes the lead in the infectious, fast-paced “Son of a Sawmill Man” – a straight-ahead bluegrass tune with room for solos by Kristin Scott Benson (banjo), Danny Roberts (mandolin), and Jeremy Abshire (fiddle). The ballad “Satan and Grandma” follows, a powerful testimony to the strength of a righteous grandmother conveyed with perfect emotion by Jamie Johnson.
The life-affirming “Everytime” features Terry Eldredge, and reminds us of new possibilities and adventures that could be just ahead. Like an old-time folk song, “Out Comes the Sun” paints a mysterious, foreboding picture of a lover. Terry Eldredge, with the help of a bass interlude by Terry Smith, sets just the right chilling mood with this one. The instrumental “Blue Rock Slide” keeps that old-time bluegrass spirit front and center – in a more upbeat way – with solos and instrumental interplay in abundance.
The title track, written by Jamie Johnson and Morry Trent, is a story song, an outlaw’s tale, delivered convincingly by Terry Eldredge. Another Grascals original, “My Baby’s Waiting on the Other Side” (Johnson, Smith, Roberts) with Jamie Johnson singing lead, is a barn-burner, fueled by precise three-part harmony and solos on fiddle, banjo, guitar and mandolin. Steve Earle’s “My Old Friend the Blues” follows with its easy-going irony. The bluesy spirit continues with the two Terrys joining Jamie for the choruses of the wistful but sprightly “Up This Hill and Down.”
Guest vocalist Hank Williams Jr. joins the Grascals for a quintessential country/bluegrass version of “I’m Blue I’m Lonesome,” written by his dad, Hank Williams, and the Father of Bluegrass, Bill Monroe. To close out the album, Jamie Johnson sings lead in the uplifting “Give Me Jesus.”
Terry Eldredge’s soulful vocals and easygoing stage presence have earned him not only the loyalty of bluegrass fans and the appreciation of fellow bluegrass musicians, but the admiration of a stunningly wide variety of entertainers who have witnessed him fronting the Sidemen at Nashville’s world-famous Station Inn. The Indiana native began his career with first-hand experience of the music of an earlier generation of country stars, playing bass with durable Opry stars Lonzo and Oscar. He joined the Osborne Brothers in 1988, soon switching to guitar and adding a powerful lead and low tenor voice to the Brothers’ legendary trios. Eldredge took up the bass again when he joined Larry Cordle & Lonesome Standard Time at the end of the 1990s, earning a 2003 IBMA nomination for Bass Player of the Year and contributing mightily to the ensemble’s success with dynamic tenor and lead vocals. During a hiatus from Lonesome Standard Time, he recorded and performed as a member of Dolly Parton’s Blue-niques. In addition to two solo albums for Pinecastle Records and albums by the Osborne Brothers, Cordle, Parton and the Sidemen, Terry’s recording credits include appearances on CDs by IBMA Hall of Honor members Benny Martin, Josh Graves and Chubby Wise, as well as country star Dierks Bentley.
Shared Indiana roots and a love for the Osborne Brothers’ harmonies first sparked a friendship between Eldredge and Jamie Johnson, but when the latter moved to Nashville at the end of the 1990s, the two quickly discovered a vocal blend that rivals bluegrass’s greatest sibling harmonies. Though he helped to found the Wildwood Valley Boys at the beginning of the decade, Jamie first drew attention to his soaring tenor voice as a member of the Boys From Indiana, with whom he performed in the mid-1990s. Stints with local bluegrass and country bands followed before he returned to the Wildwood Valley Boys, making his recording debut on their I’m A Believer (2000). Following his move to Nashville, he began to find success as a songwriter – he co-wrote the title cut of Bobby Osborne’s Where I Come From (2002) – and as a singer, making his Opry debut as a member of Gail Davies’ band, joining the Sidemen in 2001, and contributing leads and harmonies to Bluegrass - The Little Grasscals: Nashville’s Superpickers. He has recorded with Dolly Parton (harmony vocals on 2005’s Those Were The Days and Backwoods Barbie), alternative country singer Trent Summar (on the Davies-produced Caught In The Webb), Ricky Van Shelton, hit songwriter Jerry Salley, and has enjoyed further songwriting success with cuts by The Grascals (including the title tracks to Long List of Heartaches, Keep On Walkin’ and The Famous Lefty Flynn’s.), the Lonesome River Band and bluegrass-country singer/songwriter Ronnie Bowman.
Danny Roberts began playing guitar to back up his friend (founding Grascal member) Jimmy Mattingly when the two were growing up on adjacent farms in Leitchfield, KY. Soon he was winning contests on his own as a guitarist and, eventually, mandolin player. In 1982 he co-founded the New Tradition, a dynamic, ground-breaking bluegrass/gospel group that toured the country for close to 20 years (the last ten on a full-time basis), recorded ten CDs, made “Seed Of Love,” the first bluegrass video to feature the banjo – it reached #1 on the TNN channel – appeared on the Grand Ole Opry, and helped to bring the bluegrass sound and gospel message to a new generation of fans. When the group dissolved in 2000, Danny went to work for Gibson Musical Instruments, where he rose to the position of plant manager at the company’s Original Acoustic Instruments luthiery. Still, he kept his hand in as a musician, giving workshops with mandolin colleagues like Sam Bush, Chris Thile and Bobby Osborne, making guest appearances with artists such as Marty Raybon, Larry Cordle and Melonie Cannon, and touring and recording with bluegrass/country veteran Ronnie Reno as a member of his band, the Reno Tradition, before reuniting with Mattingly in The Grascals in 2004. His solo recording, Mandolin Orchard, received extensive airplay and was touted by the Chicago Tribune as one of the Top 10 bluegrass releases of 2004. Roberts was also honored with the 2006 and 2008 SPBGMA Award for Mandolin Performer of the Year.
Another veteran of the Osborne Brothers’ band, bassist Terry Smith grew up in North Carolina before moving to Nashville in his early teens. Beginning in a family band with his brother, Billy, and his parents – Hazel Smith, Terry’s mom, is a songwriter and renowned country music journalist – he graduated swiftly to stints with bluegrass and country legends Jimmy Martin, Wilma Lee Cooper and the Osborne Brothers. He also found time to pursue a separate career with his brother, recording a 1990 album for CBS that generated an early #1 video on CMT, following it with 1992’s Grass Section disc (made with friends and colleagues like Ronnie McCoury and Glen Duncan) and a 1996 Bill Monroe Tribute that included some of the Father Of Bluegrass’s last recorded appearances. In 1999, the brothers issued Voices Of The Mountain, with original songs that found a place in the repertoire of bluegrass favorites like the Del McCoury Band and the Lonesome River Band. Terry has worked as a staff songwriter for EMI and Major Bob Music, and recorded with Marty Raybon, Vern Gosdin, IBMA Hall of Honor member Kenny Baker and more. After a long tour of duty with Grand Ole Opry member Mike Snider, Terry joined The Grascals in 2004.
Fiddler Jeremy Abshire burst onto the bluegrass scene as a member of Billie Renee and Cumberland Gap (winners of the 2006 SPBGMA International Bluegrass Band Championship), and came to The Grascals’ attention as a member of IBMA Female Vocalist of the Year Dale Ann Bradley's band. His style is both fluid and hard driving, owing to the influences of Benny Martin, Scotty Stoneman, Chubby Wise, Bobby Hicks, Kenny Baker, and Stuart Duncan – whom Abshire cites as his favorite fiddle player. As for joining The Grascals, Abshire explains “It was an easy choice for me. I had been around the guys, and the personalities meshed really well. The thing that excited me the most was the fact that when I went out to play with them, they didn’t want me to play like anyone else. They just said, ‘Play what you feel,’ and when I did, that brought everything together. I couldn’t have picked a better group of guys to hang out with…I’m out there having a blast!”
Kristin Scott Benson is the newest member of The Grascals. Raised in a musical family in South Carolina, she made her stage debut, on mandolin, at the age of five. Given a banjo as a Christmas present when she was 13, Kristin honed her skills through the rest of her teenage years. Since then, she has performed with many outstanding artists, including Laurie Lewis, Josh Williams, IIIrd Tyme Out, Jim Hurst, Roland White and Rhonda Vincent. Kristin was named Banjo Player of the Year by the International Bluegrass Music Association in 2008 & 2009 as well as winning SPBGMA’s Banjo Performer of the Year award in 2009. Of her new membership in The Grascals, she says, “I've been in the business long enough to realize how rare it is to be in such a successful band and I feel blessed that they offered me a chance to be a part of what they've already established." Kristin’ solo CD, Second Season, is on the Pinecastle label.
Whether being light-hearted and jovial or soul-searching and reflective, The Grascals are at the very top of their game with The Famous Lefty Flynn’s. Though it is still—at least in bluegrass terms—a new group, the web of friendships, band memberships, recordings and personal appearances that binds The Grascals together has produced an ensemble of unsurpassed cohesion and focused artistic direction. Whether in the studio or on stage, The Grascals honor the past and forge into the future, bringing fresh yet familiar sounds to the bluegrass world and beyond.