THE GRASCALS – Bluegrass Band
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The Grascals feature six members with roots in bluegrass and country music. Their new album, set for release early next year, offers original material as well as dynamic covers ranging from the Osborne Brothers’ “Leavin’s Heavy On My Mind” to Harley Allen’s “Me and John and Paul.” It also features a duet with Dolly Parton on a decidedly bluegrass version of the Elvis Presley classic “Viva Las Vegas.”
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. Whether they’re offering one of their original songs and instrumentals, reworking an early 70s classic like “Keep Me From Blowing Away,” breathing new life into the Osborne Brothers’ “Leavin’s Heavy On My Mind” or interpreting bluegrass-country songwriter Harley Allen’s “Me And John And Paul,” the Grascals’ rare musical empathy gives them an unerring ear for just the right touch to illuminate each one’s deepest spirit.
Though the group’s most immediate antecedents can be found in last year’s Bluegrass – The Little Grasscals: Nashville’s Superpickers (Naxos World), a collection that featured three of the Grascals’ four members, its ultimate roots run back more than a decade, to the time when fiddler Jimmy Mattingly met Terry Eldredge when he joined the Osborne Brothers’ band for the 1991 festival season. Since then, the quartet’s paths have crossed and recrossed in Nashville-based ensembles like Larry Cordle & Lonesome Standard Time and the Sidemen and in the city’s larger musical community, where they have been able to draw on legends like Bobby Osborne and Lloyd Green and old friends such as bassist Terry Smith and mandolin player Danny Roberts for support – both in the studio and on stage.
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. At almost the same time, he and other young Nashville band members created the Sidemen, establishing a regular Tuesday night gig at the Station Inn that continues to this day. 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, the Sidemen and the Little Grascals, Terry’s recording credits include appearances on CDs by IBMA Hall of Honor members Benny Martin, Josh Graves and Chubby Wise, as well as rising young 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. After that, a brief stint with Union Springs, where he replaced Dwight McCall (J. D. Crowe & The New South), and a longer one with a local country band followed before he returned to the Wildwood Valley Boys, making his recording debut on their I’m A Believer (Rebel Records, 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 (OMS Records, 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 alternative country singer Trent Summar (on the Davies-produced Caught In The Webb) and with Ricky Van Shelton. More recently, Jamie made his first appearance at the legendary Ryman Auditorium when he was tapped to organize a supporting band for and sing harmonies with Skaggs Family Records recording artist Melonie Cannon.
Few fiddle players have been seen – or heard – by more people than Jimmy Mattingly, thanks to a widely aired Dr. Pepper commercial that featured him accompanying his long-time employer, country superstar Garth Brooks. A member of Brooks’ band from 1995 until his retirement from the road, Mattingly played before millions and appeared on three of Brooks’ multi-platinum albums – but despite his success as a country player, his first love has long been bluegrass, where, he says, “you can be what you really are as a player.” Born and raised in Leitchfield, KY, Mattingly played in fiddle contests as a youngster, culminating in a National Grand Championship victory, then joined progressive bluegrass pioneers Spectrum in 1981, remaining with the group until its dissolution in the middle of the decade. After stints with the Forrester Sisters and Steve Wariner (with whom he recently recorded), he joined Dolly Parton’s band in 1989, recording and touring with the Country Music Hall of Famer until 1993. It was during a break in Parton’s touring schedule that he joined the Osborne Brothers, where he became friends with Terry Eldredge, with whom he was reunited in Parton’s Blue-niques in 2002. His smooth, expressive style and his facility in both country and bluegrass contexts made him a favorite fill-in with the Sidemen and a natural for the Grascals.
Though he’s just celebrating his fifth year as a Nashville – and US – resident, Canadian-born banjo player David Talbot is already one of the hottest commodities in bluegrass and beyond. A colleague of Eldredge’s with Larry Cordle & Lonesome Standard Time for those same five years, he made a high-profile recording debut with his indispensable contributions to the group’s Grammy-nominated Murder On Music Row. David’s stellar, traditionally-based playing has been recognized by a diverse array of top artists, from IBMA award-winning instrumentalists like Aubrey Haynie and Bryan Sutton, who invited him onto their latest albums, to country star Reba McEntire (that’s his driving banjo on her most recent hit, “I’m Gonna Move That Mountain”), country-turned-bluegrass favorite Marty Raybon, Americana kingpin Jim Lauderdale (David appears on his forthcoming Dualtone release) and Dolly Parton, with whom he appeared on high-profile late night television shows in late 2003. His supportive baritone and low tenor vocals round out the Grascals trio perfectly, while his quick yet inspired work in the studio has led him to amass a remarkable list of credits that, including albums by the Little Grasscals, Melonie Cannon, Chris Jones and more, now number in the dozens.
Though it is nominally 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, their music both honors the past and forges into the future, bringing a breath of fresh, yet familiar air to a musical world that stands ready to welcome it.
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