Bluegrass icon Rhonda Vincent Talks with Brad San Martin about Forthcoming Album Good Thing Going

Q: When did this project begin?

Rhonda: I remember the date, it was January 5th of 2007, and I had flown to Portland, Oregon. I was in the hotel, doing my makeup, my husband Herb calls, and we started talking about how he had booked me almost a year now…the first year of dates that he had booked were just starting. We have our bluegrass crews and all these wonderful things; our girls are in school, one in college, and he said "Yeah, we’ve got a good thing going." When I hung up the phone, I kept on fixing my hair, and said "Hmm, I’d like that for an album title…" because I felt like that’s where I was in my life and my music.

Q: There is a lot more original material on this album than any of your others so far…

Rhonda: That’s true – I have never written five songs to include on an album before!

Q: Which of the originals stand out to you in particular?

Rhonda: "I Give All My Love to You" to me has become the centerpiece of this album. My assistant and dear friend, Julia, was getting married, and I was her wedding planner. She wasn’t finding the song for her wedding, so I started thinking about that after one of our meetings, and went to the back of our Martha White Bluegrass Express bus, and I started writing down what I thought of her and how happy I was for her. Though I originally planned it as a solo performance, as I listened to the tracks I could hear the voice of Russell Moore in my mind. That dream became a reality when Russell joined me to make this song a duet. I feel it is the heart of this project: a special song, written for a special couple, and performed with special friends…

I wrote another song called "Bluegrass Saturday Night." It’s a tribute to the fans. I debuted it at the Ryman Auditorium during the bluegrass series, and the response was so incredible. I was thinking maybe it will just be this song, not on the album, just a tribute that we do at our shows. But then the next night, we go to a show and already people are requesting it!

Q: This is the second album you’ve recorded at your own studio…how does owning your own recording studio help the creative process?

Rhonda: In most everything that we do, we’re always attempting to create something unique. I think having my own studio gives me the freedom to do that. There’s no longer this time constraint, someone saying "You have to finish this up because we have somebody else coming in." Most of the time, we have the freedom to create. Some of the musicians that were in the studio were saying, "You’re not just here recording tracks, you’re creating something," which is good to hear!

Q: Your brother Darrin Vincent – now leading his own band, Dailey & Vincent, on Rounder – has reprised his role as co-producer. What does he bring to the table?

Rhonda: Darrin is involved from the very beginning. He’s a crucial part of the recording. He pretty much oversees everything from day one. He’s playing bass, he sings a lot of the harmony…to me, he may be my brother, but even if he was not my brother, he is the greatest harmony singer that there is. As a producer, he won’t settle for “OK, that’s good enough.” He will never settle for that. It has to be the best you can do.

Q: There are a lot of special guests on this album…how do you know who to invite in?

Rhonda: It’s finding the right person for the song, and that’s really the way that we approach everything. We want the right songs, we want the right musicians, we want the right guests. Something I purposely targeted on this project is to have unique guests, and guests that might not be on every project that you see out here.

Q: So who are your guests this time out?

Well, in addition to Russell Moore on “I Give All My Love to You,” there are a lot of them! A very special one appears on “The Water is Wide.” You see, I discovered that song through a recording by Karla Bonoff, where she was joined by James Taylor on harmony vocals – it was so beautiful. When I went to record it, I had to think long and hard about who could come and add just the right amount of soul and feeling.

I was honored when Keith Urban volunteered to come in and record with us…his performance is so moving, and really elevates the song to a whole new level. Becky Isaacs came in and sang on “I Will See You Again.” Now, Sonya and Ben, her brother and sister, have sung on a project of mine – they sang on “I’m Not Over You” on The Storm Still Rages. But she and I had never sung together. So I said, “Becky, you’re singing on this one and they’re not!”

Kathy Chiavola…I love her voice, and it’s been years since I’ve had a chance to sing with her. Kathy came in and sang on “Just One of a Kind.” That’s also become just a really special song to me. It was written by Dottie Rambo – she’s a real inspiration. And then we had Kathy and Darrin sing the harmonies, and it has three-part harmony all the way through the song, which is kind of unique. You don’t always have a song like that.

And then we had Jesse McReynolds, a legendary bluegrass figure, come in and play his very unique style of cross-picking. To top it off, we were thinking it needs a pizza box – a little percussion back there. One of the engineers that we were working with suggested James Stroud…He’s a country music mogul – by trade he’s also a drummer, producer, he’s everything in the music business. I said “Do you think he’d come over and play pizza box?” We called and James Stroud came in the studio and he said, “If you’ve got the brushes and the pizza box, I’m there!”

Q: And you allowed your fans to follow the process on your website, right?

Rhonda: Right – something that we did that’s unique for this project is the “Join the Journey” series on our website. It’s been a great thing to bring people into this project and let them see how it’s a step-by-step process. It’s coming upon phase five, but by the time we’re finished, we’ll take you from picking the songs to the very end, to the finished product. We also did a live webcam. We just kicked the camera on one day. I told folks to me that would be as exciting as watching paint dry – but they were really interested in what we were doing!

Q: And, of course, the Rage are featured on some cuts…how long have these guys been with you?

Rhonda: Well, for Mickey, Kenny, and Hunter, this is their sixth season in The Rage. I learned a long time ago that, ultimately, things are going to change at some point. But luckily Mickey, Kenny, and Hunter are hanging in there. I love all those guys, they’re so talented. Just a great bunch of guys. It’s more than just having great musicians, it’s having great people, and I think that’s the key that really makes it work.

We’re in a very small capsule most of the time together, and it’s important to have fun at what we do and to enjoy each other’s company. A lot of people say “What do you do? Do you just sleep? What do you do when you’re on the road?” That’s why “Bluegrass Saturday Night” is very true to life. What do we do? We sit around, we visit, we’ll write songs, tell stories, listen to music. It’s very interactive on and off stage, and I think it’s a wonderful combination!

All photos by Albert Sanchez. Interview courtesy of Rounder Records.

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