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Artist Profiles: Vassar Clements

Vassar Clements

Vassar Clements was one the United States’ most versatile fiddle players. His career began at a very early age. His phenomenal ability to virtually play any kind of music (bluegrass, country, pop, rock, jazz and swing) garnered him various awards including five Grammy nominations and a track record that involves multitudes of recording performances.

Vassar was a prolific composer of instrumentals and played seven instruments: violin, viola, cello, bass, mandolin, guitar and tenor banjo.

Vassar’s career spanned over fifty years. His association with Bill Monroe began when he was only 14 years old and still in school. He started with Bill as a regular Bluegrass Boy in 1949 and was with him through 1956. From 1957 to 1961 he performed with bluegrass artists Jim & Jesse McReynolds. In 1962 he took leave from his music to pursue other interests but returned to full time music when he decided to make Nashville his home in January 1967.

Vassar did recording sessions and played tenor banjo in Nashville’s Dixieland Landing club until October 1969. He then started touring with Faron Young and doing occasional solo dates when time permitted. In February 1971 he joined John Hartford and his Dobrolic Plectral Society, initiating a professional association and personal friendship that has grew stronger through the years. After ten months and earning an enormous amount of recognition and popularity, the group decided to disband. Vassar then found himself with the legendary Earl Scruggs and the Earl Scruggs Revue.

During that time, one of the most important milestones in his career was his participation on the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s 1972 Landmark album Will The Circle Be Unbroken. This historical event was produced by William McEuen and featured an extravaganza of bluegrass, country and folk’s greatest artists. It was the turning point that re-kindled Vassar’s career and at the same time introduced him to a much younger non-country audience.

Nitty Gritty Dirt Band – Will The Circle Be Unbroken

Within a few short months Vassar was recording and/or performing with Dicky Betts, Jerry Garcia, The Grateful Dead, The Allman Brothers, Linda Ronstadt, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, David Grisman, Paul McCartney, etc. In May 1973, The classic Old & In The Way album was recorded in San Francisco during a live performance. The Sales from this project have exceeded other albums of like kind and has formed staunch cults that still exist after twenty three years.

Since 1973 when Vassar signed his first major label deal with Mercury/Polygram records his personal discography ranged from country, waltzes, swing to jazz. Ironically, in 1992 he recorded his only straight bluegrass recording for Rounder Records titled Grass Routes.

His early experience growing with jazz and swing music left an indelible mark on his style. Vassar said: “bands like Glen Miller, Les Brown, Tommy Dorsey, Harry James and Artie Shaw were very popular when I was a kid. I always loved rhythm so I guess in the back of my mind the swing and jazz subconsciously comes out when I play because when I was learning I was always trying to emulate the big band sounds I heard on my fiddle.” Understandably the form of jazz music created by Clements was a mix of the diverse influences that touched him throughout his career but particularly his affinity for the jazz and swing music of his youth.

Therefore it is no surprise that even though early in his career, as he learned and developed bluegrass and country styles, he also gained respect as a jazz player. Hence classic number two: Once In A While which resulted from a jam session with Miles Davis’s ex-band members Dave Holland, John Abercrombie and Jimmy Cobb. Classic number three: Together At Last. with Stephane Grappelli was produced by Tim Yaquinto and recorded in Vassar’s former studio.

Back Porch Swing was Vassar’s first album to feature the Little Big Band. Recorded between September 1997 and September 1998 at the Historic RCA Studio B in Nashville Back Porch Swing was performed almost entirely live with the exception of vocal and string overdubs.

Vassar Clements participated in Dead Grass (2000) a bluegrass twist on some Grateful Dead favorites.

Full Circle (OMS Records) released in 2001 had Vassar returning to his bluegrass roots with an all star cast that included Sam Bush, Bela Fleck, Bryan Sutton, Peter Rowan, John Cowan, Josh Graves, Jeff Hanna, Jimmie Fadden, J. D. Crowe, Billy Troy, Alan O’Bryant, Ricky Skaggs, Jim & Jesse and Jake Landers.

In May of 2004 Runaway Fiddle (OMS Records) came out. This project was a labor of love of two of the greatest American fiddle players of modern times Vassar Clements and Buddy Spicher. Buddy Spicher is one of Nashville’s most recorded session artists and arrangers. On Runaway Fiddle these two legends teamed up to record tunes they grew up loving playing and internalizing but for the most part never recording. Selections include 192’s show tunes Western Swing Dixieland. Several songs are interpretations of songs popularized by country music icon Bob Wills who created the new art form called Western Swing.

His CD Livin’ With The Blues (Acoustic Disc) was released in August of 2004. It was his first blues album. While Vassar Clements has often been considered the ?bluesiest? of the bluegrass fiddlers it wasn?t until producer Grisman asked him what kind of record he wanted to make that the soft spoken septuagenarian replied “I’ve always wanted to make a blues record.”

Livin? With The Blues includes Skip James? swampy “Cypress Grove ” with Vassar’s lonesome fiddle accompanied by Bob Brozman’s slide guitar. Elvin Bishop cleans house with his own “Dirty Drawers” and “That?s My Thing ” while Maria Muldaursings with Vassar on “Honey Babe Blues” and Bessie Smith?s “I Ain?t Gonna Play No Second Fiddle.” Other tracks include Roy Rogers desolate take on Robert Johnson?s “Phonograph Blues ” “Mambo Boogie” featuring Dave Mathews and the Booker T. Jones classic “Green Onions ” given a new twist by Charlie Musselwhite and Vassar. “Rube’s Blues” featured blues guitar whiz David Jacob-Strain (who was 19 at the time) helping Vassar reinvent a bluegrass standard and Norton Buffalo with his unique soul treatment of his own “Don’t Stand Behind A Mule.”

In November of 2004 Vassar Clements joined bluegrass quartet The Biscuit Burners onstage at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville. Vassar played on two of the band’s original songs “Come On Darlin'” and “Red Mountain Wine”. The surprise appearance was part of the historic Ryman Auditorium’s $1 on the 1th Mystery Artist Series celebrating the 1 year anniversary of the legendary theater’s renovation.

On March 11, 2005 Vassar was diagnosed with lung cancer. He died at his home August 16th, 2005 at 8:25 am. He was 77.

[Biography adapted from Vassar Clement’s official biography].

Discography:

Vassar (Mercury Records)
Superbow (Mercury Records)
Southern Waltzes (Rhythm Records)
Vassar Clements John Hartford & Dave Holland (Rounder Records)
Crossing The Catskills (Rounder Records 1972)
Vassar Clements (MCA Records)
The Bluegrass Session (Flying Records 1977)
Grass Routes (Rounder Records)
Saturday Night Shuffle – A Celebration of Merle Travis (Shanachie Records)
Hillbilly Jazz (Flying Records 1978)
Hillbilly Jazz Rides Again (Flying Records)
New Hillbilly Jazz (Shikata Records)
Together At Last with Stephane Grappelli (Flying Records 1987)
Nashville Jam (Flying Records)
Westport Drive (Mind Dust Records)
The Man The Legend (Vassillie Productions)
Country Classics (Vassillie Productions)
Vassar Clements Reunion With Dixie Gentlemen (Old Homestead)
Once In A While, Jam with Miles Davis’ ex-band members (Flying Fish Records 1992)
Live in Telluride 1979 (Vassillie Productions 1979)
Music City USA (Vassillie Productions)
Old And In The Way – Volume 1 (BMG Music)
Old and In The Way – That High Lonesome Sound – Volume 2 (Acoustic Disc)
Old and In The Way – Breakdown – Volume 3 (Acoustic Disc)
An Americana Christmas with Norman Blake (Winter Harvest)
The Bottom Line Encore Collection (Bottom line 1999)
Vassar’s Jazz – Golden Anniversary (Winter Harvest)
Back Porch Swing (Chrome Records 2000)
Dead Grass (Cedar Glen Music Group)
20 Fiddle Tunes & Waltz Favorites
Full Circle (OMS Records 2001)
Will The Circle Be Unbroken – Volume II – 3th Anniversary Edition (Capitol Records)
Will The Circle Be Unbroken (United Artists)
Will The Circle Be Unbroken – Volume III (Capitol Records)
Old & In The Gray (Acoustic Disc)
Runaway Fiddle with Buddy Spicher (OMS Records)
Livin’ With The Blues (Acoustic Disc 2004)
The Fiddle According to Vassar (Homespun Tapes). Taught By Vassar Clements. 9-minute DVD or VHS Includes music book
Vassar Clements In Concert – Vassar Swings (Shikata Records)
Vassar Clements In Concert – Ramblin’ 81 (Shanachie Records)

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Artist Profiles: Beth Nielsen Chapman

Beth Nielsen Chapman

Beth Nielsen Chapman was born on September 14, 1958 in Harlingen, Texas (USA). Her musical eclecticism found its roots in her childhood. The middle child of five in an Air Force family, she moved six times before she reached adolescence. At that time, she started playing guitar and piano and writing songs.

During her developmental years, Chapman was attracted by the compositional richness of greats like Hoagy Carmichael, Cole Porter, and George and Ira Gershwin. She memorized songs from Broadway musicals as well as soaking up the sounds of everything from Stevie Wonder, Sting and Joni Mitchell to Ella, Paul Simon and The Beatles and honed her skills as a performer in small clubs throughout Alabama and the South.

Beth Nielsen Chapman has become one of the leading singer-songwriters of her generation. Her music shows up regularly not only at the top of the charts, but on television (ER, Dawson’s Creek, Providence, Felicity) and in movie soundtracks, including The Prince of Egypt, Message In A Bottle, The Rookie, Where The Heart Is and Practical Magic.

Among her biggest successes as a writer is This Kiss, a huge international hit for Faith Hill and ASCAP’S 1999 Song Of The Year. The song was co-written by Beth with Annie Roboff and Robin Lerner. That same year Beth was chosen as Nashville NAMMY’S Songwriter of the Year and was inducted into The Alabama Music Hall Of Fame.

Beth’s songs have been covered by a wide selection of artists including Bonnie Raitt, Emmylou Harris, Neil Diamond, Trisha Yearwood, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Ute Lempter and many more.

As an artist, Beth has released several albums, four of which were on Warner Brothers Records including her groundbreaking Sand and Water album, written and recorded following the death of her husband from cancer in 1994. This record is often used as a tool for healing through grief. As Beth toured during the release of Sand & Water she often taught workshops on creativity and working through grief.

Just as she was putting the finishing touches on her subsequent release Deeper Still (to which John Prine, Emmylou Harris, John Hiatt, Kimmie Rhodes and Andy Bey all contributed background vocals) Beth was diagnosed with stage-two breast cancer. Successfully treated over the next twelve months, she went on to release the record and made it a point to speak about her experience and encourage women to be vigilant in caring for their health. Deeper Still was Beth’s first release for Sanctuary Records.

 

Beth Nielsen Chapman

 

Look, her second release for Sanctuary in 2004, marked a new turning point in a life touched by both great happiness and great sorrow, and just as sadness and love shape a soul as surely as sand and water shape the earth, we see this artist’s heart emerge strong, happy and still tender.

In 2005 Beth released Hymns, a fascinating side-project of a cappella hymns sung in Latin, produced by Beth and featuring beautiful harmonies, with her son Ernest singing the tenor parts and her father doing some of the bass parts.

Hymns is an important milestone in the journey of Beth as an artist. A project which has been her intention to complete for many years is finally going out into the world. Here is what Beth has to say about this amazing collection of songs:

I was raised in a Catholic family and the beautiful melodies on Hymns, sung mostly in Latin, were the ‘hit parade’ for all of us born before Vatican II. I came to record this CD while I was in the midst of recording a different CD of World Hymns, each in a different language and from a different religion. During that process, I was having trouble making up my mind which Latin hymn I would choose to include.

When I searched for a collection of my favorite Latin hymns I couldn’t find one anywhere. That’s when I decided it might be a good idea to go deep into the roots of my own spiritual beginnings as part of the journey of recording all these other hymns from around the world. This detour has taken me the better part of a year, and has made my Mama very happy! Here, in these songs, are the roots of my spiritual journey. They center me, even while I have come to believe that faith is something beyond the boundaries of any one religion.

My belief has always been that God is light, and humanity, like a diamond. Imagine each spiritual perspective, or path of faith, as an angle cut into that diamond. The light shines through and reflects off of all these angles in so many directions. If you were standing on one face of the diamond, it might seem as if the light is only shining on you. But I’ve always believed that God shines through all of humanity, and just as the sun breaks up and flies in every direction when it’s light hits a diamond, every voice of praise, in every spiritual language comes from and goes back to the same source of light.

The stories and teachings of my childhood have certainly shaped my way of feeling connected to this light. But I feel that someone of the Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, or any other faith, has just as much a right to define and to celebrate, from each of their perspectives, the beauty and sureness of the love of God.

I have for a long time wanted to use my voice like a thread winding through all these languages and melodies. Some of these melodies are very old, some new with ancient text. I’ve tried to be conscious of choosing lyrics that speak of devotion and faith whose meanings do not seek to separate or condemn any other voice of devotion. World Hymns will be completed early in 25. Meanwhile I’m enclosing Hymns, a collection of the old favorites I grew up listening to, along with my deep wish for peace.

Drawing influences from the fields of folk, country, pop and jazz, her songs address such timeless themes as loss, renewal, mortality, spirituality and grace under pressure.

 

 

Back To Love, released in 2010, generated two hits on BBC Radio 2, and in 2012 Beth released, The Mighty Sky, a collection of songs about the marvels of astronomy.

 

In 2014 she released Uncovered, a set of songs that have been covered by other artists, but she had never recorded herself. Many were Top 10 hits, seven of which topped the charts at #1. Uncovered was recorded in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, and her own “Tree House” studio in Nashville. It features well-known American and Scottish musicians.

Discography:

Beth Nielsen Chapman (Warner Brothers Records, 199)

You Hold the Key (Warner Brothers Records, 1993)

Sand and Water (Warner Brothers Records, 1994)

Beth Nielsen Chapman – Greatest Hits (Warner Brothers Records, 1999)

Deeper Still (Sanctuary Records, 2002)

Look (Sanctuary Records, 2oo4)

Hymns (Sanctuary Records, 2005)

Prism (BNC Records, 2008)

Back to Love (BNC Records, 2010)

The Mighty Sky (BNC Records, 2012)

Uncovered (2014)

Liv On (2016)

website: bethnielsenchapman.com

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MerleFest 2016 Announces Chris Austin Songwriting Contest Winners

MerleFest 2016 honoring the winners of the 24th Annual Chris Austin Songwriting Contest. The finalists are pictured with Jim Lauderdale and the judges of the contest. Photo by Jim Thompson
MerleFest 2016 honoring the winners of the 24th Annual Chris Austin Songwriting Contest. The finalists are pictured with Jim Lauderdale and the judges of the contest. Photo by Jim Thompson

Yesterday evening, bluegrass and American roots music festival MerleFest announced the winners of the 2016 Chris Austin Songwriting Contest. Writers of the following 12 songs were selected from 744 entries and competed on the Austin Stage at MerleFest on Friday, April 29.

MerleFest 2016 winners:

Bluegrass
1st Place – Aaron Bibelhauser (Louisville, Ky.) – “Blue Collar Dreams”
2nd Place – Courtney Rorrer (Madison, N.C.) and Asa Gravley (Beckley, West Va.) – “Midnight Tears”
3rd Place – Cindy Giejda (Farmingdale, N.J.) – “Jail Break”

Gospel/Inspirational
1st Place – Marcy Each (Cedar Rapids, Iowa) – “On the Cross Built for Me”
2nd Place – Austin Stanley (Nashville, Tenn.) – “The Face of God”
3rd Place – Corey Smith and Allen Smith (Fayetteville, N.C.) – “The Road”

Country
1st Place – Buddy Guido (Mohawk, N.Y.), Paul Kelly (Santa Fe, N.M.) and Willie Scheollkopf (Buffalo, N.Y.) – “This Livin’ May Be Killing Me”
2nd Place – Sarah Morris (Shoreview, Minn.) – “I Go Back”
3rd Place – Meris Gantt of Handlebar Betty (Blowing Rock, N.C) – “House of Cards”

General
1st Place – Sarah Sample (Sheridan, Wyo.) – “A Heart That Falls Apart”
1st Place – Adam Bonomo (Brooklyn, N.Y.) – “Redshifted”
2nd Place – David Morris (Gaithersburg, Md.) and Chris Dockins (Burke, Va.) – “Weeds”

Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter Jim Lauderdale served as volunteer contest chairperson. The on-site judges for the final round were critically acclaimed bluegrass multi-instrumentalist Milan Miller; 2013 CASC winner and founding member of acclaimed Americana trio Red June John Cloyd Miller: and singer-songwriter Sarah Potenza, best known for her recent success on NBC’s “The Voice” and second place win in the 2014 CASC. All finalists took part in a songwriting mentoring session with Jim Lauderdale and the on-site judges.

The first place winners in each category received $600 cash from MerleFest, performed on the Cabin Stage on Friday night to rave reviews and were even joined at one point by superstar bluegrass fiddler Michael Cleveland as a special surprise.

The first round of the CASC competition takes place in Nashville, Tennessee and is narrowed down to 12 finalists representing four categories: bluegrass, country, general and gospel/inspirational.

Judging is based on a song’s originality, lyrics, melody and overall commercial potential. The contest is open to those whose primary source of income (50 percent or more) is not derived from songwriting or publishing.

The Chris Austin Songwriting Contest is a unique opportunity for aspiring writers to have their original songs heard and judged by a panel of Nashville music industry professionals, under the direction of this year’s volunteer contest chairperson Jim Lauderdale. Judging is based on a song’s originality, lyrics, melody and overall commercial potential.

Net proceeds from the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest help support the Wilkes Community College Chris Austin Memorial Scholarship. Since its inception the scholarship has awarded over $38,000 to 81 deserving students. Previous winners of the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest include Gillian Welch, Tift Merritt, Michael Reno Harrell, Adrienne Young, Martha Scanlan, David Via and Johnny Williams.

For more details about the contest, visit www.merlefest.org/ChrisAustinSongwritingContest.

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Twangy Feel-Good Hooks

 Southpaw Steel'n'Twang - "Stat(u)e of Mind" (Bafe’s Factory, 2015)

Southpaw Steel’n’Twang – “Stat(u)e of Mind” (Bafe’s Factory, 2015)

Finnish trio Southpaw Steel’n’Twang delivers another superb set of musical pieces inspired by American roots music. The signature sound of the band is based on pedal and lap steel guitars performed by maestro Ville “Lefty” Leppänen. On this occasion Leppänen also uses the regular electric guitar more often.

On “Stat(u)e of Mind”, the power trio display a mix of blues, western swing, country, Hawaiian, rock and roll, jazz, a zany song about water and more. The majority of the album was recorded in St. Louis, Missouri in the United States.

The lineup on the album includes Ville “Lefty” Leppänen on steel, resonator and electric guitars and vocals; JP Mönkkönen on bass, acoustic and baritone guitars; and Tero Mikkonen on drums, percussion, ukulele and haw-ho. Guests include Jouko Aramo on trombone; Pekka Grohn on keyboards; Jermu Koivukoski on trumpet; Perttu Pannula on saxophone.

“Stat(u)e of Mind” will delight fans of the twangy guitar sound with its feel-good hooks and retro Americana vibes.

Buy Stat(u)e of Mind

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Alpine Americana

Hubert von Goisern - Federn (Capriola, 2015)
Hubert von Goisern – Federn (Capriola, 2015)

Austrian multi-instrumentalist Hubert von Goisern will be playing next week in the United States. He will present his latest album, Federn, which showcases mix of American roots music such as blues, folk, gospel, jazz and country with modernized Austrian Alpine folk and world music influences featuring Austrian-German dialect vocals.

I myself thrive on the variety of music our world has to offer. The Alpine tradition is just one fascinating part,” reveals von Goisern. “I think in times like this, we need to have an ear for each other.”

The instrumentation on the album includes accordion, brass, lap steel, theremin and many other musical instruments.

The lineup on Federn includes Hubert von Goisern on accordion, guitar, keyboards, theremin, vocals; Helmut Schartlmüller on bass and vocals; Severin Trogbacher on guitar, dobro and vocals; Alex Pohn on percussion; American musician Steve Fishell on pedal steel guitar; Luis Ribeiro on percussion; Maria Moling, Tanja Mazurek, Farina Miss, and Andrea Graf on vocals; Wolfgang Staribacher on organ; and Burkhard Frauenlob on keyboards.

Next concert:

March 12, 2016 – Austrian Cultural Forum, Washington, DC at 7:00 PM

Buy Federn

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