Little Big Town w/Bill Anderson, Sam Palladio, Bobby Osborne and the Rocky Top X- Press, George Hamilton IV, The SteelDrivers, James Wesley, Mike Snider, The Whites, Chuck Wicks & Jimmy C. NewmanCountry
Little Big Town
It takes a perfect storm to make a great album – an audacious mix of tension and release, passion and calm, love and violence.
Hallmarks associated with all true forces of nature, these mighty attributes were exactly what Little Big Town had in their corner as they blew into the studio in late February for the whirlwind recording session that produced their strongest work yet, their aptly titled fifth album, Tornado.
LBT didn’t set out to break any land speed records in the studio. However, considering that the majority of Tornado took just seven days to record, that’s exactly what the recording process felt like to Karen Fairchild, Kimberly Schlapman, Phillip Sweet and Jimi Westbrook, a group famous for their trademark four-part harmonies.
The elements that would produce Tornado started brewing earlier this year. After doing a bit of soul-searching, the band realized they were ready for a change. Despite a solid 13-year career during which they’ve sold 1.5 million records, racked up multiple Grammy, CMA and ACM nominations, and crafted Top 10 country hits (“Boondocks” and “Bring It On Home” from their platinum 2005 album The Road to Here, and “Little White Church” from their acclaimed 2010 release, The Reason Why), LBT was feeling a little too secure in their time-tested way of doing things in the studio.
They decided to shake things up a little.
The change started with the draft of producer Jay Joyce (Eric Church, Patty Griffin), who stood in for their longtime collaborator Wayne Kirkpatrick at the boards. “We adore Wayne: he really helped us in the early days when we were trying to define our sound,” Karen says, fondly. “And he’s part of the reason why we’re a band. We love our past records, and we wouldn’t change anything about how we made them, but we wanted to break up our routine for this one and get a little bit out of our comfort zone.”
LBT was already familiar with Joyce’s work, both as a producer and a performer: a noted guitarist, he had played with the band on The Reason Why. However, there’s a big difference between dropping by the studio for a few hours to gig on one track and masterminding an entire album.
If there were any lingering doubts that Joyce was a good fit for the project, they all fell away when the producer showed up to his first meeting with the band brandishing a plan for a recording experience that was unlike anything else they had ever done before.
“Jay was the only guy we talked to who said, ’I know what I would do with you guys. I’ve loved your other records, but I have some things I’d love to try,’” Karen recalls. “When he talked to us about what he wanted to do, there was no hesitation,” Jimi adds. “He was all there; in Jay’s mind, he had already started working.” The band quickly followed suit, launching into what would become a wonderful cyclone of a recording session. Rehearsals began in late February; a month later, they had recorded the entire album.
Adapting to this swift course of action was admittedly a bit of a shock to the band’s system. The week before entering the studio, LBT was on the road, removed from any kind of preproduction. “It was Sunday night, and we were going into the studio the next morning,” Karen says, “and there were still 25 potential songs that needed to be whittled down. And we needed to figure out who was gonna sing them, and in what key, with what arrangement … We panicked. But when I called Jay, he said, ’Don’t worry about it. Just show up here tomorrow and we’ll figure it out together.’”
Flying by the seat of their pants was an entirely new way of working for four avowed perfectionists accustomed to a much more conventional recording process. Joyce encouraged them to approach their work with feeling rather than reason. “He really pushed us,” says Kimberly. “We tend to toil over things; we like to rethink and discuss problems. Jay stopped us from doing that. Literally, we would be in the middle of talking something out, and he would tell us to stop thinking and start singing.”
“Less thinking, more singing” became LBT’s unofficial slogan as they followed Joyce’s plan of action, which was new to him as well. “The process wasn’t typical of how Jay works, either,” Jimi explains. “It was exciting to see what would happen. Because of that, there was a great energy all the time in the studio, and I think you can hear that on the record.”
If some of Joyce’s methods were foreign to the band, others were rooted in familiarity. For instance, the producer encouraged LBT to use their road band in the studio. “That ended up being a huge part of the energy and spontaneity that comes across on the album,” Kimberly says. “We have a natural chemistry with those guys,” Phillip adds. “We already loved playing with them on the road, so being with them in the studio made sense. It was amazing how great it felt.”
The team worked together, in one room, with Joyce taping everything, including four days of rehearsals. No recording was off-limits: some practice tracks ended up on the album. “Even if it was a loose version of what we going for, if it had the right vibe, it was used,” Karen says. Wishy-washiness was also stricken from the agenda, Phillip says: “If it didn’t come together fast, then it didn’t come together at all. We’d drop it.”
On the fifth day, the group headed to Nashville’s Sound Emporium to start recording. To keep the sessions feeling organic and relaxed, Joyce asked the band to pretend that they were on tour; each session was treated like a live show. “He told us to come in dressed to go on stage, and to do whatever we normally do before we play a show,” says Karen. “We’d go to dinner and come back laughing with some drinks in us, in a great mood,” Phillip remembers.” And it continued into the studio.
The first point of action was clocking the languid, sexy strains of “Pontoon,” the album’s first single. (“We did it first because we wanted to start out having fun,” Karen says. “There was a psychology to how we did things.”)
A buoyant, light-hearted sing-along, “Pontoon” was written by Natalie Hemby, Luke Laird and Barry Dean. The song’s presence on the album is a direct result of the band’s conscious decision to include different writers in their process. “We always cut a few outside songs, but this time we wanted to really open it up and see what we could find, no matter where it comes from,” Karen says. Fun songs were a chief priority. “’Pontoon’ is crazy and silly, but sexy and smart, too. We’d never recorded anything like it.” The gamble paid off: released in April as the album’s first single, “Pontoon” is LBT’s first summertime party hit.
LBT eased through ten more songs during the session. “Front Porch Thing” is a happy anthem about proudly doing as little as humanly possible. “This song takes me back to my first love,” says Kimberly. “It’s playful and spirited and a big ol’ dose of feel-good. It’s so much fun to sing in the live show. We open it up with only vocals and it gets bigger and more rowdy as we go.”
The entire band shares co-writing credits with Lori McKenna on the yearning ballad “Your Side of the Bed,” an evocative inquiry into the mind of a distant lover. “I love that this lyric is so brutally honest,” Karen says. “There are times in a relationship when you allow things to come between you, so much so that it feels like an incredibly long way back to each other. It's a lonely place to be especially when you’re lying right next to someone you love.”
“Tornado” is a wicked threat from writers Natalie Hemby and Delta Maid that deftly compares a scorned woman to a force of nature that the band and its fellow Southerners know all too well. “Natalie played it for us one night and we were like, man, I don’t think I’ve ever heard a chick say, ’I’m a tornado,’” Karen says of the song, featuring an ominous chorus in which the singer threatens to destroy the house she shares with her wayward man, to “toss it in the air and put it in the ground/Make sure you’re never found.” “Yeah, it’s pretty badass,” Jimi agrees.
“Pavement Ends” and “On Fire Tonight,” which the band wrote with Laird, are balls-out party songs. “Can’t Go Back” sounds like a whispered prayer delivered by a quartet of kind kindred spirits. "The first time I heard it I knew I wanted it on this record,” Jimi says. “It has one of the most beautiful and haunting melodies I've ever heard - one of those songs that feels like it’s washing over you as you listen to it. It’s one of my favorite things we've ever cut."
The album ends with “Night Owl,” a soothing lullaby caringly penned by all four members of the group that promises comfort and love at the end of an oft-traveled road.
The cooing chorus of “Night Owl” was achieved by the band singing into an echo chamber. “ At the studio, there’s a little hole in the wall that you go through to the chamber, where there are microphones set up to catch the echo. We all got inside to sing the ’who-o-oohs,’” Phillip remembers. (Kimberly and Jimi used the space to create the spooky whistles on “Tornado.” “They had a duel – a whistle-off in the chamber,” Karen jokes.)
“Self Made,” written by Karen and Jimi with Natalie Hemby and Jedd Hughes, was intentionally the last song to be recorded. A forceful testament to the challenges LBT has faced as a band and as individuals – challenges they’ve ultimately transcended – it’s become the band’s working mantra, “so we thought it was a good way to finish,” Karen says.
By the time “Self Made” was recorded, everyone had let down their guard, not to mention their hair, which gives the track extra energy and a special sense of urgency that was felt by everyone involved. “During the session our guitarist Johnny (Duke) asked Jay what advice he had for him, because there’s some amazing guitar work on that song,” Karen remembers. “And Jay’s, like, ’Release your inner monkey, man!’ He was standing on top of the speakers wearing big Chanel sunglasses - I don’t know where he got them – holding a bullhorn. On the track that made the album, you can hear him counting off: ’One, two, three - get it, Johnny!’ Jay said his heart was racing when we finished.”
“We all came off that session with our hearts beating out of our chests,” Phillips says. “When Karen and Jimi first played us that song, I instantly gravitated towards it because I love what it said: ’Born a survivor, like father, like gun.’ It was just cool.”
Beyond being a solid song, Phillip says the creation of “Self Made’ also represented a change in how the band members went about their work: “We were allowing ourselves to be open and creative in the writing process and good stuff was happening. I think we found that we were stretching ourselves and not just doing the same old things we had done before.”
Fond memories of their brief time in the studio notwithstanding, each member of the band is thrilled with the final product. “I think ’edge’ is a word that gets overused,” Karen says. “But this record does have a raw edge to it.” “It has a really different vibe to it,” Jimi agrees “It doesn’t sound like anything else on the radio right now.”
“There’s a confidence that permeates this album,” says Phillip. “And that applies to the sound of the vocals and the performances; it applies to the lyrics and the ways we’re emoting. We weren’t scared to perform it or say it from our heart. There was no tiptoeing around about it. It was about speaking the message clearly and as loudly as you can.”
For a band of Little Big Town’s stature, experience and esteem, this level of transparency and the decision to take the road less traveled into the studio are bold moves - ones they’re proud to have taken. “I read a quote recently that said you should do something everyday that scares you – it’s good for you,” Phillip says. “Well, at the beginning we were scared and nervous. But we would have never dreamed that it would come together so beautifully.”
Indeed, both gorgeous and fearsome, Tornado is nothing short of a force of nature.
Bill Anderson has been using that philosophy for almost fifty years to capture the attention of millions of country music fans around the world, en route to becoming a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame and one of the most popular, most enduring entertainers of our time.
He’s known, in fact as “Whispering Bill,” a nickname hung on him years ago as a result of his breathy voice and his warm, soft approach to singing a country song. His credentials, however, shout his prominence: One of the most awarded songwriters in the history of country music, a million-selling recording artist many times over, television game show host, network soap opera star, spokesman for a nationwide restaurant chain, and a consummate onstage performer. His back-up group, The Po’ Folks Band, has long been considered one of the finest instrumental and vocal groups in the business.
Bobby Osborne and the Rocky Top X- Press
Bobby Osborne is a bluegrass musician known for his mandolin playing and high lead vocals. Born December 7, 1931 in Leslie County, Kentucky, Bobby Osborne is known primarily for his collaborations with his brother Sonny Osborne in their band, the Osborne Brothers. He was a pioneer in conceiving the now-popular "high lead" vocal trio concept. He has released numerous recordings since the 1950s. Most notably, the Osborne Brothers recordings of "Rocky Top", and "Kentucky" inpired their being named official state songs of Tennessee and Kentucky, respectively.
George Hamilton IV
Franklin TN | Country
Nashville, Tennessee is a nexus - a point where tradition and innovation intersect, where commerce collides with art. It may be the only town around where salaried songwriters and full-time session musicians are as common as accountants and schoolteachers. Music is the product, and the factories line the street, from the swank Music Row mini-high-rises to the low-slung Sylvain Park bungalows. And only Nashville could give birth to a band like the SteelDrivers: a group of seasoned veterans - each distinguished in his or her own right, each valued in the town's commercial community - who are seizing an opportunity to follow their hearts to their souls' reward. In doing so, they are braiding their bluegrass roots with new threads of their own design, bringing together country, soul, and other contemporary influences to create an unapologetic hybrid that is old as the hills but fresh as the morning dew. This is new music with the old feeling. SteelDrivers fan Vince Gill describes the band's fusion as simply "an incredible combination."
The SteelDrivers' brand of bluegrass - intense, dark, poetic, and inescapably human - is a refreshing reminder of the timeless power of stringband music, and is captured perfectly on The SteelDrivers. Produced by Nashville ace Luke Wooten, The SteelDrivers was recorded mostly live on the studio floor, vocals and all. Its songs grapple with classic themes of regret, love, and redemption, from the escalating prison lament of "Midnight Train to Memphis" to the chilling murderer's plea encapsulated in "If It Hadn't Been for Love." "East Kentucky Home" is a timeless traditional bluegrass lament, with its strains of homesickness, loss, and abandonment, but ingeniously reinvented with off-kilter rhythmic accents and a decidedly contemporary chord progression.
The willingness to set aside the unspoken rules that ruthlessly govern bluegrass set the SteelDrivers apart from the innumerable faceless acts vying for the bluegrass spotlight.
"I've always been a big believer in tradition," declares James Wesley. "A lot of the old ways are the best ways: family, God, treating people right, doing what you're supposed to do. I think it's time to come back to what's real. That's what country music is about."
James Wesley puts those core values into his music with a whiskey-smooth voice and a timelessly winning way with a great country song. Wesley sings directly to real people about real things that profoundly affect real lives-and from his small-town upbringing to his blue-collar work ethic, he has a deep understanding of what those folks are longing to hear. "I know there's more people out there than just me who want to hear something that grabs you and makes you go, 'Wow, that's me-that's how I feel, that's my day, that's my family,'" he says. "When you swing a hammer every day, when you're out there doing what you have to do, you learn a lot of compassion for the people that do it day in and day out."
Gleason TN | Country
Mike Snider, (born May 5, 1961), is an American bluegrass banjo player and humorist. He learned to play banjo at the age of 16. Although he is well known for irreverent humor, he is a well respected banjo player. Much of his comedy is based on stories about his wife, Sabrina, referred to as Sweetie.
"There's nothing like playing music to bring a family together," says Sharon White, but that's not exactly right; over 30 years have shown that the music of The Whites - sisters, Sharon and Cheryl, and father Buck - has just as much power to bring audiences together in a feeling that resembles that of one giant, extended family.
The story of The Whites begins in Texas, when a young Buck White started his musical career not long after the end of World War II, working the dance halls and radio shows in a succession of bands. Honky-tonk music called for the piano and the bluegrass mandolin, and so he became proficient on both, absorbing the many varieties of Texas country and blues to fashion his own distinctive style - one that kept him in steady demand as a sideman throughout the 1950s. In 1961, tired of the rough-and-tumble life of a honky-tonk musician and wanting to raise his family in a more wholesome environment, White moved to Arkansas. Yet within a matter of months, he and wife Pat were once again making music, forming a band with another couple that eventually called themselves the Down Home Folks. As Sharon and Cheryl grew, they, too, were drawn to music ("Mama said I could carry a tune before I could talk," Sharon recalls.) at first forming the Down Home Kids with the children of other Down Home Folks members in the mid-1960s, then moving up to join their parents in a growing number of bluegrass festival appearances.
The first big turning point for the Whites came in 1971, when a successful trip to Bill Monroe's Bean Blossom festival convinced the family that the time was right to move to Nashville and pursue a more serious music career. Though Pat retired from the band in 1973, the move paid off as Buck White and the Down Home Folks began their recording career, featuring the striking family harmonies and top-notch instrumental work that has characterized their music ever since. The remainder of the decade saw them make a steady ascent in the world of bluegrass, recording five acclaimed albums for various labels and working a busy touring schedule, even as they gained a toehold in the country music field thanks to their powerful vocals and broad repertoire. The former, in particular, attracted the attention of Emmylou Harris, who brought them in to sing on her Blue Kentucky Girl album of 1979 and then took them on the road with her as an opening act.
The early part of the 1980s brought The Whites - by then renamed to reflect their family ties - to national prominence as their simple, traditionally-rooted yet dynamic sound put them on Billboard's country charts with a succession of Top 20 hits. Favorites like their first Top 10, "You Put The Blue In Me," as well as "Hangin' Around," "Give Me Back That Old Familiar Feeling," and "Pins And Needles," - the latter all produced by Sharon's husband, Ricky Skaggs (the two married in 1981) - introduced them to new audiences, culminating in the induction as members of the Grand Ole Opry in 1984.
Since then, The Whites have entertained and inspired literally millions of listeners at thousands of personal appearances with their unique sound. Time has also brought renewed attention to Buck White's mandolin playing; as bluegrass historian Neil V. Rosenberg recently said, "insiders have long known of his prowess," and with his appearance on Bluegrass Mandolin Extravaganza, released in 1999, a wider audience has been introduced to his masterful style and compositions.
Their first release for Skaggs Family Records, A Lifetime in the Making, (produced by one of their former sidemen, the legendary Jerry Douglas) proves once again The Whites are among the top ranks of artists able to combine a respect for - and mastery of - traditional country and bluegrass. "We're always falling between the cracks when it comes to styles, but that's just the way our music is. We have dobro, fiddle, and mandolin on this album, as well as some piano. It has the same kind of feel as those singles we made back in the early 1980s, but it's as bluegrass as anything The Whites ever did." Released in the fall of 2000, A Lifetime in the Making received substantial critical acclaim, winning an INDIE Award for 'Best Country Album' (2001), as well as a Golden Voice Award at CMA Music Festival's third annual awards show in Nashville.
In 2001, acoustic music blasted onto the mainstream with the smash hit movie and soundtrack, O Brother Where Art Thou? Buck and the girls were hand selected among bluegrass music's finest to participate in the soundtrack and appear in the film. The Whites were recognized at the International Bluegrass Music Association's (IBMA) Awards Show in 2001, where they won two awards including the well-respected 'Album of the Year' honor. In November of 2001, The Whites were recognized at the 35th Annual Country Music Association (CMA) Awards in the highly esteemed 'Album of the Year' category. Their involvement in the film and soundtrack brought further acclaim the following year, including the highest industry honor achievable - a GRAMMY Award - in the revered 'Album of the Year' category; as well as the 'Album of the Year' nod from the Academy of Country Music (ACM). Along with all the industry accolades, The Whites made numerous appearances in promotion of O Brother, including their involvement in the first 18-city 'Down from the Mountain' tour, a stop at David Letterman's "Late Show" with fellow O Brother artist, Dr. Ralph Stanley, and a featured spot on the follow up tours - the 40 plus city 'Down from the Mountain' summer tour in 2002 and the 'Great High Mountain' tour in the summer of 2004.
In 2007, after years of blending their voices from the living room to the stage, The Whites teamed up with Ricky Skaggs on Salt of the Earth, their first collaborative effort, which earned them a Grammy Award for Best Southern, Country, or Bluegrass Gospel Album and a Dove Award for Bluegrass Recorded Album of the Year. Buck, Sharon, Cheryl, and Ricky share lead vocals with Skaggs' award winning band Kentucky Thunder laying the foundation for their tight family harmony. Traditional hymns, a few familiar favorites, and brand new treasures flow throughout the album providing an intimate look into the heart of one of music's most beloved families.
In 2008, proud Texans Buck, Sharon, and Cheryl received the ultimate honor from their home state with their induction into the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame. For those who have heard The Whites before, that's good news indeed - and for those who haven't, it will be an exciting introduction to a rich, yet comfortable musical world. They may not use the name anymore, but Buck, Sharon, and Cheryl White are still creating music that's as good and as real as everything conjured up by the phrase "down home folks."
Here's the deal!! I have a Bio that someone wrote up and did a great job at it. But lets face it...Bio's are boring. So here it is in a Nutshell....mispelled words and all.
I grew up in a small town in Smyrna, Delaware on a Vegetable/Grain Farm. I was a normal kid. Loved sports, chased the girls and got C's in High School. I also worked my tail off on the farm helping out the mom and pops!! That and getting in fights with older brother.
I left Smyrna to chase down my dream of playing baseball. Ended up going down to Florida Southern College to pretty much sit the bench. So thats when my passion for music took over! I picked up a guitar...mainly to impress the chicks..and started writing songs. I then started traveling back and forth to Nashville, Tn to learn how to get into the music business that i knew nothing about. What i knew and loved about country music is what i heard on the radio.
I met a guy named Monty Powell who took me under his wing as a songwriter and really showed me the ropes. This is when i decided to make the move to Nashville and dig in!!
I was broke so i got a job parking cars to make rent. I would write everyday and work every night. This eventually lead me to my first record deal 4 years after moving to Nashville with RCA records. Skipping alot of details.....I would go onto release my first single "Stealing Cinderella" which opened up a ton of doors for me. Toured with Brad Paisley for almost 2 years and released 2 more singles in that time called "All I Ever Wanted" and "Man of the House".
With this success on the music side it opened up an invitation to be on "Dancing with the stars". No!! I'm not a Dancer but i did last 7 or 8 weeks! so thanks if you voted. DWTS was a blast and it was cool to be a part of a #1 TV show! Just wish i was singing instead of dancing in tights.
Jimmy C. Newman
TN | Country
The legendary Jimmy C. Newman is an absolute pioneer in Cajun-Country music history! He charted 33 songs on the Billboard Country Chart from 1954-1970. A Grand Ole Opry member since 1956, Jimmy C. and wife Mae continue to make their home on their Singing Hills Ranch in Rutherford County, Tennessee, just outside of Nashville.