(LEXINGTON, KY) - It's not often that a bluegrass band comes around sporting tattoos and singing about things that some radio stations of that genre might find a bit too left of center. But that's exactly what Randall Deaton liked about Shotgun Holler, the new five-piece bluegrass band with an edge hailing from all over Kentucky, when he signed them to his Lonesome Day Records this month.
"They are willing to tackle subject matter that is often shied away from in bluegrass music," says Deaton, who has known the band's co-founder and mandolin player Shawn Brock since before he launched his label in 2002. Brock actually performed guitar and mandolin on Lonesome Day Records' very first release by Sam Wilson and will also appear on the Bob Seger tribute record, Silver Bullet Bluegrass, which will be released later in the year. “Sean’s one of the most talented people I know,” adds Deaton.
On signing with Lonesome Day Records, the 33-year-old Louisville, KY-based Brock says, Lonesome Day is not afraid to take a chance. They are not into censorship. They don’t mind being on the cutting edge and trying something different. Lonesome Day is a very reputable label that has a very successful track record in placing new artists on the top and keeping established artists on the top and that’s where we are striving to be.
The subject matter tacked on the band’s forthcoming debut full-length album dives into some darker topics not usually heard in traditional bluegrass music, such as drug addiction and prostitution. “We don’t really fit the typical bluegrass mold of today,” explains Brock. “Instrumentally we are pretty recognizable as bluegrass. We’re using the traditional bluegrass instruments-banjo, guitar, upright bass, mandolin, and fiddle. Where we tend to cross into other areas is the material that we choose, which can be very non-traditional. Lyrically, all the songs aren’t necessarily wholesome.”
One such song is the original 1930’s Washboard Sam version of the “My Bucket’s Got a Hole In It” popularized later by Hank Williams. “We do the Washboard Sam lyrics, which are totally different than Hank’s.” One verse says, ‘They ain’t standing on the corner/Everything was so slow/Can’t make no money/Tricks ain’t walking no more. Another verse says, ‘Gonna sell moonshine in the day/An peddle dope all night.’ This is not what you hear on the radio today, though the song was written in the depression era. These things happen, but they aren’t sung about. We carry all the news, both good and bad. However that song doesn’t necessarily represent the project as a whole. Three band members love to write, and along with material from other writers, we are cutting 8 original tunes.”
It was one fateful day listening to the radio that inspired Brock, a long-time session musician who also has two jazz albums under his belt, to start Shotgun Holler in February of this year. “I was listening to a bluegrass radio station and it was kind of like a volcano was building up inside of me. It seemed like people were cutting this watered down sterile material singing about the same subject matter and no one is trying to sound different. I listened to five songs and couldn’t tell one artist from another. I have been playing bluegrass for 23 years, and in the 90’s I knew every artist who came on just by their sound. Blue Highway had a great distinctive sound, which was vastly different from the classic sound of the Bluegrass Album Band. Both are favorites of Shotgun Holler members, but each unit had their own thing going. I called friend, and former band member from the group Blue and Lonesome, Matt Jones and I said, ‘I’m sick of hearing singers and pickers imitate each other and cover songs that were just recorded three years ago. Lets put and band together and do what we’ve always tried to do-be different.’ His words to me were, ‘Man, I’ve just been waiting on you.’ From there, the two co-founders, Brock and Jones – who takes on lead vocals and guitar for the group – put a band together featuring seasoned players Gil Benson (fiddle), Rod Lunger (bass and vocals), and Donnie Stevens (banjo and vocals). With their impressive resumes, they were able to book shows before the band even had their first rehearsal.
Shotgun Holler will hit the studio on August 22 at Lonesome Day Studio in Booneville, Kentucky, with noted producer and Mountain Heart founding member Jim Van Cleve at the helm.Â Van Cleve has produced award winning projects spanning a variety of genres for acts such as Mountain Heart, Newfound Road, Del Shields, Celebration of Life II (Musicians Against Childhood Cancer), Annabelle Road,Â his own Grammy Nominated solo project,Â and the IBMA Awards Show Theme, among others.
"We've all known Jim through is work and watched him rise through the ranks. Jimmy is at the forefront of the progressive edge, which is where we strive to be.Â Lyrically this will be in territory that Jimmy has not been in before, but instrumentally it's still very edgy, very modern bluegrass which is a specialty of his," says Brock.