2011 Nationally Known Artist
Emmylou Harris has been hailed as a major figure in several of America’s most important musical movements of the past three decades. A steadfast supporter of roots music and a skilled interpreter of compelling songs, she also has been associated with a diverse array of admiring collaborators.
Harris’ contributions to country-rock, the bluegrass revival, folk music, and the Americana movement are widely lauded, and in recent years she also has carved out a sound that is uniquely her own. Her 1995 Wrecking Ball was a watershed album for her, combining several world-music elements with acoustic instruments, driving percussion, and a folk/ roots flavor. The new style would evolve on a number of Harris’ subsequent releases, including 1998’s Spyboy, 1999’s Western Wall (a collaboration with Linda Ronstadt), and 2000’s Red Dirt Girl, which was praised as a showcase for Emmylou Harris’s songwriting talent.
“I don’t know how to explain this ‘late blooming’ as a writer,” Harris comments. “I did start out as a writer. There’s that first, thankfully forgotten, album [1970’s obscure Gliding Bird]. I wrote most of the songs on that. Then I think maybe when I got into singing these really classic songs as an interpreter, the level of songs I was singing was so high, to me, that there was probably a little bit of intimidation at work. And I was very happy interpreting. I didn’t feel like anything was missing.”
Harris cites Bruce Springsteen’s 1982 Nebraska as a turning point and an inspiration. At the time, she was feeling artistically “tired” and wanted to challenge herself in a new direction. The result was her acclaimed, self-penned album, The Ballad of Sally Rose. After 1995’s Wrecking Ball, producer Daniel Lanois insisted she write songs for her next album, too.
“Once I’m into the songwriting mode, I just chisel and chisel and chisel away. But sometimes there are these wonderful moments when a song just comes in a snap. That’s like the reward that you’ve earned for all the agony on all the other songs,” Harris says “I don’t know that I have a particular method. When I’m home, I go into that room every day. Strum on the guitar. Try some tunings. Scatter notes around everywhere. I don’t use a computer. I sing into a cassette player and write things down. Towards suppertime, I’ll take a break and watch some TV. Then after everybody has gone to bed, I’ll go back to work until two or three in the morning. Sometimes I’ll go upstairs, because I keep guitars up there, too.”
That she finds time to write at home at all is a wonder. Between 1998 and 2000, for instance, Harris issued a live album with her band Spyboy, worked with Willie Nelson on his much applauded Teatro CD, won her ninth Grammy Award for her Trio II reunion with Linda Ronstadt and Dolly Parton, produced the Gram Parsons tribute album, and issued her much-anticipated Ronstadt collaboration Western Wall.
Between 2000 and the present, she has appeared on the O Brother Where Art Thou Soundtrack and its spin-off Down From the Mountain tour, collaborated with the Chieftains on their Down the Old Plank Road album and TV special, recorded a duet album with Mark Knopfler, performed concerts on behalf of a Landmine Free World, penned liner notes for a Dolly Parton tribute CD, recorded a duet with Rodney Crowell for a Louvin Brothers tribute CD, performed on the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s Will the Circle Be Unbroken III CD, and sang backup on albums for Sheryl Crow, Tracy Chapman, the Dixie Chicks, Patty Griffin, Patty Loveless, Delbert McClinton, Jim Lauderdale, Pam Tillis, and Nanci Griffith, among others.
Emmylou Harris is invited to perform everywhere from the massive Bonnaroo jam-band rock festival to bluegrass concerts: “That just delights me,” she admits. “It proves what I’ve always thought: that people are eclectic in their tastes, just like me. Most people don’t listen to only one kind of music. For the most part, I think people just want to hear good music.”
That is a credo she has lived by throughout her career. Harris took up guitar as a teenager inspired by the folk music of Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Judy Collins and Peter, Paul and Mary. Starving-artist stints in Greenwich Village and Nashville led to regular club work in Washington D.C. Country-rock visionary Gram Parsons discovered her there and brought her to Los Angeles to become his duet partner in 1972.
“I lucked into this whole thing,” she comments. “One little millimeter would have made the difference. If my babysitter hadn’t been at that Flying Burrito Brothers concert and given Gram my phone number, if Gram hadn’t come into my life, who knows what would have become of me?”
After apprenticing Parsons, she emerged as a solo star with Pieces of the Sky in 1975. The album electrified the country-music world, becoming the first of her eight consecutive gold or platinum records. Today, Emmylou Harris is regarded as a key figure in a movement that united rock audiences with country traditionalists. She made country music “hip” and brought it to a vast youth market for the first time.
2011 Pioneer Artist
Jim Shumate, a native of Wilkes County, North Carolina, made his name as a young fiddler in the 1940s playing with Bill Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys and later with Lester Flatt and Earl Scrugg’s Foggy Mountain Boys. As a fiddler, Shumate pioneered innovations that are still admired and studied by musicians today.
Born on Chestnut Mountain in 1921, Shumate grew up hearing the sounds of his uncle playing fiddle at a neighboring farm. “He just played on his front porch when they got through working in the field,” he recalls. “Why, if the wind was coming in the right direction, I could hear him from our house, and, oh, it was so pretty.” Shumate says he has always liked the sound of a fiddle.
He also listened to the Grand Ole Opry’s premier fiddler, Arthur Smith. Smith’s style emphasized “long-bow” fiddling in which a number of notes are played with each stroke of the bow. “I tried my best to play just like Arthur,” Shumate remembers. In addition to learning bowing techniques, he was also influenced by Smith’s fondness for playing bluesy slides. Self-taught, Shumate began playing the fiddle as a young boy and won his first contest when he was fourteen years old.
As a young man, Shumate moved to Hickory, North Carolina, and went to work in a furniture factory, but was soon playing on the local radio station WHKY with Don Walker and the Blue Ridge Boys.
One day, as Bill Monroe was driving through North Carolina, he happened to tune in to the show and heard Shumate’s fiddling. Shortly thereafter, Shumate received a surprise phone call from the Father of Bluegrass himself asking him to join his Blue Grass Boys.
Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys played each Saturday night on the Grand Ole Opry and spent the rest of the week performing across the South. During these trips Shumate realized the extent of their influence. “Little groups were all over the country and every one of them would be trying to do the same thing we had done on the Opry the night before,” he recalls. “I said, ‘Fellows, we’re making some kind of history, [but] I don’t know what it is.” While working on the Opry, Shumate introduced Monroe’s songs with a fiddle “kick-off” that quickly became standard practice in bluegrass music.
In 1948, Earl Scruggs and Lester Flatt offered him a job with the Foggy Mountain Boys, and Shumate fiddled on the legendary band’s first recording session. That same year, he outplayed some of the country’s best fiddlers to win the National Fiddlers Convention in Richlands, Virginia, giving him the permanent title of Master Fiddler. In 1949, Shumate tired of life on the road and returned to Hickory to work in retail furniture sales; however, he continued to perform and record when his schedule permitted. Over the years, Shumate has recorded old bluegrass standards as well as his own original tunes. All of his recordings are included in the Jim Shumate Collection (Volume 1 and 2) available through Heritage Records in Galax, Virginia.
Shumate’s upbeat, innovative style of fiddling and his stint on the Grand Ole Opry earned him recognition in the Bluegrass Hall of Fame in Nashville, Tennessee. In 1995, his contribution to bluegrass music garnered him the North Carolina Folk Heritage Award given by the North Carolina Arts Council for “excellence achieved through a lifetime of practice.” As one of the pioneers of bluegrass music, Shumate appeared on a TNN special, “Grass Roots to Bluegrass,” in 1999 which highlighted the originators of bluegrass music in an informal jam session hosted by Mac Wiseman. Shumate performed at the first MerleFest in 1988 in his native North Wilkesboro and returned in 2005 to perform along with other former members of Bill Monroe’ Blue Grass Boys.
In addition to his prowess as a fiddler, Shumate is a composer of sacred songs. His favorite, “Old Country Baptizing,” is sung regularly in churches in western North Carolina. Reflecting on his musical talent, he is quick to acknowledge his blessings. “I just thank God for the gift that I have in it. And every day I can play a little better than I could the day before. So that ‘s got to be a gift, you know.”
At eighty-nine, Jim Shumate lives in Hickory with Naomi, his wife of sixty-seven years. They enjoy spending as much time as possible at their retreat at his boyhood home place on Chestnut Mountain. A lover of the North Carolina Mountains, Shumate paid tribute to his Chestnut Mountain roots when composing his original tune, “Chestnut Mountain Rag.” He continues to play for family and friends, gives fiddle lessons, and occasionally gives selected public performances. His wife Naomi comments, “He picked up the fiddle when he was a boy and hasn’t put it down.”
2011 Regional Musician
Jens Hans Kruger, born and raised in Switzerland, is a lifelong musician. At the age of four, he started playing the harmonica. Then, he learned to play his mother’s accordion, accompanying his brother, Uwe, who played his father’s guitar. He loved listening to his father’s albums and dreamed of playing the banjo. At ten, Jens received a tenor banjo and began to play Dixieland jazz, hoping that one day “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” would somehow flow from the instrument. A year later, Jens and Uwe made their first public appearance, and two years later, Uwe bought Jens his first five-string banjo.
At age 16, Jens and Uwe left home and traveled throughout Europe as the Rocky Road Band. Their adventure paid off with a record contract with CBS. In 1982, at 19, Jens crossed the Atlantic with an opportunity to play with Bill Monroe. Monroe introduced Jens to the Grand Ole Opry as the first known European banjo player. After living with Monroe for the summer, Jens returned to Switzerland with Bill Monroe’s encouragement to develop his own musical style and repertoire.
In 1986, Jens and Uwe reunited to form the Appalachian Barn Orchestra, the forerunner of today’s Kruger Brothers. In 1997, the Kruger Brothers were invited to perform at MerleFest. From 1997 to 2003, Jens (together with his brother Uwe Kruger and third band member Joel Landsberg) traveled from Switzerland to the United States countless times to perform. While in the United States, they stayed with friends, Robert and Brenda Shepherd, who became their family. In the basement of the Shepherd home Jens and his brother practiced countless hours, composed many pieces, and learned more about American culture. In 2003, Jens permanently relocated with his family (wife Christa and daughters, Mirjam and Anja) to North Carolina.
While in the United States, Jens has performed with amazing musicians including Earl Scruggs, Doc Watson, John McEwen, Willie Nelson,
Ron Block, and Ricky Skaggs. He is a champion of music and enjoys all aspects of the industry – composing, performing, and producing. Jens has composed a variety of musical artworks. In 2006-07, Jens Kruger worked to orchestrate his original compositions as well as music from the Kruger Brothers and created Music from the Spring: A Romantic Seranade for Banjo, Guitar, Bass, & Orchestra. Jens was recognized for this work by the National Endowment for the Arts with an award for Artistic Excellence and The Kruger Brothers have performed the piece with symphony orchestras across the United States. The project also inspired a very special outreach program, developed for performances and presentations in schools and community settings, called “Strings Attached.” In 2010, Jens, together with The Kruger Brothers, composed a string quartet piece entitled “Appalachian Concerto.” When describing this composition, Jens explains, “It is about my personal journey – coming to the United States with my family. It’s my romantic idea of how Appalachia was settled. I am not a historian, but I like to imagine and tell the musical story of how immigrants found this beautiful land and how things came to be.”
As part owner of Double Time Music, Jens is incredibly involved in the production side of music. Double Time Music is a world class recording and production studio with a focus on musician friendly tracking and a commitment to providing excellence in sound. Jens Kruger produced both the 2010 International Folk Chart’s Song of the Year, “Peace Will Rise” by Si Kahn and the album Courage by Si Kahn, recognized as the 2010 Album of the Year by Folk DJs.
Banjo Virtuoso Jens Kruger realized the need for a new tone ring that would enhance the extreme low frequencies that support and compliment banjo tone. This required a fresh approach to tone ring manufacturing. Together with the Swiss Ruetschi Bell Foundry, Double Time Music produces the Jens Kruger FT-36 banjo tone ring. Jens Kruger also holds the world-wide patent for the invention of the Eagle Tone Ring.
With his natural talent for instrument development and enhancement, Jens began a professional relationship with friends Greg and Janet Deering, owners of the Deering Banjo Company. Jens designed the Jens Kruger Banjo and has become a spokesman and Research and Development Director for Deering Banjo, the world’s greatest banjo company.
Jens plays many stringed instruments with amazing skill and his style and virtuosity cannot be characterized with a word or phrase. However, those who have heard Jens play the banjo know that he is truly a master of his art. As a composer, Jens’ comprehension of music in all of its forms is becoming well known among his peers and colleagues. It is somewhat difficult, or maybe impossible to categorize the style of music that Jens performs with his banjo. Petra Jones wrote in Banjo Newsletter in July 2006, “Every once in a while, a banjo player comes along who challenges the boundaries of what you believe the instrument is capable of. Swiss-born Jens Kruger is just such a player. His music is neither bluegrass nor old-time, but dips into both, along with classical, country and his roots in European folk.” Jens himself noted, “I believe that I have found in America a true place of endless opportunities. I am thankful that my contribution to the culture is appreciated.”
2011 - Traditional Dance
“If anyone would have told me when I first started making this here crafting that it’d be the headache it is sometimes, I would have throwed every knife I have away and quit,” Willard Watson said in a 1970s interview. “But I’m into it now. I’ve got so many places that wants just exactly what I make, and I’m the only man now that makes exactly what I make. There’s not nigh another craftsman that makes them walking mules. There has been a few craftsmen who make the pecking chickens, but they’ve all been rougher’n’ a cob.”
Willard Watson, a first cousin to famed guitarist Doc, was widely known as a flatfoot dancer, storyteller, banjo player, and especially a woodcarver. By his own estimation, he was a man that “can’t hardly be whipped by a piece of wood.” His contraptions celebrated his rich imagination and close-to-earth values, as well as his delightful sense of play. “I stayed in the woods twenty years or better,” Willard said. “If I could take it I’d go back to the woods yet. It was borned in me. I always loved to work in the woods, loved good timber.”
Willard traveled around the region to fairs and festivals to sell his goods, along with is wife, Ora, who was an expert quilter. The two were regular participants at the North Carolina State Fair in Raleigh, and they presented at the National Folk Festival and Newport Folk Festival. Their work is included in the Smithsonian Institution. Willard prided himself in doing good work. “If I go to make anything it’s got to suit me and then it’ll suit the public,” Willard said. “Now that’s just what kind of fellow Willard is.”
Willard’s banjo playing is documented on a variety of recordings, including the Clawhammer Banjo albums on County Records. There is footage of Willard dancing on a film of old-time music from the Newport Folk Festival in the 1960s, with Clark Kessinger playing fiddle. Willard’s cheerful sense of humor, stories, and wood carvings left a deep impression on Watauga County and the surrounding region.
Jim Lauderdale was born April 11, 1957, in Troutman, N.C. His father was a minister and his mother was a music teacher and choir director. He played drums in the school band and after graduation decided to become a solo performer in New York. He impressed record producer Pete Anderson while in the Los Angeles production of Pump Boys and Dinettes and was recorded for the compilation A Town South of Bakersfield, Volume 2. He then sang backing vocals for various artists including Carlene Carter and Dwight Yoakam.
Even in Nashville, a city teeming with singular talents, Jim Lauderdale is unique. He came to Music City, for example, not as a kid off the Greyhound with stars in his eyes, but as a singer and songwriter who had already begun a promising career. He is among Nashville’s “A” list of songwriters, with songs recorded by artists such as: Patty Loveless, George Jones, The Dixie Chicks, Solomon Burke, Mark Chesnutt, Dave Edmunds, John Mayall, Kathy Mattea, Lee Ann Womack, Gary Allan, Blake Shelton, Vince Gill, and George Strait. He also contributed several songs to the successful soundtrack of the George Strait film, “Pure Country.” Not content to just write hits for the stars, he’s toured with the likes of Lucinda Williams, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Rhonda Vincent and Elvis Costello, among others.
Jim’s musical influences include the legendary Dr. Ralph Stanley and George Jones. These influences and his unique sense of melody and lyric help forge a sound that is truly his own. He is a two time Grammy winner, winning his first in 2002 with Dr. Ralph Stanley for Lost in the Lonesome Pines (Dualtone). His next one came for his second “solo” bluegrass album, The Bluegrass Diaries (Yep Roc 2007) at the 50th Grammy Awards. His first CD with Dr. Stanley, I Feel Like Singing Today (Dualtone/Rebel 1999) received a Grammy nomination as did his first solo bluegrass CD titled Bluegrass (Yep Roc) from 2006. His current release, Patchwork River (his second collaboration with Grateful Dead lyricist, Robert Hunter) is currently on the Americana radio charts.
As a performer his credits include production, writing and collaborating on albums such as, Wait ‘Til Spring (SkyCrunch/Dualtone 2003) with Donna the Buffalo, and Headed for the Hills (Dualtone 2004) his first total project with Robert Hunter. The remainder of Jim’s 18 albums include: Planet of Love (Reprise 1991), Pretty Close to the Truth (Atlantic 1994), Every Second Counts (Atlantic 1995), Persimmons (Upstart 1998), Whisper (BNA 1998), Onward Through It All (RCA 1999), The Other Sessions (Dualtone 2001), The Hummingbirds (Dualtone 2002), Bluegrass (Yep Roc 2006), Country Super Hits, Volume 1 (Yep Roc 2006), Honey Songs (Yep Roc 2008), Could We Get Any Closer? (SkyCrunch 2009) and Patchwork River (Thirty Tigers 2010).
Pundits in the know took note early on of Jim’s appeal. Jim Macnie suggests correctly on allmusic.com that, “If every Nashville singing star had to cut at least one Jim Lauderdale song, country wouldn’t be the Chumpville that it is these days.” The Nashville Scene classifies him as “a hip country chameleon.” And Entertainment Weekly lauds his ability to make his songs “ache, bend, snort, and moan in a way no one else does.” All of this suggests that Jim isn’t an artist you can file easily into any one category, and while this is certainly true, one other aspect of Jim’s artistic identity rings even truer than his defiance of easy pigeon-holing – his sheer legendary output of world class material.
“It’s been a particularly great period for me,” says Lauderdale. “Thanks to the records - I’m performing more and more, which I love. And I love that I can play the Opry one weekend, a jam-band festival the next and then a bluegrass festival the following week. That’s really inspiring to me and I think there’s a real thread there. The roots are the same for all of them and that’s the music I’m interested in.”
The truth is that Jim has always had that ability of writing music that reflects his originality while at the same time maintaining a sense of total authenticity. Because his mission is to write songs that excel on their own, rather than shape them to the standards of any one genre, he has been able to come up with material that can be adapted to almost any kind of interpretation. “I recognize that my diversity can create a challenge for those that need to categorize me,” he admits, “where even though I might have Ralph Stanley singing with me, there’s also some singer/songwriter stuff and some country stuff — so which bin does it belong in at the record store? That’s just not for me to decide. That kind of question has nothing to do with making music.”