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This is the official website for guitarist, singer, songwriter, producer and author Tim Stafford.  You can find merch, including downloads and physical copies of all my solo and duet projects, plus instructional material, as well as the critically-acclaimed biography of Tony Rice:  Still Inside, the Tony Rice Story.  Also lyrics, news, schedule, photos, Blog and much more.  Blue Highway dates and information here.

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Original Traditional is here! Blue Highway's 11th studio album arrives 

Original Traditional, Blue Highway's 11th studio album, was released Sept. 9 on Rounder records.  The band is very excited about this, our first recording with dobro ace Gaven Largent.  Is it a concept record?  Kinda.  We decided we wanted to do a traditional bluegrass record, and after we checked out everyone's writing, we decided we had enough original tunes to comprise the entire record, minus an a cappella version of the Sacred Harp song, "Hallelujah."  By doing an all-original traditional bluegrass recording, we feel we are operating firmly in the tradition of first-generation artists like Bill Monroe, Flatt and Scruggs, the Stanley Brothers and Reno and Smiley, who wrote most of their material.  Look for a "Track-by-track" on Sirius XM with Kyle Cantrell soon!

The album is available at our website:  

http://bluehighwayband.com/music-store

Here is a recent review:
 

https://fervorcoulee.wordpress.com/2016/09/18/blue-highway-original-traditional-review/ 

Blue Highway- Original Traditional review 

For more than twenty years, listeners have been privileged every couple years to encounter a new album from Blue Highway. 

Original Traditional, their eleventh and first since Dobroist Rob Ickes departed, continues their most recent blueprint: original music written or co-written by band members along with a single traditional song. The album’s title alludes to the group’s tendency to bridge the generations of bluegrass through recognition and reverence for the traditions of the music while ensuring a contemporary, original perspective is always present. 

With three formidable lead vocalists and key songwriters—Tim Stafford (guitar,) Shawn Lane (mandolin, fiddle, guitar,) and Wayne Taylor (bass)— along with Jason Burleson’s alternately aggressive and pensive, propulsive and sympathetic banjo presence (his tune “Alexander’s Run” is a highlight of the recording) and an instrumental lineup as strong as has ever been staged, Blue Highway is one of the top bands in the business. 

Joining the group for this recording is the youthful Gaven Largent, briefly of Michael Cleveland’s Flamekeeper and a player who doesn’t ease his way into the Blue Highway sound, confidently laying out his runs on mid-set numbers including the love-gone-wrong piece “What You Wanted” and the vengeful murder ballad “The Story of My Life.” 

“Don’t Weep For Me”—essentially “I Don’t Believe You’ve Met My Baby” meets “Echo Mountain” minus the dog—is a strong lead song. The rest of the 38 minute album reveals the accustomed cast of bluegrass fellows who drink too much (“Water From the Stone,”) hold onto childhood trauma too long (“The Story of My Life,”) and lose a good woman’s love because of it all (“If Lonesome Don’t Kill Me.”) 

Still, Blue Highway isn’t a band favouring one-dimensional songs, and none of those songs mentioned exist without shades of gray. In Shawn Lane and Gerald Ellenburg’s album closing number, Blue Highway revisit the good ole days at “The Top of the Ridge” while writing what sounds like either an elegy or (in darker eyes) a note of suicide. “She Ain’t Worth It,” in hands other than Tim Stafford and Steve Gulley, might have been just another song of fateful revenge; their protagonist thinks a little longer about his predicament—rather than grabbing his .44, he sits and “bathe(s) in the afterglow.” 

“She Ain’t Worth It” swings more than a little, and features Largent to nice effect. Similarly, “Last Time I’ll Ever Leave This Town” provides the instrumentalists room to showcase their offerings. “Water From the Stone” has a pleasing and inspirational gospel quartet arrangement, while the a cappella treatment of “Hallelujah” is just showing off and seems a fine message to the IBMA: Why exactly aren’t we named Vocal Group of the Year annually? 

I am sure I am not the only amateur fact-checker who has gone on extended forays to learn the true life blues behind particular folk and bluegrass numbers. Many (many) years ago, one of the first I did this with was “Tom Dooley,” the standard popularized by Grayson & Whitter, The Kingston Trio, Doc Watson, and hundreds of others. I remember scouring the local libraries for ‘facts’ related to the story of Tom Dula and Laura Foster. 

On the Legacy recording made with David Holt, Watson suggested his grandmother knew something about the tale, and that intrigued me even more, as did reading Sharyn McCrumb’s excellent The Ballad of Tom Dooley. My interest was therefore piqued to read the song title “Wilkes County Clay” (the locale of those post-Civil War events) and even more thrilled as the song began with, “In North Carolina, in the County of Wilkes, there’s a tale of deception, murder, and guilt. I’ll spare no compassion, the truth I will tell, Let God alone judge me, this side of hell.” From those words, one knew where Tim Stafford and songwriting partner Bobby Starnes were going. 

“Wilkes County Clay” is a mournful song, with Lane’s fiddle colouring the song much as one imagines the instrument did Dula’s final moments. While the narrator’s identify isn’t clear, the song is an agreeable telling of the tale, taking the Grayson-path that other accounts discount. The lyrical choices made (“She hid like a panther in the black of the night, And killed Laura Foster with a bone handle knife”) raises this above typical bluegrass fare. 

Original Traditional is another outstanding bluegrass album from Blue Highway. They make it seem easy: forced listening to the number of less-than-adequate bluegrass albums available proves that it isn’t. Blue Highway is a great band, one that has been contributing fresh insight into the bluegrass spectrum for more than two decades. That they continue to rise to the level they do, never taking the easy way, never delivering less than stellar material, is testament to the importance they place on their legacy. 

Excellent cover, presumably by Bobby Starnes, too! 

Thank you for taking the time to seek out Fervor Coulee. I appreciate that there are lots of places to get roots information and opinion; I’m glad I’m one of them. Donald

The passing of a legend  Podcast

Ralph Stanley's passing truly marks the end of an era.  He was the last man standing from the "big three" acts of the early years of bluegrass, Bill Monroe, Flatt and Scruggs and the Stanley Brothers, a link to the very beginning of the genre.  It was the Stanleys' 1948 recording of "Molly and Tenbrooks" that represented the first recorded evidence of a group emulating the sound of the seminal 1945-48 Bill Monroe band (featuring Flatt and Scruggs as well as Chubby Wise and Howard Watts).  In essence, it marked the birth of the genre, even though Ralph and Carter never called what they did "bluegrass," and Ralph certainly didn't after Carter's death in 1966.  But the Stanley Brothers went on to become one of the most important acts in the history of Bluegrass and Country music.  Carter's emotional lead singing on his haunting songs, Ralph's soulful tenor and driving banjo, to say nothing of their mournful, monumental duets, or the other innovations like crosspicking guitar that came out of their collaboration...  Their oeuvre remains at the core of the music even today, and 2016 marks the 70th anniversary.  They were Blue Highway's biggest inspiration in many ways when we started 22 years ago, and still are.

But after Carter's death, Ralph created another career, one that any entertainer could be proud of, one that featured many of the best musicians to come through the genre over the years.  And he did it without rehashing everything the Brothers had done, although it remained the heart of his act.  He almost single-handedly introduced a cappella gospel singing into the genre, and he brought back the "drop thumb" banjo style his mother Lucy had taught him, featuring it in almost every show.  George Shuffler, Roy Lee Centers, Jack Cooke, Larry Sparks, Melvin Goins, Curly Ray Cline, Ricky Skaggs, Keith Whitley, Ricky Lee, James Alan Shelton, Charlie Sizemore, Ernie Thacker, Ralph Stanley II, James Price, Steve Sparkman, Dewey Brown...  So many great musicians passed through the Clinch Mountain Boys.  I played festivals and shows with many versions, and always cherished the opportunity to hear them and Ralph doing "Man of Constant Sorrow," "Clinch Mtn. Backstep," "Will You Miss Me," "Little Maggie," "Shout Little Luly," "Sitting on Top of the World," as well as all the great Carter Stanley songs over the years.  For true fans, it was just icing on the cake when Ralph became the centerpiece of the "O Brother" phenomenon, as much as it meant to him and his family at the time.

Most Blue Highway fans know that I often did an imitation of Ralph in our shows, and I'm sure they all realize (or hope they do) that it was done out of respect and admiration for one of our biggest heroes.  I'm sure Charlie Waller would have told you the same thing--he did a serviceable Ralph too, as well as a dead-on Hank Snow imitation.  One of my fondest memories is George Shuffler asking for the Ralph imitation at our shows!

I'm confident that the Stanley sound will continue because it's simply so powerful.  Its power seems to increase with time, and that may be Ralph's biggest legacy.  I am attaching one of my favorite all-time recordings, the Brothers' King-Starday version of "Little Maggie."  The whole cut is magic, with the pumping bass, sock guitar, cousin Ralph Mayo's soulful fiddle, but.... Ralph's lonesome, piercing vocal and banjo are the highlight.  This was probably his best banjo playing on record.  I defy you to listen to his break after the "Lay down your Last Gold Dollar...  Listen to that Old banjo ring" verse and not be moved.  It's the birth of the slamming modal banjo, in my opinion, so prevalent in modern bluegrass.  One of the great moments in the history of the music, easily.  

My deepest condolences to the Stanley family.

 
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  1. Little Maggie

Tim on the cover of Flatpicking Guitar Magazine March-April '16 

Tim was featured in a cover story by Dan Miller in Flatpicking Guitar magazine's March-April 2016 issue (Volume 20, No. 3).  Sadly, FGM is in its final year of publication, and has decided to "catch up" with artists profiled earlier in the magazine's history, including Tim, Jim Hurst, Bryan Sutton and Kenny Smith. Tim was originally featured in the January/February 2001 issue of the magazine (Volume 5, No. 2).  Both issues are available on the FGM website (click photo).

Howdy 

Welcome to my newly-designed website.  I'll be updating all my activities here, and sharing various musings.  I recently had a couple good conversations with friends of mine on far-ranging topics on their podcasts, including the formation of Blue Highway, streaming, the future of bluegrass and other more fun stuff...  Tim Shelton and Justin Moses are amazing musicians and singers, and it was good to talk with them at length recently about what's going on in my world.  Here are their links:

Tim Shelton (#35, May 24, 2016)










Justin Moses (Dec. 5, 2015)





Cool dudes both.

In upcoming blogs, I may talk about anything and everything.  May start a podcast.  May not.  May take up macrame.  Probably won't.  Might reminisce some, since I'm that age.  Might have advice, share observations, give out links and post documents I think are important, maybe clips of songs in progress.  Let me know what you'd like to see/hear.

Stay tuned.

Tim