The "Gigless" Grassers (The Grascals)

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

A mutual lull in their busy schedules that ushered in the Grascals

 

The "Gigless" Grassers

A mutual lull in their busy schedules that ushered in the Grascals

 

"It felt like fate..." noted Jimmy Mattingly. "That was just it," agreed his friend and band-mate, Terry Eldredge, "we were all unemployed." Whether it was fate or merely a fluke, the fact was that six ordinarily busy musicians were all between gigs in the fall of 2003. For years, their hectic paths had crossed and re-crossed, as friendships and professional engagements slowly wove their futures together. Traditionally, when each of them jumped out of one band, he quickly landed in another. But not in the fall of 2003. Mattingly was a high-demand fiddler who had played for everyone from Garth Brooks to Dolly Parton  - but none of them were touring at the time. Eldredge had just left Larry Cordle's Lonesome Standard Time, as had his banjo-playing friend, David Talbot

Eldredge and Talbot were both playing with The Sidemen, the Tuesday-night house band at Nashville's legendary Station Inn. During his downtime, Mattingly had also begun to fill in there. One of the other Sidemen, Jamie Johnson, had recently started singing harmony with Eldredge and they discovered their voices blended perfectly. Johnson, like the others, was between full-time gigs.

Jimmy Mattingly had actually suggested to Eldredge that they organize a band back in the mid-1990's but the timing wasn't right then. They were both playing for the Osborne Brothers and were reticent to cast off from their fulltime jobs. Now, however, they had nothing to hold them back. Again, Mattingly brought up the concept, this time with Jamie Johnson. Johnson quickly agreed, and the two recruited Eldredge and Talbot. The timing might just be perfect, they calculated. After all, they had become friends, and as they had learned while playing in The Station Inn's house band, their styles mixed perfectly.

The newly formed quartet didn't waste time. They recorded a three-song demo which included the old-timey "Sara Jane," a fresh rendition of the Osborne Brother's "Leavin's Heavy on My Mind" and a newly written ballad, "Me and John and Paul." Armed with the demo...and four sets of crossed fingers, they approached Rounder Records. The demo, and the crossed fingers, did the trick. Rounder's Ken Irwin was highly impressed and soon signed the enthusiastic quartet to the label.

Another piece of exciting news soon brightened their horizon. Superstar, Dolly Parton, had learned that the newly formed group was recording in the same studio she was using. Mattingly had previously backed up Dolly on recordings and had played in her backup band, so she was very familiar with his talent. Terry Eldredge, like Mattingly, had played in Dolly's 2002 bluegrass touring band, the Blueniques. Dolly asked to hear their demo, and loved what she heard.The next day, she met with Mattingly and offered the opportunity to tour with her. "What a huge honor," Jamie Johnson reflected, "She took us in with open arms and treated us just like family. Thank God for Dolly!" With a guaranteed paycheck, the quartet could expand. They quickly added two more musical colleagues - bass expert Terry Smith, and mandolin master, Danny Roberts. With those additions, the group was complete and as Terry Eldredge later put it, "The planets were in line."

The lining up of those planets actually took a couple of decades. As the six Grascals-to-be learned and honed their skills, several of them would weave in and out of the same bands. Two, in fact, had been neighbors and friends. Jimmy Mattingly spent his early childhood in Terre Haute, Indiana, where he learned to play the violin from his father and a grade school music teacher. His talent broke through early and he began entering...and winning local fiddling contests. At he age of ten, his family moved to a farm in Leitchfield, Kentucky. There he befriended Danny Roberts, whose family owned an adjacent farm. Roberts was also a long-time music-lover, and would accompany Mattingly'sfiddle tunes with his guitar.  Roberts would later spend nearly twenty years with "The New Tradition," a bluegrass-gospel group he co-founded.

Over in Indiana, young Jamie Jameson began to make musical waves singing with the Boys From Indiana. Later, he helped to organize the Wildwood Valley Boys. After a spell with Gail Davies, he joined The Sidemen in 2001. Canadian-born David Talbot had performed along with Eldridge in Lonesome Standard Time for five years. His baritone and low tenor singing, and his masterful banjo work have graced the albums of everyone from Jim Lauderdale to Reba McEntire. Like the others, North Carolina native, Terry Smith came from a solid bluegrass background. He weaved in and out of the bands of legends like The Osbornes, Marty Raybon and Jimmy Martin.

As the six musicians sifted through the Osborne Brothers' Band, Lonesome Standard Time and Dolly's back-up and bluegrass groups, fate was mixing up a unique recipe. When the ingredients blended and the heat was turned up, a new concoction began to emerge. As it simmered and then sizzled, it was becoming clear that they had brewed up a very tasty new musical treat.That treat has been savored by bluegrass lovers from coast-to-coast. After a brief time on the scene, their peers honored them with accolades usually reserved for groups that have been around for decades. The year after their emergence, they were nominated for a "Best Bluegrass Album" Grammy. Among other honors, they nailed down the "Song of the Year" award in both leading bluegrass associations, with "Me and John and Paul." The next year, 2006, they won the coveted ''Entertainer of the Year" award.

Eldridge proclaimed that their "band-hopping" days were behind them. "I made it clear up front," he declared, "that this is the band I want to retire with." Mattingly agreed wholeheartedly that he is also in it for the long run. "Everyone is," he added. And "everyone" of course, includes their newly formed legion of fans that stretch around the world. No, one thing is certain, The Grascals will never again be gigless grassers.

 


Submitted: September 29, 2020

© Copyright 2022 Dennis L. Goodwin. All rights reserved.

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