Bluegrass musicians don’t come with more hill country-cred than the members of the Lonesome River Band.
Take the group’s banjo player-vocalist Sammy Shelor, for instance.
One of his grandfathers toiled in the West Virginia coal mines from 1927 to 1931, labouring for the only mining company paying in gold coins instead of scrip that could only be spent in company stores. That allowed his grandpa to tuck away enough coins to start up his own sawmill at the height of the Great Depression.
His other grandfather also worked hard but was rarely seen without his banjo. “He used to play it all the time and he got me interested at about the age of six,” recalled Shelor, who will perform with the Lonesome River Band at Red Deer’s Festival Hall on Sunday, Feb. 28.
The band’s tune We Couldn’t Tell, off the latest release, No Turning Back, pays homage to the creative and hardworking people of Shelor’s grandparent’s generation.
Life in general was so hard for these Appalachian Mountain folks that many couldn’t tell there was a Great Depression going on, said Shelor. “They were so far away from Wall Street and the business world. . . . They were just making their own way and doing the best they could.”
As the song says: “We didn’t know the difference when the mighty dollar fell ’cause we didn’t have a dime. . . . ”
No Turning Back is the band’s 12th album. It produced a No. 1 hit, Them Blues, which the Lonesome River Band recently played to open the International Bluegrass Music Association awards show.
Interestingly, Them Blues was first recorded by the 28-year-old band in its early days — long before Shelor joined the group some 19 years ago.
While the song wasn’t a hit on the first go-round, it spent three months on top of the charts when it was re-recorded this time. Shelor believes it’s a case of new musicians giving it a slightly different treatment. “There have been different personnel changes but we’ve been lucky enough to have some great players,” he said.
Among the highly acclaimed Lonesome River Band alumni is Dan Tyminski, who provided the singing voice for George Clooney’s character in the Coen brother’s movie, O Brother Where Art Thou?
But the latest band lineup — including Brandon Rickman on guitar and vocals, Andy Ball on mandolin and piano, Mike Anglin on bass and vocals, and Mike Hartgrove on fiddle — “is as strong as anything we’ve ever had,” said Shelor, who looks forward to touring in Canada again.
This year, the northern winter won’t be such a shock to his system. Southwest Virginia has been shrouded in snow for the past couple of weeks, said Shelor. “It’s been snowing since midnight and so far, we have 12 inches on the ground.”
The Waskasoo Bluegrass Society presents the Lonesome River Band at 7 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 28, at Festival Hall in the Memorial Centre. Tickets are $25 (children under 16 are admitted free with a paying adult) from the usual locations, including 53rd Street Music and The Key Hole in Red Deer. For more information about local and regional ticket outlets, call Gale at 403-347-1363.