Together 25 years with 10 albums to their credit: Chatham County Line: Bluegrass with Teeth: Video

Mar23,2024 #Blues

“The songs can sound like whatever the writer wants it to sound like,” says Dave Wilson of Chatham County Line citing Bob Dylan as an example of an artist who regularly makes wildly eclectic changes to his own compositions.

For most of its career Chatham County Line performed original material in the classic bluegrass mold clustered around a single mic featuring Chandler Holt on banjo. Holt retired in 2019. Now lead guitarist and songwriter Dave Wilson often straps on a Stratocaster and tours with a drummer along with John Teer (mandolin, fiddle, guitars, vocals) and Greg Readling (bass, pedal steel, piano, clavinet, organ, vocal).

Together 25 years with 10 albums to their credit, they sound more like a cross between the Grateful Dead and a mellow version of the Rolling Stones than they do John Harford, one of Dave’s earliest influences as a songwriter. To say their latest album, Hiyo, has crossover appeal is an understatement.

We’ve been playing the (whole new) record on our shows, and it’s been super fun,” says Dave. “This and Strange Fascination, the last album (2020), are really the first ones for percussion as an integral part of the sound. We definitely put a lot of those out there, but in the years right after Chandler retired, we had so much fun going back in the catalog and kind of electrifying older tunes because it’s a lot of tunes in the catalog at this point. So, we’ll do a bunch of those. I mean it’s 20-some songs in the set, and half of them I would say are interesting takes on older ones.

“We started the band being in love with John Hartford and the bluegrass idiom like the Del McCoury Band, and we played around the single mic for 18-20 years. We just love that style of performing, but you know at the same time we were fostered on rock and roll. I didn’t discover bluegrass until getting high in college and listening to The Grateful Dead and (getting off) on Old and In The Way and that sort of Jerry connection. That’s what took me to bluegrass in the first place. So, there’s always been rock and roll in my bloodstream.”

As for The Rolling Stones? “I love those guys. Keith Richards plays so phenomenally. It’s so amazing. We did some shows with Judy Collins, and she told me a joke about her friend who went to the doctor. Her friend is a smoker, and the doctor says, ‘You know, every time you smoke a cigarette God takes 10 minutes of your life and gives it to Keith Richards.’”

Chatham County Line performed as the backup band on the TV series George & Tammy about George Jones and Tammy Wynette. It was where Chatham County Line met Rachel Moore who ended up producing their new Hiyo record. “She was on the pulse of a lot of things. She knows how to make a set of drums sound like we have had a set of drums down. It was Rachel, this record.

“We never spoke a line (in the George & Tammy show). We were just window dressing. I played Pig Robbins, the famous studio piano player and Teer was Harold Bradley who is the most recorded guitar player in history, but we were just in the background mouthing the tunes while they did their lines. T Bone Burnett was involved in this.”

Dave finds his band’s evolution into a new direction liberating. “Yeah, it was super liberating. One of the things is we’ve been exposed to a lot of artists just in our history. We’ve done several records with this Norwegian artist Jonas Fjeld, and he had a crazy rock and roll band back in Norway, and they had lost their record deal. So, they went in the studio and kind of had fun and did whatever they wanted to. I mean, they’ve got a song called ‘Abba’s Greatest Hits’ that shifted down to someone snoring.

“We’re no stranger to the rock and roll thing. Our biggest emphasis was our banjo player who retired about 2019. The reason that’s such a strong bluegrass instrument is that it really freed the band up to do whatever we wanted. I mean, when Earl Scruggs did that with the three-finger and the finger pick, it was like Elvis singing for the first time. It was like it changed the world and what that music could be. Yeah, it’s like a building block.”

“(Playing in front of one microphone) was really where we cut our teeth. It was our Cavern Club. It was the thing that drew us together and helped us work on our craft in a way that wasn’t beating people over the head.”

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