Charlie Sizemore (vocals, guitar)
“I’m just a fellow from the hills who got lucky.” – Charlie Sizemore
In addition to being one of bluegrass music’s most distinctive and expressive vocal stylists, Charlie Sizemore is also recognized as being one of its most literate and thoughtful songwriters, with impeccable taste in choosing lesser-known, under-appreciated, well-written tunes by other writers. Based in Nashville, where he runs a successful law practice, Sizemore has moved a long way from his roots in eastern Kentucky, on Puncheon Creek, in the state’s quintessentially Appalachian county, Magoffin. In other ways, however, he is as deeply close as ever, as connected to the sources of his musical inspiration as when he joined Ralph Stanley’s Clinch Mountain Boys at age seventeen, replacing the late Keith Whitley, for the next nine and a half years.
“Charlie Sizemore gave me nine and one half years of honest and dependable service as lead singer in the late seventies and early eighties,” Stanley reflects today. “He was one of my top lead singers that I have had through the years. Charlie knows music and knows how to make it right.”
Not only did Sizemore give his boss Ralph Stanley “honest and dependable service,” but during that time all of Sizemore’s earlier experience and influences paid off and led to the creation of one of the most subtle and sophisticated styles of lead singing in bluegrass today. His remarkable tone and understated attack underpin the notion that he is truly a singer’s singer, possessed of exquisite taste and feeling.
Within a month of leaving the Clinch Mountain Boys, Sizemore enrolled at the University of Kentucky, and after matriculating attended graduate school in history at Middle Tennessee State University for a while before switching paths and moving to Nashville. Here he earned his law degree and passed the Tennessee bar exam. (He later would become licensed in his home state of Kentucky as well.)
By that time, he had married and started a family, with two small children, and he felt that the legal profession would be a more dependable way to support them. As the years passed, however, he grew restless and began the Charlie Sizemore Band.
Along the way he recorded a series of highly-acclaimed bluegrass albums, chief among them (and perhaps his most personal) In My View as well as a full-length album of Tom T. Hall songs. He had also married and started a family, with two small children. Just prior to graduating from law school while at the same time working for a Nashville law firm, he took a sabbatical from the road in late 1998. “I don’t feel like I was all that busy,” he remembers, “I was having a great time. I enjoyed everything I did. The problem is I was never home and when I was my nose was in a book. I wanted to see my kids grow up.”
In 2008, his album GOOD NEWS was released, his first for Rounder Records. He had indeed been missed during his lengthy hiatus from the previous few years while he was devoted to building his law practice and raising his family. He nonetheless made time to collaborate with co-producer – “co-equal” Charlie calls him – Buddy Cannon to make Good News. Of Buddy’s contribution to GOOD NEWS, Sizemore says, with typical Sizemore modesty, “it simply could not have been done without him.”
Cannon himself returns the favor and says straightforwardly that no one else’s voice makes him feel the way Charlie’s does. Putting their heads together, the two came up with a sterling set of songs, each memorable in its own right, including some new Sizemore originals and some tunes that are favorites of Charlie’s going back several years. Sizemore’s goal was “to make a record that sounds like the records I liked growing up” – to capture the vibrancy and “aliveness” that he first heard in recordings of Red Allen, the Stanley Brothers, and Flatt & Scruggs. Doing so represented a huge leap of faith for a perfectionist with obsessive tendencies in the studio like Sizemore, but one which ultimately brought out the best in singers, players, and producers.
More modestly, however, this was a record made “live,” and with minimal pressure; it’s the quickest record Sizemore has made since his younger days of recording with Ralph Stanley. “Silver Bugle,” a song drawn from local Puncheon Creek Civil War lore, is an idea Sizemore has carried around with him for fifteen years. Written with Tom T. and Dixie Hall, it has already become a favorite in his live performances. Cannon and Sizemore wrote “I Won’t Be Far From Here,” inspired by an old necktie of Carter Stanley’s placed by their side while they were writing the song, virtually channeling the feel of the late Carter Stanley’s songs.
The many musical highlights of GOOD NEWS amply testify to the richness and depth of Sizemore’s influences and background, from playing music with his father in a band lead by local east Kentucky musician/showman Lum Patton to his time with Melvin Goins prior to joining Ralph Stanley’s Clinch Mountain Boys, and then going off to form his own band and make his own recordings. To this day, Charlie takes with him the spirit of humble perseverance and dedication set forth by his heroes — mountain men at heart who were true to their word, worked diligently, and endlessly honed their craft. ” Alison’s Band,” a song on the album where Sizemore, perhaps tongue in cheek, laments being unable to convince Ms. Krauss to hire him, spent three months at #1 on Bluegrass Unlimited’s National Survey and was nominated for IBMA song of the year.
On February 15, 2011, Rounder Records released Charlie Sizemore’s HEARTACHE LOOKING FOR A HOME. While Sizemore didn’t write any of the 14 songs on the new album, there’s a common thread of restlessness, of yearning, in the material chosen so carefully. The people in these songs are all seeking comfort, some momentary peace, in a lover’s arms in “Down in the Quarter,” in a glass of “Red Wicked Wine” or in fantasies of unobtainable women — in the movies (“Ashley Judd“) or the apartment upstairs (“Walking the Floor Over Me.”). And while this isn’t a concept album, our restless soul finds peace at last, closing with “Crossing Over Into the Valley,” a love song of homecoming to the Shenandoah Valley: “Sweet sanctuary, welcome me in.”
Charlie is joined on this album by the four like-minded musicians in The Charlie Sizemore Band — banjo player Josh McMurray, resonator guitarist Matt DeSpain, mandolinist Danny Barnes and bassist John Pennell. There’s no flash-for-flash-sake. All play with the same restrained soulfulness that’s a Sizemore trademark. Even as he reaches beyond bluegrass for material, his Charlie Sizemore Band remains firmly rooted in the sound he was raised on. “It could be my years with Ralph, but I’ve never thought of us as anything but a traditional bluegrass band.”
HEARTACHE LOOKING FOR A HOME covers lots of ground, musically and geographically, which suits Charlie just fine. “I don’t want to make the record I made previously. I just try to keep it interesting for me.”
Danny Barnes (mandolin, vocals)
Danny has lived his entire life around the world of bluegrass music. Music has always been a big part of his life. He began playing in a family band as a child with his father Earl Barnes and brother, Randall Barnes.
Danny now plays the mandolin, but can showcase himself on several other instruments including the banjo. He helps complete the sound of bands he plays with by singing tenor vocals. Danny is also making a name for himself in the area of songwriting and has had several of his original works recorded by well-known bluegrass bands. He has played live and recorded with several top-billing bands over the years including the Charlie Sizemore Band, Continental Divide, Pine Mountain Railroad, Katie Penn, and Dean Osborne to name just a few.
Danny is sponsored by Gibson Acoustic Instruments and plays the Gibson F-5 Sam Bush Model mandolin on stage and in the studio. He is now also endorses Black Diamond Strings. Danny remains close to his bluegrass roots. He still lives in the town where he was born and raised, Richmond, Kentucky. He makes his home there with his wife Angie and their two children.
JOSH MCMURRAY (banjo)
From Church Hill, Tennessee, Josh is the newest member of the band, having played is first show in November, 2008. Josh is perhaps best known for his ten years as banjo player for Larry Sparks and the Lonesome Ramblers, where he gained a reputation as a young picker to watch. J.D. Crowe notes his approval in liner notes he wrote for Josh’s instrumental CD on Copper Creek Records.
CHARLES FIELDS (upright bass)
Still a teenager, Charles Fields is proficient on most stringed instruments and has in a short time built an impressive resume. He started his music career playing the mandolin with his family band: Wayne Fields and Driftwood. His first job on the upright bass was with John Cosby and the Bluegrass Drifters, along with his father, Wayne Fields, who played banjo in the band. The band performed at the legendary Renfro Valley Barn Dance as well as festivals throughout Kentucky.
More recently, Charles has worked with Dale Ann Bradley, in addition to carrying on the tradition of Driftwood with his brother Scott. The band released the CD Stronger Every Day early in 2010. Charles has also filled in as bass player for JD Crowe and the New South and recorded with several well-known bluegrass artists including Richard Bennett and Tony Rice.
Some might think it strange that one so steeped in Southern roots music should hail from‚ of all places‚ suburban Chicago. And yet in high school‚ after a twang-deficient childhood‚ Paul and a few pals discovered bluegrass on vinyl and never looked back. Paul attended and graduated from the University of Illinois with highest honors‚ including the highest GPA in the Deparment of History‚ all the while nurturing his passion for music.
In 1981‚ Paul joined and toured with an early edition of Special Consensus Bluegrass Band‚ an association that lasted three years. It was at this time that he studied with mandolin wizard Kenneth “Jethro” Burns of Homer and Jethro fame‚ an apprenticeship which would blossom into a lifelong love of jazz. In 1984‚ he scratched his competitive itch‚ winning the prestigious mandolin contests at the Kerrville Bluegrass Festival and the Walnut Valley Festival at Winfield Kansas. Post-Special C‚ Paul took up electric guitar and fiddle and worked the suburban country bar circuit.
Paul made the big move to Nashville in 1988‚ almost immediately scoring a writing gig with Mel Tillis´s publishing company. Then came touring offers and multi-instrumentalist gigs with some of Nashville´s biggest country stars‚ including Lynn Anderson‚ Lionel Cartwright‚ Robert Ellis Orrall‚ Lorrie Morgan‚ Doug Stone‚ George Ducas‚ Pam Tillis‚ Rhett Akins‚ Deana Carter‚ Suzy Bogguss‚ Gary Allan‚ Travis Tritt‚ and most recently‚ Sammy Kershaw. He has appeared on numerous television shows‚ including Leno‚ Letterman‚ Austin City Limits‚ and The View. He backed Faith Hill on guitar in one TV appearance‚ and Martina McBride on fiddle in another. “I´ve lived the musician´s dream” he says‚ “I´ve jammed onstage with my idols: Bill Monroe‚ Merle Haggard‚ Buck Owens‚ Ricky Skaggs‚ Hank Jr.‚ Marty Stuart‚ Charlie Daniels‚ Mark O´Connor‚ and Asleep at the Wheel.”
In the studio Paul has contributed to recordings by Lionel Cartwright‚ Sammy Kershaw‚ Gretchen Peters‚ Pam Gadd‚ Chris Jones‚ Buddy Spicher‚ Vassar Clements‚ Jerry Krahn‚ Robert Lovett‚ and John England and the Western Swingers. Recently he has added fiddle and mandolin tracks to several projects with rock legend Leon Russell‚ including a duet project with Willie Nelson.
As a songwriter Paul´s songs have been recorded by Wild Rose‚ Shane Barmby‚ Debra Burns‚ LeeAnn Womack‚ Jeff Chance‚ Mandy Barnett‚ Chris Jones‚ Janet Lynn‚ the Gibson Brothers‚ and Mel Tillis. In 2003‚ Suzy Bogguss recorded three of Paul´s songs for her Ray Benson-produced Swing project‚ including “It´s All About You”‚ “Piccadilly Circus”‚ and “It´s Always New To Me”.
In recent years Paul Kramer has begun to hone his identity as an artist‚ although “honing an identity” may be the wrong description for someone with so many musical personalities! 2007 witnessed the unveiling of Swing Street‚ an all-original tour de force inspired by the music of Ellington and Armstrong‚ Reinhardt and Grappelli‚ Count Basie‚ and even Bob Wills. Highlights include a duet with Suzy Bogguss on the acoustic gypsy-groove tune “Animal Attraction”‚ the Bob Wills-on-acid historical satire of “Monkeys With Car Keys”‚ and the Cole Porteresque mini-movie “Piccadilly Circus”. Paul did all the lead vocals‚ guitars‚ fiddle‚ and mandolin on the project‚ with able assistance from Charlie Chadwick‚ Danny Coots‚ Jim White‚ Jeff Taylor‚ Dennis Solee‚ and Tommy Hannum.
Paul Kramer uses and endorses D’Addario strings, Fender guitars and amps, and Gibson mandolins.
Wayne Fields (banjo)
We are sorry to announce the passing of our beloved friend and band member, Wayne Fields.
Charlie Sizemore writes:
I first met Wayne over thirty years ago during his stint with The Boys From Indiana when I was a kid working with the Goins Brothers. I still remember being a bit taken aback by how respectful he was toward me – a skinny kid from Puncheon Creek still trying to learn to pick. He made me feel welcome and comfortable, and I was thrilled just to be able to hang out with him at festivals and shows.
As the years went by we became friends and I continued to be amazed and inspired by his talent, never dreaming that I’d be able to work with him.
I can say with complete honesty that working in a band with Wayne is the highlight of my career, and regardless of what happens from here I don’t think this will be surpassed.
The term “greatness” is used far too casually these days. But for me Wayne is the embodiment of that idea, both as a musician and as a person. This is a fact: I have never known or been associated with a musician with anything approaching the combination of talent, humility, loyalty, and team spirit, and plain old-fashioned grit that Wayne Fields possessed. One would have had to be in the studio to truly understand how sick he was when we made the “Good News” CD, yet he neither complained nor asked for any special consideration.
He was, in the words of John Pennell, “the best kept secret in bluegrass.” Beyond this and just as significant, as a band member recently noted, “he made us all better.”
I entertain no delusions of being a musician of Wayne’s caliber. I can only hope to someday lay claim to being something approaching the kind of person he was. In reality, this may be the larger hurdle.
We love you and miss you, Wayne. You’ll never be replaced.
The Charlie Sizemore Band