Jessica Blankenship is the owner and founder of Kentucky Country Music website. The Berea College graduate has been a music journalist and historian for over 20 years. She enjoys providing concert photography, reviews, historical articles, red carpet event coverage, and exclusive interviews of your favorite musicians. Jessica is proud to be a Kentucky Colonel and alumni of the FFA and 4-H Clubs. In 2018, she was named one of Laurel County’s Ten Under 40 Award Recipients. In 2019, she was a member of the Inaugural class of BRIGHT Kentucky as part of Leadership Kentucky. She has been featured on the Kentucky Music Preview podcast, Overtones radio show, WFKY Nashville News Roundup, KET, and more. Beyond music, she enjoys traveling, helping her community, collecting gnomes, and Volkswagens.
One of bluegrass music’s hottest bands, The Grascals, are currently on the Rowdy Friends Tour with Hank Williams, Jr., Eric Church, and Jamey Johnson. I had the opportunity to speak with Terry Eldredge and Jamie Johnson of the Grascals after their performance about their new release, “The Famous Lefty Flynn’s,” as well as their relationship to fans and influencing others in the business. Here is that conversation.
I picked up the new album on Tuesday and loved it. It is one of my favorite ones that you have released so far. You and Hank Jr. performed together on “I’m Blue I’m Lonesome” written by Hank Williams, Sr. and Bill Monroe. How did it feel to record such a historically written song? You can tell even on the recording how the influence of both Monroe and Hank.
Jamie: Incredible for one, I mean anything you get to record with Hank Williams, Jr. for us would be historical because he’s an icon of ours in the music business. But that song his daddy wrote with Bill Monroe, the father of our bluegrass music, and pretty much Hank, Sr. If he isn’t the father, he’s certainly one of the uncles that got our country music going. And back then the two musics were so close that’s why they wrote that song together probably because our music was just alike then. It’s a little bit different now, but that’s ok. To have him come in, he did an incredible job singing on the song. He learned it kinda sitting there. He never sang the song before. He did a great job and it was fun to do.
With the Rowdy Friends Tour, how did you get connected with the tour?
Terry: Kirt Webster, who is Hank’s publicist, is our publicist too. Hank had a song that he had written about 15 years ago and he was wanting to cut it bluegrass, but he never ever anything done. He tried it a couple of times before, but never got the right feeling or sound on it. Kirt played some of our stuff to him and Hank said, “That’s the sound. That’s what I want.” So we went in and recorded it and that’s how that all happened. We’ve been friends and associates ever since then.
You have several dates on the tour and just done Charleston Friday night and Louisville tonight. Are there any particular dates that you are looking forward to playing?
Terry: Yeah, Nashville for sure.
Jamie: Louisiana is going to be great because that’s where Hank’s from.
Terry: Any of them really I mean. This is our second night.
Jamie: We don’t want to end this thing. The good news is it looks like we may perhaps continue this thing. Later on in the year, he might do some more dates. It’s always a feel thing for him. It’s not like he has to have the money. This is a passion for him and he’s gotta love it and have a good time. So far he’s having a great time, so as long as everything keeps up good and we all have fun out here we’ll do some dates in October.
Your current single, “Last Train to Clarksville,” is a Monkee’s remake. How did you pick that song to cover?
Terry: We actually thought about that for an album before and it kinda got discarded.
Jamie: We had never really rehearsed it yet.
Terry: We thought “yeah that might be a great album idea”. Jamie was the one that said “What about that Monkee’s tune?” We were looking for another song for this album that was different.
Jamie: Actually I heard it on that show that John Rich hosted on CMT where the stars are trying to make it doing the country thing (Gone Country). Mickey Dolenz was on there and he sang “Last Train to Clarksville” country style in downtown Nashville and I heard it. I thought if it would work, we could do it.
It seems like the formula of you having the bluegrass and country style of your music has worked. What do you think has helped with the longevity and success in your career?
Terry: I think it’s just that we’ve all known each other for so long. That’s a big part of it. We all get along, you are going to have your discrepancies no matter what. Any thing in your life, you are going to have a discrepancy in your life. But for the best part we try to control and we just love each other. We love the music we’re playing. We love the sound we’re creating and stuff we’re doing. I think that’s one of the biggest parts of it.
I know that you are doing Facebook, Myspace, and Twitter. Has it helped you relationship with your fans? Does it seem like you’re gaining more fans?
Jamie: Yes, it seems like we’re gaining and the ones that we already have it helps put them closer to us already. If they are are really interested in what we’re doing, they can keep an eye on us everywhere we go. It’s a good thing, you know, as long as we’re behaving. It’s a family band here. The good thing about our fans is that they are our friends. We know most of our fans, they know who we are. We meet many people all the time, shake their hand and talk to them all the time. A lot of them we’re invited to their house, our house, and if we’re at a bluegrass festival, they’ll invite us to come back to their campsite to go eat with them. They realize that we’re just normal people and there’s nothing special about us.
I know how important that is in the industry today, no matter what genre you’re playing.
Jamie: Earlier today, Jeremy Abshire and I played cornhole with some folks. There was a stall in the day so we went out and play cornhole with them. They were out there screaming and brings the fans to you. Dierks (Bentley) is good about that; he’ll go out to his people. You’ll watch and learn.
Terry: Dierks does a lot of that computer stuff like every day.
Jamie: Yep sure does.
Terry: Jamie’s the one that does that for us. I’m stupid about that. Computer illiterate.
I was at the Opry a few years ago when the other Jamey Johnson played on the same show as you. I know Jim Ed Brown kinda got you (Jamie Johnson) mixed up. It was right after your child was born and Jim Ed thought the other Jamey just had a child. He replied with a look on his face and said “She’s doing good” and mentioned other stuff. Have you had other mistaken identities with him?
Jamie: I didn’t know that about the Opry. That’s funny. No, not at the mailbox yet. Some days I wish the mailman would do that. Naw, we pretty much don’t look or sound no where alike. Most people don’t know me as Jamie Johnson, they know me as Grascal. It’s kinda like the guys from Diamond Rio, you don’t really know their names. Well we do, but most folks out there in the world don’t know their names. Like the band Alabama, when you see someone, you go “That guy’s from Alabama.” When they see me, that’s what they know me as (Grascal). I hate that he took my name (laughing).
Now you just have the grow a beard and some hair.
Jamie: I’ll keep with what I’ve got. I can’t grow a beard.
Terry: It might take you a year.
Jamie: Oh and grow maybe an eighth of an inch long then.
How does it feel when others, like Dierks Bentley, say that they have been influenced by your music?
Terry: Other than, you know, it’s great. I mean it’s wonderful to know that you’ve touched somebody’s life through music, what you enjoy doing. Music is emotion. That’s what it is and to touch them through an emotion like that it’s one of the greatest things in the world you know. That’s how I think about it.
Jamie: It’s an honor really. I mean honestly, I’ve sat there and with Dierks and watched him sing. We sat there at the same table drinking a pitcher of beer and watching him sing thinking dang I like him. To watch somebody like George Jones, or Haggard, people don’t sometimes write the song but can still sing it as if they did. That’s not something you can learn, I don’t care who you are. I do okay at some of them. The majority of my songs, I sing to the best of my ability. To really learn that, that’s just a God given talent. We appreciate the people that respect that. I salute Dierks for pointing that out. Shoot, I wrote the title cut of this album, but I want him (Terry) to sing it. It’s an honor to learn from people like I do really.
Who do you choose who’s going to sing lead on songs?
Jamie: Whatever sounds best. Mostly we find songs that we like.
Terry: There’s an awesome song on the new album called “Satan and Grandma.” It’s an unbelievable song. Jamie wanted me to sing it and I messed with trying but for some reason we were going to run through it one day and I was like “I can’t get it, I don’t feel it.” There’s been so many songs that we’ve passed up, great songs just like that, or even better. It’s like we can’t, it doesn’t fit us. Jamie said, “Well I want to try it.” He tried it and hit a home run with it.
It was indeed a very powerful song.
Terry: I’m glad that you felt that. He sung the heck out of that song.
Jamie: That’s one of them that I felt every single word. I mean I have grandmas and I love them very much. That one I felt. Certain ones I can grab a hold of and do magic with. Then there’s others that I kinda just do something with. You got to go with the right songs. “Lefty Flynn” I love to sing it too but it’s got more of a Haggard feel, that’s him (Terry).
Terry: We always just pick songs and run through them. If they fit us, then it’s all good. Like I say, “I don’t know if I can do this, you try it” to Jamie and he will try it. Or we will both try it and it’s like “no” and it will be a great song but it just don’t work or fitting us.
As our interview concluded, I do believe that the formula that the Grascals have kept throughout these years to intertwine various styles and making it their own has been a successful one. Not only for them, but for the fans. Fans can check out the Rowdy Friends Tour on these dates:
April 9 – Bossier City, LA
April 10 – Lafayette, LA
April 17 – Pikeville, KY w/ The Grascals only
April 23 – Nashville, TN
April 24 – Duluth, GA
May 7 – Tulsa, OK
May 8 – Kansas City, MO
The Grascals will be coming back to Kentucky on the following dates/cities:
06.26.10 RudyFest Grayson, KY
06.10.10 Festival of the Bluegrass Lexington, KY
08.07.10 Osborne Brothers Bluegrass Festival Hyden, KY
09.04.10 J.D. Crowe Bluegrass Festival Wilmore, KY
Be sure to pick up the Grascal’s latest release “The Famous Lefty Flynn’s” now available in stores and online. More information on the Grascals can be found at www.grascals.com