How did you get into music?
I’ve always loved music. My Grandma Doris Highfill taught me how to sing in church. I can remember being 3 years older singing with her, or trying to. Looking back, I was always attracted to the old sounds and the artists that somewhat mimicked those same sounds in the early 1990’s as I was growing up. I remember hearing Hank Jr on a cassette doing a duet with Hank Sr on “There’s a Tear in my Beer.” That was my favorite song of that album. Ricky Skaggs singing “Don’t Cheat in Our Hometown.” I had no idea who Carter Stanley was or what Bluegrass music was for that matter. Fast forward to 2002, my best friend and neighbor, Steven Lawson, found a banjo under his grandpa’s bed and he was told to learn to play it or put it up. He commenced to learn right then and there. As best friends do, I had to follow suit.
Who inspired you?
My Grandma Doris was the first person to inspire me to sing. I wouldn’t be where I am today with Steven Lawson’s Grandpa, Udell Stout. My first inspiration for mandolin was a picture of Bill Monroe holding that old Loar mandolin. I remember that like it was yesterday. From there, I I was influenced by many Missouri mandolin players… Jim Orchard, Don Brown, & Frank Ray in particular. As I’ve grown, I love Earl Taylor, David McLaughlin, Dempsey Young, Bobby Osborne, David Davis, Butch Waller, and multiple others.
Toughest challenge on the road?
The toughest challenge on the road for me is sleeping good and eating in a healthy manner. There’s not a lot of places open for a good meal when we hit the road after a show, usually. I can sleep very well on the bus, but sometimes it’s hard to get a proper amount of sleep.
Favorite road story?
My favorite road stories should never be put into print, haha! One of my favorite stories was with The Karl Shiflett & Big Country Show. Karl was driving the Eagle bus and he had replaced the windshields and gaskets. The gaskets weren’t exactly the same as the originals, just a tad smaller. We were in New Mexico and the drivers windshield slipped out of the bottom of the gasket and started to shimmy down and out of the window frame. Karl grabbed the bottom of the windshield and held it in place, somehow shearing the bus down and getting it pulled over safely. We slapped the windshield back in and kept on heading to Roswell, stopping whenever we needed to put the windshield in place again.
Who are you listening to now?
I’ve actually been listening to Leslie Jordan’s gospel album. I love his acting, so I figured I’d try his music out and I like it really well. Mostly been listening to Industrial Strength Bluegrass and some classic Sammy Kershaw.
How did you utilize your “Stay at Home” time in 2020?
The first bit of the pandemic was mentally stressful and debilitating. But after I pulled myself out of my little slump, I kind of went on a journey of self exploration. I learned a lot about myself and have benefited greatly from that experience. I caught up on things around the house, went camping quite a bit and even got in the studio with The Po’ Ramblin’ Boys to start work on a new album.
What are your top 3 go to instruments?
Numero Uno: Feb 18, 1924 Gibson F-5 signed by Lloyd Loar that was owned by one of my heroes from my homestate of Missouri, Don Brown.
Numero Dos: 1927 Gibson F-5 “Fern” I bought in 2019 from the original owner’s family. The mandolin never left Greenwich Village of played Bluegrass Music until I got it.
Numero Tres: A Brand new Gibson F-5 Master Model “Pee Wee Fern.” It’s based off of the Pee Wee Lambert Loar that Ricky Skaggs owns now and Steven Gilchrist restored. There’s been 2 made by Gibson so far and this is Number 2.
I’ve got so many good mandolins that I need to mention my McClanahan 6 piece back prototype Loretto model and also a new Ruhland F-5 Fern that is a monster with a back one it that is unlike any other that’s ever been seen.
Why not Calton?
When I was a kid in Missouri, I remember everyone that had a Calton, had a vintage or hoss of an instrument. I played with The Ozark Bluegrass Boys and Jim Orchard had a Calton case which he carried his 1923 Loar mandolin in. I wanted a Calton so bad since the beginning of my playing. I knew they were the best. Functional, durable, economical, customizable, beautiful. Ironically, my first Calton was that exact case I saw Jim Orchard have. He gave it to me for my birthday. I now have 5 caltons!
What’s next for you?
One never knows. I would hope to continue this journey of life that Bluegrass music has helped bless me with.
What I am not asking and what’s the answer to that question?
Maybe that Calton isn’t my only endorsement. I am sponsored by Straight Up Strings in California. By far the best strings I’ve ever used. Roger Siminoff is a genius.
What has been your favorite part of being involved and leading in the bluegrass community?
The family and friendships I’ve made in the 20 years I’ve been playing.
I keep in contact with my mentors, Jim Orchard, Ray Gore and Frank Ray. I have become a mentor to some younger folks like all those guys were for me and it feels good to pass on that legacy. Something that meant so much to me was for a legend to take time to help me.
I’ve made friends with some of the most iconic figures in the industry and am truly blessed. I never thought I would be texting Bobby Osborne on a regular basis, or hanging at Del McCoury’s house changing batteries on an old Eagle bus. I wouldn’t call myself a leader of Bluegrass music, just a friend of Bluegrass music.
Can you tell us about any pivotal moments in your career that became significant for where you are at today?
The pivotal moment for me was stepping on stage of the Grand Ole Opry on October 1, 2019 with my brothers and sister in music and showing the world what we can create. To me, that’s the highest honor I ever could have imagined.
I stood in the circle and could see my Grandma and Aunt out there cheering me on. I remember watching the Grand Ole Opry at Grandma’s house as a little boy. I loved the music then but never thought I would play or be a part of the Opry in any way. I could have walked off that stage and never played again for the rest of life and feel like I accomplished everything I was set to do in this lifetime, musically.
Are there any causes you are super passionate about?
I am a huge supporter of International Bluegrass Music Association. Also, Bluegrass Pride, Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame & Museum and anything related to Diabetes Research. My mother died at the age of 33 from Diabetes and I have a soft spot in my heart for a cure of diabetes.
What’s going on with the Po’ Ramblin’ Boys this year?
We are playing quite a bit. Traveling when we can. The main focus this year is new music, both on stage and recorded. We have a treat studio, Sound Biscuit Productions, in our backyard and Dave Maggard goes out of his way for us. 2021 will be the year of singles leading up to an album in early 2022.