Great musicians will always find a way to make good music, but for great musicians to make great music, they must form a bond – one that, more often than not, goes beyond the purely musical to the personal. For The Grascals, that bond has been forged at the intersection of personal friendships, shared professional resumes and an appreciation for the innovative mingling of bluegrass and country music that has been a hallmark of the Nashville scene for more than forty years.
Their cutting-edge modern bluegrass is delivered with a deep knowledge of, and admiration for, the work of the music’s founding fathers. Timely yet timeless, The Grascals make music that is entirely relevant to the here and now, yet immersed in traditional values of soul and musicianship. It’s a unique sound that has earned three Grammy® nominations and two Entertainer of the Year awards from the International Bluegrass Music Association, as well as national media attention that seems to perpetually elude acts entrenched in niche genres. Such appearances include The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Fox & Friends, The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, and CBS’ The Talk. All the while, stages that represent the strongest bastions of tradition continually welcome them, as evidenced by the over 150 performances on the Grand Ole Opry. Honors also include performing twice for President George W. Bush and at President Barack Obama’s inaugural ball at the Smithsonian.
As their records prove, The Grascals’ rare musical empathy gives them an unerring ear for just the right touch to illuminate each offering’s deepest spirit – whether they’re digging into one of their original songs or reworking a bluegrass classic or a pop standard. Take for instance, fan favorite, “Last Train to Clarksville.” Non-bluegrass listeners enjoy a new take on a familiar song, while diehard bluegrass audiences who may have never heard the Monkees classic, respond in-kind, not even realizing that the song has been Grascalized.
The soulful vocals and easygoing stage presence of Terry Eldredge have earned him not only the loyalty of bluegrass fans and the appreciation of fellow bluegrass musicians, but the admiration of a stunningly wide variety of entertainers who have witnessed him fronting the Sidemen at Nashville’s world-famous Station Inn. The Indiana native began his career with first-hand experience of the music of an earlier generation of country stars, playing bass with longtime Opry stars Lonzo and Oscar. He joined the Osborne Brothers in 1988, soon switching to guitar and adding a powerful lead and low tenor voice to the Brothers’ legendary trios. Eldredge took up the bass again when he joined Larry Cordle & Lonesome Standard Time at the end of the 1990s, earning a 2003 IBMA nomination for Bass Player of the Year and contributing mightily to the ensemble’s success with dynamic tenor and lead vocals. During a hiatus from Lonesome Standard Time, he recorded and performed as a member of Dolly Parton’s Blue-niques. In addition to two solo albums for Pinecastle Records and albums by the Osborne Brothers, Cordle, Parton and the Sidemen, Terry’s recording credits include appearances on CDs by IBMA Hall of Honor members Benny Martin, Josh Graves and Chubby Wise, as well as country star Dierks Bentley.
Shared Indiana roots and a love for the Osborne Brothers’ harmonies first sparked a friendship between Eldredge and Jamie Johnson, but when the latter moved to Nashville at the end of the 1990s, the two quickly discovered a vocal blend that rivals bluegrass’ greatest sibling harmonies. Though he helped to found the Wildwood Valley Boys at the beginning of the decade, Jamie first drew attention to his soaring tenor voice as a member of the Boys From Indiana, with whom he performed in the mid-1990s. Stints with local bluegrass and country bands followed before he returned to the Wildwood Valley Boys, making his recording debut on their I’M A BELIEVER (2000). Following his move to Nashville, he began to find success as a songwriter – he co- wrote the title cut of Bobby Osborne’s WHERE I COME FROM (2002) – and as a singer, making his Opry debut as a member of Gail Davies’ band, joining the Sidemen in 2001, and contributing leads and harmonies to BLUEGRASS – THE LITTLE GRASCALS: NASHVILLE’S SUPERPICKERS. He has recorded with Dolly Parton (harmony vocals on 2005’s Those Were The Days and Backwoods Barbie) and is featured, alongside Terry Eldredge, on her single and title-cut, BLUE SMOKE. Other credits include alternative country singer Trent Summar (on the Davies-produced Caught In The Webb), Ricky Van Shelton, and hit songwriter Jerry Salley. Jamie has also enjoyed further songwriting success with many cuts by bluegrass groups, such as the Lonesome River Band. He has penned three title cuts for the Grascals, LONG LIST OF HEARTACHES, THE FAMOUS LEFTY FLYNN’S, and LIFE FINDS A WAY, as well as the notable “I Am Strong” and “American Pickers.”
Danny Roberts began playing guitar to back up his friend Jimmy Mattingly (founding member, The Grascals) when the two were growing up on adjacent farms in Leitchfield, KY. Soon he was winning contests on his own as a guitarist and, eventually, mandolin player. In 1982 he co-founded the New Tradition, a dynamic, ground- breaking bluegrass/gospel group that toured the country for close to 20 years (the last ten on a full-time basis), recorded ten CDs, made “Seed Of Love,” the first bluegrass video to feature the banjo – it reached #1 on the TNN channel – appeared on the Grand Ole Opry, and helped to bring the bluegrass sound and gospel message to a new generation of fans. When the group dissolved in 2000, Danny went to work for Gibson Musical Instruments, where he rose to the position of plant manager at the company’s Original Acoustic Instruments luthiery. Still, he kept his hand in as a musician, giving workshops with mandolin colleagues like Sam Bush, Chris Thile and Bobby Osborne, making guest appearances with artists such as Marty Raybon, Larry Cordle and Melonie Cannon, and touring and recording with bluegrass/country veteran Ronnie Reno as a member of his band, the Reno Tradition, before reuniting with Mattingly in The Grascals in 2004. His solo recording, MANDOLIN ORCHARD, received extensive airplay and was touted by the Chicago Tribune as one of the Top 10 Bluegrass Releases of 2004. Roberts was also honored with four SPBGMA Awards for Mandolin Performer of the Year. His latest solo release is entitled NIGHTHAWK on Crossroads Records, and features several duets with many of today’s most accomplished mandolin players.
Another veteran of the Osborne Brothers’ band is bassist Terry Smith. Spending 12 of his 13 years alongside Eldredge with the legendary duet, the two were unknowingly laying yet another layer to the foundation that would become The Grascals. Smith grew up in North Carolina before moving to Nashville in his early teens. Beginning in a family band with his brother, Billy, and his parents (Hazel Smith, Terry’s mom, is a songwriter and renowned country music journalist) he graduated swiftly to stints with bluegrass and country legends Jimmy Martin, Wilma Lee Cooper and the Osborne Brothers. He also found time to pursue a separate career with his brother, recording a 1990 album for CBS that generated an early #1 video on CMT, following it with 1992’s GRASS SECTION disc (made with friends and colleagues like Ronnie McCoury and Glen Duncan) and a 1996 Bill Monroe Tribute that included some of the Father Of Bluegrass’s last recorded appearances. In 1999, the Smith brothers issued VOICES OF THE MOUNTAIN, with original songs that found a place in the repertoire of bluegrass favorites like the Del McCoury Band and the Lonesome River Band. Terry has worked as a staff songwriter for EMI and Major Bob Music, and recorded with Marty Raybon, Vern Gosdin, IBMA Hall of Honor member Kenny Baker and more. After a long tour of duty with Grand Ole Opry member Mike Snider, Terry joined The Grascals in 2004.
Continuing on with the common link to the Osborne Brothers, leads us to the four-time International Bluegrass Music Association’s Banjo Player of the Year, Kristin Scott Benson. When the Grascals needed a replacement, Kristin received a glowing recommendation from none other than Sonny Osborne. Having spent a combined 25 years working for Sonny and brother, Bobby, both Smith and Eldredge had immense respect for his advice. His vote of confidence, coupled with her already well-established reputation from memberships in bands such as Larry Stephenson and Larry Cordle, led to her joining the band in October of 2008, on the heels of her first IBMA win. Kristin grew up in South Carolina and began playing the banjo when she was thirteen. After high school, she attended Nashville’s esteemed Belmont University, where she graduated Summa Cum Laude with a BBA. Many herald her as one of the first females to successfully be a side-musician in a top-tiered bluegrass band. As author Larry Nager stated: “There was one grass ceiling no woman could cut through—until Kristin Scott Benson came along [and] joined The Grascals. Not to front the band, not to sing, not to be eye candy, but instead to drive the group with her 5-string banjo. Until then, no woman had ever been hired to play one of the most defining of the bluegrass instruments in an Alist, festival-headlining, all-male band….It’s a high profile gig, as Kristin takes the banjo where no woman has taken it before.” (Kristin Scott Benson – Cutting the Grass Ceiling” Bluegrass Unlimited: Oct, 2010). She has two solo albums on Pinecastle Records, one of which features the self-penned “Don’t Tread on Me,” which earned an IBMA nomination for Instrumental Song of the Year in 2009. She has won three Banjo Player of the Year awards from SPBGMA, in addition to her IBMA nods.
The newest member of the Grascals is fiddler Adam Haynes. Originally from Wakeman, Ohio, he began playing when he was thirteen. Like many musicians, his love and interest in bluegrass was initiated and nurtured by his family and Adam cites his father, Jimmy, as a primary influence. Though he only became a Grascal in the fall of 2013, Adam has been working hard as a member of some of the top acts in the business his entire adult life, including Larry Stephenson, James King, Grasstowne and the Grammy-nominated and IBMA award winning duo, Dailey & Vincent. When not on the road, Adam spends time in his own recording studio doing sessions and producing projects. His style is a unique combination of new and old, much like The Grascals, as a whole. While listeners can hear influences from the most modern of players, Adam delivers it all with an attitude and feel, reminiscent of the founding fathers of bluegrass fiddle. Fellow band members welcome his contribution to the group, both on and off stage, as his addition to The Grascals has re-energized and solidified the bond that unites them all, as creative artists and friends.