Steve Bryant Getting Back to Bluegrass

| October 12, 2011 | 3 Comments

Steve Bryant was already thinking a lot about all the fun he had in bluegrass a couple of decades ago. A trip to IBMA’s Fanfest this year sealed the deal.

“I’d like to get reacquainted with bluegrass,” Steve told me over the phone after the quick-stop visit to IBMA found him rehashing old war stories with pals. “I have a lot of fond memories of doing that.”

It’s easy to have fond memories, of course, when they include joining Ricky Skaggs, Terry Baucom and Jerry Douglas in the now legendary Boone Creek, playing bass for J.D. Crowe and the New South, and rooming with Keith Whitley – speaking of legends – on the road.

Steve has been a go-to session player in Nashville since 1994, mostly in country music. His electric bass groove can be heard on countless hits over the last two decades.

But while he left bluegrass, bluegrass never really left him – in part because of his ties to the late Mr. Whitley.

“Some of the best singers in country have a bluegrass background,” Steve said. “They know of Keith Whitley” through videos and old songs. “He’s like a super legend.”

Many young bluegrass pickers know about Keith and Steve, too. “I was talking to Sierra Hull, and she knew who I was, and I was thinking, ‘Man, she wasn’t even born” when Keith and Steve played with the New South.

Steve’s interest in returning to bluegrass is the result of what might be a perfect storm of circumstances – a 30 percent falloff in the session business coinciding with the examination of one’s life that takes place as more birthday candles get squeezed onto the cake. “I’m in the season of my life where I’m looking at broadening what I do,” he said.

For now, that involves getting the word out that he’s available for bluegrass session work. He might even put together a band, although he notes that he’s not actively recruiting members.

Steve has been following the recurring “is it bluegrass” debate with great interest. He got so much grief for playing electric bass with Boone Creek and the New South that fellow bassist Mike Bub joshingly introduces him as “the guy who ruined music.”

Today, of course, Steve wouldn’t be the only bluegrasser plugging in to play bass. But given the reaction back in the day, his career might have taken a different path without his bandleader’s backing. “Crowe would stick up for me,” Steve recounted. “He’d say, ‘Man, I like what you do.’ Some people were offended, but, man, I was into it. Maybe some people thought I was making fun of their music, but I wasn’t.”

Referring to the newly rekindled debate about bluegrass, he said, “Any kind of good music is flexible.” But, echoing others from the Big Tent camp, he added, “The traditional thing, I think, is not going to go away.”

Steve can be reached, for session work or Skype lessons, at sadtyler@comcast.net. The email handle sounds like a jumping off point for a sad old bluegrass tune, but it’s actually a combination of his two favorite bass guitars – a Sadowsky and a Tyler.

David Morris

David Morris is a Washington, D.C.-based journalist, songwriter and upright bass player. He has spent much of his career as a wire service political reporter, including nearly 14 years with The Associated Press and a stint as chief White House correspondent for Bloomberg News, and is now a senior editor for Kiplinger Washington Editors.

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