Adam Steffey talks Here To Stay

here_to_stayHere To Stay, Adam Steffey’s new album from Mountain Home Music, is one his fans have been hoping for this past ten years or so. We had a chance to discuss the new record with him last week while he was traveling to a show.

Steffey consistently refers to himself as a “band guy,” someone who prefers to be a member of a regular performing group, as opposed to a solo artist. And in that capacity he has found himself a part of several of the most critically-acclaimed outfits in contemporary bluegrass music. He’s recorded and toured as a member of Alison Krauss & Union Station for several years, worked in the early days with Mountain Heart, and is now part of The Boxcars.

Prior to his current gig, Steffey recorded a number of iconic songs that have stuck to him even after taking his leave from AKUS and Mountain Heart, so much so that The Boxcars now include several in their stage show. But he has never – them for a project of his own, at least until now.

This new project is made up almost entirely of songs and tunes that have been associated with Adam for years, recut with a crack bluegrass band at Crossroads Studios in western North Carolina earlier this year.

Steffey says the idea has been brewing for a while…

Adam Steffey - photo by Steve Lankford“It’s something that I wanted to do for a long time. Ever since I was in Mountain Heart I was thinking that. Since we started The Boxcars, people would come up and ask if I had these songs on a record, and I’ve been thinking of doing it.

I had never thought about these songs as relatable to me – I’m a band guy, I’ll never be a headliner – and I’m totally cool with that. That’s the way I like it.

I just wanted to go in and do ’em, and then I would have ’em when people asked for them.”

But new recordings of classic tracks brings with it its own unique pitfalls, ones that Adam kept top of mind. He said that he wanted to walk a fine line that wouldn’t disturb fans of the original renditions, while being mindful of new listeners at the same time.

“I was worried that folks’ll have the old versions in their mind, and not like the new one. So we stuck pretty close to the originals and stayed away from new, psychedelic arrangements. I just wanted an updated version. A long time has passed since I cut that stuff with Alison, and new listeners may not ever know them. We encounter a lot of new bluegrass fans at festivals who don’t know much about the history of the music, and I have students at ETSU that don’t know that I played with Alison or Mountain Heart.”

This is especially true on numbers like No Place To Hide, which he calls “Mudslide,” and Cloudy Days, both of which had appeared on big-selling Krauss projects in the 1990s. Or Little Liza Jane which he played often as a mandolin instrumental on AKUS shows. All three are included on Here To Stay.

Adam shared a few words about these cuts, and a couple others.

Adam Steffey“Liza Jane is one we used to do in soundcheck and at rehearsals. The only reason we recorded it was because Alison said she wanted an instrumental on So Long, So Wrong. Most people play it sort of slower, kind of a hop-a-long kind of tune, but we did it wide open.

Pitching Wedge is another that a lot of folks had asked me for. Just a good mandolin tune to learn in E. I had cut that years ago on my first solo album, Grateful.

Twister is one I did with Mountain Heart, and its another ETSU students have asked me about. Like Cloudy Days.

I have a four note range, and quarter inch vertical leap. Twister suits my voice very well. A guy down in South Carolina, Glenn Pace, wrote it. We recorded it with Mountain Heart for Skaggs Family. I think Barry Abernathy brought that to me. Another weather catastrophe.

I’m like the bluegrass weather forecaster. I have a bunch of songs about climate issues, tragedies and the like.”

Other songs include Mountain Man, a hit for Adam with Mountain Heart in 2002, and several that are new for him. He includes an Eric Gibson song, The Space I’m In, and an old Wilburn Brothers classic, Town That Never Sleeps. One of my favorites is a Hank Sr. number called Dear John, written by Aubrey Gass and Tex Ritter.

“I heard that tune a long time ago, the first time was when I was with Alison. I had just assumed it was a Hank Williams original, and didn’t know it was a Tex Ritter song. Hank did it more slow and swingy, but I thought it would lend itself well to a smokin’ grass song.

I had to crank it up to C since it was so low. When we tracked it, I was just kind of humming along, and when I went in to sing it, I was thinking ‘wow… this may not work this fast.’

It’s a very funny song, a bit like Like Me Fall from his One More For The Road album, with a call-and-response with the band.

“I wanted to do another tune with Tina to keep that Old Primitive vibe in there. I asked Tina which one she might want to do with me, and she came up with Hell Among The Yearlings.”

The album closes with a lovely waltz, Come Thou Font, with a plethora of multi-tracked mandolins, which he played himself.

“Come Thou Fount is a hymn I had heard my whole life. I had never done anything like that before, just stacking mandolin parts. Northfield let me borrow an octave mandolin for the low part. It looks like an old Mother Maybelle-style guitar but it’s tuned like a mandolin, an octave lower. I just started adding parts based on what sounded good. I didn’t have any special plan but ended up with 6 or 7. It wasn’t formally arranged. I wanted it to be like a group of people sitting around playing mandolins.”

The good folks at Mountain Home shared this track for our readers, a recut of Town That Isn’t There, a Steve Gulley and Tim Stafford song that Adam had also recorded with Mountain Heart. It fits right in his wheelhouse, a bluesy mountain ballad about simple, hard living people.

Ron Stewart plays fiddle, Aaron Ramsey guitar, Barry Bales bass, Jason Davis banjo, with Tina Steffey on one track, a duet with Adam. Tim Surrett and Barry Bales sing harmony.

Here To Stay is set for a September 23 release. Pre-orders are enabled now in iTunes.

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.