Album of the Week #10 – The Mike Snider String Band Live At The Station Inn

Mike SniderQuick! Name a band lineup that included members of The Grascals, Marty Stuart & The Fabulous Superlatives, The Osborne Brothers, The John Cowan Band, and Michael Cleveland & Flamekeeper (to name a few). If you guessed The Mike Snider String Band, you’re correct!

Mike Snider has long been a staple in the country music world. He was frequently seen on TNN’s Nashville Now, and was a cast member of one of the most beloved television shows of all time, Hee Haw. For over twenty years now, he has entertained millions as a member of the Grand Ole Opry.

Known for his quick wit and side-splitting tales about “Sweetie,” Mike is also one of the Opry’s best instrumentalists. A master of many instruments including the banjo, mandolin, and harmonica, he always has a great band that plays some of our favorite traditional instrumentals. One of Mike’s best band lineups was when he recorded his only live album: Live At The Station Inn.

When Mike recorded this album roughly ten years ago, his band included Terry Smith on bass and Charlie Cushman on banjo/guitar, along with current members Matt Combs and Shad Cobb on twin fiddles. Now THAT’s some instrumental fire power!

The Mike Snider String Band Live At The Station Inn featured some of everyone’s favorite instrumental numbers such as Sally Goodin, Soldier’s Joy, Angelina Baker, Old Joe Clark, and more. What makes these cuts stand out, is Mike’s unique arrangements that still stay true to the traditional style.

After a humorous intro by Glenn Sutton, the band starts right into the picking. Denver Belle opens the show, with Shad Cobb and Matt Combs’s twin fiddles in full force. When Doyle Lawson carried twin fiddlers in Quicksilver for a brief time, he was once asked why he felt the need to have two fiddle players. Lawson remarked, “The only thing better than having two fiddle players is having three fiddle players.” I couldn’t agree more. Doubling up the rosin causes a much richer and fuller sound. The twin fiddles throughout this album are a real treat.

Shad Cobb, who spends his spends part of his time as a member of The John Cowan Band (remember Black Blizzard?), is put out front in his rendition of Soppin’ The Gravy. Snider put it best when introducing Shad on the album: He is one of the most natural fiddle players you’ll ever hear. You definitely hear that on Soppin’ The Gravy; the rest of the band practically sits back and turns Shad loose, and he tears it up.

The other half of the one-two punch in The Mike Snider String Band was Matt Combs. Mike tells everyone that Matt has a degree in classical violin. To many traditionalists, that seems a bit odd, but it really makes for a fresh perspective. Matt really shines on the band’s version of Ashokan Farewell. He starts the number off beautifully, letting his classical touch take the spotlight, before it closes with Snider’s harmonica.

One of the really great recordings on this album is Darlin’ Pal O’ Mine. A banjo/bass duet, it showcases why Charlie Cushman and Terry Smith are two masters of their craft. Terry Smith, a former member of the Osborne Brothers and current Grascal, has always been one of my favorite bass players, and this cut is one of the reasons why. He slaps the socks right off his upright bass, and has mastered this often overlooked art.

Charlie Cushman has played the five with everyone from Michael Cleveland to Marty Stuart and is an authority on traditional banjo playing. He has achieved much acclaim as of late through his old-time recordings with Johnny Warren. He completely chews up Sally Goodin, and his and Mike’s version of John Henry is really neat. Featuring a double dose of banjo, Charlie and Mike present the three-finger Scruggs style of picking as well as the claw hammer method on this old classic. Banjo fanatics will go ape over this one!

Mike’s instrumental ability is in full display on this record. In addition to his banjo playing, he picks a mean mandolin, particularly on Bull At The Wagon. If that wasn’t enough, he is one of the most tasteful harmonica players I’ve ever heard. I already mentioned his harmonica stylings on Ashokan Farewell, but his harmonica on Georgia takes the cake. His talent is perhaps among the most underrated in our kind of music.

In addition to being a picking powerhouse, Mike’s sense of humor is one reason he is one of the Grand Ole Opry’s most beloved hosts. On top of the great instrumental work here, you also get a great dose of Mike’s comedy. His comedy hits such as Puttin’ On The Dog and Snuffdipper don’t appear here, but his stories about everything from “Sweetie” to Shakespeare are sure to tickle your funny bone.

The Mike Snider String Band Live At The Station Inn is great for young and old alike. As a child, I loved this album due to Mike’s comedy, but I was also being introduced to some spectacular playing. Picking this one up again, I can’t get enough of the music.

This CD can be purchased from the Classic Country Connection or from Mike directly at www.themikesnider.com.

Hopefully, you will enjoy it as much as I do. It was a blast digging this one back out.

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About the Author

Daniel Mullins

Daniel is from southwestern Ohio and has been around bluegrass his entire life. He manages the Classic Country Connection, a music store in southern Ohio which specializes in bluegrass, classic country, gospel, and Americana music. He is the host of the Bending The Strings radio program, which plays a variety of bluegrass, newgrass, and Americana music. He also maintains the website for Joe Mullins and the Radio Ramblers. photo by LuAnn Adams