To get the skinny, we chatted with Allen Mills last week, founding member, bass player, and the voice of the band since they formed in 1973. From the mid-’70s, Lost and Found have been hometown heroes in and around Ferrum and Roanoke, VA, and a popular bluegrass touring and recording act all over the US and Canada. Their many albums are an important part of bluegrass history, with hits like Love of the Mountains, Leftover Biscuits, Struttin’ To Ferrum, Down on Sawmill Road, and Harvest Time solidly ensconced within the canon of our music.
They even survived the retirement of founding banjo picker Gene Parker and the passing of original mandolinist Dempsey Young, bringing in several new members to fill the gaps, but once Allen developed back problems that made touring difficult, there wasn’t much to be done.
When we caught up with him last week, our first question was how was he doing these days at 85 years of age..
“Well… I can’t run like I used to. Got a bad case of can’t do what I want, and don’t want what I can.”
Allen’s trademark sense of humor is clearly unburdened by age.
So how did new music from Lost and Found come to see the light of day?
“I figured back in 2013, while I was still mobile, we should see about getting something recorded, me and Sammy Shelor. I had traded him some time for work on his bus, so he said he would engineer the sessions up at Mark’s (Mountain Fever Studio).
We got in the studio and laid down six songs and an instrumental. After we tracked, I had to have a number of back surgeries so we sort of left it alone. My first was in 2002, and about 8 years later the problem recurred from collapsing in the bone. That led to additional surgeries in 2015 and ’16.”
It was recorded with the then current edition of the band – Scott Napier on mandolin, Ronald Smith on banjo, and Dan Wells on guitar.
“This was designed as a budget project, so I got my nephew Jason Moore in to play bass. He said he had always wanted to record with Lost and Found, and I’m glad he was able to do that before he died.
Not long ago, Mark Hodges at Mountain Fever asked me about what I was going to do with it, and he encouraged me to put it out. So Aaron Ramsey started going through the files and mixed it.”
This first single, Mountain Folks, drops on Friday, July 8. We asked Mills how he came upon the song.
“JC Poff up in Christiansburg sent me several songs, and Mountain Folks was one of them. I really like the chorus, but his verses kind of made fun of people up in the hills. So I rewrote the verses and used his chorus.”
Unsurprisingly, it sounds like vintage Lost and Found. Have a listen…
A seven song EP, which Allen suggests may be titled Lost and Found – Final Chapter, is expected from Mountain Fever later this year.
He shared a few words about some of the other tracks that will be included.
“I always loved Jim Eanes’ Old Standby, and I asked Ronald if he could mimic what Allen Shelton done on it. He did a fine job
Put It Off Until Tomorrow from Dolly Parton is another. We were just ganging around getting in tune backstage one day, and Scottie started singing it. We recorded it for Rebel but they didn’t use it on that last record we did for them. So that will end up on this new project. Dempsey’s on there as well playing mandolin, so that had to be before 2006.
We also cut Same Old Town that Skeets McDonald had out in 1961. I remember Paycheck sang harmony on that one.”
“It’s not too embarrassing… at least I hope not!,” Allen said with a laugh.
Unfortunately, there won’t be any live shows in support of the album.
“I have gotten to the point where I have to sit down on stage in order to sing, and these days I don’t feel like I could drive or carry my bass. Just don’t have the stamina to do it. My love of the music and the road and the people around it is still strong, but I can’t stand very long without getting a little wobbly. I just didn’t feel like I was pulling my weight.
The further you go the slower you get, but I’m thankful my memory has stayed with me pretty good. I went to California with Sideline a few years ago, took them on my bus. So many wonderful memories of my time in bluegrass. Running up and down steps to get on the bus, I just can’t do that anymore. I sold my bus to Barry Berrier. He’s using it for his family vacations.”
Mills couldn’t help but reminisce a bit talking about Lost and Found.
“I remember back in the ’60s, me and Gene had been playing around some when Dempsey came along. Back then he put every lick he knew into the first line of his solo, but as he matured, he learned that less is more and he became a terrific mandolin player.
I’m so grateful to all the people that booked us for 43 years, kept us burning up fuel, getting down the road. And all the folks that came up and talked to us at shows. So many memories.
I don’t regret a thing.”
We are all delighted that Allen had the foresight to record one last time before his health started to decline. He truly is among the coolest cats in bluegrass!