Bluegrass boy gives country a shot

The list of country stars with a bluegrass background is an impressive one. Ricky Skaggs and Keith Whitley both took their training with Ralph Stanley to the top of the country charts, and Vince Gill did some picking and singing before his star began to rise. Skaggs, of course, returned to bluegrass after a string of #1 hits in country, as did Rhonda Vincent after a two-CD experiment in Nashville, though without the success Skaggs had attained. But Vincent’s mega-success came in bluegrass, which is where she got started as a teen in her family band, Sally Mountain Show.

Bluegrass songwriters have also made their mark in Nashville, with Ronnie Bowman being the latest darling of Music Row to have come from the festival stage.

So with the lure of fame and fortune in Music City, it’s no surprise to find young grassers trying their hand at commercial country. The latest to give country a shot is Andy Buckner, former guitarist with Cumberland River who studied in the Bluegrass, Country and Old Time Music program at ETSU.

Here’s video of Andy performing one of his originals with the ETSU Pride Band, a position he earned as a first year student in 2011.


This Fall, the 19 year old singer/songwriter has been working with Mountain Heart’s Jim VanCleve to create demos to showcase both his voice and songs.

They have been tracking in Nashville with some prominent sidemen, including members of Rascal Flatts and Reba McEntire’s band. Andy has posted clips from three finished tracks on Soundcloud, and VanCleve sees a bright future for this talented young artist.

“Out of the blue one evening, Andy boldly contacted me via FaceBook and quickly began explaining to me what he wanted to do. Over the next few minutes, I learned of his bluegrass background, and his involvement with the great ETSU Bluegrass Program, and his ultimate desire to get in the studio and record something different than what he’d done thus far.  He wanted me to produce him on some very modern, radio-friendly country songs that he’d written.I was certainly impressed with his ‘take the bull by the horns’ approach, and in talking with him, could see many of the personal qualities it takes to ‘make it’ in any industry… especially music!

He had heard my production efforts with both Mountain Heart, and several of the other bluegrass and country acts I’d produced over the last several years, and was eager to see about working together. Once I heard his stuff, I was just as eager as he was. I had the time and the means to make it happen, so the only thing left to address was Andy’s material and his sound.

Well, I can honestly say, he pretty much had his act together! Andy is a VERY good young artist. He’s absolutely as genuinely country as the lyrics in his songs… which, by the way, are pretty killer. He writes and delivers the material with a great sense of humor when necessary, and emotion beyond his years. His vocal tone is extremely compatible with what you hear on country radio, and his songs fit the bill, too.

The timing just could not have been better, as I was just wrapping production on a wild Americana project (Emma and Dave Hart), a Darrell Webb Band bluegrass project (Breaking Down the Barriers), and a country radio production for Detroit’s pop-country darlings, Annabelle Road. Andy, on the other hand, was just coming back from his wedding and subsequent HONEYMOON! He literally came straight to the studio, along with his new bride, after returning from their honeymoon. Talk about dedication!

We really had a blast in the studio.We cut three of his most ready for country radio’ songs, with a studio full of A-List players (Jeff King, Tommy Harden, Mark Hill, B James Lowry, Tim Akers, Scotty Sanders, and myself) and one of the best engineers in the world, my good friend, David Hall.

Andy is already receiving some serious attention from radio, even though he is not yet signed… which, just in case you didn’t know… in country music, is a really big deal. I’m super stoked for him, and really can’t wait to see where the road leads!”

Check out Andy’s music on Soundcloud.

If you make it in country, don’t forget your bluegrass pals out in the hinterlands!

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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.