Catching Up With the Spinney Brothers

The Spinney Brothers perform for WAMUMaybe the Spinney Brothers should try to negotiate a contract that pays them by the mile.

Sure, every bluegrass band racks up the miles, but when home is in Nova Scotia, just about every trip for Rick and Allan Spinney is a long one. Take their recent journey here to Wilkesboro, NC for their first appearance at MerleFest. They were on the road for 15 hours each way to play shows built mainly around their latest CD, Tried and True.

But with a goal of putting out new music every 12 to 16 months, they spent much of the road trip trying to find songs for their next record, due out in early 2016.

“We brought every CD pitched to us in the last two or three years,” Rick Spinney explained in an interview behind the Cabin Stage at MerleFest. “We listen to everything and weed out as we go.”

Added brother Allan Spinney, “There are several short lists in play.” He noted that the bar for cutting a song is extremely high. “If two of the guys like the song and the third doesn’t, it doesn’t get on the record.” The third vote in the process goes to Gary Dalrymple, the band’s longtime mandolin player. Bass player Terry Poirier rounds out the quartet.

The band is looking for a hybrid type of song. “The cabin on the hill is not going to work today,” Allan Spinney explained. “The trick is to write music that sounds traditional but is current.”

There’s no theme for the next recording yet, though the brothers expect one will become clear as they fill out the song list.

The band is already piling up the miles on the road and in the air in what is shaping up to be a busy festival season. They see signs of an improving economy – more bookings and strong CD sales. That’s all good, but it requires careful booking and schedule juggling to honor a pledge to their families to be home regularly. The band doesn’t play at all in December; that’s family time. And their families go along for a bluegrass cruise in January. The rest of the year, they try to book trips that last no more than 10 days, then aim to stay home for 10 days to two weeks.

When they’re home these days, they may spend time working on their own songs, or mining for gems from a source close to their hearts. Turns out their mom wrote hundreds of songs in the 1960s and 1970s, and tucked them away in a drawer. The Spinneys have been sifting through the cache.

“We found some great ones,” Rick Spinney said. You might just hear some of them one of these days.

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About the Author

David Morris

David Morris, an award-winning songwriter and journalist, has written for Bluegrass Today since its inception. He joined its predecessor, The Bluegrass Blog, in 2010. His 40-year career in journalism included more than 13 years with The Associated Press, a stint as chief White House correspondent for Bloomberg News, and several top editing jobs in Washington, D.C. He is a life member of IBMA and the DC Bluegrass Union. He and co-writers won the bluegrass category in the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest at MerleFest in 2015.