Claire Lynch remembers John Starling

Singer/songwriter Claire Lynch, with whom John Starling shared a musical collaboration in the country-rock band Ready Section, speaks eloquently about the considerable impact that Starling had on her career.        

“These are sad days indeed for a gal of my age who is experiencing the demise of so many great musical friends… John Starling included. I first met John at the Brierfield Ironworks Park in Brierfield, Alabama. He had recently left the Seldom Scene, after much success with them, to begin his own medical practice in Montgomery. He brought his lovely wife Cynthia who would later play hostess to us many a day and night while we sat in his living room and listened to stories of the “upper echelon” of musicians he’d been in circles with, and received instruction on elements of a song, its arrangement, and dynamics. It was like sitting in a classroom with a teacher who gave you favor and wanted to collaborate. Such an opportunity! I’d say I owe much to John regarding my career and its success.

That day in Brierfield, he had traveled there with Cynthia and his friend from Nashville, Paul Craft. (Yes, the infamous Paul Craft!) Paul had been one of John’s lifelines to the ‘excellent song,’ being not only a successful publisher with a ‘bent’ toward the acoustic side of the country genre, but a brilliant songwriter in his own right. (Keep Me From Blowing Away, Midnight Flyer, Dropkick Me Jesus, Brother Jukebox… and the list goes on!) They had gone to the festival to watch the New Grass Revival perform, and ended up also hearing The Front Porch String Band (the band I was in). Late in the afternoon a bluegrass friend/acquaintance of mine said I had been summoned by John, saying he wanted to know if I’d come pick and sing some with him at a campsite. I was beside myself and, of course, I went along with some of my band members. That was the beginning of a long musical friendship. I don’t remember who was there but, I’ll guess that Paul Craft was. There was a crowd. We sang a few together that we both were familiar with and then I went home. 

But after that, there were invitations for the band to go to Montgomery and socialize and share music. There were phone calls from Paul Craft who asked if I’d like to come up to Nashville and make a demo of one of my songs. It was Paul who took my songs under his wing and promoted them. I know there are many streams that flow into the river of a career, but John Starling’s interest, and Paul’s subsequent interest in what I had to offer, were key.

We eventually played some shows with John Starling and the Ready Section, the name of which was based on the road that Larry and I lived on in Hazel Green, Alabama – Ready Section Road. There were players from Tuscaloosa whom I admired that were included in that band. We traveled to the Birchmere on one occasion and played tunes he’d recorded on his Long Time Gone and Waitin’ on a Southern Train albums. Such an amazing experience for me, and a shot in the arm for my own musical career. Then came inquiries and favor from Ken Irwin and Rounder Records.

Now I’m downstream from the whole channel of events and floating out on a sea of ‘How’d the hell THAT happen?’ Now my friend and mentor has been summoned to the next experience of life and energy, whatever that is. I’ve speculated for years on the afterlife, based upon what my family and Biblical community taught me. I hope those beautiful cities where we may abide are a reality now for John. 

If John Starling is to have won any stars in his crown for what he did for me in this life, I’d say he’s got a heavy weight to bear in the next. He’d be learning now, how to hold his head in order to bear the weight and walk with the dignity of a rewarded one. He was brilliant and friendly and non-judgmental in so many ways. As I look at the wake of my own journey, I shall never forget what his music and his mentorship contributed.”

Claire Lynch also spoke about her first meeting John Starling and their developing friendship in an excellent interview with Katy Daley, which we published last year.

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About the Author

Richard Thompson

Richard F. Thompson is a long-standing free-lance writer specialising in bluegrass music topics. A two-time Editor of British Bluegrass News, he has been seriously interested in bluegrass music since about 1970. As well as contributing to that magazine, he has, in the past 30 plus years, had articles published by Country Music World, International Country Music News, Country Music People, Bluegrass Unlimited, MoonShiner (the Japanese bluegrass music journal) and Bluegrass Europe. He wrote the annotated series I'm On My Way Back To Old Kentucky, a daily memorial to Bill Monroe that culminated with an acknowledgement of what would have been his 100th birthday, on September 13, 2011.