Dan Tyminski speaks

Dan Tyminski speaks with Bluegrass Today prior to his 2/29 show in Roanoke, VAThe Dan Tyminski Band performed in Roanoke this past Friday night, and we had a chance to sit down with Dan before the show to talk a bit about this latest chapter in his storied musical career. We also talked about Dan’s early days in bluegrass, and how it first caught his attention.

Before we could get to any of that, Dan held forth as a proud papa, sharing stories about his three children and their exploits in the realm of sports. After a bit of discussion about the looming baseball season and a bit of golf, he was ready to talk music.

Dan recalled that the Roanoke area was where he first starting playing bluegrass professionally when he joined The Lonesome River Band in the late 1980s.

“Tim Austin [Lonesome River Band founder and current Tyminski Band road manager/audio engineer] told me that I couldn’t live in Vermont and play with the band, and that I would have to get another job in order to pull it off. I really wanted to play with a southern bluegrass band, and moved to Virginia from Vermont with only 4 gigs and no solid prospects of more than $1800/year.”

He joined LRB as a banjo player, but Austin brought him on primarily for his strong tenor voice. When their then current mandolinist Adam Steffey left the group, Tim prevailed upon Dan to switch to mandolin. His first recording with the band was their 1989 release, Looking For Yourself.

“Mandolin was my first instrument, but I fell in love with banjo when my older brother came back home one day with a JD Crowe album. Once I heard Crowe, I had to learn banjo.

Singing was something I had done since I was a boy. I still remember my first stage performance. It was at the You & I festival in Granville, NY. I pulled on Smokey Greene’s pants leg and asked if I could sing a song. That was as scared as I had ever been in my young life, but I sang John Denver’s Please Daddy Don’t Get Drunk This Christmas. Of course, any kid that sings on stage gets a big response, but I loved getting that reaction from the crowd.”

A few years after Dan’s first LRB release, the band went through some major personnel changes, bringing banjo picker Sammy Shelor and vocalist/guitarist/bass player Ronnie Bowman into the group. Their 1991 CD, Carrying The Tradition, brought Lonesome River Band to a much wider audience, and elevated Ronnie and Dan as prominent voices in bluegrass.

One of the guest artists on Carrying The Tradition was a teen aged Alison Krauss, whose own meteoric rise was also about to ignite. As their two bands found themselves together often at festivals and shows, Dan found many occasions to sing and pick with Alison, and the idea that they might one day perform together was born.

“I actually wanted the banjo gig with Alison. Adam Steffey was on mandolin with her and I was hoping that the banjo spot would come to me when Alison Brown left.

I remember where I was when I got the call from a friend telling me that Ron Block had gotten the gig. I thought… ‘Ron Block? Ron Block?!’ I was crushed.

Then at Merlefest one year Tim Stafford came up to me and told me that he was going to give his notice to Alison, and that he thought they would call me to take the guitar spot.”

They did, and Dan left to join Alison Krauss & Union Station. Lonesome River Band was soon in a tailspin, with Sammy Shelor leaving temporarily as well to perform with a touring country act. Dan soon began to feel like he had made a mistake, and returned to Virginia and LRB.

“Our Old Country Town album had just been released when I left, and I started feeling that I had really let down these guys who were dear friends.”

He stayed another year and a half before Alison called again with the proverbial offer he couldn’t refuse. The deal to be part of the Keith Whitley tribute CD that launched her into the stratosphere had been signed, and she wanted Dan in the band. He appeared on several AKUS projects and released his own CD, Carry Me Across The Mountain in 2000.

It was during this same period that he was asked to provide the voice over for George Clooney in the theatrical film release, O Brother, Where Art Thou. His version of Man Of Constant Sorrow became a worldwide hit, and thrust Dan into the spotlight, a place he had never sought to be.

Dan toured sporadically in support of this solo project, but the AKUS touring schedule and their inclusion in the Down From The Mountain package show soon made that impossible.

Fast forward to 2007…

Krauss had decided to spend most of 2008 promoting her new duet CD with Robert Plant, Raising Sand, and doing worldwide touring in support. She told the members of her band that she further planned to keep future AKUS touring to about 40 dates a year.

Tyminski finds that he will have a lot of time on his hands, and it occurs to him that this is the right moment for him to do something more productive with his free time. The Dan Tyminski Band was born from that recognition.

“There was not much question who I wanted to pull together into a band. I had played with Barry Bales and Adam Steffey a great deal over the years, and many times the three of us would find ourselves in sessions with Ron Stewart. We always enjoyed playing together, and talked often about how much we all hoped to find a chance to perform together someday.

It became a running joke whenever we saw each other. ‘Say when… just say when.'”

With Tyminski on guitar, Steffey on mandolin, Bales on bass and Stewart on banjo they added multi-instrumentalist Justin Moses on fiddle, dobro and harmony vocals. They secured a record deal with Rounder, and managed to keep all this top secret through the late summer of ’07, debuting the new band at IBMA in October.

Their new CD was recorded in January and February of this year, and expected for a May/June release on Rounder. The project is entitled Wheels, and features primarily new material, with three written within the band.

“We really wanted to have mostly new songs, but we did cut an old Kitty Wells song, Whose Shoulder Will You Cry On, and a Del McCoury song, Who Showed Who. Ron Block wrote two for us, and there is a Craig Market/Darren Shoemaker song. The title track came from Patrick McDougal.”

Dan says that he is enjoying his new venture, and getting great support from the bluegrass community.

“At first, I was lost in a sea of fear. I’m always surprised to see anyone coming out to the shows.

I’m best suited as a member of a band – I’m just not a natural front man. Fortunately, Adam Steffey is perfect for that role, and he does a brilliant job.”

At this point, Dan sees no reason why he can’t keep his band active while remaining a member of Alison Krauss & Union Station. He feels like he can maintain a schedule of 60-70 dates with The Dan Tyminski Band, and fulfill his obligations with Krauss.

“Alison is totally on board with what I’m doing. She is very supportive of the idea, and actually encouraged me to do this.”

He expects to find himself back in the studio with AKUS late this year, though there are no plans in place yet for any live shows. His own future plans are to simply enjoy playing music with friends, and getting used to being the man in charge.

“We are a fairly traditional bluegrass band, and I try to treat it as a band – not with me as band leader. We can’t wait to get the new CD out and hope people will enjoy the music.”

You can find their tour schedule on Dan’s MySpace page.

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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.