Dan Tyminski talks Tony Rice EP, his own band, and AKUS

Earlier this week we had the opportunity to chat with Dan Tyminski about his Tony Rice tribute EP, One More Time Before You Go, his excellent new edition of The Dan Tyminski Band, and the current status of Alison Krauss & Union Station.

One More Time Before You Go is released today, a 5-track independent project where Dan performs understated, low key arrangements of several of his favorite songs Tony had recorded. The title track is the only one with a full band, featuring Jerry Douglas, Sam Bush, Josh Williams, and Todd Phillips. The others find Tyminski in duo or trio settings with the likes of Molly Tuttle, Dailey & Vincent, Billy Strings, and Gaven Largent.

Like all of us who had been inspired by Rice’s music, Dan was shocked and deeply moved when he learned of Tony’s passing on Christmas Day in 2020. He told us that this recording started out just as a form of personal grief therapy in his home studio as he worked out his feelings about losing such a heroic figure in bluegrass and acoustic music.

“This is something I did for myself. It was sitting right here in my studio when I heard of Tony’s passing. I was sitting here in mourning and I came up with this instrumental, a little thing that somehow made me feel better. Within a few days I called Josh Williams, who had also spent a lot of time with Tony, traveling with him in later years, and asked him if he’d like to come over and help me work on some stuff, maybe write a song, and maybe feel better together.

We wrote a song, One More Time Before You Go, and that was really the inspiration for the entire EP. After we wrote the song, it wasn’t something I was interested in immediately promoting. I didn’t call my manager and say, ‘Hey… I’ve got something.’ I was happy that I had a little bit of self healing. For me.

And when my manager did hear it he said, ‘Why don’t you put a few more songs with it?’, and that gave me the idea to put together a few duets with some of the people who are young that Tony influenced but are taking it their own direction. I thought it was a great way to pay homage to the guy who is definitely responsible for my playing music.”

The first single has been out a couple of weeks now, a duet version of Church Street Blues with Molly Tuttle.

“Church Street Blues is one of those songs when I started playing that I really wanted to study, because his right hand technique just fascinated me. It was so hard to do what he did in such a clean way. It was so fluid, and each note was so highly dependent on the note before it, the way he rolled down through several strings at a time. I had spent so much time with that one that it was an obvious choice for me.

Having tried to play it so closely to the way that Tony played it, I wanted someone who could bring their own take on it, and Molly Tuttle has a ferocious right hand. In her own way she does things that nobody else can do. I figured there would be some contrast there and it ended up working really well.

I didn’t know when we first started working on Church Street Blues that I was going to ask her to sing harmony, and I’m so happy that I did. After we worked on the guitar part, I thought, ‘How would it sound with harmony?’, and it was a no-brainer as soon as she opened her mouth.”

Along with the title cut which he and Josh wrote, Tyminski picked a few others that are special to him.

“These are all songs that meant something to me. You go back to Ten Degrees and Getting Colder from the 0044 record, and that it is the epitome to me of guitar kickoffs. I remember listening to it over and over as a kid so many times, and just rewinding the tape, that I hardly ever heard the song. He just had his own way of dancing through the strings that fascinated me, and still fascinates me.

I remember I was 12 years old and 10 months when I first heard that record. My brother, Stan, introduced me to it. He was home on leave from the Navy, and pulled into the driveway playing that cassette tape. I was glad to see him, but I was blown away by that banjo. I think I sat out in his car for an hour before I went back in. I couldn’t get enough. It was beautiful. I told my parents I wanted a banjo, and got one for my 13th birthday.

To this day, that record is what I hold up as my benchmark of the sort of energy bluegrass music needs to have when I play live. It’s my high water mark for what I want to look for when I want to find something that excites me.”

Back in the early ’90s, Dan toured with Alison Krauss & Union Station and Tony Rice as a featured guest, and we wondered if that was his first time getting to know Rice.

“I met Tony earlier on, back in the earlier days, before I joined the Union Station band. I remember one time, I think this was while they were recording Every Time You Say Goodbye, Tony called Alison to see if she could help him out on something, and she told him, ‘I’m busy working, but Dan is here and he can come.’ So he came and picked me up and took me to John Hartford’s house with Vassar Clements, and man… what a night! It was like a dream come true. At that time in my life, that was amazing.

The first time I heard Tony on a record I didn’t even recognize it was Tony. That was Rounder 0044 where I heard Tony with J.D., and Jerry, and Ricky, and Bobby Slone, and that bunch. 

The first time I remember noticing Tony as Tony was on Bluegrass Album Band, Volume I. The first solo he took on track 1 changed the way I thought about guitar, just in general. I learned years later that it was the guitar/banjo combination that I was fascinated with more so than the banjo, and I didn’t really love the banjo so much if it wasn’t played with the right guitarist. Guitar became my real love, and I just received some weird sort of training through banjo.

I played banjo for a long time. It was what I wanted to be when I joined Lonesome River Band; it was what I wanted to be when I joined Alison Krauss. I’ve still got my banjo sitting in front of me right now. I love the banjo, but it’s steered me towards the guitar somehow.”

That brought up AKUS, so we asked what was up with that. Is it done, are they just on hiatus?

“Well that’s the big question. I’m still a member of Alison Krauss & Union Station, though I can’t prove it necessarily right now. We’re still making music, we’re still in the studio trying to create. We’re going to put some stuff out and hopefully people will be pleasantly surprised. But we’ve been working on some stuff.

We’re all incredibly busy. Everybody’s gotten really busy forked off into our own endeavors, so it’s been more and more time… more and more time. When we all get together to play some more music again I think we’ll be a little hungrier for it, and maybe a little better for it.”

What we most wanted to know about was a possible album with the current Dan Tyminski Band. He has as powerful a group of young guns as bluegrass has ever seen. With Dan on guitar and lead vocals, he has Jason Davis on banjo, Maddie Denton on fiddle, Harry Clark on mandolin, and Grace Davis on bass.

“I will literally be finishing tomorrow and the day after! I am 98% done. We are going to work on a couple of harmony parts in the next couple of days to finish the record. I have 15 new tracks with my new band that I’m going to hold out in my ‘Best Of” category. I am so proud of what’s about to come out that I’m juicy for it. I’m so excited. A lot of new stuff.

The band is so good… it’s hard to keep saying over and over again how good they are. Individually they’re great, but if you listen to the nuance of how musicians play together, they’re excellent listeners. They’re very mature players in how they weave themselves in and out of each other’s playing. I’ve played with some good bands, but they are as good as any band I’ve played with. They’re phenomenal. Individually they are phenomenal, but collectively they are somehow bigger than the sum of their parts. They’re super.

I can tell by what people play if they are listening to their surroundings. They’re not just listening to each other, they also hear the song as a whole and are so responsive. You’ll hear this on the new record coming out. We cut this new record live. We just sat together and played music, and rarely had to fix anything, they’re just so good. When we had to do songs again it was almost always because of me.

They’ve got those young hands, they just execute so perfectly. It’s fun to watch, and it’s definitely fun to stand in the middle of. When we play music live I find myself truly getting distracted throughout a great portion of the show because I’m still a fan myself, and when I hear great pickin’, I listen. They catch me off guard every once in a while.

Harry Clark is the new guy, playing mandolin. He’s so great. Again, I’m going to point to the record, and the world is going to hear some things that they will hold as a new benchmark, not just for mandolin playing, but for fiddle and banjo and dobro… the whole thing. It’s a super great record and we’re really proud.”

So when will we get to hear it?

“We’re hoping to have a single soon. Like I said, we’re fixin’ and mixin’ now and as I sit and listen to these tracks, it’s killing me that no one else can hear them. There are certain people in my life that are my little test panel that I’ve sent them to, and the report card is very good.”

In many ways, Dan Tyminski has been absent from the bluegrass scene for a while until this year. What’s been up with that?

“Listen… it’s my love, it’s my life. I think this next band record to come out will prove that to everyone. It will prove to the rest of the world that’s there’s no doubt where my allegiance lies. I know I’ve done some different stuff, some kooky stuff, but my love has always been bluegrass.

And this band that I’m with… they’re making me want to live longer. I’m losing weight, I’m trying to be younger to hang with them as long as I can because we have such a good thing.

This Tony Rice record means the world to me, but I’m really excited for everyone to hear this edition of the Dan Tyminski Band.”

Dan says that he is deciding now whether the band project will also be an independent release, or work with a label. He wrote 14 of the 15 songs, and it will be his first solo effort since 2008. As hard as it to imagine, there have only been two solo Dan Tyminki records in his illustrious bluegrass career.

“These songs are very personal to me. You’ll get to hear a lot of my life in these songs.

I’m going to take the silver lining of what COVID brought to my life, which is having to reevaluate and rethink what I did, who I did it with – the music that I wrote, the music that I recorded – and put a hyper focus on what I want to do with the rest of my career. It’s bluegrass, there’s no doubt about it, but I want to do it right, and think that’s going to show with this next stuff coming out.

Southern Gothic was born innocently out of me getting to write songs with and for other people. I had an opportunity to make this weird record, and I took advantage of it. But bluegrass is where I want to be, and where I will be.”

And we will all be the better for it.

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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.