David Crowder adds bluegrass colors to I Know A Ghost

Many performers who paint a portrait of their musical experience don’t rely on one color from their palette. They dab their brush into a variety of hues like country, bluegrass, rock, blues, jazz, and other genres. That’s certainly the case for Contemporary Christian artist/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist, David Crowder. For 16 years the Texas native fronted the David Crowder Band that released 16 singles including the gold-certified chart-topper, Come As You Are, the #1 hit, All My Hope, and I Am, which just missed the chart’s top rung.

During his tenure with the immensely-popular band, the three time Grammy-nominated artist tried to nudge his bandmates into a little flavoring from the bluegrass world.

“We recorded I Saw the Light with Marty Stuart as well as a little banjo break on that record,” Crowder tells Bluegrass Today in an interview at the hipster coffee shop, Barista Parlor in Nashville, TN. “Then, we did [bluegrass/Gospel standard] I Can Hear the Angels Singing.”

When he struck out on his own a few years ago, it opened the door for Crowder to sample his other musical tastes.

“The first thing I did knowing I was about to start going down the solo trail is put away the computer and guitar amps. I wanted to see if we could create the same heightened emotion without having to plug in. If we could sit around on a porch and pull this kind of thing off, then I was going to get excited about it.”

“We were really insular as the David Crowder Band,” he says. “Now, all of a sudden I can call up Ron Block and say, ‘Hey, bro. Will you please play on my record man?’ That part has been amazing too. Finding a lot of people I have admired forever and gotten to make music with them has been awesome. The first record, Neon Steeple, I’m living the dream. I’ve got Ron Block and Audrie Haynie on that thing. We’re doing it man!”

To add to the bluegrass mix, Crowder hired B.J. Cherryholmes, formerly of Dailey & Vincent, to play fiddle in his band.

“He’s been great to work with,” says Cherryholmes. “He and his wife Toni, along with the rest of the band and their families, have promoted a strong sense of community. As people that we spend more time with than our families at times, it’s great to have a group of understanding people to work with, and it all starts at the top. It has created a great working environment that allows us to share with and lean on each other through the easy and the hard times. David has done a great job in encouraging us and being supportive, and it has really rippled through this camp. His creativeness has also been an inspiration to be around. He has always been on the cutting edge of musical innovation, and it’s been great to see it manifest itself in such an original manner. It has definitely broadened my musical vision over the last couple of years and has created opportunities for positive challenges.”

For his latest CD, the critically-acclaimed I Know a Ghost, Crowder revisits a few of his old haunts from the old school country that played on his dad’s record player to Southern Gospel and bluegrass. That inspiration couldn’t be more evident than on the cut, Child of God, which features Aubrey Haynie on both mandolin and fiddle parts.

“In my head I think about my role as very utilitarian,” says Crowder. “A room full of people? How can I functionally help us sing together? I know I’ve got to have a moment where we’ve got some banjo, fiddle, and mandolin going at it. It winds you up. All of a sudden the crowd and you start breathing the same thing, and you feel the energy coming from the instrumentation and the players. That’s another reason I fell in love with bluegrass music is because of that improvisation. Now, you take it; see what’s in the air. You chase the thing. I wanted to have something on the record that would give us space enough to chase whatever’s in the room.”

“There are opportunities in a few of our songs to improvise and trade off some leads,” says Cherryholmes. “Child of God is a great example of this. Another song would be 100 Miles, where at the end we sort of have a big band jam session. He definitely allows room for everyone to shine and showcase what they bring to his vision.”

Crowder also cut the bluegrass-infused Happy Day, which takes on a surprising twist.

“That one’s a blast. It sounds pretty straight forward, four on the floor, very familiar; we’re just going to have a good foot stamping, hand-clapping [time], and all of a sudden, we have that bass sync that cuts in and cuts it in half.”

“That’s why bluegrass is such a fun genre because it’s squishing thing together. It’s jazz and blues. It’s a tributary that so much leads back to.”

In addition to his recording, Crowder had the opportunity to play a prestigious gig at a venue that has welcomed bluegrass and country greats alike, The Grand Ole Opry.

“You start having dreams. They call them the ego venues. We did that! We’re nominated for a Grammy. Holy cow! I never would have dreamed. Well, yes, I did. I was hoping so when we started making music and knew it was commercially available. Not a single time would I ever have thought that I hope one day I’m on the Grand Ole Opry stage. I didn’t have dreams big enough for that.”

“It’s heart-warming in the sense that they would embrace me in a way that I think I’m over here in this lane doing this thing, and the door’s a lot wider and the human spirit recognizes one another more readily than I expect. I kind of got taught a lesson. You’ve been respectful of this tradition and this industry and where this is coming from.”

Bluegrass and Country Music Hall of Famer Ricky Skaggs hosted the segment. As Crowder stood in that famed circle where so many other legends have performed, he sang Hank Williams’ I Saw the Light. Still in a dreamlike state as he was walking off the stage after the performance, Skaggs called out to Crowder.

“I’m trying to slink off the stage and Ricky stops me, and starts talking,” Crowder remembers. “I was wearing an International Harvesters hat that night. He said before you go I would just like to say a few words. I want you guys to know this guy is out there. He goes all over the world. When he starts singing these songs, these kids are singing like they’re in church. He’s taking people to church every night. This guy is a harvester of souls, and it’s going to be global. I want us to pray for him. He starts preaching at the Opry, and I’m standing there going, ‘Oh, my gosh!’ I got chills and [started] tearing up. It could not have been a more incredible night.”

Crowder has become a regular performer on the Opry, and it was recently announced that he will be joining a host of country artists entertaining at this summer’s CMA Music Fest. He’ll be on the Maui Jim Broadway Stage at Bridgestone Plaza with the BMI Tailgate performances Sunday, June 9 from 10:45 a.m. – 11:10 a.m.

One moment he’s singing the new single, Let it Rain (Is There Anybody), with fellow Contemporary Christian artist Mandisa; another he’s rubbing elbows with bluegrass artists at the Opry, and yet another moment he’s sharing the same stage as rising country artists. David Crowder is that rare breed of performer that can defy genres with commercial success and acceptance from fans of each musical niche.

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About the Author

Bill Conger

Bill Conger has been a music journalist for 23 years for a variety of TV, radio, print, and websites including TNN, CMT, CMT.com, GACTV.com, Country Music Today, Bluegrass Unlimited, and www.songwriteruniverse.com.