The Goodwin Brothers stay true to a hallowed bluegrass tradition, one birthed in Kentucky, and following in the footsteps of those notable statemates that have formed the essence of modern bluegrass and country music— Bill Monroe, Loretta Lynn, Ricky Skaggs, Keith Whitley, and, more recently, Chris Stapleton and Tyler Childers, among the many.
Veteran performer and longtime industry insider Mark Newton was so taken with the band that he opted to manage them and promote the group as they make their way forward.
Although the current band has only been in existence since 2020, each of the members of the trio —Jonathan and William Goodwin (vocals, guitar and mandolin) along with Kenneth (Chase) Bush (vocals) — have accumulated individual experience in various realms prior to their connection. Jonathan and William began their musical journeys as children in the early ’90s, when Jonathan was eight and younger brother William was six. They accumulated their stage experience early on, singing in church, performing in school plays, and participating in other public events. They released their first studio album in 1999, when Jonathan was 14 and William 12, and subsequently made their name on the bluegrass festival circuit across the eastern US. Their eponymous debut as a threesome won widespread critical acclaim, and paved the way for their exuberant and exhilarating new single, Everyday Thing, with an album due to follow. Set for release this Friday, April 14, the single offers another ideal example of the Goodwin’s gift for melody and, of course, their soaring and effusive harmonies and outstanding instrumental ability.
Johnathan Goodwin could be considered the de-facto leader of the band, having been involved in the music industry as a Grammy-nominated engineer, producer, and veteran southern gospel artist and session player in his own right. He graciously agreed to sit down with Bluegrass Today and share some thoughts on the band and their music.
First off, tell us about the new single – what inspired it, who wrote it and how did it come about?
The new single, Everyday Thing, is a song that was written by our friends Tom Paden and Dwight Liles. When Tom brought us this song, it was funny because he wrote it years ago and had some major artists that wanted to do it. Marty Raybon asked him to hold it at one point for a new Shenandoah record, but it didn’t make the cut. Later on, Duane Allen of the Oak Ridge Boys asked him to hold it for them for a new album, but again, it didn’t make their cut. In both instances the artists loved the song, but had too many songs already recorded with a similar tempo and feel. So Tom put the song on the shelf for a couple of years. We met in the studio one day and after hearing us sing, he asked me if he could pitch us a couple of tunes. This was one of two of his songs that we have recorded for the upcoming project. Everyday Thing is just a feel-good song that reminds people to appreciate the little things that make life worth living with people you love.
How does this song fit into your trajectory so far?
Well, we were thrilled when our record label told us this was their pick for the first single from the new project, simply because it indeed speaks so well to the trajectory that the Goodwin Brothers have always taken. Songs about real life, love, happiness, and songs that make you smile. Of course, they’re not all gonna speak the same, but overall, as creators, this is the kind of messages we like to share.
Where do you generally get your inspiration from?
Our inspiration can come from a number of things depending on what style and song we are doing, but in general our inspiration comes from our heritage. We grew up in the church hearing hymns of faith that lifted your spirit and made you want to press on, despite everyday battles we all face. We’re deep thinkers and have a great appreciation for deep songs and lyrics that make you think, and even challenge the listener as well. But at the core of who we are, our inspiration comes from finding songs that make people feel good and bring a smile to their faces. Songs that make them want to dance, laugh, sing along, and appreciate the moment. When an artist says, “we grew up in the church,” a lot of people seem to think that means they must do gospel songs due to their convictions. The thing that moved us about singing in church while growing up was that when a congregation would sing together and lift their voices, the rest of whatever was going on in the outside world seemed to vanish. That’s the power of a song.
What are some of the other early influences that informed your music?
We grew up in a divorced home. When we were with our dad and our paternal side of the family, it was mostly bluegrass and gospel all the time. Our grandmother was a great alto singer and piano player. She was responsible for having us on stage in church at two and four years old singing to the congregation. We loved groups like Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver, The Osborne Brothers, Jim & Jesse, the Louvin Brothers, and other great outfits. When we would see our mom, she was always listening to country music, which, at the time — early ’90s — meant great country music. Stacked harmonies and great vocal bands like Alabama, Exile, Restless Heart, Shenandoah, and countless others.
Of course, as we all got older, we began listening and working in other genres. Will was a vocal major and was a featured soloist for the Black Gospel Ensemble at Morehead State University, while I was working full time in Nashville producing Southern Gospel and CCM artists. Chase was singing country and pop songs on American Idol. So, as you can see, we are extremely musically diverse. However, at the core, we returned to grass-roots acoustic and bluegrass-driven music because it really was our first love. Anyone that has ever been to a Goodwin Brothers show will typically hear everything from hard-driving bluegrass to a country song or two that we loved from the ’90s.
How would you characterize the band’s growth over the years?
The beautiful thing to me about the band is that although we’ve only been on the scene for about two years now, it didn’t take much work to fall back into singing with each other. In regard to the growth, all we can say is that we’ve been extremely blessed. Never did we imagine in two short years of stepping back into singing together, we would have the opportunity to play so many iconic festivals and stages, win multiple awards, meet and become friends with so many of our heroes, and actually have fans that support and appreciate our music. People often ask, “when are you guys gonna take the plunge and just do this full-time?” The good part is, we’re too busy. The bad part is…we’re too busy.
For you personally, what are the challenges of being an artist and an entrepreneur — do the left and right side of your brain ever clash?
Well, I certainly experienced that in the early years of my career. But one of the things I learned quickly was to build a team around me of people that are strong where I am weak. Our dad instilled in us an entrepreneurial mindset very early on. In regard to the band, although we are brothers, Will and I have different personalities, approaches, and tactics in regard to our roles within the band. Yet we’re business partners within the band, and we have a great respect for each other, understanding our own specific roles and duties that keep the band moving forward. What’s challenging is being able to balance out real work (that pays the bills) vs. our own band, and what attention it requires to keep progressing. But thankfully (again), we have been blessed with the most incredible team around us and always keep only professional class-A musicians in our band that helps us to become better.
Any thoughts on the contemporary bluegrass scene — and the challenges of treading the divide between the contemporary and the traditional?
Well for us, our whole band has pretty vast experience outside of just the bluegrass world. For that reason, we really never think about genre divisions when we’re working up new material. We just think about what style fits the song the best. The bluegrass scene is always evolving and growing, and to us, becoming better. Don’t get me wrong… you’ll find no one that reveres traditional grass more than us. But we will never be the group you can put in one box and market only within that genre. We’ve got way too much in us to limit ourselves to three chords and a cloud of dust.
I believe it was Bill Monroe that said, “It’s got a hard drive to it. It’s Scotch bagpipes and old-time fiddlin’. It’s Methodist and Holiness and Baptist. It’s blues and jazz and it has a high lonesome sound. It’s plain music that tells a story. It’s played from heart to heart and will touch you.” We want to expand our audience to people outside of the bluegrass world, all while bringing in fans from outside of the bluegrass world that say to us consistently, “I never liked ‘bluegrass’ until I heard you guys! I didn’t know it could be done this way.”
It’s funny that people will love the way we do an old Bill Monroe song like Old Old House, and ask us whose song it was. Then later, they discover that they liked Monroe’s version too. We’ve tried to find creative and playful ways to infuse our bluegrass instrumentation with everything, from straight grass to country ballads and even some edgy rock ‘n’ roll energy. We will always be a band that blurs the lines.
Who do you admire these days?
If you’re asking musically…. Anyone that is out there doing the music they love and working at it to become the absolute best they can be. Innovators that love where this music came from, yet aren’t afraid to push the boundaries to reach more people while being true to what they want to say. People like Molly Tuttle, John Cowan, Sam Bush, and all of the New Grass Revival guys, and so many others. I think I can speak for the boys in saying we admire those people that helped make this music what it is today and are still out there doing it after many years. People like Del McCoury, Larry Sparks, Bobby Osborne, and others of their ilk.
What’s ahead going forward? Will this single be part of the upcoming album?
Yeah man! The new album is finished and we’re just counting down the days for the record label to pull the trigger and put it out for everyone to hear. Our actual album release show is taking place at the historic Station Inn July 29. We will have some special guests join us that night as well. It’s going to be a lot of fun. Going forward, we’re going to keep making a joyful noise. Making music that everyone can enjoy, regardless of genre.