We’ve mentioned banjo picker Jason Davis several times here on Bluegrass Today. Before he was old enough to vote, Jason had been featured on CDs from Michelle Nixon & Drive and Huber Banjos, and started touring with Kenny & Amanda Smith. He recorded with the Smiths on their latest CD, Tell Someone, and then went to work with BlueRidge.
When that band fell apart, Jason was scooped up by Grasstowne, and is featured on their bedut CD, The Road Headin’ Home. If all that wasn’t enough for the now 19 year old Virginian, he has just released his first solo project, Steppin Out, on Pinecastle Records.
Jason’s banjo playing is solid and strong, firmly in the Scruggs-style tradition, but with a creative spark and voice all his own.
The CD is about half and half, vocal vs. instrumental. The choice of songs shows a degree of maturity you don’t expect in so young a musician, and the list of guest artists demonstrates the rarefied air in which he works.
Contributing vocals are former BlueRidge band mate Junior Sisk, IIIrd Tyme Out’s Russell Moore and Greg Luck, Jeff Parker of The Dailey Vincent Band and Grasstowne brethren Steve Gulley and Alan Bibey. The rhythm section is equally stout – Tim Stafford on guitar, Alan Bibey on mandolin, Zach McLamb on bass, Phil Leadbetter on dobro and Justen Haynes and Ron Stewart on fiddle.
I caught up with Jason long enough to get some of his thoughts on Steppin Out – both of the project in general, and the songs he included, several of which he composed.
“Getting to cut with all these guys was an awesome experience! It was pretty humbling at the same time. Ive looked up to Tim Stafford for about as long as I’ve been playing. He’s been a part of some of my all time favorite records and to get to have that guy playing rhythm behind me was unreal. He had tons of great arrangement ideas and what little bit I was around him, I really felt like I learned a lot. The whole thing was a really great experience and I’m very thankful that Tom Riggs gave me the opportunity.
I wrote the tune Burnt Fuzz a couple of years ago with a different B part. When I wrote another tune recently but didn’t like the first part, I kind of combined the two. I really have no idea where that name came from – I guess I was just trying to think of something random.
The idea for Open Road came when I was sitting around just rehearsing some stuff about a week before I went into cut this record. I kind of had the idea for the first few measures in my head, and within five minutes or so I had the whole thing. I didn’t even know if I was going to cut it, but when we got to the studio, I tried it with the guys and it felt really good. I never really sit down to write a tune – it just kind of happened I guess.
Heel Country was a tune of Alan Bibey’s. I told him I was looking for another instrumental and he let me cut this. It has a cool melody that sits really well on banjo, and I liked it the first time I heard it. Pinnacle Mountain was a tune I got from Steve Gulley. It was a tune that his dad’s band cut back in the 60s and I really liked it because it sounds like an old traditional tune but very few people have ever heard it.”
Jason also chose to cut a version of Pike County Breakdown, a difficult tune which Earl Scruggs recorded many years ago – one that a great many banjo pickers avoid for fear of drawing the comparison.
Pike County was a pretty gutsy thing I guess. Earl pretty much destroyed the earth with his cut. I just wanted to include a banjo tune that most folks would recognize, plus it’s just a really mean kind of banjo tune and I knew these guys would really burn it up.”