Jim VanCleve exits Mountain Heart [updated]

Jim VanCleveIt’s the end of an era. Fiddler Jim VanCleve has announced his departure from Mountain Heart, a group he helped found some years ago.

At its onset, Jim, Barry Abernathy, and Steve Gulley started the band when they left Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver in 1998. Also founding members were Adam Steffy and Johnny Dowdle. They started as a contemporary bluegrass band, but began to drift towards more progressive bluegrass and alt-country sounds, especially after Gulley left and Josh Shilling took on the lead vocal spot with his blues-inflected voice and piano.

Currently, the band is Abernathy on banjo, Aaron Ramsey on mandolin, Jason Moore on bass, and Shilling on guitar and keyboards.

Here is the statement VanCleve released this morning.

Today, after nearly 16 years of touring and recording, I am publicly announcing my decision to leave Mountain Heart. We have discussed this together, and I leave on what I think must be considered the absolute best of terms. These fine gentlemen are much more than co-workers, they are family. While it’s been a very difficult decision to reach, I feel that the timing is right and that God has been tugging me to explore a number of different opportunities that have presented themselves over the last few months, as well as be open to new ones I’m not yet aware of.

As some may already know, I’ve been very blessed to become deeply engaged in the Nashville studio scene: from producing full projects in a variety of genres, to A & R, session work, mixing/mastering/editing, and a myriad of other tasks. Between all this, and my intent to freelance with a number of various artists, teaching online and at various camps, my goal is to be as busy as ever, which is just the way I like it. So, I am looking forward to collaborating with many new faces in a variety of situations moving forward!

My time with the Mountain Heart boys has been an amazing adventure. It’s no small thing to be able to create and perform your own music with literally some of the very best musicians in the world, who – as many of you know – are also some of the finest people you’ll meet as well. From the very first iteration of the band, almost 16 years ago, to today’s band, the hallmark we created with Mountain Heart has been a positively-charged, energetic, and highly personal approach to American Music. We poured ourselves into what we created. We took a lot of chances, broke a few rules, even took some lumps. But, ultimately we excelled and succeeded in many things we weren’t sure could be done. Mountain Heart has afforded me the opportunity to grow as a musician, as a producer, as a writer, as an arranger, and most importantly, as a teammate and person. I am proud of what we’ve accomplished, and I am heartily wishing these boys the VERY best as they move forward, and continue to set new musical standards for us all.

I feel that I am leaving Mountain Heart as strong as ever, and that they are on the precipice of entering yet another great season. At present we have agreed that, though I will begin appearing with a variety of musical ensembles immediately, I will also be playing the remainder of the calendar dates Mountain Heart has scheduled for 2014 as well.  It is my hope to be able to visit with many of our long time friends and fans during this time – and I’ll admit – to “throw down” with with these particular guys a few more times!

I look forward to seeing everyone, either with Mountain Heart over the next few months, or wherever our paths may cross from here forward!

Please visit me at https://www.facebook.com/jimvancleve to stay up to date on whatever is next!!

We look forward to hearing more about future plans from Mountain Heart.

UPDATE 12:15 p.m.: We have received the following statements from the Mountain Heart camp. First, this, from Barry Abernathy.

“Jim Van Cleve has been a wonderful friend and band mate for the last 16 years. I wish him nothing but the best in all of his endeavors. I feel privileged to have had Jimmy as a part of the band, as well as a huge part of my life over what has been the ‘Prime’ of our careers. I feel that I am a better person, and musician, having created music the last 15 years with this man. I would like to take this opportunity to thank him for all the music and memories which I will cherish forever (or at least as long as I am in my right mind).

Good Luck Jimmy, and don’t forget to set your clock!”

And also this from Mountain Heart manager, Brian Smith.

“I want to take this opportunity to publicly thank Jim for all he has meant to the band and to me personally. Jim was the one who originally brought me to the attention of the band in 2009 and I have enjoyed a respectful working relationship, but more importantly to me a valued and cherished friendship with Jimmy and all of the Mountain Heart guys.

While I am sad to see him go I fully understand the reasons and along with all of the MH guys wish he and Desneige all the best in the future. I love and respect them both immensely!”

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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.