Junior Sisk: Blue Side of the Blue Ridge

Blue Side of the Blue RidgeWhen I was in college at South Plains College studying bluegrass music, a new record would often create a stir among the students. One of those records was Wyatt Rice’s Santa Cruz. That album introduced me to the soulful singing of Junior Sisk. He quickly became one of my favorite singers and I began looking for other recordings that featured him. Soon after Santa Cruz, I soon discovered Rambler’s Choice. This was Junior’s own band and the recording, Sounds of the Mountains was great. Great songs and great singing. But after just one album, the band was no more.

Several years later when I moved to Virginia I began to meet, and even work with, some of the men I had looked to as heros of my bluegrass world. I met Junior when he was singing with Alan Bibey, Terry Baucom and Blueridge. Pleasantly, I discovered that not only was Junior one of my favorite singers, he became one of my favorite people as well. As genuine as anyone I ever met, Junior doesn’t put on airs at all. He is who he is, unapologetically, and that’s a good thing, because he’s good people.

When Blueridge disbanded so Bibey could join Grasstowne, I hoped Junior would quickly find a musical home so I could continue to enjoy his singing and songwriting. He seemed to drop off the radar though. Here in Southwest Virginia though, if you knew the right people you heard rumors that Junior was quietly putting something of his own together. Soon the whispers said Rambler’s Choice was back.

The rumors are no longer whispered in secret, it’s common knowledge now. Rambler’s Choice will release their first Rebel Records CD on June 24, 2008. The CD is titled Blue Side of the Blue Ridge . It includes both traditional and original material in twelve tracks.

I had a chance to visit with Junior the other day and ask him about the reformation of the band. I asked him how he came to put the band back together rather than just looking for a gig in an existing band.

Well after the breakup of BlueRidge, I just about decided to wait and go with another band already established, but I like to do the old stuff nobody does anymore and the new stuff done the traditional way. And with joining another band it meant learning another collection of songs that might not be my style. Darrell Wilkerson was the first to call and said if I decided to start my own band he would like to pick with me. So that got me thinking about it. I knew Timmy Massey wasn’t working with a band at the time and thought maybe we could do the Ramblers Choice thing again. He agreed. Darrell said he knew a good mandolin player Chris Harris from Eden that was interested in picking with a band. We got together and it just clicked! Now we needed a fiddle player. I called Billy Hawks and he soon joined up with us. And I get to do the songs that fit my style.

Timmy is Junior’s cousin and was a founding member of the original Rambler’s Choice. Hearing the two of them together again will bring a smile to the face of anyone who remembers the original.

Getting a group of guys together who love to pick and calling it a band, is one thing. Convincing a label and festival promoters is something else entirely. I asked Junior what the first steps where to getting the band off the ground and recording a CD.

I recorded a demo of three songs at Dale Perry’s to send to record labels to see if anybody would be interested in me. Rebel had the most interest in it and wanted to talk. We met at IBMA and it just clicked too! I am very excited with the help and support from the Rebel folks, All of them!

I then thought of Ronnie Bowman to produce the record for me since he has worked with me before on the Wyatt Rice and Santa Cruz project. He agreed to produce it and wanted Wyatt to engineer for him. I thought how cool! Two of my favorite friends on earth are gonna do my record for me.

About that recording? How did it go down? Where did you track?

We recorded at Ronnie’s house. It was laid back with no pressure.We had most of the material already worked up. But when it came down to the last couple of days we decided some of the material wasn’t strong enough or didn’t fit the project. We started to panic a little until Ronnie let us listen to some of his new songs,. WOW… we have been saved! And the rest is history.

Having worked with Wyatt myself more than once, I can attest that he is a man who knows what the instruments are supposed to sound like, and how to get the tone out of them. This record proves that.

Speaking of the CD, I asked Junior which tune(s) were his favorites on this recording.

My favorite tune on the project is one of Ronnie’s songs called Little bit of this, Little bit of that. It wasn’t exactly what I normally would sing, but I just loved it! And I think it came out good. It is the first release from the project.

My other fav is I Did The Leaving For You. Its a payback song written by Ashby Frank.

Ronnie’s tune is, in fact, a great song. The melody is pleasant, the lyrics are engaging, the instrumental hook is memorable, and Junior’s singing is heart felt, just as I expected it to be.

I think my favorite may be Junior’s second choice. Ashby Frank’s I Did The Leaving For You is a great leaving song, but it’s not leaving, it’s kicking out! I particularly enjoyed the opening line of the chorus.

I called your momma so you’d have a place to stay

The entire CD is pure, unadulterated Bluegrass. If you are a fan of hard driving, fast paced bluegrass with soulful singing, this CD is one you need to own. All the required songs are here, a moonshine song, a leaving song, a hard luck song, a gospel song, and more. This is the way we do bluegrass here in Southwest Virginia.

Junior had one last comment he wanted to share regarding the band.

I just wanted to mention I am now playing with the best bunch of guys a fella could hope for. It’s tough to try to start a new band and get enough work to keep them. I am doing my own booking and just hope I can afford to keep doing what I love to do for a long time to come. I feel there is a place in the music biz for the kind of music we love to play.

As far as I’m concerned, he’s absolutely correct. I love Junior’s singing, and this new CD is getting a lot of play in my iTunes. Rambler’s Choice is back, and that should make fans of traditional bluegrass music very happy.