Junior Sisk has been wowing audiences all summer with his new band, which now includes Heather Berry and Tony Mabe on vocals, with that same lonesome mountain bluegrass sound that first catapulted Junior to attention in the late 1990s.
But it’s been a big change for him, since he worked this past 20 some years as the leader of a band called Rambler’s Choice. Some confusion was caused last year when Sisk announced that he was dissolving that group, with many fans assuming that he was retiring and coming off the road. In truth, he simply intended to rebrand his career under his own name, and return even closer to the traditional, old-style grass that has always been his first love.
With the new group hitting on all cylinders, Junior is ready to work on a new recording, and has brought on the team at Wilson Pickins Productions to assist him and Mountain Fever Records in getting the word out.
Agency principal Melanie Wilson works with more than a dozen top bluegrass acts in a variety of capacities, ranging from publicity and marketing, to booking and management, and says that adding Sisk will be a joy.
“I am overjoyed to be working with Junior and his very talented band and I look forward to being a part of this new venture. It’s a great feeling when business partners are on the same page and communicate the same goals and Junior and I had that right from the start. We can’t wait to get started!”
Preparations are being made for a new album, which Mountain Fever President, Mark Hodges, says will be underway soon.
“We plan on starting production next month on Junior’s next record, and we are excited at the support team he is building around him. With the addition of Wilson Pickins we are expecting great things!”
Junior tells us that his new group is working out better than he could have hoped. When he started out this year without his long time band, he hired Heather Berry and Tony Mabe to help him with harmony singing. The husband-and-wife team also provide a big part of the rhythm section, with Tony on banjo and Heather on second guitar.
“When I talked with them at the beginning, they agreed to hire on for the 2019 season. But everything sounds so good, I asked them to stay with me indefinitely, and they agreed.”
The only holdover from the Rambler’s Choice days is mandolinist Jonathan Dillon, a superhot young picker from Wirtz, VA, near Roanoke. Now on bass is Gary Creed, from Fincastle, VA – site of the world’s first 3-day bluegrass festival – and Doug Bartlett, who has moved to southwestern Virginia from New York on fiddle.
“They’re a good bunch to travel with. And they all live close by, within 2 hours of me.”
The next Mountain Fever album will feature the new band, a decision Junior says he only made recently.
“Initially, the offer from the label was for a solo record, with studio musicians, like the last one. But the sound is coming out so well that I wanted to do it as a group project.”
After next weekend’s Gettysburg Festival, Sisk and the gang will head to New York for a show, followed by 13 days in Canada. They have 10 shows up there over that time, and plan to use it to pick out and work up songs for the studio dates already booked in September.
“We’re looking for songs for both Heather and I – I’m digging some up now. It’ll be half old classics, hidden treasures from Charlie Moore, The Stanleys, and others, and half new, original songs in a traditional style.
Tony also plays good clawhammer banjo so we’ll use that on at least one. There will be a lot of things folks haven’t heard before from Junior Sisk.”
Junior says he’s also planning to recut He Died A Rounder At 21, which was a hit for him back in the early days of Rambler’s Choice, but is on an album that is out of print.
Look for a new single sometime in late September or early October.
And he is looking for big things next year with help from Wilson Pickins.
“Melanie will do booking and publicity and that will let me focus on the band.”
Here’s a recent video of Junior and the band from last weekend at Mandolin Farms.