Starting in the early 1970s, American rock/jazz/pop band Steely Dan introduced a new model in the music business. Though they did tour extensively at the beginning, they soon became a studio band where their two creative founders (Donald Fagen and Walter Becker) wrote and produced new music which they recorded with the help of some of the top instrumentalists and drummers of the time. Frank Zappa had done something similar a decade earlier, but few of his releases came close to the popular, critical and radio success that Fagen and Becker enjoyed.
This studio band concept had not been common in bluegrass until recent years, when special projects featuring artists who don’t normally perform together have taken off, with one or more superstar collaborations being released every year. The storied Bluegrass Album Band could be credited with starting this trend in our world, but we have very few bands who exist almost solely in the studio.
One that does is Alabama’s Iron Horse who, while they do perform on occasion, has cranked out a total of 16 album with sales in the half a million range. Four of those have been self-produced CDs of their own music, but the rest have been bluegrass tribute projects for CMH Records. At one point CMH was a mainstream bluegrass label who featured major acts like The Osborne Brothers in their stable, but have in recent years found a comfortable niche offering dozens of titles in their Pickin’ On… series. Titles range from Pickin’ On The Beatles to Pickin’ On Kid Rock, with tributes to Ozzy Osborne and Metallica among the many others.
Iron Horse consists of Tony Robertson on mandolin, Vance Henry on guitar, Ricky Rogers on bass, and Anthony Richardson on banjo. They have just released a music video for a track included on CMH’s 2007 release, Tribute To Classic Rock Hits, Edition 1. It’s Elton John’s Rocketman, with a bluegrass arrangement.
That CD, along with all of their other albums can be purchased from the Iron Horse web site.