At first it may seem like an unlikely combination, that is, the blending of familiar Disney music with a bluegrass template. However, when producer Tony Wray envisioned an album made up of songs culled from classic Disney films such as Cinderella, Dumbo, 101 Dalmatians, The Jungle Book, Pinocchio, and others, reimagined as bluegrass, he found it to be a combination that would come across as both credible and creative. Surprisingly enough, these timeless tracks seemed to lend themselves naturally to grassified arrangements, adding both novelty and nostalgia in equal abundance.
For Wray in particular, Bluegrass Tribute To Disney, scheduled for release early next year on Pinecastle Records, became a labor of love, one borne from his love of the Disney genre from early on.
“I grew up watching Disney movies like most people, and always loved the whimsical writing and warm cozy feeling I got from their tunes,” Wray says in retrospect. “So once I became Creative Director for Pinecastle Records, I wanted to do an album to say thank you for the brilliant music.”
His long experience with bluegrass fueled the formula as well. It is, he said, finally accepted as the vital and vibrant sound it’s always intended to be. “I personally I think it’s the changing over of generations,” he replies when asked why it’s now so well accepted. “It’s not looked down upon like when I was growing up, or thought of as a barefoot hill-jacker on his front porch. It’s edgier, appealing to the younger generation.”
Naturally then, Wray also had some definite ideas about which songs he’d choose to interpret. “I wanted to stick with the classics like Bear Necessities, Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo, Cruella De Ville, The Lord’s Been Good To Me, and so on,” he said. “I feel that the particular tunes that I’ve chosen give hope and faith, and drum up feelings about being safe, as well as the familiarity we felt when we were children. The way the world is today, I think we need that.”
Consequently, when Wray approached Pinecastle about his proposed project, the response was what he had hoped it would be. “I wanted to do it,” he recalls. “So I talked to my bosses Lonnie and Ethan, and they were up for it. The rest is history.”
Wray then set about assembling a stellar group of players that would do the music justice. “The musicians I have on this album are great friends of mine, along with some fine Pinecastle artists — Dale Ann Bradley, Kim & Quillan Roe from the Roe Family singers, and a buddy from my touring days,” he says. “Plus there’s my go-to main man Tim Crouch and a great friend, Les Stroud, better known as ‘Survivorman’ from the Discovery Channel. I simply asked and they emphatically said yes.”
Wray maintains that putting the concept into practice wasn’t as challenging as one might think.
“As far as making these songs to sound like bluegrass, or making them in sync with acoustic instruments… that goes along with my take on music as a whole”” he reflects. “I’ve been playing for 32 years, but it was only as recently as fifteen years ago that I really started listening to songs, listening to the lyrics and seeing, along with feeling, what’s called for in order to pay proper respect — not only to the writers, but to the song itself. With all that being said, I was totally confident that Disney would work well with the instruments I play. It may not always be about a screaming banjo — in fact, sometimes there may not even be a banjo in a tune at all — but it still goes back to listening and understanding what exactly a song needs.”
He insists that once that was figured out, the process itself was relatively easy.
“I’ve done all the work in my own home studio,” Wray explains. “I would arrange, record, and then send the tunes to the singers and musicians to record their parts. Then I’d get them back and put the songs together. I’d mix and master. Each track usually takes 25 to 30 hours to produce from start to finish.”
Still, as far as Wray is concerned, there was a bigger purpose for this project, one that has to do with clarity and connection.
“I feel like Dave Grohl said it best,” he notes. “‘Music in America right now is superficial… it’s fun to listen to, turn up in your car while in traffic, but there’s no substance. It’s devoid of any meaning like there used to be.’ The album and music I record is handled with care, love, and thought. Like I said earlier, in this world of uncertainty, I hope I can bring some joy, happiness and comfort to the listener, along with the heart and soul that the musicians felt while we were making it.”
A debut single from the Disney album is now available, The Lord’s Been Good To Me, from the 1948 film, Johnny Appleseed. It’s sung here by Jim Denman, with Tim Crouch and Tony Wray supporting.
The single can be found at popular download and streaming sites online.