Since its formation 35 years ago, Lonesome River Band continues its reputation as one of the most respected names in Bluegrass music. Five-time International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) Banjo Player of the Year, and winner of the Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Banjo and Bluegrass, Sammy Shelor leads the group that is constantly breaking new ground in Acoustic music. With two stellar lead vocalists, Brandon Rickman (guitar) and Jesse Smathers (mandolin), with impressive talents of Mike Hartgrove (fiddle) and Barry Reed (bass), the band seamlessly comes together, performing the trademark sound that fans continue to embrace.
This award-winning band again built on their familiar sound while adding bold progressiveness to their March 19, 2016 Mountain Home Music Company album, Bridging the Tradition that made its debut at #2 on Billboard’s Top 10 Bluegrass Album Chart. The album received a 2016 IBMA Award Nomination for Album of the Year along with “Thunder & Lightning” for Song of the Year, “Rockin’ of the Cradle for Gospel Recorded Performance of the Year, and Sammy Shelor for Banjo Performer of the Year. Lonesome River Band is continuing to evolve in the ever-changing landscape of Bluegrass and Acoustic Country music. With this new album, the band once again delivers incredible, ground-breaking music that is rooted in the tradition it began decades ago.
The band’s album Turn On A Dime was released October 14, 2014, also on the Mountain Home Music Company label, and includes the #1 hit single “Her Love Won’t Turn On A Dime.” The song hit the top of the Bluegrass Unlimited Top 30 Song Chart (June 2015) and appeared 7-times at #1 on Bluegrass Today’s Top 20 Song Chart. Another chart track, “Lila Mae” was released as the band’s first official concept video and will make its TV debut in June 2015 appearing around the world on the popular Bluegrass Ridge show.
Lonesome River Band’s long career is obviously filled with a multitude of Awards and Recognitions including their 2012 International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) Award for Instrumental Recorded Event of the Year for their song “Angeline the Baker” from their Chronology Volume One album. Sammy Shelor received his fifth win as the 2012 IBMA Banjo Performer of the Year. The group has also received other awards from IBMA including Album of the Year, along with numerous Awards from SPBGMA – Bluegrass Band of Year, Vocal Group of the Year, Song of the Year and Shelor as a 3-time SPBGMA Banjo Player of the Year award winner.
Sammy Shelor received the 2nd Annual Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Banjo and Bluegrass. Lonesome River Band with special guest Steve Martin made an appearance and performed on the Late Show with David Letterman on November 11, 2011.
For over 35 years, Lonesome River Band continues set the standard in the bluegrass music world. Whether performing on the famous stage of the Grand Ole Opry or headlining major concert events & festivals, their loyal fans continue to support one of the most loved and most influential acts of our time.
Read more of The Lonesome River Band’s history below the musician bios.
SAMMY SHELOR – Banjo & Vocals
When Sammy Shelor joined Lonesome River Band in 1990, he never envisioned himself leading the band only ten years later. Fresh off a six year stint with the popular Virginia Squires, Sammy came on board along with Ronnie Bowman and before long, had recorded the landmark LRB album, Carrying The Tradition with Dan Tyminski and Tim Austin. This recording quickly moved the group to headliner status, where they have remained ever since. When founder Tim Austin left in 1995 to focus on his studio, Sammy and Ronnie Bowman took over band management, and when Ronnie left in 2000, Sammy found himself in charge, leading the band that had hired him fifteen years earlier.
Through changes in vocalists and rhythm sections, the constant in the wildly popular LRB sound has been Shelor’s insistent, driving banjo style. His peers in the International Bluegrass Music Association have voted him Banjo Player Of The Year on five separate occasions, and banjo pickers all over the world have studied Sammy’s tab books and instructional DVD from AcuTab.
Sammy got an early start with the banjo, when his grandfather fashioned him a banjo from an old pressure cooker lid when Sam was only four years old. His other grandfather then issued a challenge, promising to buy him a real banjo if the young Shelor would learn to play two songs. Sammy met that mark in short order, and with the help of a family devoted both to him and to bluegrass music, he soon found himself entered in contests at fiddler’s conventions near his home in southwestern VA.
By age 10, he was performing in local bands and became a full time professional musician when he graduated from high school, joining The Heights Of Grass at age 19. That band eventually morphed into The Virginia Squires, and brought Sammy into contact with banjo legend Sonny Osborne, who helped shape the young picker’s approach to working as a pro banjo player. Sonny also showed him the importance of using a quality instrument, and introduced him to the sound of the pre-war flathead Gibson banjos that are now so highly prized by banjo players all over the world.
Since becoming a member of Lonesome River Band, Sammy has been featured on dozens of successful recordings, both with LRB and as a guest player. His solo project, Leading Roll, is still a popular title in the Sugar Hill Records catalog and his work on Knee Deep In Bluegrass for Rebel Records helped that project earn the Instrumental Album Of The Year award from the IBMA in 2001.
As a testament to Sammy’s prominence and influence in the banjo world, he has his own signature Sammy Shelor banjo fingerpicks, and a signature model banjo produced by Huber Banjos. His influence on amateur and semi-pro pickers can be demonstrated by a casual walk through the parking lots or jam sessions at any bluegrass event, where licks and phrases which Sam has added to the repertoire are heard alongside those contributed by Earl Scruggs and JD Crowe.
As one of the most sought after banjo players in the business, Sammy guests with numerous other artists including recording and performing (The Late Show with David Letterman) with country superstar Alan Jackson (“The Bluegrass Album), Zac Brown Band, and more.
Sammy has received a multitude of awards and recognitions during his impressive career including his induction into the 2009 Virginia Country Music Hall of Fame, 5-time recipient of the IBMA Banjo Player of the Year Award, 2011 winner of the 2nd Annual Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Banjo and Bluegrass, and 3-time winner of the SPBGMA Banjo Performer of the Year Award.
BRANDON RICKMAN – Guitar, Lead & Harmony Vocals
For more info, please visit BrandonRickman.com
Now in his second stint with Lonesome River band, guitarist and lead singer Brandon Rickman hails from the state of Missouri. A product of a musical family, Brandon grew up playing guitar, but picked up the upright bass just hours before playing his first show as a member of the esteemed bluegrass gospel group, New Tradition.
His distinctive singing and sturdy songwriting graced two previous LRB releases (Window Of Time and Head On Into Heartache) before he left to pursue songwriting full time in the fall of 2005. The lure of the road must have been too strong, as Brandon returned to Lonesome River Band full time.
“Rickman’s a compelling singer, and framing himself in stripped down arrangements not only differentiates these tracks from those of the Lonesome River Band, but truly highlights the qualities of his voice as an individual.” Hyperbolium
Before first joining the Lonesome River Band, he spent the 2001 season appearing with the award-winning bluegrass singer and songwriter Larry Cordle and Lonesome Standard Time.
June 30, 2009, Rural Rhythm Records released Brandon’s solo album, Young Man Old Soul. This successful album appeared in WNCW Radio’s Top 50 Albums of the Year (2010) and received numerous other honors. Two singles, “Always Have Always Will” and “I Bought Her a Dog” appeared on the Bluegrass Unlimited Top 30 Song chart. The track, “Wearin Her Knees Out Over Me” won the Strictly Country Magazine’s Song of the Year in 2010.
MIKE HARTGROVE – Fiddle
“Grove” is among the most experienced fiddlers in bluegrass music, having spent time with The Bluegrass Cardinals and Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver. He was also a founding member of IIIrd Tyme Out, with whom he toured and recorded for 11 years before joining Lonesome River Band in 2002. Mike has also performed with George Jones and Moe Bandy.
“Originally from Shelbina, Mo., and now living in Albemarle, N.C., where he has a full schedule of fiddle students, perhaps no fiddler in bluegrass has as long a history of playing behind great vocalists and harmony trios as Mike,” says Bluegrass Unlimited Magazine.
Barry Reed, from Seymour, Tennessee, joined the band in 2010 on upright bass and harmony vocals. He had previously worked with Michael Cleveland and Flamekeeper before taking some time off to start his family.
“Barry is a great acoustic bass player and singer and adds greatly to the LRB sound,” says Sammy Shelor.
Jesse Smathers, mandolin player and tenor singer, lives in Eden, North Carolina. He began playing the guitar at age 11, mandolin at 15 and was heavily influenced by the music of Lonesome River Band. In 2009, he won the guitar championship of the Virginia Folk Music Association. The following year, he began his career as a touring musician with the James King Band playing mandolin and singing tenor and high baritone, and later rejoined the band performing guitar and vocals. In 2013, High Voltage, featuring Jesse as the lead vocalist, won first place in the bluegrass band category at the Galax Old Time Fiddler’s Convention.
In 2014, Jesse joined Nothin’ Fancy. The same year, he was also inducted in Phi Mu Alpha, a music fraternity, as a Sinfonian, joining such greats as John Phillip Sousa, Count Bassie, Duke Ellington, and Andy Griffith. In 2015, LRB welcomed him to the group and in 2017, Jesse won the IBMA Momentum Award for Vocalist of the year!
Jesse comes from a long line of musicians. His grandfather, Harold Smathers, and grand Uncle Luke Smathers, recorded for June Appal and were awarded the North Carolina Folk Heritage Award in 1993 for their contributions to North Carolina Folk Music.
HISTORY OF THE LONESOME RIVER BAND
Lonesome River Band has been one of the most popular and influential acts on the bluegrass festival and concert circuit since the release of their breakout album, Carrying The Tradition, back in 1991. That band line-up included current LRB band leader Sammy Shelor, as well as Dan Tyminski, Ronnie Bowman and Lonesome River Band founder, Tim Austin. They recorded a second project for Rebel Records, Old Country Town, before Tyminski accepted a gig with Alison Krauss & Union Station, and Austin decided to leave the road to focus on his recording studio, Doobie Shea.
During his years with LRB, Sammy Shelor has enjoyed performing with such stellar musicians as Kenny Smith, Don Rigsby, Ron Stewart, Rickie Simpkins and Mike Hartgrove (who returned in 2005) – each of whom had moved on to pursue other musical endeavors. With each personnel change, Shelor looked for new musicians who could not only fill a spot that had been left vacant, but also bring in an artist with talents of their own.
The year 2001 brought a lot of new changes with the addition of Brandon Rickman and Jeff Parker along with fiddler Mike Hartgrove who had just left IIIrd Tyme Out, along with bassist Irl Hees. The band was rewarded rave reviews for Window of Time, the first recording with that band configuration. John Wade soon replaced Hees on bass, and the group the recorded Head On Into Heartache.
In 2005, Hartgrove left to join Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver, and Rickman chose to give up touring to spend more time focusing on songwriting, but more importantly much needed time with his family. With Jeff Parker’s contributions on mandolin and tenor vocals, this took LRB into the next generation returning to the bands aggressive, four piece sound that had brought them to prominence years earlier. Shelor brought on a strong picker and a distinctive singer, Barry Berrier on bass who had made a name singing lead and playing guitar with The Lost & Found. Shannon Slaughter then came on board after initially being hired to fill in during the search for a new guitar man.
In 2007, Hartgrove and Rickman returned to LRB joining Sammy Shelor, Andy Ball, and Mike Anglin. This band configuration recorded two albums for Rural Rhythm Records. No Turning Back, LRB’s twelve career album, was released in 2008 and made its debut on Billboard’s Top 10 Bluegrass Album Chart. The project included the hit “Them Blues,” that garnered seven #1s on various national radio charts.
LRB thrilled the audience with an impressive and well received opening performance of the 2009 IBMA Awards Show at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, TN. IBMA members placed the band in numerous categories including receiving Nominations for: Instrumental Performance of the Year for “Struttin to Ferrum”; Gospel Performance of the Year for “Darkness Wept”; and Sammy Shelor nominated again for Banjo Performer of the Year.
In 2010, Rural Rhythm released Still Learning again with members Sammy Shelor, Brandon Rickman, Andy Ball, Mike Hartgrove, and Mike Anglin. The project resulted in two radio chart singles, “Record Time Machine” and “Jack Up the Jail.” The album garnered the band a nomination for IBMA Instrumental Recorded Performance of the Year for “Pretty Little Girl.”
The same year, LRB was part of another Rural Rhythm project, The All-Star Jam – Live At Graves Mountain that received significant attention from IBMA members: nomination for Album of the Year; nomination for Instrumental Recorded Performance of the Year (for Sammy Shelor, Brandon Rickman and Mike Hartgrove’s work on “Ground Speed”); and a nomination for Recorded Event of the Year for the song, “Graves Mountain Memories” (by the Rural Rhythm All-Stars that included Sammy Shelor and Mike Hartgrove).
Also in 2010, Barry Reed, on upright bass and harmony vocals, replacing Mike Anglin. Early 2011, Randy Jones joined the band on mandolin and lead & harmony vocals, replacing Andy Ball.
LRB was also part of other various artists’ projects on Rural Rhythm including: A Bill Monroe 100th Year Celebration – Live at Bean Blossom (2011) album that was produced by Sammy Shelor; the 2012 IBMA Recorded Event of the Year Award winning album Life Goes On (2012) by the Musicians Against Childhood Cancer benefiting St. Jude Children’s Hospital in Memphis, TN; and God Didn’t Choose Side: Civil War True Stories About Real People (2013) that made its debut at #6 on Billboard Bluegrass Album Chart; Various Artists.
In 2014, Mountain Home Music Company released Turn On A Dime that quickly made its debut on the Billboard Top 10 Bluegrass Album Chart. The album includes the #1 Bluegrass Unlimited and Bluegrass Today hit single “Her Love Won’t Turn On a Dime.” The second chart successful song, “Lila Mae”, was also released as the band’s first official concept music video.
In June 2015, Jesse Smathers on mandolin and lead & harmony vocals, joined LRB replacing Randy Jones who left the band to pursue a career outside the music business.
As always, with Lonesome River Band, you can be assured their prominence as one of the most influential acts in bluegrass music is here to stay.
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