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Cherryholmes brings it grade ‘A’ goodness to town

By Staff | Mar 31, 2010

There’s something inherently charming about family bands, especially ones that are multi-generational. When said family band is actually an extremely talented, award-winning bluegrass band … when said family band is six members deep and began as a family project to help heal the hurt from an unexpected death of a daughter/sister … well, then you stand up and take notice.

Prior to its April 25th appearance at the Clay Center in Charleston, matriarch Sandy Cherryholmes talked to us about the band’s new album and what it’s like juggling life on the road with growing up.

Graffiti: Tell us what the band’s up to these days?

Cherryholmes: Well, this year we finished recording our fourth Skaggs Family Record CD, which is due to be out June 1. The title, of course, is “Cherryholmes IV,” subtitled “Common Thread.”

We’re really excited about it. We always try to get creative and create new music. This one is all original material and it’s a really fun, interesting record.

Graffiti: Talk to me a little about some of the new stuff you’re doing. I know you progress your sound a little from album to album. What can we expect with this one?

Cherryholmes: It’s actually been quite a journey for us because when we started out everyone was young and we were learning bluegrass and we dug into the masters.

As everyone grew they started writing their own things and writing what was in their own hearts. We started doing things that were a little more cutting edge, but not jam-grass. We don’t do a jam-grass style. We don’t consider ourselves progressive in that it’s hard to understand, but we’ve always done music that’s very passionate, for lack of a better word. Even our slow songs have a lot of soul to them. We’ve got some blues on this one, which is done with B.J. playing a Hound Dog blues guitar on some of the numbers. It takes on a different feel, but it’s still got that crankin’ banjo and some of the other elements that make us Cherryholmes.

Everybody’s changed, a little different. They’ve grown up and they’re not singing like little kids anymore. The messages are more for the hurts and joys for today.

Graffiti: Now with a big dynamic like this and everyone bringing in their own influences, how do you wrangle all that up into that one, coherent Cherryholmes sound?

Cherryholmes: That’s what our label said and that’s the reason we called it “Common Thread.” Even if the record’s a little bluesy and it’s a little different, there’s still that Cherryholmes sound.

We don’t reformat everything and play something that sounds like it doesn’t belong. We’ve always done some stuff that was a little jazzy. Molly’s developed a singing style now that’s a little bluesy … but it all ends up sounding like something Cherryholmes would do.

Graffiti: So it fair to say that this is done in an organic, natural way?

Cherryholmes: Yea, that’s a really good way to say it. I know for some of the songs somebody would bring something in and the style wouldn’t fit a bluegrass format as well … and then we took it we’d grass it up a little bit. We’d then work with the arrangements and make it work so that it’s something that fits.

We have one tune that Molly did, it’s acoustic and it’s almost like a moody blues thing, but you can still hear the banjo behind it.

We have a lot of really great feeling music on there.

Graffiti: Most of your tunes are originals and in bluegrass there’s a deep history of doing cover songs. What does a cover song have to have for you to record it?

Cherryholmes: I think it has to have something really special. One thing when we’re looking for covers is that somethings have just been done over and over again. Some of that we’ll include in our live sets but if we cover something we know that for a lot of people we’re the first bluegrass they’ll listen to. So we hope to turn them on to other stuff.

More so than doing covers we’ll write original stuff that sounds so traditional you’d think it was a cover.

The last song we covered was “Devil in Disguise,” which we thought was a traditional song because we saw J.D. Crowe do it and we found it was a Flying Burrito Brothers song and it wasn’t so traditional (laughs).

So many are hard to find that haven’t been recorded so many times.

We find a lot of younger people are coming out to the shows because it has a different slant (than a lot of traditional bluegrass).

Graffiti: The way I understand it, you and Jere decided to start a family band after attending a bluegrass festival. You assigned each of the children instruments and then taught them. That seems awfully straightforward and intentional to me, but I doubt the road’s been that smooth for you guys. Did you ever think back then that you’d be where you are now?

Cherryholmes:  Oh, heavens no. It’s really amazing because back then we didn’t do it with a desire to go anywhere. Back then it was a healing thing and we were homeschooling and it was an uplifting thing especially after they lost their sister. It was a great family project.

It hasn’t been bad at all but it has been difficult at times. We’ve had kids grow up in the road and in the public eye. But then again we’ve traveled as a family and got to see so many states and meet so many friends. It’s been a really terrific way to spend those 11 years.

Contact Justin at jmcintosh@graffitiwv.com