Allison Krauss once made mention of a musical style called heavy metal bluegrass.
Rockford Express members like to think of the band in that category, but they define themselves as contemporary traditional bluegrass music.
“That’s a weird phrase, but it’s an actual style,” said Andy Lowe, the band’s banjo player. “We’re playing the traditional songs in the traditional way but it’s a little cleaner than the original versions.”
Rockford Express has been playing together for six years now and have finally released their first album, “Straight From Bluegrass Hill.” The band spent months in the recording studio and preparing for the album. It features 11 tracks, three of which are originals.
“It’s a humbling experience, being in the studio, because every little thing matters,” said Rick Lowe, the band’s fiddle and vocalist. “The little things that you can get away with a live show, they stand right out in a studio. It really exposes you.”
The album was recorded at Eastwood Studios in Cana, Va. The band worked with seasoned engineer, Wesley Easter who has 32 years in the recording business.
The band focuses on traditional bluegrass, folk and country music and includes a lot of gospel and hymnals.
“In all honesty, most of the original songs came from messages I heard preached through the years in church,” said Joey Hall, the band’s guitarist and vocalist. “The songs are just an inspiration of what you gather in your mind and you go through and experience.”
Hall wrote three original tracks for the album: ‘On your Way,’ ‘Drivin’ Nails’ and ‘The River.’
“One of the first songs I wrote was ‘The River,’ Hall said. “That song came after I was asked to teach a Sunday school class and I was studying the Bible on healing and where it came from and all of a sudden everything I would read would sound like a song to me and so I just sat down and started reading it and that’s how the song came to me.”
Hall said that he was inspired by the role that a hammer and nail ha played din his personal and spiritual life when he wrote ‘Drivin’ Nails.’ The track ‘On Your Way’ came to him while he was driving 70 miles an hour down the highway on his way home one night.
“I’ve had a lot of songs in my life just come to me and I could never remember them so now I always make sure to have a notepad and a pencil handy,” Hall said.
The other tracks on the album were chosen because the band enjoyed playing them and knew they could play them well.
“Several of the non-originals are almost played out to an extent so we had to figure out a way to add a new twist to them so they would be fresh,” Andy Lowe said. “There are a lot of songs that we knew people would want to hear on that album and they would be mad if they weren’t on that album,”
Andy said that the band wanted to make sure that everyone’s musical talents were on display somewhere on the album so each track allowed someone to be in the spotlight.
“Everybody in this band is an accomplished picker and we don’t really have any weak links in the band so we wanted to make sure we had a variety of songs that would showcase everyone’s talents,” Andy said.
The band agrees that after five years together they have learned each other’s rhythm and can communicate with a simple look on stage.
“We rely on each other when we hit a bump on stage,” Time Parks, the band’s bass player said. “We can pretty much just look at each other and we know what the other is trying to say.”
The band members said that their main goal is to continue to produce family oriented music and atmosphere and try to appeal to a younger generation.
“We’ve got great guys in the band and we promote family and good, clean atmosphere in our band,” Hall said. “I would like to see the younger generation come up to know that bluegrass music is not a whiny sound. Your more traditional bluegrass bands will produce a sound that will draw more young people in if they will take the time to listen.
Front stoop history
Rockford Express is comprised of five members: Randy Willard on mandolin and vocals, Joey Hall on guitar and vocals, Rick Lowe on fiddle and vocals, Andy Lowe on banjo and Tim Parks on bass and vocals.
The band saw its start six years ago on the steps of Ace’s Restaurant in Yadkinville. The band’s founding member Randy Willard, who also owns the restaurant, would invite musicians that he hoped would be good candidates for a band and a jam session would tell him whether these were the people he was looking for.
“There were several different people who came and played and for whatever reason I kept tweaking on and trying to get people that would work out better in a band. When I started the jam session you had to be invited to come because I was trying to recruit better quality musicians. This band formed out of that.”
It took about a year before Willard found the existing band members. He met Rick and Andy Lowe through a jam session with their mutual friend Jerry Martin. Rick became a band member early on and Andy finally joined after graduating college.
Willard found Hall at the Union Grove Fiddler’s Convention where the two hit it off and Hall was quickly added as lead vocalist and guitarist.
Parks and Willard had been friends for years and had been playing together long before the band became a reality. Willard said that he always knew that Parks would be a part of the final band.
“I turned these guys loose and they started beating it around and that’s how we came up with the sound that we have,” Willard said. “I feel really lucky. This is almost a dream band.”
While all of the band members hold down full time jobs, they aren’t able to set out on a world tour anytime soon but they do plan to continue their live shows to thank the fans who’ve stood by them.
“This album is something for the people who come out and support our live shows,” Andy said. “We have some diehard fans that have been requesting a CD for a few years now and it’s a huge relief to have something to offer them. We thank everyone who comes out to see us and we thank them for continuing to push us to get this album out.”
To learn more about Rockford Express find them on Facebook. If you would like to purchase a CD call Randy Willard at 336-961-6096 or drop by Jackson Music on Stratford Road in Winston-Salem.
Reach Lindsay Craven at 679-2341 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.