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Don't believe it, but Cherryholmes, it takes work

By C. Eric Banister, October 2008

It takes a lot of work to make things look easy. It also takes a lot of sacrifice and Jere Cherryholmes, the patriarch of the band Cherryholmes, who have just released "Cherryholmes III: Don't Believe," has some advice for those would-be bluegrass family bands that see them on stage making things look easy:

"It's not for everybody," he says during a phone conversation from his Nashville home. "People that have aspirations after seeing us and have their kid say, 'Yeah, Dad let's go get a bus and go out on the road and do this.' I always want to tell them, 'hey, it ain't that easy'."

And he knows that of which he speaks. The oft told story of Cherryholmes starts in southeast Los Angles where after the untimely passing of their eldest child at age 20 after a long illness due to a stroke suffered 8 years earlier while undergoing open heart surgery.

Don't Believe, Cherryholmes at Dollywood

"We realized after Shelly had that stroke how fleeting life is," he says. "We decided we were going to make memories by doing things together."

Due to recurring health problems, Shelly passed away in 1999, and a month later, the family decided to make a day trip to a local bluegrass festival where that inspiration would change their lives. "We had such a good time that I told Sandy that as a family get-together type of thing we should start a jam around the house," he remembers. "So, I scrounged around for any instruments I could get my hands on. I fixed up broken guitars. I talked to friends who had at one time given their kids violin lessons that had this old fiddle up in the attic with no bridge and a bow with no hair in it. I did whatever I could to get instruments so that we could start doing that."

The group quickly began playing small shows and regional bluegrass festivals and decided to give it a go as a career, moving first to Arizona and then making a 12-week trip east to test the waters. "We wanted to come out here and see if we had viability, if we did something people liked," he says.

And people did. Their first Skaggs Family Record album, simply titled "Cherryholmes," released in 2005, netted them a 2005 Entertainer of the Year award from the International Bluegrass Music Association, the 2005 Entertaining Group of the Year award from the Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music of America (for the second year) and a 2006 Grammy nomination for best bluegrass album. Their 2007 release, "Cherryholmes II: Black and White" showed that their hard work continued and was again nominated for a Grammy in the same category.

They continue with "Cherryholmes III: Don't Believe" where 11 of the 12 songs were written by the band, an increase over past releases. As the young adults in the band grow older. their songwriting becomes stronger, even with admittedly limited experiences in some of the topics they sing about.

"Teenagers and young adults go through a lot of different emotions and, as of yet, anyway, none of our young adults in the band have been dating because we've never encouraged dating, per se. We encourage building relationships, and we certainly want our kids to be serious about it and not recreational," Jere says. "So, they're not writing from some sort of experience that they had, but I think they're writing about things they observe, not necessarily directly in people they know, but connecting their feelings to a lot of failed relationships and things like that."

One such song, Broken, written by 24-year old daughter Cia, the banjo player and primary vocalist, is about a woman who grieves over a lost lover so desperately that she dies. The song is preceded on the album by the song Sailing Man, a song with an old time sound written by Cia and mother Sandy, which tells the tale of a young woman waiting for her sailing man to return home only to discover by way of letter that he had married another. The song serves as a prequel to the mournful lament of Broken.

While Cia may hold center stage writing the majority of original songs as well as serving as lead vocalist, the other siblings step up to the mic to sing their own songs. As on past albums, 20-year-old BJ sings 3 songs, including the lone song not written by the group, the Gram Parsons/Chris Hillman country-rock paean to a devoted fan, Devil in Disguise."

"That's kind of a funny story," Jere says. "J.D. Crowe had covered that tune back in the '70s, and then it was done by the Bluegrass Album Band with Tony Rice and them. My sons always liked that tune, but their mother would never let them do it because they were too young, so she didn't want them singing about some girl like that. So, we got around to doing this record, and we thought, we need to put something traditional on there, and we knew that Crowe had done it and the Bluegrass Album Band, but we went in and recorded it, then researched it and found out it was written by the Flying Burrito Brothers. So, it wasn't exactly a traditional tune, but we liked it anyway."

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