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Tashians seek wider audience with "Harmony"

By Jon Weisberger, March 1997

The first thing you need to know about Barry and Holly Tashian is that they're two of the nicest, most down-to-earth, regular folks you'd ever want to meet.

The second is that they're making some of the best country music you'd ever want to hear. Now, with the release of their third album on Rounder Records, the duo is hoping that a lot more people will have the chance to do just that.

Both Tashians grew up in the Northeast - Westport, Conn. Both started their musical careers at an early age; Holly because in her family "we had to play an instrument," Barry because of a fondness for the singing cowboys he saw on TV. Holly's mother was (and still is) a voice teacher and conductor of vocal ensembles, so her early experiences included stints with madrigal singers and an a cappella choir at school - but, she laughs, "the truth is I loved rock and roll."

Barry also fell under the spell of rock's early energy. By the time he reached high school, he had acquired an electric guitar and joined his first band, The Schemers. "We played what we heard on the radio," he says, "Carl Perkins, rockabilly, Jerry Lee Lewis, even a little bit of Hank Williams."

Though he enrolled at Boston University, Barry soon dropped out to devote his full energy to a band he had formed there, The Remains.

By 1966, Tashian found himself fronting a rock and roll band that not only appeared on national television shows but opened for the Beatles during the British quartet's last tour of the United States.

A diary Barry kept during that hectic 14-city swing became the basis for his first book, last year's "Ticket To Ride," published by Dowling Press. Cast in the form of a scrapbook, it combines diary entries with newspaper stories, recollections from fans and musicians, photographs and other memorabilia to offer an unusual glimpse into an historic time in American popular culture.

Yet within the space of a few years, Barry - by this time "hanging out together," as she puts it, with former classmate Holly - had left the rock and roll scene, drawn into the country-rock experimentation of Gram Parsons, the talented harbinger of much of today's "alternative country."

Holly Tashian still recall that the first three country records they listened to together were George Jones, Flatt & Scruggs and Hank Williams.

"Rock and roll had just gone over the top," Barry says, referring to the explosive confusion and increasingly elaborate productions of the late 1960's. "There was nowhere to turn. Country music had a plain sound, it was something you could listen to."

Together with Parsons, that was just what he did - listen - though not only to country. "We'd put on a George Jones album and do whatever we were doing," he recalls. "Then Lowell Fulsom, or Sam & Dave, a lot of different kinds of music that had a tradition."

The friendship culminated in an invitation to record with Parsons, which in turn led to an acquaintance with Emmylou Harris.

That California encounter with Harris turned out to be an event of some significance for the Tashians; when Harris came to dinner at their Connecticut home in 1971, her talent inspired Holly to take up country singing.

"We were sitting on the floor, just singing," Barry remembers, and Holly chimes in: "It just floored me. A woman, my age, who could sing. That just did it."

As a result, she abandoned the fiddle for the guitar ("far easier," she says with a laugh); Barry says that "she was amazing. She watched for a while and then one day she just picked up and started playing."

Delighted with the result, the Tashians began singing together. Holly had gotten involved in an all-girl band, The Outskirts, but as time passed, she says, "the girls dropped out and Barry, who started with the band as a drummer, came forward."

From 1973 to 1980 the couple took the hard road of making a living with a country band - fiddle, steel, guitar, bass and drums - in the New York City area. In May 1980, though, a second encounter with Harris led them to their next big move - first to the West Coast, then to Nashville.

"Emmylou came in one night and heard us," Holly recalls. "And right after Ricky Skaggs left (the Hot Band), she asked Barry to join. We ended the band and moved to Southern California." The couple remained there for three years, then followed Harris to Nashville.

While Barry toured and recorded with the Hot Band, Holly kept her musical hand in by, she says, "playing in bar bands" and teaching music to youngsters, while raising the couple's two sons. Daniel, is a musician, though not country, and released an album last year on Elektra.

In 1989, as the boys grew older, Barry left the Hot Band and the two began performing and recording as a duet. After releasing "Trust In Me" (1989) and "Live In Holland" (1991) for two smaller labels (Northeastern and Strictly Country), Barry and Holly signed with Rounder, producing 1993's "Ready For Love" and 1994's "Straw Into Gold," which won the National Association of Independent Record Distributor's INDIE award for Country Album Of The Year.

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