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Dan Tyminski: From Alison Krauss' vocal partner to George Clooney's 'butt double'

By Henry Koretzky, September 2000

Dan Tyminski has been an integral part of Alison Krauss & Union Station for most of the '90's. His propulsive guitar (and, more recently, mandolin) and powerful bluegrass vocals give him a high profile in the band with the highest visibility in bluegrass.

Despite this and a few years and CDs with the Lonesome River Band, "Carry Me Across the Mountain" is his first recording as a leader. Given the album's powerful mix of traditional bluegrass and gospel, one would think that Tyminski had been chomping at the bit to make this recording.

On the contrary. Tyminski says, "It's never really been a burning desire for me to do a solo album. It's been in the back of my mind where I've had people throughout the time I've been playing come up and say, 'Gee, I'd sure like to hear you do something on your own.' I heard it enough to where it finally seemed to make sense when we had enough time - we had about a year off there - it just seemed like the timing was right."

Although Union Station has straddled the border between bluegrass and country, Tyminski opted for a more traditional direction for his solo debut.

"I tried to let the songs dictate how they would fit. It so happened that I was able to find more straight-ahead bluegrass things than I did Americana things. I'm a fan of all styles of music, and I did do a couple of things on the record that were kind of that flavor. But for the most part my roots are in very traditional bluegrass, and it seemed like I was able to find those songs, so I went with what I was able to find."With an opening title track featuring Union Station, including Krauss and former mandolinist Adam Steffey, continuing through a rousing closing cover of Jimmy Martin's "Sunny Side of the Mountain," "Carry Me Across the Mountain" unfolds like a journey into Tyminski's musical roots.

"Ending with the Jimmy Martin tune, I think the last tune sums up what I'm all about. That's the kind of music that I hear in my head and that I wanted to leave as the last taste. I think Jimmy is such a talented man, more so than he's been given credit for. I think Jimmy is a very strong influence in a lot of my bluegrass generation of listeners. He's been a favorite of mine for many years, so I thought it was kind of neat to be able to do one of his songs."

Tyminski grew up in Vermont in a musical family, and his principal inspiration was his older brother Stan, a powerful singer who still leads a group on the New England bluegrass festival circuit.

The brothers had a chance to duet on one of this CD's tracks, "I Dreamed of an Old Love Affair," which the proud younger sibling describes as "a thrill - mostly for our parents. Our parents were broken-hearted when we stopped playing together and I moved away. And the chance to get to play with him - it was excellent. I didn't want to record if I couldn't have him be at least a small part of it because he's such a huge influence."

"I remember him being one of the first people who made me really want to play. I remember seeing my mom, and she gave me the bug initially. But as far as the majority of who I listened to - I saw Stan sitting in his bedroom playing the guitar and singing. He was an idol to me. So, I was so happy he was able to come down to Virginia and make the journey and get to be on the record."

Tyminski's profile will be significantly raised by his work in the forthcoming Coen Brothers film, "O Brother, Where Art Thou?"

Appearing onscreen with Union Station in this Depression-era film "was actually a blast. We had so much fun getting to do that because we had to try to recreate a '30's setting. So, when we were in the studio, we used microphones that were all from that era. We didn't use headphones, and we didn't do overdubs. We stood around one mic as a band, and when it was time for someone to take a solo, they stepped into the mic and played. It was really fun to get to try to recreate some of the older sounding stuff like that. That was my first time in a studio without saying, 'Let's try that one more time.'"

"They wanted to make sure that everything that we had was of the era. So, we all played old vintage instruments. We dressed in '30's clothes and had the old style haircuts. It was very funny, I remember in the dressing room, getting into full costume with the arm garters and the pants that come way up above your bellybutton and the suspenders. And I just looked in the mirror before I made my way out, and I laughed for about five minutes before I could go and face anyone. It was so much fun to get to do that stuff."

As if the lure of the silver screen wasn't enough, Tyminski serves as actor George Clooney's surrogate singing voice throughout the film. Asked whether Tyminski was Clooney's stand-in or vice versa, the singer jokes, "I'm his 'butt double.'"

"George was curious about wanting to sing it himself, though he would be the first one to say 'I'm not a singer, but it would be nice if I could do it,' because it would obviously be better for the realism. We went into a studio when we were down shooting the film. I went in, and I played guitar, and he'd sing the song, and he actually did a really good job, I thought. He sounded really good. He wasn't quite happy with his performance, so we tried the song again, and he got about halfway through and stopped and said, 'Let me have another try.' So, we started it again. He'd sing about a verse then stop and said, 'One more try.' We started it again, I think he sang a line. He stopped and said, 'Y'know what? This gig is yours. I shouldn't be singing this stuff.' But I think personally he could have done it, but he chose to let me have it, which was gracious, and I was happy."

Given Tyminski's long tenure with Union Station and the enthusiastic reception given to "Carry Me Across the Mountain," it's no surprise that he's quite content.

"I hope it doesn't come out in a bad way, but I've exceeded all of my hopes and dreams. I've done more at this point in my life than I ever dreamed I would do in my whole entire life. So, my standpoint on that is that everything from this point on is just a bonus. I feel so blessed to get to do what I do and actually make my living getting to play the music that I love.

"I hope this band is around in 25 years, still doing the same thing we do right now. I have no aspirations to go solo or do anything like that. I've had a lot of questions and a lot of people asking, 'Are you planning on touring?' or 'One day, will there be just a Dan Tyminski Band?' I can't really make that decision now. I try to take things one step at a time and cross each bridge as I come to it. Right now, I'm enjoying what I'm doing so much. We play 60-65 shows a year, which leaves plenty of time off to get to do the things that I do. Every once in a while I do some things with Tony Rice. I cherish the opportunity to get to play with him because he's one of my all-time heroes."

"And I probably will do a few shows - certain select shows I'll put together a band and try to promote the record a little bit. But I have no aspirations to break off or do anything on my own. I hope that what we're doing right now will continue until we can't play any more."