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The Grascals keep on walkin'

By Jeffrey B. Remz, July 2008

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Johnson credits brother Brad for steering him towards bluegrass. "He was a huge Osborne Brothers fan. He also was best friends with one of the sons of the (bluegrass band) Boys from Indiana. Mom and dad took us to bluegrass fests growing up, but I wasn't into it at all. It just wasn't a music that interested me as a kid, but Brad was different. I can remember getting ready for school in the morning, through high school, and he would sit in his Fruit of the Looms, listening to the Osborne Brothers as a kid. That's just not normal to me. It's not. I just didn't get it."

"It obviously was embedded in my head because he passed away in '91. I took all of his Osborne Brothers records and converted them to tape...I realized I knew every word to every song and didn't even know it (beforehand), and I sang all those songs in college. I wanted to be close as I could to him. I was afraid I was going to forget him."

After college and two years of engineering, Johnson bagged it because, as he remembers thinking, "I'm going to be a country music star, and that never worked out. I moved to Nashville. Terry Eldredge...took me under his wing and helped me out a whole lot."

"I would go to the Station Inn (bluegrass club) every Tuesday to see Terry and the Sidemen...learning from Terry." (this was an informal group that played Nashville's premiere bluegrass club on off nights from their regular band gig)

One of the sidemen, Gene Wooten, got sick with cancer, enabling Johnson to help out and sing tenor with Eldredge. "I was scared to death. I was literally scared to death. That stage seemed like it was the biggest thing I ever stepped on in my life. It finally got to where I was getting a little better."

Eldredge was a member of the Osborne Brothers for 12 years, overlapping with Mattingly and Smith. "After awhile, after you've played so many years as a side person, I think every artist wants to do their own thing. I always wanted to do that. I didn't want to be necessarily Terry Eldredge's band. I always wanted to start a band and be in a band just like The Eagles."

"I loved it from the first date to the very last date," says Eldredge of his time with the Osbornes. "But I needed a change. I needed to do something else."

He also put time in with Larry Cordle before splitting. Cordle had just recorded an album of Lynyrd Skynyrd songs. "I love that music, but that's not what I'm about. I don't really care about playing that music. I love the music, but it's just not what I want to do."

"I was out of work then...Jimmy Mattingly at the time had just quit doing some stuff with Garth and Dolly (who Mattingly worked with) wasn't doing anything. Jamie wasn't playing with anybody. David Talbott left Cordle a month or two before I did. It was kind of like everybody basically was unemployed...That's how The Grascals started."

"Luckily, we got Terry Smith and Danny Roberts," Eldredge says. Smith had been with Mike Snider, who was "slowing down. It meant Smitty was kind of going to be semi-unemployed. Danny Roberts was working with Ronny Reno, but they weren't doing much...We all picked together as The Sidemen at the Station Inn for 16 years every Tuesday night."

"Jimmy had mentioned maybe something about starting a band (when they were with the Osbornes). When we started this out, I said, 'guys, I want to know is this going to be a lifelong thing or is this going to be one of those thrown together band's that together for two or three years, and that's it. I want a band that I'm going to retire with. Everyone said, 'yeah, that's what we we're doing'."

That was in 2004 and since then The Grascals (the name comes from the Little Rascals) hooked up with Rounder and fed off a Dolly Parton connection.

The Dolly tie happened due to right place, right time circumstances. "We just happened into happened that. We talked with (Rounder head) Ken Irwin about maybe doing an album," Eldredge says. "We cut three things, and he said, 'yeah, let's do a record on you guys.' We were recording at the same studio that Dolly records at."

Parton heard from studio owner and Parton guitarist Kent Wells about The Grascals recordings. Eldredge recalls, "She said, 'I want to hear it.' She says, 'that's great. I love it. That's what I'm looking for. I want to hire you guys to open the show for me and also be in my band'...It was kind of like all the planets lined up."

"Jimmy called us up from the studio that day and said, 'dude, you're not going to believe this. She wants to hire us on salary and have us open the shows for her and then be in her band too also record with her too.'"

The Grascals did a 45-day tour with Parton, staying a total of about a year with her. The Grascals eventually went their own way. Eldredge remembers Parton tsaying, "You got the fuel in the rocket. You need to take off with it. It's your time to go."

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