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Ernie Thacker makes peace with "Hangman"

By John Walker, January 2009

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"That got me going again," Thacker says. "I had spent quite a bit of time improving my playing on guitar. I was trying to get to a sound I was comfortable with, more along the lines of Lonesome River Band with a driving style. After singing in Roanoke, I knew music was where I wanted to be."

Thacker again picked up the family, and moved back to Virginia. He did not have to search far for his new band. "My older brother, Matthew, is a huge part of our new sound in Route 23 (Thacker's backing band). He plays bass, while I play guitar, and it has worked out very well."

Thacker and Route 23's first release was in 2000 entitled "Backbone Job," under the Crosscut Records label. After switching labels to Doobie Shea, Thacker then released "The Chill of Lonesome" in 2002, drawing praise from bluegrass critics for its heartfelt passion.

The new record includes a couple of impressive originals, including the title cut which was written by Thacker's brother Dave, and The Ballad of Charlie Dill, penned by Bill Castle.

"My brother Dave and I had pitched 'Hangman' around for several years actually, fooling around with it until we got the sound just right. I was very proud of how that one turned out," he says. "'The Ballad of Charlie Dill' was in a package of songs Bill Castle had sent to me, and it really stood out. I thought it suited the record and theme we were going for very well."

A devout fan of Keith Whitley, Thacker also includes a tribute to his hero on the record. Keith How Many is a somewhat subtle tribute written by Melvin Burns.

"I don't normally like tribute songs, and Keith means everything to me. So, if I was going to do it, I wanted to be just right. If you notice, the song never actually mentions Keith's full name. If you are not a Keith Whitley fan, you may not know it is about him. Like in the last verse it mentions dancing with Molly, some may not know that is a song of Keith's'. I liked that about the song. I have videos of Keith when he was very young and singing lead for Ralph. His voice was unlike any other."

Thacker also attempts his own unique bluegrass takes on two traditional country hits. His version of Kristofferson's "Sunday Morning Coming Down" is a bit more upbeat than the original. "I was always drawn to that song since the controversy Cash created when he did it on TV. It is a great song."

The manic fast pickin' version of Dwight Yoakam's "This Drinkin' Will Kill Me" displays the keen musicianship of his band quite well. "I had actually met Dwight when he was a guest singer on Ralph Stanley's "Saturday Night, Sunday Morning" record. He was such a great guy, and I have always loved his music. We had fooled around with the song for a while, so I told my brother we should cover it for the record. We had a couple of other traditional country songs picked out which we could cover, but I felt these two added the most to the record."

While continuing to rehab and a trip soon to Lexington, Ky. to help improve his mobility and sores, Thacker still has his eye on the future. "I am thinking my next project will be an all gospel bluegrass record. I would love to be able to include Ralph on that, and work with him again. We are also looking forward to hitting the road this year and doing some festivals. Right now, I know we are planning to hit possibly both festivals up at the Bill Monroe Bean Blossom Music Festival in the spring and the Uncle Pen Festival in the fall. As long as I am able, we will be out there touring soon."

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