Around the time of their 2002 gospel release "Singing On Streets Of Gold," (released on their own label after an eight-year run with Rounder) Hartgrove also left, and as Moore relates, his replacement came as something of a surprise in the person of Greg Luck, known to most bluegrass fans as a standout guitarist and lead singer with J. D. Crowe's New South. Having grown up with Luck in the same neck of North Carolina, Benson and Dilling eagerly recommended him, but Moore acknowledges that he and Deaton were a bit skeptical at first.
"Ray and I looked at each other and said, 'Greg Luck? He's a guitar player...what are you talking about?'"
For Luck, it turned out to be a matter of being in the right place at the right time.
"At the time, we were actually recording some stuff with him, with Mike Hartgrove on fiddle, at (Luck's) studio, we were actually recording 'Singing On Streets of Gold', the all-gospel recording. It was during that time that Mike decided he was going to leave the band. So, here comes Greg. We went up there to do some recording and audition him at the same time. About 30 minutes later, we looked at him and said, 'Man, if you want the gig, it's yours. You're absolutely blowin' us away,' - never knew that he played fiddle like that. He said, 'Man, that's all I ever aspired to do...to play fiddle in a bluegrass band...that's what I want to do, but nobody (would) really give me a chance.'"
Far from feeling threatened with the presence of another solid lead singer in the band, Moore is almost giddy at the thought of new vocal territory to be explored, while still retaining the band's essential all-for-one, one-for-all character.
"It's a great luxury to have another great lead vocalist in the band. I've been the primary lead vocalist for 11, 12 years, and to have Greg in there, it really gives us a new dimension to the band, having that baritone-style lead vocal that I can even sing tenor to, which is something we haven't had in the past. So, it's a wonderful thing, and I'm enjoying the heck out of it...We work as a team. That's the bottom line. If somebody gets to where they're down and can't make it, or whatever, then the rest of us step up and make it happen. I think that's one aspect of it that keeps us focused on trying to find people to replace whoever might be leaving, to make sure that they can do some vocal parts, as well as being multi-instrumentalists."
"The Best Durn Ride" features not only standout material like Becky Buller's "Rest My Weary Feet" and Moore's own "Sarasee," written about one of the band's most loyal and most special fans, but the whole structure and concept of the album was formed around David Noris' title track about a hobo waiting to jump aboard that last, final boxcar.
"I love the story, how somebody can not be the most wealthy person in the world, but they're always lending a hand to somebody, trying to help out, trying to do something. I love that aspect of the story, of the song. As far as being the title track, we were looking for something, some kind of a concept - a cover, a title track and all - and that worked out just great. 'The Best Durn Ride', the connotations of somebody feeling that way, and the fact that they're a hobo and don't have anything but the shirt on their back, really. But 'The Best Durn Ride', to them, is being free and being in this boxcar, and just seeing the world, and even having the overtones of...the feeling when he catches that last great train to glory, and he leaves this world and everything that goes along with it. You know, everything's gonna be even better when he takes that last great ride to glory. It just struck a chord with me."
In what turned out to be a bittersweet touch to the album's coming together, they asked Ray's father, "Bucker" Deaton to pose in a boxcar door for the cover photo. Sadly, Bucker passed on before the album hit the shelves, and Moore speaks fondly of him almost as a second father of his own.
"He was the sort of guy who could pick up a basketball and bet you he'd hit 28 of 30 free throws. Then he'd go ahead and hit all 30," Moore laughs. "I really miss him."
Looking down the road, the ride is still too durn good for Russell Moore, Ray Deaton and the rest of IIIrd Tyme Out to even think about giving it up.
"We're having a great time. I would like to see at least another 13 years out of IIIrd Tyme Out. I feel like I've got a lot to offer. Even though I'm 40 years old, I look at other people that are older than I am still out here beatin' up and down the road and excitin' audiences and just having a great time, and that's what I want to see myself doing in another 15, 20, 25 years, to still be able to get that enthusiasm out of it like they do."