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Rhonda Vincent remains one step ahead

By John Lupton, May 2003

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Vincent had an entree into Nashville by appearing on Jim Ed Brown's "You Can Be a Star" in the mid-80's. Her parents sang harmony off camera on what was an American Idol type of show.

"Rhonda didn't win it, but Jim Ed (asked) him to go with her on the road. She went with him for about three months. That's about the time I asked Alison Krauss to go on the road with us. She was about 14. She fit right in. Some people didn't know it wasn't Rhonda."

By 1988, Rhonda Vincent had signed with Rebel Records and put out the first of four albums on the label, "New Dreams & Sunshine."

Rebel owner Dave Freeman says he was attracted to Vincent because "I just thought she had the appeal and the charisma to attract attention...She actually came to approach us about doing something. I had been selling the Sally Mountain Show through County and Record Depot (part of the Rebel entity). We had been doing well. She was a solid presence there. I saw her a couple of festivals and liked her."

"She looked like someone who was going to make music her life," Freeman says. "It was not just a temporary thing. She was doing the kind of stuff I liked with the backing and the songs."

"She was one of the first gals that was ready to step up and be a bandleader, although when I first saw her I saw her in the context of the whole family," Freeman says.

The change did not entirely please Johnny Vincent. "At first, I was a little disappointed to be honest," he says. "Then, I understood the situation."

"My condition was deteriorating somewhat too where I couldn't get around like I used to," he says, referring to a broken neck he suffered in a 1965 car accident when Rhonda was 3. Once confined to a wheelchair, Vincent later used a cane for mobility.

"I saw her going with a younger group. That was the thing to do at the time because a family band is hard to sell. Especially when you got a little age on you too."

Rhonda Vincent stayed with Rebel through 1991 with "Timeless & True Love," but then went in a different direction.


Vincent put out two albums, "Written in the Stars" in 1993 and "Trouble Free" in 1996 on Giant.

The albums have a harder edge musically than her bluegrass albums, but her voice stood out quite well. What didn't stand out was the sales numbers of either album.

Vincent eventually was off the Giant roster and facing a fork in the road - get home to bluegrass or go country.

Sometimes such a change could kill a career. The old base of fans could be alienated by a change. And then after a few years away, the music biz and public has wondered whatever happened to, for example, Rhonda Vincent?

But Vincent looks at her Giant years as a valuable learning experience.

"I went to Nashville and country music," Vincent says. "I learned, wow, so much in the studio. I learned the best of Nashville, Tenn."

"I look back on it as the college years," says Vincent. "It was a learning process. Am I going to continue pursuing country or I am going to do bluegrass? Usually when you get out of school, that's the turning point."

Vincent obviously opted for bluegrass. "I put together my first bluegrass band, and the response was unbelievable."

Vincent says fans told her, "'This is what you should be doing.' I had never been happier."

Rounder, one of the leading labels for bluegrass, inked Vincent with the aptly titled "Back Home Again" her first disc. In fact, Vincent took advantage of her Giant albums by rerecording some of the songs - "Passin' of the Train" on "Back Home Again" and "An Old Memory Found Its Way Back" on "One Step Ahead."

Rounder exec Ken Irwin says in an email, "I really didn't have any questions about Rhonda's viability as an artist. "While her albums for Giant had not been overwhelming successes, we felt that she would do well in bluegrass though we didn't anticipate the incredible increase in the popularity which bluegrass would experience since our initial discussions with Rhonda. Although there were differences between the artists and their careers, we had recently had great success with "Bluegrass Rules," the first bluegrass album recorded by Ricky Skaggs following his return to the genre, and we felt that we would have similar success with Rhonda over time. We realized that there might be some resistance to her return to bluegrass, but that this would be easily overcome in Rhonda's case."

"Rhonda and I had been talking for over a year about working together on abluegrass project prior to the beginning of our formal relationship," Irwin says in his email. "We had been discussing approaching Giant about her doing a bluegrass album for us while still working with Giant on her country career, so when she became free, things were able to move pretty quickly. I had always felt that Rhonda had one of the finest voices in bluegrass and country music and from our discussions, it was clear that she was passionate about bluegrass and that she had a tremendous desire to succeed. "

With three strong albums and awards from the International Bluegrass Music Association awards, including entertainer, female vocalist and recorded event of the year in 2001, the return seemed to be the right choice.

"It's the ultimate reward," Vincent says of the awards.

"No it doesn't surprise me at all," says Johnny Vincent about his daughter's success, adding, "I always figured she was a superstar to start with. I mean that. I would just face the facts. She's been around a long time. She's done a lot of shows. She's born on the stage. She ought to know what she's doing by now."

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