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Wildfire gets hot

By David McPherson, November 2005

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"Rattle of the Chains" was produced by Leadbetter's friend Scott Vestal, whom he describes as "one of the best banjo players in the world." Vestal recently set up a new home studio, and that's where Leadbetter recorded his solo disc.

After hearing the results, he knew that Vestal's studio was also where the next Wildfire record had to be recorded.

"I was one of the first people to do one down there just as he was just getting up and going," says Leadbetter. "I played mine (record) for all the guys in the band and told them this is the sound we need, and everyone agreed that it was time to step up and go to a different place. When we went to Scott's not only did we get a great studio, we also got a guy that is a musical genius along with being an engineer. It was good getting in and having his input on our project and having an extra set of ears."

While the band searched out some of Nashville's best writers to contribute to the dozen songs, they also searched inward, getting three contributions from Hale.

For his part, Hale believes this batch of songs is the best that they have recorded to date. Hale says that he had them all in mind for the album, prior to entering the studio; especially "In Our Hearts," which he wrote for his late father, who passed away in 2000. Despite these compositions, the humble guitarist still doesn't consider himself a songsmith.

"I have the utmost respect for songwriters and as much as I would love to be able to sit down and write enough songs to put on a CD, I always tell people that I'm not really a songwriter. I'm just a guy that has written some songs," Hale says. "I would like to get more involved in that area of the industry, but for now I just want to do the best songs that we can find whether I wrote them or someone else did."

So, for "Rattle of the Chains," Wildfire turned to the likes of Tom T. Hall ("Ballad of Forty Dollars"), Harley Allen ("All in God's Plan") and Jerry Salley ("The Blame").

When it comes time to search for the right mix of songs, Leadbetter feels that it's important today to look for lyrics that are more modern, which helps Wildfire reach a younger audience that can't relate to some of the older, archetypical themes of bluegrass music."There are a lot of young people coming into this, and you have to do stuff that people can relate to a little bit," he says. "People nowadays really can't relate a whole lot to living in a log cabin on a hill. So, we are trying to find things that relate a little more to modern day life, but have bluegrass instruments to it. We do allow for different things with the old sound. That kind of thing works if you look at the success of 'O Brother, Where Art Thou? ' there is still people that want to hear that kind of stuff."It's just like Alison Krauss," Leadbetter continues. "There is a lot more bluegrass fans because of Alison Krauss. She has won a lot of people over to this music. That is a lot of people that couldn't have been won over by Bill Monroe. The same thing that Garth Brooks for all that so many have said about him has warmed so many people over to country music that wouldn't have given Merle Haggard a listen until they heard Garth Brooks or someone like that."

Achieving the right balance between keeping to the traditions of Monroe, Flatt and Scruggs, while adding some newgrass elements that will expand your fan base, is a challenge, but one that Leadbetter feels is beneficial both to the traditionalists and the modernists in his genre.

"I think it's mutual," he says. "Some of the newer music that stretches the edges a little bit helps everybody."

Leadbetter also thinks that it helps to have a theme to your record - something that has taken him a while to realize. "I think you have to have a theme," he says. "I used to not understand this when I was first starting out when someone would say, 'what's the theme of your record?' I didn't know what that meant...it didn't make any sense. But, a theme can be identified in so many ways. The way I look at theme...one of the most important things in CDs is song placement. I've always been really good at this, and the record company has been good with this...finding where songs from the first track to the last it almost seems like you are at a play or something, scene after scene...that all the songs seem to flow into another."

Whether solo, or with Wildfire, Leadbetter just wants to continue building a fan base and play music.

"You have to find your crowd and build on that," Leadbetter concludes. "My point has always been that people like vanilla, and people like chocolate, and people like Fords, and people like Chevys, and you ain't going to get a Chevy guy to buy a Ford. So, the old-timers will be hard to convert, but I'm more into bringing these new people in that don't have a big bluegrass collection, and they want to come to our table and start their collection off...that's what I want."

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