He admits that playing bluegrass music is not likely to make him a rich man anytime soon, however in speaking with Lonesome River Band leader Sammy Shelor, you can tell he wouldn’t have it any other way. Influenced by bluegrass legends Bill Monroe and Flatt & Scruggs, the Lonesome River Band’s incredibly skilled musicians have been making beautiful music for more than 25 years now.
The band will be performing at Casino New Brunswick tonight. Special guest for the performance is Memramcook’s Bluegrass Diamonds, and the show is scheduled to start at 8 p.m.
Although no original members of the band remain, Shelor is currently the band member with the most tenure of the quintet, having joined the group in the early 1990s. In a time where some musical acts disappear before they even have a chance to be heard, Shelor attributes the group’s remarkable two decade-plus longevity to persistence and the simple love of what they do.
“Persistence has been the big factor in keeping us going,” he says. “We play this music because we love it; not for the purposes of getting rich or anything else.”
Shelor says that he has led the Lonesome River Band since 1995 when Tim Austin, the last original member of the band, left the group. Shelor has reveled in his role as band leader over the past 15 years, which he says affords him the opportunity to continue to play a style of music he says he loves while also keeping the band active.
For a group who has not had a “hit” in the traditional sense of the word, the Lonesome River Band has continued to flourish throughout its career. Shelor admits however that the downturn of the music industry over the past decade has definitely taken its toll on the band.
“The industry has changed so significantly in the past seven or eight years. As a band, we used to make money from CD sales and could reasonably expect to move 30,000 units of any given record. We might sell 5,000 to 10,000 copies of our records now though; it has definitely been a change in income level for us in one respect. But of course album sales are just one facet of how we are compensated for what we do, so it is not a show stopper by any means.”
Shelor says that the title of the group’s 13th and most recent record, Still Learning, is a definite acknowledgment to the fact that despite the band is well over two decades old, it still has a long way to go in terms of knowledge.
“I am the second oldest guy in the band and have been on the road for 32 years and I can honestly say that I learn about something new almost every day when it comes to music,” Shelor says.
“If I ever stop learning, I figure I might as well quit playing. I truly feel that you can’t ever just accept your skill level for what it is, you have to keep striving to be better at what you do.”
Having started playing the banjo at the age of five, Shelor’s desire for furthering his education was instilled at an early age. He says that he is convinced that both of his grandfathers had it in their minds that he would become a banjo player long before he even entered this world.
“I’ve been around acoustic music my whole life. There were so many different musicians to listen to where I’m from, I was definitely brought up in the right part of the country to have become a bluegrass musician,” he says.
With the Lonesome River Band maintaining a schedule of 50 to 80 shows per year, the many opportunities that have come Shelor’s way thanks to music over the past two decades are not lost on him.
“It is rather remarkable when you think about all we have been able to do thanks to music. We have literally made friends all over the world, traveled through all 50 states and had the chance to see a lot of foreign countries. There are some experiences that are worth much more than money.”
Toward the end of our interview, Shelor mentions that the Lonesome River Band is looking forward to its imminent return to New Brunswick.
“I believe that we were last in the Moncton area three or four years ago. You folks have some great musicians amongst you; there are some truly great pickers from that part of the continent. We really enjoy coming out to see our fans in your little corner of the world.”
Article published in March 25, 2011 edition of the Times & Transcript