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The Cherryholmes Family Band

A Conversation with Sandy Cherryholmes (continued)

SC: And it's been like that ever since. They just work with us. We get a vision for something, and lead them, and they follow, and they work hard. And it's kind of like a big team.

PM: It's unbelievable. Can you take me back further, just a little bit, to the days before the kids, and closer to where the story begins. Where did you and Jere each grow up, and how did you meet?

SC: I spent some of my youth in Ohio. My family was from the east. Then we moved out into California about 1967. I was born in Lynwood, California, actually. My folks couldn't make up their mind where they wanted to live. Jere was born in Huntington Park, California. We met going to his father's church. His father is a preacher. And we were in the music team at the church. I'm the piano player, actually. And he's the guitar player. Doing music together, that's something that we always enjoyed.

PM: Wow. After the tragic death of your daughter, Shelley, in '99, the story goes that a bluegrass festival that the family attended changed everything. Can you put us back at that festival? Where was it, and who were you seeing there that really started a whole new world of life-changing ideas? Who kind of spawned the idea of, "Well, maybe we should try a band, a family band"?

SC: The festival was in Norco, California. I think it was called the Golden West Bluegrass Festival. It was, I think, the last one they had there, that year. It was April of '99. There were a few acts there, but the one that really captivated us, and we just really lit up, was Jim and Jesse and the Virginia Boys.

PM: An electrifying act, to be sure.

SC: Yeah. And it also had to do a lot with the personal side--they were just so--oh, I don't know, their whole performance was--you just felt joyous sitting and watching them.

PM: Ah.

Jere Cherryholmes

SC: And that's what we needed at that time. Our daughter had died March 12th. And going to that festival--it was basically just a decision to get out of the house and get away from everything, and just take a day and do something totally unrelated to the daily routine that we had.

We ended up getting there late, because we were there on Sunday. All the campsites and the parking spots were taken. So they parked us backstage. And it just so happened that Jim and Jesse had flown in from Tennessee and rented cars, and so they had to park backstage as well, which gave us a chance to talk. Jesse's grandson was with them at the time. I think he was about 18. And Cia, being only 15, was just amazed that there were actually young people like that in the world--because we lived in L.A., and you just don't see that polite, well-groomed, young man around where we were, I should say.

PM: Right.

SC: And the kids were just captivated by the band, by Luke and Jim and Jesse. And all the people in the band, they were very friendly. Even though they didn't know who we were, they came down and talked to us. And then watching them, they joked with each other, and they insulted each other, and they just had a ball. And their music was so much fun. Later on, when I learned more about Jim and Jesse and their faith, and the trials Jesse was going through with even his own son, which is MS--you know, his son also ended up passing away from that... I believe that they had a gift that they came and gave us, born out of a similar hardship.

And it was amazing--when we got done spending the day there, watching them--and I'd have to say even though there were other bands, they made the biggest impact on us--Jere said, "That's what we need. We need to do it. We need to get the kids playing, and we'll play together, and it'll be something really good for us right now." And I thought, well, I've always wanted them to take some lessons or play an instrument anyway, because I had. And I thought it was a great discipline. Whether they pursued it or not seriously, it was a great thing to have it as just a discipline.

Since I was home-schooling them, I would give them the lessons during the day. They were just informal lessons, no music reading. I would just show them what to do. And we would get together and play. And then when their dad came home, they would want to show him what they did. And we'd practice at night for a couple hours just for fun.

Skip Cherryholmes

PM: Now, that's interesting, because they only had you or Jere to show them stuff on the instruments at night. They didn't go out for more formal or--you could even say "professional" teaching.

SC: No. I guess the miracle of it all is that I played several instruments, but none of them professionally, I was just someone who loved music and studied music growing up. I played a lot of concert instruments and acoustic instruments well enough to teach the basics to somebody else--and the same with Jere, he played guitar and bass, but not professionally. And Los Angeles is not exactly the Mecca of bluegrass. It was really difficult to find out what bluegrass was and really understand it. We just used--Jere liked to call it "think method." We used to love the musical The Music Man because Professor Harold Hill used the "think method" to get these kids to play this thing. "If you think it, you can do it."

And we tried to search everywhere we could to find old bluegrass. We had Ralph Stanley. And we did Del McCoury, and we did a lot of the traditional J. D. Crowe, and Bill Monroe. And then we kind of purged the house of any other kind of music at that time, because we wanted the kids to grasp a new culture. We didn't really understand a whole lot, exactly what it meant, but we felt we didn't want to be part of the pop culture, or part of the western--even the western bluegrass. We wanted to create a whole different culture.  continue

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