PM: I sure love that song that you wrote with Wood Newton, "Two Soldiers."
TS: Oh, thanks. We've been getting so much response to that song. Wood is just a great guy, and a wonderful writer. I think he's one of my favorite writers.
PM: I have run into him a couple of times around town. He's a hell of a guy. And I'm sure some of our readers will recognize him as a co-writer of hit single "Riding With Private Malone." That cat is a hell of a songwriter, right?
TS: Oh, yeah. I did a songwriting camp. He came out and played, did a round with me and a couple other people at Nashcamp Songwriting Camp a couple years ago. And I heard him do "Private Malone." I was just, "Oh, I got to write with this guy." And we did, and "Two Soldiers" was the first one we wrote.
PM: Whose idea was that? I mean, I didn't really know about that detail. I've seen it in the movies, but yeah, I never thought about it like that.
TS: Yeah, I only knew about it peripherally. But it was my idea because I had seen a thing on CNN that was a story of a soldier in Iraq who had sent a letter home telling his family not to worry, and told his wife, "If you see two soldiers at your door you'll know I'm in heaven."
PM: Oh, yikes.
TS: So that phrase, "two soldiers" really stuck out.
PM: Imagine doing that detail. Well, I'm sure you did, you wrote the song.
TS: Yeah, that's what inspired it, man, was we just started thinking, God, what a job. Of all the jobs you could have... But it's a duty, like it says in the song. And I know those guys feel like they're providing a really valuable service. They are.
PM: Right. And the way they do it is very valuable, right, like the song says. So have you and Wood gone on to write many other songs?
TS: I think we've written three or four. We still get together, I just haven't had time here with this book here, lately. But he's on my short list of co-writers. I've only got a few people I write a lot with--Steve, Bobby, Wood. I also write quite a bit with Kim Williams and Larry Shell. I really like writing with them.
PM: We certainly think that Blue Highway is not only one of the best bluegrass bands on the road, but one of the best that's ever been on the road. Lord knows I'm a big Jim Lauderdale fan, but it's high time you guys won a Grammy. You know what I mean?
TS: [laughs] Oh, man. Well, we really appreciate that. That's very, very nice. We're just thrilled to be able to still do it after 14 years, man. Somebody said that our band is old enough to get married in West Virginia.
PM: Now, does that kind of recognition, a Grammy and all, does that mean much in the bluegrass world, is it more of a kudos from like the IBMA or the SPBGMA?
TS: I think that any award is just gravy for most people--as far as I know. I know that the IBMA Awards mean a lot to people because it's the people within the industry that vote on it. But there's nothing like a Grammy, too, even though we know that it's more of a popularity contest.
PM: Yeah. It only is what it is.
PM: But yeah, it's pretty cool, I guess.
TS: It's still a Grammy. We were thrilled the last two times we got nominated for a Grammy. But we definitely don't make them for the awards. I mean, that never crosses our mind when we're making them. Got to just do it to be doing it. Make the best one you can.
PM: One of many bluegrass greats that have covered your songs is Ronnie Bowman, who's had success also as a songwriter in country. Do you write much in that genre and pitch songs to mainstream country?
TS: I'd like to do more of that, but I haven't gone that route yet. I've worked with Ronnie, and through Ronnie I've worked some with Buddy Cannon, and he's helped get me on a few things. I played on Willie Nelson's last record.
PM: That had to be fun.
TS: Yeah. I haven't had any country holds or anything like that. Shawn [Lane] actually has. He and Ronnie wrote a song that's been cut by Brad Paisley.
TS: I don't know if it's going to get released or not, but that would be great. Yeah, Ronnie and I have written a bunch of stuff together. He's having a lot of success, but he still likes to get with his buds and run.
PM: Boy, he's a singer who just--I mean, you just can't say enough about him.
TS: Absolutely. One of my absolute favorite singers. I'm glad to count him as a bud.
PM: Just one of those guys. Would you say something about your solo disc, Endless Line?
TS: Yeah. Well, that was just a thing I always wanted to do. And back in 2004, I guess it was, Dan Miller had come to me about if I'd ever thought about it. And I had for a long time, but I never really put it in motion. So I said, "Well, okay, I want to do it." And then I worked on it a little bit. We'd actually recorded one song already. Rushad Eggleston and I did this tune called "Obsession."
PM: That guy is unbelievable! [laughs]
TS: He's amazing, man. And that was before Crooked Still.
PM: So how did you know Rushad?
TS: Yeah, well a lot more people know who he is now. But the first time I heard him I couldn't believe that this cat could play like that.
PM: And that's an insane group, I mean Crooked Still, holy jeez.
TS: Oh, yeah. I love their stuff. I don't think he's with them anymore, but he still--
PM: Oh, really? Did he move on?
TS: He moved on. But they've got another cello player who's kind of a similar cat.
PM: Another outside dude, yeah.
TS: Yeah. But I just wanted to showcase and get a rhythm section that really wasn't Blue Highway, so I wasn't making another Blue Highway record.
TS: So I got Adam Steffey. And I figured once I got Adam, I thought, well--at that time he was playing in Mountain Heart. I was like, yeah, I'll just get Steve Gulley and I'll get Jason Moore from that group, so I know that there's a good chance I could get all three of those guys at the same time.
TS: Then I got Ron Stewart to play banjo. And he's so great.
PM: Oh, yeah.
TS: I just love playing with Ron. Yeah, it was fun, man. I'm going to do another one, but it's not going to be like this one. I think the next one is going to be more of like solo guitar stuff, because I've got a lot of original guitar things I'd like to maybe put out on a record.
PM: That's great. And there's a market for that. I mean, there's a lot of guitar freaks that like nothing better than to hear a great six-stringer rip it up.
TS: Well, I've never done just that, so this would be just an instrumental record. continue