One of the most recognized female artists in bluegrass today who was crowned “The New Queen of Bluegrass” by the Wall Street Journal in 2000, Rhonda Vincent continues in the “family” business of bluegrass music. She comes from a long generation of Vincents that had music in their blood – The Sally Mountain Show, as well as hosting the Sally Mountain Bluegrass Festival since 1987. She’s a talented multi-instrumentalist playing mandolin, fiddle and guitar.
[Cover Photo Credit: Sharp Images]
Her latest album Only Me was nominated for a Grammy in the Bluegrass Album of the Year Category and hit #1 on the Billboard Bluegrass album chart , and she was recently named as the “2015 Entertainer of the Year” and “Contemporary Female Vocalist of the Year” at the 41st Annual Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music of America, while she and her band The Rage walked away with the title of “Bluegrass Band of the Year.”
Rhonda Vincent has appearing on recordings by Dolly Parton, Alan Jackson, Tanya Tucker, and Joe Diffie, to name a few, and she and her band The Rage have won numerous awards, toured extensively, and are not showing any signs of slowing down in 2015.
We caught up with Rhonda during her busy schedule to find out more about her roots, her hit album Only Me, her inspirations, and family legacy.
GGM: You first started your career in the music business with your family’s band The Sally Mountain show. Can you tell us a little about your family’s musical background?
RV: I grew up in a musical family, traced back five generations of the Vincent Family in Greentop, Missouri. When I was five years old, we had a local TV show KTVO TV, a radio show on KIRX Radio in Kirksville, Missouri, and made our first recording. We were called The Sally Mountain Show, since it was comprised of my Grandpa Bill Vincent, Mom & Dad (Carolyn & Johnny Vincent), Aunts, Uncles, Cousins, and great friends. My Dad would pick me up from school each day, and we would sing and play till dinner. After dinner, friends would come over, and we would play till bedtime. It was on-the-job training, and a complete way of life. I thought everyone else was at their house doing the same thing. It’s a way of life that evolved into a career.
My father Johnny played all the different instruments. He was the baby of the family. His brother Pearl played mandolin and sang, along with Pearl’s wife Kathryn, who sang just like Kitty Wells, along with their sons Ricky Vincent – who when he was very young played bass, and later banjo, along with his brother Joe Vincent who played guitar. Grandpa Bill Vincent played bass until my mother came along. When Mom & Dad got married, Dad taught her to play the bass, to help Grandpa Bill who developed emphysema from the Missouri coalmines.
The Sally Mountain Show, along with friends – and the large extended family of Vincents – would get together for family reunions, where you would find Cousin Doris Richardson, singing loud and proud. She was always so animated, and I always wanted to be as comfortable and exciting as she was when I sang. She would twist about as she sang. You couldn’t take your eyes off her. (Her mother Gladys was the brother of my Grandpa Bill.) Before my father came along, my grandpa performed as The Lazy River Boys. It was Grandpa Bill, and his brothers George Vincent – electric guitar whiz, Dave Vincent on acoustic guitar, and Dave’s wife Helen on accordion. There is a recording of the whole family – recorded on a portable vinyl cutter, when my Dad Johnny was 16 years old. There’s lots of history in this musical family.
GGM: Your family started the Sally Mountain Blues Festival back in 1987 and still going strong today. Share with us the inspiration behind the festival.
RV: My father bought 63 acres in Queen City, Missouri. It was his dream to host his own bluegrass festival. That dream came true, as they cleared the trees a little at a time through the years to what is now known as Sally Mountain Park. It’s a down home festival hosted by the Vincent Family. My mom Carolyn bakes homemade pies all throughout the festival. Usually making over 100 pies over the five days, of course, Baking right with Martha White. My father passed away on October 5, 2014, but his legacy lives on through the festival. In July 2016, we will celebrate 30 years of hosting our family owned bluegrass festival at Sally Mountain Park. I hope everyone will join us each year, and make it a tradition in your family. Details at www.sallymountainshow.com
GGM: Besides your upbringing with your family’s band, who were some of your early musical influences?
RV: We listened to the Grand Ole Opry every Saturday night. So we loved all the Grand Ole Opry Stars. Our favorite band of all, that we tried to emulate with our harmonies and arrangements is The Osborne Brothers. I am so in awe that I can call them personal friends now. Sonny & Bobby are such incredible examples of the music we love. Their influence continues from my family’s music, into the music that I continue to perform today. Beyond The Osborne Brothers, we loved Jimmy Martin, Jim & Jesse, Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, and, of course, Connie Smith.
GGM: At age six you were given a snare drum for your birthday, however, you later picked up other instruments. What made you decide to make the transition to stringed instruments and can you share with us that progression?
RV: I play most any stringed instrument, some better than others, all thanks to my Dad who would get us started on one instrument, and then start us on another, when he felt we were ready. He would teach a few chords, and how to pick out a tune. The rest was up to us.
I actually started playing mandolin by necessity. We were performing as regulars on a local country music show in Marceline, MO (Hometown of Walt Disney). Each musician received $10. In an effort to cut the budget, the owner “Buck Cody” announced that anyone not playing an instrument, would not get paid. So the next day, my Dad handed me a mandolin, showed me how to play “G”, “C”, and “D”, and said, “You’ll be playing this for 2 1/2 hours every Saturday night.” At the nightly jams at our house, my Dad would say, “Take it Rhonda!” I’m thinking, “Take what?” So I started working out solos to take when he called my name. The next thing I know, I’m a mandolin player. 🙂
GGM: Do you recall your first guitar and can you tell us what you’re currently playing?
RV: I first played my Grandfather’s “Hummingbird” model Gibson from the 1960’s. That was the only acoustic guitar we had.
I started playing guitar to write songs, and learned from a James Taylor Guitar Book. I would take a song I was familiar with, and play it using the diagrams in the book.
I currently play a Bourgeois “00” model Guitar.
GGM: Your music has spanned over four decades. How has your music changed over the years?
RV: It’s always a challenge to do something different. I always look at each project in an effort to create something new and unique. However, I also think it’s important not to change it too much. For several years I was searching for my own sound. Alan Jackson gave me great advice, that I didn’t understand how to make it work, but I always remember the principle. The advice was to do what I do, and not chase many audiences, which I know now was not to try to appeal to many different genres of music. He was so right. I now play the music I love, and stay within the perimeters of what I know works for me, and what our audience wants to hear.
Rhonda Vincent and The Rage
GGM: You’ve already been “crowned” the “The New Queen of Bluegrass” by the Wall Street Journal and just this past weekend you were honored with the “2015 Entertainer of the Year Award,” “Contemporary Female Vocalist of the Year,” and you and your band won “Bluegrass Band of the Year” at the 41st Annual Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music of America. Quite impressive and what a year it’s been for you! What a powerful start to the new year and knowing how your calendar has already been filling up, how are you prioritizing your activities and appearances?
RV: Performing is the top priority. My husband and I are already trying to find a time we can get away for personal time.
This year is the first time we haven’t been able to go for two weeks during the winter months. Our schedule is very busy, but we love that too, so we’ll make it work. We ended up blocking time in June this year, to accommodate our band members who have children, so they may take a family vacation before we travel to Europe. Luckily, our two daughters are grown, out of college, and married. So we have our own schedule again. It’s very liberating and exciting. If I’m on the road for a long period of time, my husband can come join me. We make it work, wherever I may be.
GGM: Your have your own label called Upper Management Music. How did that come about?
RV: As my contract was fulfilled with my previous label, I spoke with many people about the current trends, and how the recording industry was changing. Many people suggested I start my own label, in an effort to bring everything in-house, under one umbrella as Upper Management. I like to manage everything, so this was an obvious choice for us, allowing me the freedom to record when and whatever I feel is best for my career. It was a bit challenging at first, but has been a wonderful move for me.
Running your own business is not for everyone. I am very hands on, and love to produce the music, and micro-manage every aspect. It works well for us. There may be opportunities we miss, but in the long run, I believe it has grown into a successful business from touring, to booking, to management. I love having the freedom to do whatever project I feel is best for me. Producing the music the way I feel it.
The only negative, and wasn’t really a negative, just something we weren’t prepared for was when I started recording my first project. Our oldest daughter Sally was getting married that year. As I began recording, and the bills started coming in, I found my bank account depleting. My oversight was the fact that the record company had always given me an advance to record the project. When you record for yourself, you must have the capital on hand to pay for that recording. We made it, but it was tight that first year with the wedding and the release of “Taken.” I decided then, that I wanted each project to earn enough dollars to pay for the next project. With the release of “Only Me,” I am happy to say we finally met that goal. “Only Me” was basically paid for by the proceeds of “Sunday Mornin’ Singin’ LIVE!” I hope we can continue in that manner, so we always know a project is paid for before it’s ever released.
GGM: You’ve worked with many iconic country legends like Dolly Parton, Tanya Tucker, Willie Nelson, Daryle Singletary, and so many others. What’s one of the most valuable lessons you’ve learned during your musical career from your collaborations with such great artists?
RV: I enjoy working and observing incredible artists like that, and try to apply the many things I admire about each artist, to my business and career. It’s one of my favorite things about the music business — getting to work and collaborate with other artists. I always use it as a learning experience, and apply what I learn to my own business and career.
GGM: Let’s talk about your most recent album Only Me which was nominated for Bluegrass Album of the Year for the 57th Annual Grammy Awards. Congratulations. It’s a 2 disc CD set – one bluegrass and one country. What was the inspiration behind the album?
RV: This CD is an illustration of my voice, to make the point of whether I sing with a banjo or a steel guitar, it’s still only me. The voice is the same, and many of the songs are the same whether bluegrass or country. We separated the music into 2 discs, just for the people who might only want to hear one or the other.
We were performing on the Grand Ole Opry the very night after the passing of George Jones. They asked everyone to sing a George Jones song. I chose, “When The Grass Grows Over Me.” As I was singing it on the stage of the Opry, it occurred to me how much I loved singing songs like that, and how I would love to do an entire project of those songs that I had sang on the Country’s Family Reunion on RFD TV along with the steel guitar. We were already working on the bluegrass songs for “Only Me,” so I decided to merge the two ideas, and the result was our Grammy Nominated Project “Only Me” that debuted after only two days of sales as #1 on the Billboard Bluegrass Charts. We also had #1 Singles from the project, and it’s been my fastest selling project to date.
GGM: You pulled together quite a team for the album. Tell us about your band The Rage, working with Willie Nelson and Daryle Singletary, and recording and producing Only Me?
RV: I travel with an award winning band The Rage. Each member brings an individuality to the band. They are all at the very top of their game, as some of the greatest musicians in any genre of music. I always love recording with my band, and being able to perform exactly what we record. I was thrilled when Willie joined us on “Only Me.” He not only sings, but he also plays guitar, and was a perfect collaboration for that song. I’ve been singing with Daryle Singletary for many years now. I’ve been on his albums, but this is the first time he’s sang on one of mine. He’s one of my favorite singers of all time. I hope to record with him again.
GGM: How do you feel the music industry has changed over the years, for better or worse?
RV: If you look at the history of music, it continually changes. The result being good and bad. I’ve never been one to follow the trends. I do feel the internet has been an amazing way to share our music, and has made it possible for every genre to find its place. It’s also been a detriment, with the free music sharing, and most of all, bringing a glut of music – good and bad, making it harder to promote the music.
GGM: What advice would you give to aspiring young artists in today’s environment?
RV: To take every opportunity to perform before a live audience, no matter where it is. It will give you experience that will prepare you for when you are in that one-in-a-lifetime performance, and if something does start to throw you off, you will have already experienced performing live, and can keep yourself on track without completely freaking out, or just stopping in the middle of the show. Also, perfect your craft. Be sure to know a song well before performing it.
GGM: My condolences on the passing of your Father last October. What would you like for people to remember most about him?
RV: I hope they remember my father Johnny Vincent as a giving man, who was always willing to help anyone who asked, and always gave everyone a chance, no matter what their skill level, background, or intelligence. He was always great at organizing a music jam session, and making sure everyone got a turn. This was pretty much the way he lived his life.
For more on Rhonda Vincent, her music and tour dates, visit her site HERE.
Photos courtesy of Rhonda Vincent