ANATOMY OF A BAND: SUSIE GLAZE & THE HILONESOME BAND 2003 TO 2016

[Anatomy of a Band: We are excited to introduce a new series of articles for FolkWorks. We asked Susie Glaze and the members of the Hilonesome Band to write individual essays about their insights and experiences with the band. It was intentionally left open ended so that they could present their individual take. The Band started in 2003 and officially ended in 2016. Susie's new band, The Susie Glaze New Folk Ensemble is the latest incarnation which started last year. The series will be presented weekly, each member of the band in turn. We hope you enjoy this.]

Steve Rankin, Mandolin, Bouzouki, Guitar, Lead and Harmony Vocals

Steve RankinEveryone wants to be in a band. Whether it is a marching band, orchestra, garage band, jam band, touring band, it doesn’t matter. To be able to sit with an instrument in hand and play with other people is a communion, and when the music falls into the “pocket” it is transcendent. This is what happened with The Eight Hand String Band which turned into Susie Glaze and the Hilonesome Band and has now evolved into the Susie Glaze New Folk Ensemble.

When a band is formed, everyone in the group thinks it will last forever. For one reason or another, it rarely does. People move away, they become disinterested, or it turns into a power struggle. But I will say this: the one thing that lasts is the music, and the memory of the first time it all falls into place, when your unique sound is formed that defines the best of what these people can do in a unique moment in time. That’s what happened with me, Fred Sanders, Rob Carlson, Mark Indictor and of course, Susie Glaze – not to mention the other support players along the way. Alex Wright, Charlie Otte, Dan Manning, Ron Sutton, Dan Sankey, Rodger Phillips and especially the inspirational Tom Wilson, were all part of this particular evolution.

Anatomy part one:

I have played music with Fred for over 30 years. He and I started out together playing rock ‘n roll and rhythm and blues in Louisville, Kentucky. When we both migrated out West, we found ourselves at a jam in Eagle Rock with a group of people who would become The Eight Hand String Band. We had Alex Wright, Dan Manning, Fred and me, and an incredible guitarist, Tom Wilson. Tom was an inspiration, and made us all better players. Eventually Dan Manning decided to leave the group. Soon after, we added a friend of Tom Wilson’s on fiddle, Charlie Otte and the unit was set. We explored acoustic rock ‘n roll mixed with newgrass songs and arrangements, and we would describe the band as “a non- traditional American grassroots string band.” Then suddenly, our inspiration, Tom Wilson, tragically passed away.

We kept on playing, but there was obviously something missing. Our muse was gone. Then at one of our gatherings, we asked a friend of mine and Fred’s to come over and sing with us. This was Susie Glaze. We were all smitten, and asked her to join the band and start singing backup with a few solos of her own. We soon discovered that something new was happening: Susie’s voice turned everyone’s attention to the band.

Anatomy part two:

We tried to keep the band as democratic as possible, with everyone taking their turn in the spotlight. But it became evident that Susie’s voice was our showcase. After playing in this form we started to really grab audiences, and the group became not just a jam band but more serious. Susie had an ambition and drive for a broader audience. She asked the Eight Hand Band to back her on her first solo CD project Home on the Hill after the band (with Susie) produced their own project The Simple Truth. Shortly after the release of Susie’s CD, Alex decided that he no longer wanted to play with the band. The Eight Hand String Band was no longer. We recorded music for the new Abraham Lincoln Museum in Springfield, Illinois (“Listen to the Mockingbird”) and traveled there to perform for the opening of the museum in 2005. That was our last concert.

Anatomy part three:

Susie and I went to perform at a local benefit for Clarence White’s brother and we heard a multi-instrumentalist, Rob Carlson, on guitar and dobro. I was taken by his playing and wanted to know more about him. We got his info and let it ride for a bit. A few months later Rob called, saying he wanted to come meet with us. We said sure, and he came to the house bringing a cassette of some of his original songs. One song in particular, River Road, was a haunting melody with great lyrics that stayed with me and Susie for days. We decided that we needed to work with him. Rob had many great songs, dozens of them in fact, and Susie had a great voice to go along with them. The themes of the songs landed perfectly with what we wanted to do. They leaned toward the Bluegrass side of acoustic music but with a Neil Young, Crosby, Stills and Nash, SoCal feel. So, we formed a new unit with Rob, Susie, Fred, Charlie Otte and myself. Soon after Rob recommended a friend of his, Rodger Phillips, to join us on banjo. This unit was then set as Susie Glaze and the Hilonesome Band.

Songs started pouring out of Rob, stylistically staying close to Bluegrass, all for Susie’s voice. Susie and Rob and I would “woodshed” a song and then bring it to the band. We did this for many weeks and our repertoire evolved into two sets of nearly all original music by Rob, Fred and myself. We played these songs out for a while and then took about a year in the studio to record the first album for the group, Blue Eyed Darlin’. The song Blue Eyed Darlin’ was a new song written in the style of an Appalachian murder ballad. Rob wrote this specifically because Susie’s specialty was singing the songs of Jean Ritchie. So, it was composed just for her and this band. To me, the songs Blue Eyed Darlin’ and River Road defined the best of style and sound of this group. We started playing in Bluegrass festivals, but our sound and song list was not the traditional sounds that Bluegrass audiences looked for. The crowds loved our band, and especially Susie’s voice, but we seemed to begin to elude this category of Bluegrass. Rob’s writing began to get more complex, and his chordal structure was not your basic 1-4-5. After about two years together, Charlie Otte moved out of town. We were down one player, with Fred, Susie, myself, Rob and Rodger. For a short period, we added Ron Sutton on Dobro, but the Bluegrass thing was starting to get stale for us.

Anatomy part four:

Susie met Mark Indictor at a benefit concert in early 2010. She asked him to join us for a Jean Ritchie folk set that Rob and Susie and I did for a library. Lighting struck. He was the missing link for this evolving sound that would define us. Susie’s beautiful ability to interpret the songs of Jean, plus Rob’s original songs written for her style, combined with Mark’s free spirited fiddle playing made this group turn a big corner. We moved far away from Bluegrass and eventually settled on no banjo. We were now not a Bluegrass band but a “chamber” folk band with surprise touches of Celtic, jazz and a few songs that Susie likes to call “diamonds-in-the-rough.” The collaboration with Fred and myself and the other three turned into magical evenings of orchestral arranging. We sometimes played only one or two songs for our whole rehearsal because we were finding so much dynamic and just loved playing it for the pure joy! For myself, these were the best moments and the best music that I have ever experienced. When we started playing out in concert our mottos was “just play like we were in our living room,” and we did. That sense of confidence and intimacy was palpable to us and to our audience.

Susie Steve at Merlefest 2016Very soon we felt that we could play on any stage, and all of the places that seemed unattainable now had open doors for us. The Freight and Salvage in Berkeley, the venerable McCabe’s Guitar Shop were among two of Susie’s goals and we triumphed playing in both of these venues multiple times. We recorded three CDs with this line up: White Swan, Not That Kind of Girl, plus Live from the Freight and Salvage. Over a six-year period we played all over Northern California and twice in Chicago, but as we played out more, things became tough for scheduling, as everyone had career jobs which limited our ability to travel as much as we wanted. We found ourselves in a quandary. Just as we really had our sound and repertoire together, Rob decided that he could no longer travel from his business and chose to not perform out with the group. This was indeed a punch in our creative stomach. Right as this happened we were asked to play Merlefest in North Carolina. This was a crown jewel for Susie and a dream come true. But it was to be our last official performance as a band.

Anatomy part five:

We took a hiatus to try and figure out how to continue. We tried bringing in another guitarist, but the chemistry was not right. We even thought of subbing various people and great players but it was never going to be the same. So, I began learning the guitar parts that Rob so wonderfully played and put my own spin on them. One evening at a rehearsal with just the remaining four of us, we discovered something magical happening: there was suddenly space with just the four instruments and Susie’s voice, and it was pretty remarkable. All the work that we had done over all those years was not gone, but still remained within our strong arrangements. We had more rehearsals and added some new tunes, and then decided to change the name of the new formation to The Susie Glaze New Folk Ensemble. This new name reflects what we once were and what we have now become. And because of the sizable catalogue of our songs, we discovered that we could do concerts now as a quartet, two versions of trios or as a duo. As Darwin so aptly said: “It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.” We have evolved to this point in time, and the music is still very much alive and viable. We will continue to play these songs, filled with all of love and joy that we put in to make them come alive. Like I said, everyone wants to be in a band. I consider myself one of the luckiest people in the world to be able to be part of this band, The Susie Glaze New Folk Ensemble.

Read the first article in the series by Rob Carlson, Lead Guitar, Composer, Lead and Harmony Vocals.

Read the second article in the series by Mark Indictor, Fiddle, Vocal And Arrangement, Lead and Harmony Vocals.

Read the third article in the series by Fred Sanders, Bass, Lead and Harmony Vocals

Visit Susie Glaze's website!

On Saturday, June 23, 2018 at 8:00pm The Susie Glaze New Folk Ensemble will be performing at Boulevard Music in Culver City.

STEVE RANKIN (Mandolin, Guitar/Bouzouki/Deering Old Time banjo/vocals) is an actor/director/musician who was born and raised in the American Heartland of Illinois. His musical influences come from a wide spectrum, ranging from big band swing, rock n' roll, to folk and bluegrass. He got his first guitar at age 12 and never looked back, immediately forming a band and playing for Junior High events in the local church basement. His acoustic epiphany occurred with the release of the "Will the Circle Be Unbroken" album. This was the music that opened his eyes to the power of simple complexity and the vast resource of story telling. While living in Tennessee, Steve jammed with local musicians in barber shops and out of the way small country grocery stores, starting his first bluegrass band, Waddy Peytona and the Frogtrotters.  In 1980 he moved to Louisville, Kentucky and met Fred Sanders, the two of them becoming life-long friends with music as a fertile ground of expression, which has continued for over thirty years including time spent with The Legend in Their Spare Time Band, The Eight Hand String Band, the show "Feast Here Tonight" in New York and now with Susie Glaze and the Hilonesome Band.  In 2006 Steve adapted Jean Ritchie's memoir "Singing Family of the Cumberlands" into the stage show "Singin' The Moon Up: the Voice of Jean Ritchie" and directed its premier at the Pennsylvania Center Stage, a collage of musical theater, concert and storytelling..