Thursday, April 25, 2024

Bessman’s Blog: Country Music Comes to NYC, Time Jumpers & Ranger Doug Swing


It was a beautiful night to be outdoors in Manhattan Thursday, cool and comfortable–except one music fan at the third night’s installment of this year’s Midsummer Night Swing series in Lincoln Center’s Damrosch Park was afraid of an inevitable confrontation.

“We missed you at the Station Inn,” said Terry Choate, owner of Nashville’s Crosswind Corporation and manager of the night’s star performers, Nashville swing band the Time Jumpers. Sure enough, Ranger Doug, guitarist/vocalist of Riders In the Sky and “Idol of American Youth,” had put me on the list for the TJs regular Monday night show at Nashville’s famed Station Inn bluegrass club. I’d palled around with the Riders–America’s premier cowboy country-and-western band–for three days last month at the Grand Ol’ Opry and the CMA Music Festival, and Ranger Doug wanted me to see the esteemed band of Nashville players who have coalesced into the Time Jumpers as a celebrated side band.

After explaining that I had lost my glasses before driving over to Allison Krauss‘s for dinner and wimped out of driving downtown to the Station at night wearing dark prescription shades, Ranger Doug gave me the rundown on this rare out-of-town Time Jumpers gig.

“We’ve only done about 10 road dates, because it’s hard to get a quorum,” said Ranger Doug. “You have to be a certain number to be the Time Jumpers–eight, to be proper. Otherwise it’s just a jam band and not the Time Jumpers anymore.”

The group was originally formed 13 years ago when founding members started jamming on swing music in the Grand Ole Opry dressing rooms. It now attracts top Nashville stars like Toby Keith, Jimmy Buffett, Reba McEntire and John Rich, who come down to sit in at the Monday night gigs.

It was only the second Time Jumpers road date for Ranger Doug, who just completed Riders in the Sky performance No. 5,962. I hadn’t seen the group in New York since No. 5,354 show three years ago at the River to River Festival; Ethan Coen was there, prompting Ranger Doug to introduce “King of Country Fiddlers” Woody Paul as the star of the upcoming movie “O Brother, Where Am I”–the intro he’s used ever since.

It was a nine-piece Time Jumpers at Lincoln Center, all monster players also including former members of Mel Tillis’s Statesiders Kenny Sears (fiddle), Paul Franklin (steel) and Rich Vanaugh (drums); former Asleep At the Wheel fiddler Larry Franklin, guitarist Andy Reiss, fiddler Joe Spivey, upright bassist Dennis Crouch and vocalist Dawn Sears (Kenny’s wife).

No wonder Kenny looked familiar: I’d just seen him twice last month, too, at the Opry, as he also serves now in Cajun country star Jimmy C. Newman‘s band. With Spivey and Larry Franklin he gave the Time Jumpers a phenomenal three-fiddle front, with Larry Franklin and Reiss flanking on the right and Dawn Sears on the left; Ranger Doug sat back by Vanaugh except when he came out to sing lead on songs like Elton Britt‘s yodel showpiece “Give Me a Pinto Pal.”

Chanteuse Laura Cantrell deserves kudos for catching the Connie Smith quality in Dawn Sears‘ singing. I saw Smith in Nashville as well, at the Opry and at husband Marty Stuart‘s listening party for his fabulous forthcoming album “Ghost Train” (due Aug. 24); the Opry legend said she has a new album in the works as well.

Cantrell, meanwhile, is working on a Kitty Wells album tribute. The Nashville native will participate July 27 in a Nashville flood relief benefit concert at Le Poisson Rouge. Ranger Doug, incidentally, was one of many Grand Ole Opry stars who lost instruments when the Opry House storage lockers took in four feet of water–same with Riders accordionist/”Cowpolka King” Joey Miskulin and Jimmy C. Newman’s accordionist Bessyl Duhon.

Meanwhile, Cantrell’s husband Jeremy Tepper, programmer for Sirius Satellite Radio’s “Outlaw Country,” “Willie’s Place” and “Road Dog Trucking” channels, was raving about David Allan Coe‘s “awesome” show in Brooklyn–which I missed for being in Nashville–and visit to Sirius, where he regaled Peter Wolf and Southside Johnny.

For his part Choate—a former A&R exec at Capitol Nashville during the Garth Brooks era who now also works with Larry Gatlin (he produced his latest album “Pilgrimage”) — and Opry station WSM’s “Inside the Opry Circle” host Teea Goans (he produced her debut album, too), made note that the Time Jumpers will film a second DVD this fall, the first, “Jumpin’ Time” (2006), having garnered a Grammy nomination for “Sweet Memories.”

Of course the group performed the Mickey Newbury classic, along with others by the likes of Bob Wills, of course, Gene Autry, Ray Price, Faron Young, Vern Gosdin, George Strait and Andy Reiss, whose original instrumental “Stompin’ at the Station” left them stompin’ at the Lincoln.

Reiss and Ranger Doug, by the way, have recorded an acoustic jazz album, “Art of the Archtop.”

Old friend Robert Kenison was watching up close, being a fellow music legend. Better known as Troy Sharmel of the legendary 1970s Madison, Wis.-based rock ‘n’ roll show band Dr. Bop & The Headliners (and known to his friends as Beefy), Kenison joined me in heading north to Ashford & Simpson‘s Sugar Bar–after a 10-minute break to listen to two of the 60 Sing for Hope “Play Me, I’m Yours” pianos scattered about the city.

A young girl, maybe six and unable to reach the pedals, enchanted scores of exiting Midsummer Night Swingers and American Ballet Theater-goers from the adjacent Met Opera House at the piano situated outside Avery Fisher Hall. She remained pretty much oblivious to the crowd and its ecstatic applause and ran over to her mother and baby brothers before being coaxed into an encore.

Across the street at Alice Tully Hall, a young woman sang “Memories,” accompanied by a piano player skilled enough to switch to the “Habanera (‘L’amour est un oiseau rebelle’)” aria from “Carmen” when an older lady joined in and then requested it.

More Tuesday…

Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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