Rhonda Vincent Takes the Reins on New Album
Rhonda Vincent is not one to worry about what everyone else thinks. Christened 'the new queen of bluegrass' by the Wall Street Journal, she's honored that the publication saw fit to give her such a title, but she's more worried about presenting great music to the fans. In an era when people are trying to figure out what's going on with the music business, Rhonda just keeps moving ahead, finding and recording great music and making sure her fans know it's available.
While it may be a learning curve for the former International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) Female Vocalist of the Year, she's certainly not worried. The Missouri native is accustomed to handling curves quite well, thank you very much. As a youngster she started singing in the family band, the Sally Mountain Show, then moved on to record a series of bluegrass albums before taking a stab at mainstream country music. Once she decided to return to bluegrass, she quickly become one of the most popular female solo artists in the genre.
The singer's self-produced album, 'Taken,' which is released on her Upper Management imprint, also features Rhonda playing mandolin on every song. The Boot caught up with Rhonda in between fairs and festivals to talk with her about the new project and the friends, family members and personal heroes who helped her with it.
You took on a huge responsibility with this album. Why did you decide to go with your own label at this point in your career?
The only difference with this project is the label it's on. We listened to thousands of songs. Sometimes you love a song and it doesn't work for your project. Our show is everything from in-your-face bluegrass to ballads. We try to do something for everybody. This project was a little more challenging, knowing we were doing everything from producing to putting every viable piece together, even in marketing and media. It has given me some sleepless nights, knowing we were responsible for every aspect of making this work. I researched it and talked to everybody I could talk to, and all my research pointed to me doing this myself. I'm learning a lot of new things that I've never done before; I'm kind of in a new phase of my musical college years.
What in your research convinced you to start your own label?
To me the number one thing is that sales in general, all across the board, seem to be down. Lucky for bluegrass artists, ours are not. People are looking at ways to be more cost-effective and in producing your own product, you eliminate the middle man, so it allows you to make more money. The decision-maker for me was when I found out we would have the same distributor we had when we were on Rounder; fans will still be able to find us in Wal-Mart and all the other normal places.
In addition to everything else, you decided to play all the mandolin parts on the album.
It was a personal goal for me. On previous recordings, it was easier to say, "Hunter [Berry, fiddle player in Rhonda's band, the Rage], go in and play that." Onstage I'd play a couple mandolin solos, but that was all. At times it was frustrating for me and it would have been so easy to give up. If you have someone else who can do it, it's easy to give up. Recording is not a favorite thing of mine, it's a necessity. So I had to concentrate very hard. I think this project became more enjoyable after we did the first couple songs. Then it became a challenge and a lot of fun and I enjoyed it after that. If you convince yourself it's a labor of love, then you're OK.
You have some pretty special guests on this CD – talk about inviting Richard Marx to join you on the album.
Richard liked our music and he invited me to sing on a project he was doing. We became email and phone pals from that, but I had never seen him or heard him. There was a video on TV, so while we were riding around I got the chance to soak in his voice. I had just recorded 'Taken' and once I heard him sing, I could hear him on that song. I called him and he said, "Send it over." I told him to do whatever he heard for himself on it, and I just love what he did. We have yet to meet in person!
You also asked Dolly Parton sing on 'In the Garden by the Fountain.' You've joined her several times on various projects.
After I pick the songs, I go in and sing scratch harmonies on them. As I was trying to find what part of the harmony to sing, I could hear her voice on this song. You try to visualize the harmonies and who would do the high or low harmony, at least that's the way I do it. Then you hope when they actually sing it, you get the blend you hoped for. Dolly did indeed get what I was looking for.
Your daughters are also singing on the album; this must have been pretty special for you. How involved are you with their group Next Best Thing?
It is a mother's proudest moment to sing with her daughters! My husband has been booking their shows but they also book themselves. At first, we were trying to help them too much. I had to sit back and let them go through some of the process on their own. If you give them every shortcut, they don't get to experience it themselves, and they wanted to do that. When I can help them, I do, but I also have to take a step back and let them do it.
You stay very busy – what do you do when you want to get away from it all? Does the whole family ever get to go on a 'real' vacation?
We like to do the impromptu thing. The other night we went to Niagara Falls with friends after our show, and last night we missed our flight so we drove to New York City and went to Ground Zero, Times Square and the Empire State Building. We didn't even go to bed before we had to catch the next flight. You just find fun things like that to do.