Faculty

Music


Dale Ann Bradley

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Dale Ann Bradley commands a list of awards as long as Highway 40, yet a few minutes with her tells you she is something even more than extraordinarily gifted – she's extraordinarily human. A hardscrabble Primitive Baptist preacher's daughter out of William’s Branch, in the hills of Kentucky, where no musical instruments were allowed, Bradley grew up in a self-described "backwoods holler" down a rural road where electricity and running water weren't available until she was in high school – something she has more in common with the first generation of bluegrass than her contemporaries in today's scene. Even as a girl, she knew she wanted more.
An uncle who was part of the Appalachian outmigration came back from Detroit with country music tapes. He shared that music with Dale Ann, and he let her play his guitar.  Before long, she was borrowing his guitar to play public events. As a young teenager she embraced her love for music that included but moved beyond the hymns she’d grown up with. Eventually that love for music carried her out of the mountains and onto the stage, where she is now an award-winning mainstay and important influence in the evolution of contemporary bluegrass music.
“Steeped in the past and present of the bluegrass way of life, she is equally at home with a contemporary country song turned high lonesome as she is with a mountain ballad,” says lost.fm.  Bradley’s mountain soprano, her gift as a storyteller, and her authentic Appalachian roots make her one of the most important influences on the bluegrass scene.  “A mountain murder ballad, a haunting tale of the Underground Railroad, a trip on a moonshine run, a walk in the mists of Ireland, a wild ride with Bobby McGee: whatever Dale Ann Bradley sings, people believe her.”
With Somewhere South of Crazy (available August 30th), Dale Ann Bradley shares what has shaped her life and music, by going deeper—deeper into bluegrass, deeper into her own musical passions, deeper into her own history as a veteran entertainer who spent years singing country music alongside her 'grass at Kentucky's venerable Renfro Valley, and even as she draws from a variety of musical traditions, her incomparably rich voice and east Kentucky sensibilities are always right at the center of her music.


Jason Burleson

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The original banjo player with Blue Highway, Jason is a native of Newland, North Carolina. A talented multi-instrumentalist, he brings all-around musicianship to the group, not the least of which is his distinctive, rock-solid banjo style. Writing for the Memphis Area Bluegrass Association, Betty Westmoreland observed about Jason and his habit of saying very little onstage: "His banjo does the talking, as is true of most superb performers.  From Newland, NC, in Avery County, Burleson is part of that fine crop of North Carolina banjo players. There must be something about the air, or water, or the soil in that part of the country—so many fine banjo players seem to come out of those hills."
Jason's instrumental compositions form an integral part of the Blue Highway repertoire, including “The North Cove” ( Through the Window of a Train), hailed by one critic as “a burning instrumental with a sinuous melody” that offers “more to chew on than just the whiz-bang pyrotechnics of many modern bluegrass instrumentals” (Smoky Mountain News). Jason also anchors the group's quartets with his bass vocals. A jazz devotee, Jason's talent hasn't been fully revealed yet to the bluegrass community and gives Blue Highway unlimited options for the future. 


Brandon Godman

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Growing up in Falmouth, KY, Brandon began playing the fiddle at the age of 10.  He learned from numerous old-time players around the Northern Kentucky area began playing for square dances right away.  After playing in numerous local bands and competing in contests throughout the midwest, Brandon began his professional career with Melvin Goins when he was 17.  Since then he has traveled with many greats including Dale Ann Bradley, David Peterson, Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver, The Band Perry, and most currently Jon Pardi.  He also has a western swing band based in Nashville called The Doughboys.  Along with performing, Brandon is also a trained luthier.  He currently works for the famed The Violin Shop in Nashville, TN.


Steve Gulley

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Steve Gulley had already won esteem for his lofty tenor voice and emotional delivery as an entertainer at Kentucky’s historic Renfro Valley well before he joined Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver, which brought him to a wider but no less appreciative audience.
Steve was also a founding member of Mountain Heart where he recorded five highly acclaimed, award-winning projects while serving as the band’s lead vocalist followed by a five-year stint as a founding member and front man of the popular group, Grasstowne.
These days he is considered a stalwart of the very top echelon of lead and tenor singers in the bluegrass business as well as being a gifted songwriter and guitarist. He has been tapped as a harmony and featured vocalist on projects such as the widely praised Keith Whitley album, ”Sad Songs And Waltzes” and many other projects featuring Ronnie Bowman, Dan Tyminski, Tim Stafford, Dwight McCall, Dale Ann Bradley, Jeff Parker and country singer Ken Mellons just to name a few.
As a songwriter, he has been fortunate enough to have his songs recorded by many top groups including Blue Highway, Kenny & Amanda Smith, and Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver. In fact, the song, "Through The Window Of A Train," which Steve co-wrote with Tim Stafford, was voted IBMA Song Of The Year for 2008. Steve has also earned multiple Male Vocalist of the Year nominations at SPBGMA.
His long-time friendship and musical collaboration with Dale Ann Bradley continues with this new partnership and will only grow stronger in the coming years. Steve looks forward to many years of great music with his lifelong friend.


Sierra Hull

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A good chunk of popular music’s real estate has been carved up along lines of age these last half-dozen decades, and we’re used to seeing young musicians aim exclusively for young audiences then flounder as they outgrow teenaged listeners’ tastes and concerns. Pan-generational mentoring and mingling has done much to insulate bluegrass from this coming-of-age quandary. Still, Sierra Hull is the rare soul to make it through these years entirely unscathed.
Secrets—the debut album she recorded at 15, and released at 16—struck the ear with sensibilities that seemed both seasoned and fresh; kids’ stuff this was not. Three years and a move from her family’s home in tiny Byrdstown, Ten. to Boston’s Berklee College of Music later, she’s followed with one of the most surefooted transitions into early adulthood put to record. Thirty seconds into the opening track, she sings a line that puts a fine point on it: “I’m not a child anymore.”
Of course, the evidence of Sierra’s uncommon maturity—musical and personal (one might say she embodies the perfect balance of humility and capability)—has been there all along, and won her formidable fans: by age 11, Alison Krauss had called with an invitation to the Opry stage; by 12, Rounder was expressing interest; first Ron Block and now Barry Bales have served as co-producers, and her studio bands have featured the cream of the contemporary bluegrass crop—Stuart Duncan, Randy Kohrs and Bryan Sutton this time, alongside members of Sierra’s own crack band Highway 111. Then there’s the fact that Berklee gave her the school’s most prestigious award, the Presidential Scholarship, a first for a bluegrass musician; her choice to accept it, to delay her dream of hitting the road full-time after high school in favor of expanding her musical worldview, was hardly a light one.
If ever the “child prodigy” label did Sierra justice, its usefulness has completely fallen away and a distinctive new identity emerged. What you hear on Daybreak is one of bluegrass’s few full-fledged virtuosic instrumentalist/singer/songwriters, and one who’s gracefully grown into her gifts. While her mandolin playing has always possessed clarity and fleet-fingered precision, here she attacks her solos with newfound spontaneity and depth of feeling; she calls it “playing with a point to prove.” Her singing—always straight and true—has more heartfelt power behind it, to results Bales describes, simply, as “doing the songs justice.”


Phil Leadbetter

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Phil Leadbetter has been playing the resonator guitar since 1974. He was a 11 year member of J.D Crowe And The New South where he recorded 2 CDs. One of the CDs "Flashback" received a Grammy nomination in 1995 for "Best Bluegrass Album". He was also a founding member of the bluegrass groups Wildfire and Grasstowne. He also was a member of The Grandpa Jones Band, as well as The Vern Gosdin Band. In 2005, Phil was voted "Dobro Player Of The Year" by The International Bluegrass Music Association. Only 1 of 3 people ever to win that award. He was also the very first person to win that award at the historic Ryman Auditorium. The same year, he also won "Best Bluegrass Instrumental Album" by the IBMA for his solo CD "Slide Effects". The song "California Cottonfields" featuring Marty Raybon stayed at #1 for 2 consecutive months on the national Bluegrass Unlimited chart. He also has 2 "Dobro Performer Of TheYear" awards from the SPBGMA organization. Phil's recording credits include projects with J.D Crowe And The Newsouth, Wildfire,Grasstowne, Doyle Lawson And Quicksilver, Dolly Parton, Ken Mellons, Jerry Douglas,Richard Bennett, Darrell Webb, and Steve Kaufman to name a few. In early 2001, The Gibson Guitar Company honored Phil with his own signature line of Dobro Guitars. The Gibson "Phil Leadbetter" Signature is the only guitar being built that has the trademark Dobro logo, and has been one of the best selling guitars in the Gibson Bluegrass Acoustic line.


Tim Stafford

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Tim's distinctive guitar style, vocals, songwriting and arranging contributions are an integral part of the Blue Highway sound. A Kingsport, TN native, Tim helped found the band Dusty Miller (1990 SPBGMA International Bluegrass Band champions) and, early on, was a key player in Alison Krauss & Union Station when it was named IBMA Entertainer of the Year in 1991. Leaving Krauss's band in May 1992 to spend more time with his infant son Daniel, Tim won a Grammy in 1993 for his work on AKUS's Every Time You Say Goodbye (Rounder 1992), which was also named IBMA Album of the Year (1993). In 1994, Tim organized Blue Highway, whose first project, It's a Long, Long Road, spent six months at the top of the Bluegrass Unlimited charts and won IBMA's Album of the Year Award (1996). Tim's songwriting talent is reflected throughout Blue Highway 's repertoire and in recordings by artists such as Ronnie Bowman, Claire Lynch, Mountain Heart, Dan Tyminski, the Lonesome River Band, Larry Sparks, The Infamous Stringdusters, Kenny and Amanda Smith and Alecia Nugent. "Through the Window of a Train", co-written by Tim and Steve Gulley and recorded by Blue Highway, won IBMA's Song of the Year award in 2008. "Born With A Hammer in my Hand," co-written with Shawn Lane, was nominated for Song of the Year at the 2000 IBMA Awards.  Tim's work as a producer is also highly acclaimed, winning an IBMA Album of the Year award in 2007 for The Infamous Stringdusters' Fork In The Road (Sugar Hill 2007) (Tim Stafford & The Infamous Stringdusters, producers), and an IBMA Instrumental Recording of the Year award as producer and performer on Knee-Deep in Bluegrass: The Acutab Sessions. Tim's other projects include Down Around Bowmantown (co-producer) for ETSU's Center for Appalachian Studies and Services, listed on the Library of Congress American Folklife Center's Selected List of American Folk Music Recordings for 1989; Endless Line (FGM Records 2004), Tim's critically-acclaimed solo record; and Flatpicking Guitar Fundamentals instructional video (Flatpicking Guitar Magazine 2001). His Blue Highway solos have been published in a transcription book (Acutab Publications 1998). Tim has played on records by Willie Nelson, Jesse McReynolds, Jorma Kaukonen, Marty Raybon, Kenny Chesney, Tony Trischka, Michelle Shocked, Larry Sparks and many others. Composite Acoustic Guitars will be releasing a Tim Stafford signature model instrument this summer.  For more information about Tim: www.tim-stafford.com.


Marshall Wilborn

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A native of Austin, Texas, Marshall Wilborn has been touring and recording for the past 31 years.  He has worked with Jimmy Martin, Johnson Mountain Boys, Michael Cleveland, Hazel Dickens, Longview, and his wife, Lynn Morris.  Marshall's own songs have been recorded by Doyle Lawson, Lynn Morris, Alison Krauss, Rhonda Vincent, Johnson Mountain Boys, and Michael Cleveland, among others.  He is a four time recipient of IBMA's Bass Player Of The Year award.