Charles R. Humphrey III has played upright bass for over 25 years. He studied classically at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, where Steep Canyon Rangers was formed. Charles has released side projects of his original compositions "Songs from the Road," and "Songs from the Road Band: As the Crow Flies." Along with SCR, many other artists have recorded his songs. Charles endorses Chadwick folding basses, Acoustic Image amps, and D'Addario strings. He is also an avid ultra runner and calls Asheville, NC home.
ABOUT THE BAND
"True bluegrass, when done well, is a thing of art and the Steep Canyon Rangers are the genre's current Rembrandt."
When the time came for the Steep Canyon Rangers to record the follow-up to 2012’s Nobody Knows You, they headed north to Woodstock, NY, to Levon Helm’s famed studio with Grammy-winning producer Larry Campbell and engineer Justin Guip. This was a departure for the band, and they gave Campbell full control over the recording rather than act as their own co-producer.
Over the months before they started to record Tell The Ones I Love, they sent him several dozen new songs to consider. And while the Steep Canyon Rangers were certainly open to recording songs by other composers, or to dip into traditional material, Campbell ultimately had them record all original tunes, based both on the strength of the songs and the band’s arrangements. This seems fitting for a band whose stellar reputation is based on performing original material, and who had just won the Best Bluegrass Album Grammy Award for Nobody Knows You. There’s a backstory here, too: last year, the band played Levon’s Midnight Ramble, and impressed Helm enough that he invited them to come back and record at the barn. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen before his untimely passing, but they still felt his joyful, creative spark and subtle influence while working in his studio.
The band wanted Tell The Ones I Love to reflect the spirit of their concerts—an original, freewheeling, high-energy approach to bluegrass that rests mainly on the songwriting of Graham Sharp and Charles Humphrey. They recorded the album almost entirely live, using few overdubs. “We wanted it to be different from our last album,” explained banjo player Graham Sharp, “and create something more raw and immediate.” Guitarist Woody Platt added that they headed into recording with “more confidence and momentum” from both their Grammy win and their unrelenting touring schedule.
Campbell, a highly sought after musician and producer (Bob Dylan, Levon Helm), was often down on the floor with the band so he could feel what was being performed. His strategy to have the music sound organic – “where you can hear the environment of the barn” – fit well with the band’s performances. Sharp praised Campbell for being “exactly what we needed in a producer. Larry took us through arrangements from a little different perspective.”
Tell The Ones I Love actually is the first bluegrass album Campbell produced, although as a big bluegrass fan, he has heard, in his estimation, “20 million bluegrass bands.” When he saw the Steep Canyon Rangers play at the Ramble, Campbell was attracted to how they respected bluegrass without being constrained by its conventions. Getting into the studio with the band only enhanced Campbell’s appreciation of their collective and individual talents. He admired that they “held on to the essence of what makes bluegrass viable, and subtly reinvented it to make their thing unique.”
One way that the band stretched bluegrass boundaries was with their use of drums and percussion on Tell The Ones I Love. “We didn’t want something that was just a bluegrass track with drums laid on it like an afterthought,” said Sharp. “We wanted something that was really integrated.” They enlisted Jeff Sipe (Leftover Salmon, Susan Tedeschi, Aquarium Rescue Unit), whom Sharp described as “one of the best drummers around.” His propulsive playing helps to drive the title track as well as injecting some funky rhythms into “Camellia.”
Tell The Ones I Love showcases the Steep Canyon Rangers’ myriad talents— nimble instrumental agility, tight harmony vocals, and inventive songwriting. The 12-song set ranges from full-band workouts like the title track to the haunting, vocally tight “Hunger.” On “Las Vegas,” the band displays jazzy touches while Mike Guggino’s instrumental “Graveyard Fields” is a bluegrass tour de force. Tell The Ones I Love, in fact, affords each Ranger opportunities to shine, whether it’s Graham Sharp’s expressive banjo intro on Charles Humphrey/Jonathan Byrd’s plaintive “Bluer Words Were Never Spoken,” Nicky Sanders’ soaring fiddle on “Boomtown” or Humphrey’s walking bass that anchors his “Mendocino County Blue.” “It’s a record that doesn’t stay on the same plane,” Platt, who contributes dynamic lead vocals on nine of the songs, explained. “It has an interesting contour, like we try to develop in our live shows.”
These days, it’s hard to talk about the Steep Canyon Rangers without mentioning Steve Martin. After meeting at a party and clicking immediately, Martin invited the band to tour and record with him. 2011’s collaboration Rare Bird Alert was nominated for a Grammy, and later that year, they won IBMA’s Entertainer of the Year Award. They average about 50 dates a year together, touring as Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers, and most recently with the addition of special guest Edie Brickell. What has emerged is a real collaboration of seven consummate musicians—creating music that they are passionate about, and blending it with humor to form a sophisticated show. They are proud that it has exposed legions of new fans to the bluegrass genre. These collaborations have stretched the Steep Canyon Rangers musically, and definitely broadened their horizons and experiences, which include recent appearances on Austin City Limits, the Late Show with David Letterman, and the Today Show, and performances at Carnegie Hall, the Grand Ole Opry, MerleFest, Neil Young’s Bridge School Benefit, as well as their own Mountain Song festival and Mountain Song at Sea cruise.
The release of Tell the Ones I Love finds the Steep Canyon Rangers in a unique situation, and one they don’t take lightly: “It took a lot of work for us to nose our way into the bluegrass world and become a de facto representative,” Sharp acknowledges, “and we think it’s a real responsibility.” With this new record, “we can be a bridge between the bluegrass crowd and a wider audience that may not be die-hard bluegrass fans.” Yet.
Steep Canyon Rangers are:
Originally from California, Nicky Sanders began training as a classical violinist at age 5. After serving as concertmaster of the Young People's Symphony Orchestra, he moved to Boston, MA to attend Berklee College of Music where he studied Jazz, Bluegrass and Composition. In 2004, Nicky moved to North Carolina to join Steep Canyon Rangers, first appearing on the album "One Dime at a Time" and three more records since. In 2010, the IBMA nominated the Rangers' recording of Nicky's fiddle tune "Mourning Dove" as Instrumental Performance of the Year. The song appears on the band's latest CD "Deep in the Shade". Nicky also enjoys solving New York Times crossword puzzles and drinking fresh-squeezed orange juice.
Mike Guggino grew up in the mountains of western North Carolina, where he learned to play piano, saxophone and guitar. He didn’t encounter bluegrass until college, though, when friends from Kentucky introduced him to the sounds of Hot Rize, the Seldom Scene, Tony Rice, New Grass Revival, and John Hartford. From there, he found his way to the music of Bill Monroe, and the mandolin, an instrument that also harkened back to his Italian great-grandparents. Mike immediately began to immerse himself in the bluegrass tradition and write original songs of his own. Over the past decade, his unique compositions have become signature Rangers tunes. Mike is proud to play Kimble mandolins and mandolas.
Graham Sharp began playing banjo in college and almost immediately fell into playing with Charles and Woody. Originally introduced to bluegrass by his high school Latin teacher, Graham was drawn to the sounds of John Hartford and Norman Blake. Through the years he has penned more than thirty Steep Canyon Rangers songs. He lives in Asheville, North Carolina and most enjoys spending time with his wife and two children, Wade and Rosalie.
Woody Platt‘s musical career began in the third grade, when he sang in the Brevard, North Carolina Boys Choir. He played trumpet and baritone in his middle school band, then became interested in bluegrass and guitar as a student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He, Charles Humphrey, and Graham Sharp started playing together as students, eventually forming the Rangers. Woody founded the Mountain Song Festival as a fundraiser for the Boys and Girls Club of Transylvania County in 2006, and continues to co-produce it. He lives in Brevard, North Carolina with his wife, the singer and songwriter Shannon Whitworth, and spends much of his time off the road in a trout stream.
Michael Ashworth has been a close friend to the Rangers since their inception, and was a session performer, producer, teacher, and touring artist before joining the band full time in the spring of 2013. He is a multi-instrumentalist whose musical influences run the gamut from John Hartford to John Bonham. He spent years playing guitar in the old time band Carolina Cotton and was a founding member of the rock band Fifth House. He also toured and recorded with The Jon Stickley Trio, Shannon Whitworth, Jeff Sipe, Town Mountain and many others. Teaching is a big part of Ashworth’s life and he is co-director of the Junior Appalachian Musicians (JAM) program of Transylvania County. When he is not touring or recording, he loves being with his family at home in Brevard NC. Mike proudly plays cajon drums from theboxkit.com.