Born in the 1940s and raised in the 50s, Bluegrass music took some twists and turns in its teens and twenties. The 1960s saw Bluegrass bands going country with drums and pedal steel, while newgrass entered the world in the 70s. When Bluegrass reached its third decade, fans were loving the new but yearning for the old. The Bluegrass Album band dominated the market, playing traditional music with uptown class. And something was brewing over in Ferrum, Virginia, where a young super group was about to unleash its vision of a driving, modern sound that yet respected tradition.
From 1985 to 1988, the Lonesome River Band released three albums which guaranteed its place in Bluegrass history. By the time it released Looking for Yourself in 1989, it was clear this band had indeed found itself. So when it blasted into the 90s, there was no looking back. The band released a string of hits, ending the decade with the powerhouse lineup of Sammy Shelor, Ronnie Bowman, Don Rigsby and Kenny Smith.
But as with all things, bands must change. While Shelor went on to lead the LRB through various top-notch configurations, the rest went their separate ways to lead their own stellar careers.
Another decade passed by, and then it was 2010. Following a Lonesome River Band reunion performance that year, Bowman, Rigsby and Smith began to explore the possibility of making music together again. Like everyone else in Bluegrass, they realized the significance of their past works, but they were itching to do something new. Out of this desire and their longstanding friendship and mutual admiration, a new band was born.
Beginning as a trio called the Rambling Rooks, later the Band of Rooks, they pulled from a who’s-who roster of A‑list banjo players for shows around the country. In 2015, they released their first album, changing the spelling to Band of Ruhks for a self-titled project on the 101 Ranch Records label. Interest in that record and the demand for live shows led them to pick up a regular banjo player, and John Meyer ably filled the role for two years.
But, bands must change. When Meyer decided to move on, the Ruhks had a bright idea–Brian Fesler. Fesler had held the banjo role with the Lonesome River Band in its early days, appearing on the 1988 classic Saturday Night, Sunday Morning album before going on to lead a stellar career of his own.
With this lineup, it was only natural to return to Rebel Records. All the members had appeared on the label, and 2019 found them back again with the the October release of Authentic. Produced by Ben Isaacs and engineered by Mark Capps, the album was a classic from the day it was released, featuring special guests Aubrey Haynie (fiddle), Rob Ickes (resonator guitar) and Christian music artists the Isaacs and Jason Crabb. All four band members contributed their writing talents, with ten originals and two traditional numbers. It’s an exciting project, and more than one reviewer has commented on the truth of its title. Four men doing what they do best–Bluegrass, pure and Authentic.
Ronnie Bowman has long been regarded as one of Bluegrass music’s finest singers and songwriters. With a string of awards (IBMA and SPGBMA Male Vocalist of the Year, Song of the Year, Album of the Year, etc.) and numerous nominations and accolades, his resume is outstanding to say the least. He has written #1 hits for country artists and led his own band The Committee for years. In addition to this, he performs regularly with The Likely Culprits in Nashville and has toured with Lee Ann Womack as well as his old singing partner Dan Tyminski. Considered a formidable music producer, he can often be found behind the mixing console in the studio at the helm of various recording sessions.
Don Rigsby became the first full-time director of the Kentucky Center for Traditional Music in 2001. He remained in that position for 8 years. During that time he formed his own band Midnight Call and toured the US and overseas too. As a charter member of the all-star group Longview he always kept his strong love for old school Bluegrass music in the front of his musical conscience. Rigsby is also an acclaimed music producer, session musician and teacher. He is a sought after session vocalist and has provided harmony vocals on such projects as Alan Jackson’s Bluegrass Album (Along with Ronnie Bowman), James King’s Three Chords and the Truth and Peter Rowan’s Old School, to name some recent examples.
Kenny Smith formed a band with his wife Amanda Smith and immediately found success. The duo captured the IBMA Emerging Artist of the Year award their first year of existence. Since that time, they have enjoyed a remarkable journey of love and music that has led them all over the world. Smith is a two-time winner of IBMA Guitar Player of the Year and has been nominated multiple times. He is called for his expertise in the studio and as a guitar instructor and has various instructional materials that showcase his unique style and mastery of his instrument. His recent project The Return was a follow-up to his classic solo project Studebaker.
Brian Fesler was a founding member of the Dusty Miller Band in 1989, a legendary ensemble featuring Tim Stafford, Adam Steffey, Barry Bales and Tammy Rogers. He worked with Rigsby in the Charlie Sizemore band before heading north for a time and working with Minnesota artist Becky Schlegel. Co-producing four albums with Schlegel led to a string of production projects, including reissues of material from Bobby Bare, Vern Gosdin and J.D. Crowe. By 2017, Fesler had been back in Nashville for a number of years, performing, teaching and producing. When the Ruhks called, the fit was obvious and immediate, and he’s been a band member ever since.