Junior Sisk and Rambler’s Choice traditional bluegrass Ferrum, Virginia It’s hard to imagine an artist more deeply devoted to bluegrass, or more rooted in the prolific bluegrass community of Southwest Virginia than Junior Sisk from Ferrum, Virginia. In the 1990s, he first earned acclaim for his songwriting, but over the years it’s his powerful, lonesome […]
- traditional bluegrass
- Ferrum, Virginia
It’s hard to imagine an artist more deeply devoted to bluegrass, or more rooted in the prolific bluegrass community of Southwest Virginia than Junior Sisk from Ferrum, Virginia. In the 1990s, he first earned acclaim for his songwriting, but over the years it’s his powerful, lonesome singing that earned Sisk the devotion of traditional bluegrass fans. Now at the top of his game, Junior has put together a fresh, fiery ensemble of top-notch Blue Ridge musicians, widely regarded as one of the finest traditional bands to emerge in many decades. Bursting with energy in live performance, Junior Sisk & Ramblers Choice is blowing the roof off everywhere it plays. As “A Far Cry From Lester and Earl,” the chart-topping opening track on the group’s most recent recording announces: this is classic bluegrass at its best.
“More music, less talk” might be the band motto – if they had one. Junior explains, “It’s a whole lot of fun to pick with guys that have a whole lot of energy. I sing real hard, and I play real hard, and these guys play hard too, and they really get into the show. . . I’m not the greatest talker. . . but none of the other guys want to talk – they want to pick – so I just tell folks they are going to hear a lot more picking than talking.”
Sisk’s compositions helped propel the Lonesome River Band to bluegrass fame in the early 1990s, and he’s a veteran of several nationally known bluegrass bands including Wyatt Rice & Santa Cruz, Lost & Found and BlueRidge. Reflecting upon his life as a bluegrass musician, Junior said, “The picking isn’t a job, it’s having fun. The hard part is driving up and down the road. But this job has its advantages. I love to hunt and fish, and most folks are working during the week so I have the run of the woods and the waters. But I just love the music. I thought about hanging it up after BlueRidge [disbanded], thought about just going to work for Lowes, but it’s really in my blood. . .”
The original edition of Ramblers Choice was a short-lived but influential group that Sisk had created in 1998. When, ten years later, he decided to reform the Ramblers, Sisk assembled a lineup that reflects both the traditional roots of the Blue Ridge Mountains’ bluegrass community and its contemporary sensibilities. The new Ramblers Choice recreates the strengths of the original group, amplified by a decade of experience and engagement with many facets bluegrass music’s stylistic development. All save one of the group’s members are from the Blue Ridge. Fiddler Billy Hawks served with traditionalist stalwarts Big Country Bluegrass and an assortment of the region’s many groups while operating a recording studio in his hometown, Dobson, North Carolina. Banjo player Darrell Wilkerson came to the group after stints with, among others, Carolina Drive and Honi Deaton & Dream, while mandolinist Chris Harris represents the youngest generation of the area’s musicians, training in—and winning—mandolin contests at venues like Merlefest and the Galax Old Fiddlers Convention.
At the heart of the group’s sound is Junior’s arresting voice and its echoes of the Virginia hills. The stylistic influences of Flatt & Scruggs, The Stanley Brothers and others from the revered founding generation that brought bluegrass music to world are undeniable, but this is no retro band. It draws freely upon contemporary as well as traditional sources for material. While conversant with and respectful of tradition, the band incorporates the most enduring aspects of change in bluegrass over the decades.
“I’m glad I stuck with it,” Junior says today, “. . .we are just having a blast. I’ve got a great band to work with, and a great record label – I couldn’t be happier.”
Bio provided by the Richmond Folk Festival