Originally created 02/03/05

Steep Canyon Rangers influenced by greats of bluegrass music



If anybody knows the whereabouts of a former Greensboro, N.C., Latin teacher named Chris Frost, please let banjo player Graham Sharp know.

He wants to thank his former teacher for introducing him to bluegrass music.

Mr. Sharp is the banjoist for the band Steep Canyon Rangers, which performs at 10 p.m. Friday at Still Water Tap Room, 974 Broad St.

Other members of the Asheville, N.C.-based band are Woody Platt, guitar; Mike Guggino, mandolin; Charles Humphrey III, upright bass; and Nicky Sanders, fiddle.

Mr. Sharp was a student at Grimsley High School when his Latin teacher introduced him to the music of bluegrass guitarist Norman Blake. Mr. Blake toured with Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson, Joan Baez and John Hartford and played on albums including Bob Dylan's Nashville Skyline.

"After hearing Norman Blake, I went out and bought a compilation CD, Telluride '76, that had other bluegrass artists," said Mr. Sharp, who played saxophone in high school.

He turned to the banjo after hearing Jerry Garcia (Grateful Dead) playing it on Old and in the Way, a CD featuring Mr. Garcia and bluegrass greats Peter Rowan, on guitar, fiddler Vassar Clements and mandolin player David Grisman.

"Jerry's banjo just jumped out at me the most when I heard that album," Mr. Sharp said. "That led to my taking banjo lessons from (North Carolina banjoist) John Snipes."

It was while attending the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill that Mr. Sharp hooked up with fellow students Woody Platt, Mike Guggino and Charles Humphrey III to form Steep Canyon Rangers in late 1999. Their name was inspired by a beer, Deep Canyon Stout.

Fiddler Nicky Sanders, a graduate of Berklee College of Music in Boston, joined the group last July.

Mr. Sharp, a comparative literature major, has authored many songs for Steep Canyon Rangers. "I never had written songs until I got with this band," he said. "The first one I wrote was about a guy who used to come to Asheville and used to sleep on my couch. It's not too much of a hard luck story, because he turned out all right. I called it Jeff's Song."

Another of Mr. Sharp's songs, Kicked Out of Town, deals with domestic violence.

The group's first CD, Old Dreams & New Dreams, came out in 2001. They released Mr. Taylor's New Home in 2002 and a self-titled CD (on nationally-known Rebel Records) last year. The band was in Nashville, in December recording tracks for its fourth, yet-untitled CD.

Mr. Sharp said the group also has fun on the road.

"We do a lot of fishing," Mr. Sharp said. "Woody used to be a fly-fishing guide, and he taught the rest of us how to fish. We just put the ones we catch right back. They don't travel well in the van."

Don Rhodes has been writing about country music for 34 years. He can be reached at (706) 823-3214 or don.rhodes@morris.com.