A View From the Stage
by Stephen Pitalo
Eddie Sanders’ latest release “Till the River Starts to Rise” was inspired while driving home to Oklahoma from Nashville.
“On I-40 I could see a line of heavy rain coming to the west,” Sanders said. “Although it was dry where I was, I knew a storm was coming. The original line to the song was ‘here comes the rain again, how it’s gonna pour.’ A lot of that song was written that day while driving by myself in the rain. Later with a guitar and my co-writer Adam Engelhardt we finished the tune.”
Eddie Sanders knows about the terrain on another level, having been born into southwest bluegrass royalty via venue; his father is legendary bluegrass festival and concert promoter, Freddie Sanders. The Sanders Family Bluegrass Festival in McAlester Oklahoma was one of the biggest and best bluegrass festivals west of the Mississippi. It served as a favorite venue for bluegrass acts Bill Monroe, Osborne Brothers, Lewis Family, Jim & Jesse, Ralph Stanley, and nearly every major bluegrass act of the last 40 years. The McAlester festivals were shaped and guided by major bluegrass influences like Mac Wiseman, Larry Sparks, and The Osborne Brothers, but these also influenced Sanders’ view of the music business.
“By being involved with bluegrass music [from that perspective], there are several non-musical lessons I learned,” Sanders said. “A quick summary would include, be on time, keep your word, and remember you work for the people that bought a ticket to the show.”
Eddie himself has developed into a world-class singer-songwriter and guitarist. He also developed the professionalism that he learned from the best acts in the business and learned the power of a song and a love for original material. Strongly influenced by Merle Haggard and Gene Watson, Eddie soon started writing his own songs.
“Growing up in a bluegrass festival environment affected me in several ways. I had the privilege of being able to get a close-up view of so many great singers and musicians who undoubtedly inspired me to want to perform and be a part of this music. Watching the true professionals in the business gave me a clear understanding of what the saying “When preparation meets opportunity” really means. More importantly, I learned the business aspect of the industry and exactly how much hard work it takes to actually operate a festival and make it sustainable. Being a promoter and an artist has given me empathy and understanding for both sides.”
For many years Eddie Sanders was the guitarist and lead vocalist with the widely-acclaimed band Signal Mountain with fellow bandmates Shawn Camp (IBMA Male Vocalist of the Year, Earls of Leicester); Dennis Crouch (Elton John, Elvis Costello); Billy Joe Foster (Bill Monroe, Ricky Skaggs); Tim Crouch (The Whites, Mike Snider); and southwest bluegrass luminaries Donny Catron, Don McAfee, and The Bonham Brothers.
Eddie’s songwriting skills increasingly brought him to Nashville for songwriting sessions with Shawn Camp, Ronnie Bowman, Dennis & Tim Crouch, Glen Duncan, and Adam Engelhardt. Eddie wrote The Del McCoury Band’s hit single, “You Could Be Me”. Kix Brooks & Wayne Toups recorded a duet “Down Where the River Ends”, penned by Eddie and Shawn Camp.
“My Favorite Bluegrass Musicians is a list that’s everchanging,” Sanders said. “We are so blessed in our music to have what seems to be an endless amount of great players, singers, and songs. It seems I pick a new favorite every time I listen to a station or a show playing good bluegrass. That being said, some of my early influences will always be my favorites. With their talent, repertoire, and A-1 professionalism, the Osborne Brothers will always be on top of that list. My favorite bluegrass vocalist of all time is Mr. Larry Sparks. He has a drive and a feel to his music that epitomizes good bluegrass.
“I could not make a list of favorites without including Joe Stuart, such a talented singer and musician he was. Joe had a very soulful feel to his playing and singing. I believe Joe Stuart is the only ‘Bluegrass Boy’ to have ever played every instrument in the band with Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys. Joe encouraged me to believe in myself and was a great mentor for me at an early age.”
Sanders said that his years of experience with the band Signal Mountain had the most to do with his development in bluegrass.
“The band started when I was around 12 years old,” he said. “As with most bands, several band members came and went over the years. Each and every person that I had the privilege of playing with in Signal Mountain taught me something about music and life. To me, we were all and still are like family.
“I started writing songs when I was around 16 or 17 years old, a couple of those early songs we included on our first Signal Mountain album. Over the next few years, I continued to randomly write but never really worked at it.
A friend of mine Billy Joe Foster, a great writer and musician from Oklahoma who played with Bill Monroe and Ricky Skaggs, encouraged me to go to Nashville and try my hand at writing with some real pros. Sadly Billy Joe passed away before the two of us could get serious with co-writing together. Billy Joe is missed by many. To my good fortune, I just happened to know another great writer in Nashville. The one and only Shawn Camp. Shawn and I had not seen each other since he left Signal Mountain to join the Osborne Brothers years earlier. In my opinion, Shawn is one of the greatest country music songwriters in the universe. To make a long story short, I learned more about songwriting in 30 minutes from Shawn than I had known in a lifetime.”
Sanders learned much from musician Dennis Crouch, whose resume included stints with major pop rock stars outside of the country genre.
“Dennis came to play bass with Signal Mountain when he and I were both still teenagers,” Sanders said. “In the band at that time were myself, Dennis, Shawn Camp, Donnie Catron, Randy Landrum, my good friend Don McAfee and naturally my dad Fred Sanders. Dennis has now become maybe the most successful upright bass player in the music industry. The list of artists and recording credits to his name are countless and impressive. It’s been my pleasure to now reunite with Dennis. The two of us are co-writing and he is always a part of my recordings. One of the main things that Dennis shared with me that he learned over the years is that less is more and keep it simple. I try to keep this thought in mind when writing, singing, and playing. I never expected that I could be writing songs for other artists to perform and record. I will say that hearing someone else singing a song that I wrote it is one of the most rewarding things that I have done in the music business.”
Sanders credits his relationship with the Lord as a source of strength and a benchmark of his musical dedication.
“My faith has always been a big part of my music,” Sanders explained. “Like many in this business, I started singing in church and still today love singing and performing gospel music. The older I get the more I see just how important gospel music is to bluegrass music. I hope that something I write, or sing can be a blessing to others.”