Jesse From the Brock
Don’t Call This Mandolinist J-Bro
by Stephen Pitalo
Winner of the 2009 & 2015 International Bluegrass Music Awards (IBMA) Mandolin Performer of the Year, Jesse Brock said his true bluegrass awakening was The Bluegrass Album Band, Vol. One, which cemented the idea of what bluegrass is to him: a banjo and a fiddle.
“I started reverse-listening to all projects, and each member was a part,” Brock said. “Doyle Lawson & Tony Rice were the new standards of the times & still are in my book. Personally, I feel bluegrass is not bluegrass without a banjo and/or fiddle!”
His early exposure, however, was family-oriented. His father, C.W. Brock, plucked a five-string banjo as a founding member of the Golden Harvest Boys, later becoming The Knights of Bluegrass’ with Chet Kingery circa 1977.
Brock continued listening to albums by the Dillards, The Bray Brothers, Mac Wiseman, Jim & Brock, The Osborne Bros., Bill Monroe, J.D. Crowe & Larry Sparks, and soon began his bluegrass career with his family band at the age of 9. He started singing at age 7, taking fiddle lessons at 8 & picked up the mandolin at 9. His first album was recorded with his family at age 11 and later that year played the Grand Ole Opry as the first place prize winnings at Bill Monroe’s Bean Blossom Band Contest. As Bill’s guest on the Early Bird Special, C.W. Brock & the Next of Kin played two songs.
Brock is currently performing with a cast of bluegrass veterans known as Fast Track on EMG Records. Brock has been working diligently in the studio at Sound Biscuit Productions on his much-anticipated project, Streamliner. Featuring artists Bronwyn Keith-Hynes, Jason Carter, Josh Swift, Rob Ickes, Russ Carson, Ron Block, Greg Blake, Barry Reed, and Dale Perry. Brock has worked with: The Lynn Morris Band (2 albums), Dale Ann Bradley (2 albums), Michael Cleveland & Flamekeeper (4 albums), Audie Blaylock & Redline (2 albums), and most recently with The Gibson Bros. Brock first appeared on the Grand Ole Opry at the young age of 11, and since has performed on stage with Ricky Skaggs, George Jones, Willie Nelson, Alison Krauss, The Tony Rice Unit, and the list goes on. Brock was also on Michael’s 2 Rounder solo projects in the early-mid 2000s: ‘Flamekeeper’ & ‘Let ‘Er Go, Boys’.
Brock’s solo effort, the IBMA award-nominated CD ‘Kickin’ Grass’ on Pinecastle Records includes an A-list of pickers and was co-produced with his former bandmate, Ron Stewart. In 2007, Brock co-produced Rick Lang’s album (w/long-time friend, songwriter/singer, John Miller), ‘Look to the Light”, another multi-award-nominated project. Rick Lang commissioned Brock and John Miller to arrange all the original songs and produce the album, which went on to be in the first round of the Grammys, the final round of the GMA Dove Awards, and the final round of the IBMA awards (2011).
Streamliner seems to have a lot of moving parts to it. Brock said that the most difficult part of a project and/or band like this, especially during a pandemic, is that it is nearly impossible to do much. Brock Brock & Streamliner is an all-star cast facing the obstacles of each member’s full-time band schedules. A string of further setbacks ensued: Brock had a partnership band dissolve in 2019 (Mainline Express) a position in Jeff Scroggins & CO. (early 2020) which also disbanded. Fortunately, the end of 2020 saw Fast Track come along and we have already recorded two albums with a third soon to be recorded, and an upcoming stint on Greg Blake’s solo album. Streamliner will have a full album release in June 2021.
“It will be exclusively booked as I am also in a full-time
band Fast Track,” Brock said. “I am getting traction on XM-Sirius radio as well as all the independent stations across the world. This is also my first project releasing a video. Objective: High-profile dates at a minimum is a starting point for this venture just because of the nature of the concept. Most are familiar with the Rounder label supergroup, ‘Longview’. This will be along the same lines and allow others to make more money and have more notoriety.”
The versatility of the fiddle attracted him at first, citing the fretless fingerboard which has that in common with the resophonic guitar or Dobro, but the call of the mandolin drew him in differently.
“I was getting proficient at age 8 on fiddle but the sounds of a whomping mandolin from Monroe set me afire and started excelling with it (at age 9) in my family band. I poured all my energy into being a supportive role in my family band. I was a self-taught mandolin player w/assistance of my oldest sister’s teaching of 3 chords, rhythm & how to keep time w/my foot. She created a monster…ha, ha! I had to compete with my father’s driving banjo and had to deliver.”
As for his band-member-versus-solo-artist struggle, Brock said he feels his sense of accomplishment when working on a solo career, but he understands the dynamics and benefits of the band experience.
“When working under others’ brands, their sound reigns, and conformity is demanded. Respect allows one to conform happily but a healthy paycheck sure helps. A solo recording/show/career draws upon all your knowledge to make the best choices yet is like starting all over from what you are known for. You are spotlighted to showcase your mind, skills, stage presence, etc. that may differ from another band you’ve been in. So, it is like a double-edged sword and sometimes scary. It could be very rewarding or a complete disaster.”
In recent years, Brock was an integral part of Michael Cleveland & Flamekeeper, recording two band albums awarded IBMA’s “Instrumental Album of the Year” (2009 & 2011), and the band winning “Instrumental Group of the Year” four years in a row (2007-2010). He recalled that time as a lot of hard work, sometimes rehearsing for eight to twelve hours at a time.
“My time with Michael Cleveland started all the way
back in The Dale Ann Bradley Band,” Brock recalled. “I was also on his solo projects that led up to the forming of his Flamekeeper band. We went on to make 2 band albums on the Rounder label, each receiving many awards. It was a good 4-yr run. I’ve heard that our version of “Jerusalem Ridge” has gotten over a million views. I was also told by Kyle Cantrell of XM/Sirius Satellite Radio, “…that it is still one of the most requested to date.”
So does his release “Kiss on a Cold Cold Stone” really nail down who Jesse Brock is?
“It could be,” he acknowledged, “and yet, the whole album celebrates my vision of the future of traditional bluegrass. It blends old and new with the technical edge yet strong rhythm that pulsates in the hearts of pure bluegrass lovers. I wrote the title track, ‘Streamliner,’ that shows a side of me never before seen. Yes, I dole out a couple of instrumentals too, appeasing those awaiting fast licks.”
Jesse Brock on mandolin & harmony vocals, guitar & bass (where noted)
Greg Blake on lead vocals & guitar
Barry Reed on bass (Lonesome River Band)
Russ Carson on 5-string and clawhammer banjo – (Ricky Skaggs)
Jason Carter on fiddle (The Del McCoury Band & The Travelin’ McCourys)
Bronwyn Keith-Hynes on fiddle (author of twin parts) – (Mile Twelve)
Josh Swift on resophonic guitar on noted tracks (14-yr. tenure w/Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver & now The Isaacs)
Rob Ickes on resophonic guitar on noted tracks. (Co-founder of Blue Highway and currently, their duo, Rob Ickes & Trey Hensley).
Streamliner is a definitive chess move to announce Jesse Brock as a producer of traditional yet fresh-sounding music. Brock’s sideman contributions for over 39 years advanced him to the producer of Streamliner, also adding his mandolin chops, solos, and backing vocals. Additionally, you’ll also hear Brock sharing his guitar and upright bass skills on a select few.