Larry Cordle: Talent, Luck, and Encouragement
by Susan Marquez
Larry Cordle crossed an item off his bucket list recently – and it was one he never thought would happen. He was one of four singers to back up Dolly Parton for a song included in a new album released in September, Country Faith Bluegrass, on the Billy Blue record label. For over 100 years, “In the Sweet By and By” has graced church hymnals. Sanford Fillmore Bennett wrote the lyrics in 1868, and Joseph P. Webster composed the music. “I have always loved that hymn from my childhood,” says Cordle. “Both of my parents sang in quartets, and it was a popular song.”
Numerous artists have recorded the song, such as Elvis Presley, Louis Armstrong, Johnny Cash, Glen Campbell, Willie Nelson, Loretta Lynn, and Kenny Rogers. Over the years, Dolly Parton recorded it many times. The album version is a never-before-heard version, arranged by Jerry Salley.
“I’d do just about anything Jerry Salley had anything to do with,” muses Larry. “When he asked me to join him in singing backup vocals along with Carl Jackson and Bradley Walker, I was all in.”
Parton recorded her part, along with a guitar accompaniment, and sent it to Salley. He then built the arrangement around her performance.
“I loved singing the back vocals with Jerry, Carl, and Bradley in the style of the Jordanaires,” says Cordle. “We are all friends, and we all enjoy that style of music. I’ve gotten to do a lot of things in my life, but that was a highlight for sure. I’m really fortunate and really happy to have been a part of it.”
They recorded it at Gorilla’s Nest Recording Studio in Ashland City, Tennessee.
Cordle says he has been a Dolly Parton fan for a long time. “She is such a natural and a great performer. To me, she is one of the best all-time songwriters ever and one of my all-time songwriting heroes.”
Born and raised on a small family farm in eastern Kentucky, Cordle was introduced to bluegrass, country, and gospel music as a young child. His great grandfather, Harry Bryant, was an old-time clawhammer banjo stylist, fiddle player, and dancer. Because the family lived in such a secluded area, Cordle says they had to make their entertainment. His grandfather would play fiddle in the evenings and dance, and young Cordle would second after him on the guitar. He recalls many happy times spent in the old country store with Bryant, playing and talking about music.
“It was our escape into another world, something we grew up with and looked forward to. I was always happiest when we were in a jam session.”
As much as he loved it, Cordle never thought he could make a living with music. After graduating from high school, he spent four years in the Navy, then attended Morehead State University, receiving a bachelor’s degree in accounting. Working at a CPA firm during the day, Cordle played clubs at night. His commitments remained divided until he wrote a song that changed everything.
Ricky Skaggs was Cordle’s childhood friend and neighbor while growing up in eastern Kentucky. When Skaggs heard Cordle’s song “Highway 40 Blues,” he promised to record it one day. In the summer of 1983, it became the number one song in the nation, skyrocketing Skaggs’ already solid country music career while launching Cordle’s songwriting career.
At Skaggs’ urging, Cordle gave up the security of a full-time job and moved to Nashville to become a staff writer at Skaggs’ new company, Amanda-Lin Music. He learned the ropes from songwriters like Carl Jackson. “I had the talent God gave me, some incredible luck, and much love, help, and encouragement from my peers and family.”
The songs of Cordle’s band, Lonesome Standard Time, have been #1-hits on the Bluegrass and Americana charts, and a couple of nights a week, Cordle still plays at Nashville’s Station Inn. His lead and background vocals have enhanced some of Nashville’s most awarded music. His harmonies have blended with the voices of Garth Brooks, Blake Shelton, Bradley Walker, Billy Yates, Rebecca Lynn Howard, and co-writing pal Jerry Salley.
The new Country Faith Bluegrass album featuring “In the Sweet By and By” is exclusively available at Cracker Barrel Old Country Store locations.