Singing Up There a Little at a Time
by Emerald Butler
The Easter Brothers are credited with helping pave the way for bluegrass gospel music, frequenting festivals and churches, and contributing several original songs to bluegrass gospel songbooks. The Lonesome River Band is honoring their contribution with their tribute album Singing Up There: A Tribute to the Easter Brothers. The band had early success with this project with the release of their “Little At A Time” single that features the bands’ musical prowess as well as the Brother’s common man lyrics.
“I had always wanted to do an all gospel project,” said the band’s leader and banjo player Sammy Shelor. “It was always on my heart and on my mind, but I had never really found the material that had fit us. I have listened to the Easter Brothers since the early ’70s. I knew their music pretty well and actually got to record with them later in their career.” After listening more closely to the Brother’s music, Sammy realized that the brothers’ vocals were pretty much structured like The Lonesome River Bands’ in 3 part harmony. “The more I listened to it, the more it made sense.” It’s a challenge to match the genetic magic of familiar harmony like the Easter Brothers had, and the Lonesome River Band didn’t try to duplicate that.
“You try to pay tribute to the feel of what they did, but instrumentally and vocally we would never try to duplicate. So, we just took the songs and thought about them in The Lonesome River Band context and did the songs like we would do them but try to keep the feel and message of the song.”
Faith has also played a big role in this project. It’s typical for artists to want listeners to be inspired by their music; religious-based or not. However, while driving to another engagement in his truck, Sammy shared his heart for the message that the Easter Brothers legacy inspired. “They were very devout in what they did. They had chances to do country music years ago and they turned that down because they wanted to serve the Lord and preach about him.” One of the reasons that Sammy has been so touched by this music is because of what he describes as common man lyrics. These are stories that someone with a degree from the school of hard knocks can easily understand. They’re not fancy. They’re simple, but that’s what makes the lyrics to these Gospel songs so relatable. Even in this modern day.
The Easter Brothers wrote over 500 songs. James Easters’ son, Jeff, helped the band sort through about 400 of them. A lot of the publishing information for the songs was gathered for the band by Jeff too. Sammy shared that it was very difficult to choose which songs to put on the album. They tried to stay away from songs that were the most popular Easter Brother songs like “They’re Holding Up The Ladder” and “Thank You Lord For Your Blessings On Me”. “We tried to find more obscure stuff, but really well-written songs,” Sammy said.
While working on the project, Jeff Easter told Sammy that he was surprised that no one else had done this kind of tribute for the Easter Brothers before. James Easter, the surviving Easter Brothers member, has heard about the new project, and Sammy shared that he’s very happy about it.