Starlett and Big John Bring Their “Perfect Fit” Musicianship to a New Record
by Kara M. Bachman
It’s not every day that we get to meet someone who performed on the Opry stage with bluegrass legend Bill Monroe. It’s even rarer to get the opportunity to be in a band with that level of street cred. For bassist and vocalist Starlett Boswell Austin, performing with such a musician — guitarist Big John Talley — had tremendous appeal. She met him when they were both filling in with another band in January of 2019.
“We both had been playing music all our lives and had the same friends growing up, and couldn’t believe we had never met before,” Starlett explained. “We had the same musical influences, and we liked the same music, same bands and it was down to liking the same songs. It was just a perfect fit.”
That “perfect fit” became the duo Starlett and Big John. According to Starlett, the pairing that required no extra accommodations or compromises still didn’t happen without a few surprises.
“When we were in the studio recording a song we had written, while I was not there, he recorded this awesome guitar break. It was literally out of this world. Very good, hard-driving, excellent picking…perfect…if it were being played as background music in a game of Mario Brothers or Tetris!” she said. “I was blown away. It was good, and I had no idea how I was gonna say, ‘no, I don’t think that is gonna fit right there, let’s get back to the basics.’ The joke was on me…ha-ha…he was joking the whole time.”
It sounds like a whole lotta fun, but for these two, performing has been serious business for each since childhood.
“My dad played, his dad played,” Big John said. “It’s been a generation of musicians I came up in.” He became hooked when as a child, his dad took him to Virginia’s Galax Fiddler’s Convention. “At 17, I won the VFMA [Virginia Folk Music Association] for the state of Virginia, male vocalist category. That same year, I also played with the Grand Ole Opry,” he said.
That happened because of the legendary father of bluegrass, Bill Monroe, who invited the teen guitarist to take to the Opry stage.
“I was the youngest to ever have won that male vocalist category in the state of Virginia,” Big John reminisced. “He heard that and said, I wanna hear him.”
It seems he liked what he heard!
Since then, he’s performed with various outfits, including New Dominion Bluegrass. His resume includes appearances with Monroe and The Bluegrass Boys, Jackie Phelps (Hee Haw), Tater Tate and Jodi Rainwater, and more. Talley fits it all in between work at a government job and being a husband to wife, Stephanie, and father to a six-year-old and a four-year-old.
As for his bandmate, Starlett started as a young ‘un as well. She was about four years old the first time she won a singing contest.
She started playing bass at age eight and performed for years as bassist and vocalist with Lawson Creek Grass before becoming
fifty percent of the new duo. She’s also the wife of 16 years to husband Josh, and parent of a six-year-old and a three-year-old. She lives not far from where she was born and raised in Cascade, Virginia.
Starlett and Big John are currently in the process of promoting their first CD, “Till the End of the Road.” The 12-track album includes a mix of originals penned by the duo and by experienced songwriters Keith Driver and Barry Rogers. It also includes Starlett and Big John renditions of older tunes by Earl Taylor, Bill Monroe, and more. Joining the duo in the studio were Jonathan Dillion (mandolin), David Carroll (banjo), and multi-instrumentalist and IBMA “Player of the Year” award-winner for both fiddle and banjo, Ron Stewart, who will deliver the fiddle for this release.
The passion of this great pairing is summed up nicely when Starlett explains what she loves about bluegrass.
“The sound, the songs, the lyrics, the drive, the artists, the heartfelt meaning in each line, and how the bluegrass world is like one big family,” she said.