United States of Bluegrass
The Members of Crandall Creek Reside in Different States but Live Together in Spirit
By Stephen Pitalo
When band members’ homes are separated by state lines, the challenge of a band can be multilayered, both in terms of personal proximity and consistent communication. Crandall Creek is a true combination that mixes its members’ folk, acoustic country, gospel, and Appalachian sounds and influences to near sonic perfection.
Their members aren’t that spread out, although on paper it might sound like it: Jerry Andrews (guitar & vocals) is from Moundsville, WV; Kathy Wigman Lesnock (vocals) is from West Finley, PA; Dustin Terpenning (banjo, mandolin, and guitar) is from Winterville, OH, Heather Wharton (fiddle & vocals) is from Cumberland, MD, and Lilli Gadd (upright bass, vocals) is from Wheeling, WV.
The sounds the band members heard in their youth drew them to performing, especially founder Jerry Andrews, having been raised in a rural setting.
“I grew up listening to Mac Wiseman, Flatt & Scruggs, Johnny Cash, Hawkshaw Hawkins, and a mix of the old country. In high school, I played in a rock band; Jimi Hendrix, Deep Purple, Foghat, Golden Earring, and my hero, Jimmy Page with Led Zeppelin, but the sound of bluegrass never left my soul.”
Andrews named champion fiddler Little Earl Sampson, a local who was “light years ahead of his time,” as his hero and idol, among other influences and favorites.
“He played with major orchestras as well as local square dance bands,” recalled Andrews. “I love to listen to our executive producer Valerie Smith and Liberty Pike, Volume 5, Alan Bibey, and you just can’t beat Steve Gulley. My foundation has a project in the works right now to help the Gulley family out.”
He started the band after going to a Donna Ulises songwriting/concert event at Glenville State College in West Virginia.
“Donna, Rick, and Greg Davis — called Papaw — were so encouraging,” Andrews said. “They’ve all become dear friends. And Kathy Sacra Anderson, Donna’s manager was a huge part in the foundation I run, Bluegrass Music Endeavors Foundation, the only bluegrass foundation of its kind in the country.”
“Lilli, our bass player, and vocalist, I found doing a show on Facebook, Kathy was introduced to me by our sound engineer/producer, Jamie Peck. Our guitar player Roger Hoard (personal guitar teacher of Brad Paisley) I’ve known since mainstream country in 1982, Dustin, a monster banjo, mandolin, and guitar player was referred by a former band member and our fiddle player, Heather Wharton was referred to us by Wally Hughes, fiddle player with Valerie Smith and Liberty Pike. Valerie is our executive producer and we are on her label, Bell Buckle Records. We love Valerie to pieces; she is the hardest working person in the industry. And she’s A LOT of fun, and super intelligent!”
Although they hail from four different states, Andrews said it’s never been a problem.
“Only Heather lives more than an hour away,” Andrews said. “She’s about three hours away and has young ones so we work with her to make that all fit. I think a lot of bands at the national level face this obstacle.”
He also said that the band’s process of songwriting is solitary and yet collaborative.
“I write by myself a lot as I write every day,” he said. “Kathy Wigman Lesnock also writes by herself but we also write as a band. We love having our banjo/mandolin player Dustin Terpenning there as he comes up with some unique chord changes. Lilli Gadd also finds some really neat musical changes and adds a nice flavor with lyrics. Our music is a true capitulation of all our efforts. Roger Hoard’s guitar playing inspires a lot of our writing also.”
“We actually have not recorded any covers except on album #1 which was self-produced,” he also pointed out. “Album #2 is totally original, and we are almost finished with album #3. There are some killer songs to be released yet from #2 and # 3 has some screamers on it, we are excited. ‘Drivin’ Me Insane’ has 18 weeks in a row on the Top Ten chart. ‘This Heart of Mine’ debuted at #1. We are so grateful, blessed, and lucky. We also work our tails off and have an incredible sound engineer/producer, Jamie Peck, who himself has an Emmy and has recorded Brad Paisley, and executive producer Valerie Smith. We are just so grateful for all of these people that make this possible.”
Andrews also said that home is where the heart is, especially when it comes to performing, but that doesn’t stop the band
from traveling for shows.
“We love our hometown venue, The Historic Strand Theatre is our favorite venue to play, but we’ll play anywhere and love it, and we’ll travel. Just ask us! We do a lot of shows at the Rail Yard Restaurant in Elkins WV for Cass Scenic Railroad We hold the contract for that venue. Tom Dennison with Mountain Rail and Valerie Braden with the Rail Yard Restaurant are both spectacular people. We played 50 shows there last year. Talk about a way to tighten up a band. We also donate 10% of our festival earnings to a charity that the event coordinator and the band feels is deserving and receives 100% of the donation. This is our way of giving back.”
Though it’s very tough for Andrews to pick a favorite song to perform live, he settled on “Drivin’ Me Insane.”
“The audience gets into the driving soul of that one,” Andrews commented. “But honestly, we have several driving songs and they are all a blast to play each and every time we do them. Also, our ballads are well received, and I’ve seen people crying during Goin’ Down Home. The band teases me about that. They say it’s my singing that’s making them cry.”
The title of their recording Goin’ Down Home came together because of something heard at a funeral, according to Andrews.
“I was at our preacher Tony Huntsman’s grandmother’s funeral,” he recalled. “Whether they were related or not, they all loved her so much. Everyone speaking referred to going to see her as ‘going down home.’ I wrote that one in my head while sitting there. Fifteen minutes after arriving home it was scratched into my voice recorder on my phone.
Andrews said there are a few differences
between their first and second albums, as well as the present project.
“We are very proud of Goin Down Home,” he said. “It was self-produced, however. Album #2 was produced and recorded by Jamie Peck. Valerie Smith is the Executive Producer. It’s a super professional recording from start to finish. We have a lot of hours in album #2 and I think it shows. It was so much fun making. For each of these, we have been blessed to have assembled this group of talented individuals.”
“We are all from different walks of life with music as our common bond,” he explained. “We believe in God, our country, and each other and we truly appreciate ALL the fans and DJs who spin us. Without the fans and DJs, we are 6 people listening to one another. And we love it so much we’d still get together. But so appreciate the fans and DJs.”