Alison Krauss & Union Station

The voice of an angel

by Doyle Tatum

Melody Hill was the Circle Sky Records official magazine while we were open between 2002 and 2010. This is the color cover of issue number 3. The photo was taken by me before Circle Sky even opened. We were at my house painting the LP, CD, and 45 stands for the new store. I had some primer left in the spray gun and while cleaning it out I painted Circle Sky on the side of my shed. I thought it would be funny to make it look like Donnie Thompson and Richard Golden had gotten in trouble for this and were being made clean it off!

I first heard the incredibly beautiful voice of Alison Krauss one Saturday afternoon while watching a PBS Country music show on GPTV. I believe I had tuned in to see Trisha Yearwood, but for me, Alison would steal that show. She performed The Beatles, “I Will”. I couldn’t believe my ears. The next day I was out purchasing Alison Krauss CDs! I have since attended several Alison Krauss & Union Station (AKUS) concerts including; Dahlonega Bluegrass Festival, Chattanooga Concert in the Park, Augusta Riverwalk Bluegrass Festival (twice), and The Variety Playhouse (Atlanta) where the Cox Family were the opening act.

Alison Maria Krauss (Bergeson) was born July 23, 1971, in Decatur, Illinois. Growing up in Champaign, Illinois, Krauss was your basic rollerskating, rock music-loving kid, with a few exceptions. “My family was very musical.

My mom played guitar and banjo, my dad sang in opera choruses, and my brother Viktor played bass (he’s a member of Lyle Lovett’s large band)” says Alison. At the age of 5, her parents would encourage her to take up the classical violin. She liked the instrument but not the regimentation of classical music.

“I studied classical violin until I was about 11,” she recalled, “but not really long enough to do any damage!” She heard John Pennell, then a graduate student at the University of Illinois, and his band Union Station, and became hooked on the combination of discipline and improvisation bluegrass playing requires. In 1983, when she was 12 years old, she won the Illinois State Fiddle Championship and the Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass in America named her the Most Promising Fiddler in the Midwest.

She was invited to make appearances with the Vincent Family’s popular “Sally Mountain” country music show, to fill in when the daughter (and future Bluegrass Entertainer of the Year award winner) Rhonda Vincent was on the road pursuing a solo career.

Krauss still counts Vincent as one of her favorite bluegrass singers, and Vincent remembers playing twin fiddle with Krauss when she’d come off the road for dates with the family show. The young Krauss also appears on one of Vincent’s early solo recordings. In 1985, Krauss made her recording debut on an album, playing on a record made by her brother Viktor, Jim Hoiles, and Bruce Weiss. The album was called Different Strokes and appeared on the independent Fiddle Tunes label. Later that year, she signed to Rounder Records. She was 14 years old
at the time.

“Too Late To Cry” would be released when she was 16. Six of the eleven tunes were penned by John Pennell who would invite Alison to join Union Station for her next album, the
1989 “Two Highways”. Only a year later, “I’ve Got That Old Feeling” would hit the streets.

The success of this album was unprecedented for bluegrass acts in the ’80s, winning her first
Grammy, and laid the groundwork for Krauss’ breakthrough in the ’90s.
John Pennell would move on to other work, but he remains one of Krauss’ favorite songwriters, and she credits him for opening
a door that led to her professional career in music.

More Rounder recordings are “Every Time You Say Goodbye” (1992), “I Know Who Holds Tomorrow” with The Cox Family (1994), “Now That I’ve Found You: A Collection” (1995) [RIAA certified Double Platinum], “So Long So Wrong” (1997) [RIAA certified Gold], “Forget About It” (1999) [RIAA certified Gold], “New Favorite” (2001) [RIAA certified Gold] and “Live” (2002).

AKUS has also recorded songs for Happy Texas, Divine Secrets of The Ya-Ya Sisterhood, Down From The Mountain, O’ Brother Where Art Thou?, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, The Prince of Egypt: Nashville, Tribute To Tradition, Midnight In The Garden Of Good and Evil, Anna belle’s Wish, The Songs Of Jimmie Rodgers: A Tribute, Country Dis ney: The Best of Country Sing The Best of Disney and Twister.

They have won 12 Grammy’s to date and were the first bluegrass band to be inducted into the Grand Ole Opry in 29 years. They have appeared on Austin City Limits… CBS Sunday Morning… CBS This Morning… CNN Showbiz Today… Good Morning America… Grammy Awards… Late Night with Conan O’Brien… The Late Show (BBC/UK)… The Late Show with David Letterman… MTV Europe… The Tonight Show with Jay Leno… TNN Grand Ole Opry Live and VH1 Europe. Alison also is sought after for her production skills.

She produced three Cox Family albums, the “Sweet Music Man” single for Reba McEntire, and both of Nickel Creek’s
albums. Six years before the Coen Brothers brought bluegrass music to popular notice and multi-platinum record sales with the soundtrack to the film O Brother Where Art Thou? Alison Krauss was there.

Her eclectic collection Baby Now That I’ve Found You (a 1968 hit for the Foundations), which included traditional bluegrass, old-time gospel, country, and a cover of the Southern rock shouter “Oh Atlanta,” (Bad Company) opened up ears and broke down doors. Listeners, intrigued with Alison’s haunting vocals, fiery musicianship, and adventurous song selection, purchased the record in platinum-selling numbers, driving it to top-10 status on both country and pop charts.

Though Alison has given bluegrass a face and identity in mainstream music (the Wall Street Journal recently called her “the best-known bluegrass singer in the world”), she’s built her career with decidedly non-mainstream decisions. Coming out of the bluegrass tradition, she’s upset purists’ by recording the songs of Shawn Colvin, Dan Fogelberg, Bad Company, and the Beatles. And, at a time when solo stardom is the rage, Krauss sees her band, Union Station, as the foundation of her musical presence, and consistently balances solo projects for all band members with group recordings.

Despite (or perhaps because of) her ventures outside the bluegrass norm, she’s earned the admiration of – and invitations to record with – top traditional and progressive bluegrass, including Ralph Stanley and Dolly Parton.

Although a major label contract is the goal of most top-selling artists, Alison has remained with Boston-based independent Rounder Records and publicly thanked them for letting her make her records her own way.

For Alison, that fierce streak of independence is about the song. “I just really want to keep on making better records, playing better, and see where the music takes us,” she said. Ten years ago, she told the New York Times the same thing. Asked if she was looking for super-stardom along the lines of Garth Brooks, for whom she was then opening, she remarked, “Garth has a great show, but that’s not my goal. My goal is to make good records.”

All the concert photos above and in the slide show up next were taken by me,
Doyle Tatum

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Author: Doyle

I was born in Atlanta, moved to Alpharetta at 4, lived there for 53 years and moved to Decatur in 2016. I've worked at such places as Richway, North Fulton Medical Center, Management Science America (Computer Tech/Project Manager) and Stacy's Compounding Pharmacy (Pharmacy Tech).

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