An Interview with Renaissance Man and Musician, Larry Stone of The Stoneman Blues Band
After working as a ski jump coach in Lake Placid for twenty years, Larry Stone has made a definitive return to playing music, with his band The Stoneman Blues Band. Their newest album, Dreams Die Hard, was released in August 2008. Besides being a musician and a ski jump coach, Stone and his wife, Meg, also run Little Black Brook Farm in Wilmington, where they raise free range beef and eggs and participate in the local farming community. The Stoneman Blues Band includes Stone on guitar and vocals, Mick Changelo on bass, Jeff Lefebvre on drums, and Drew Sprague on vocals and guitar. Stone also has a second band, The Stoneground Express Trio, incorporating the same members, except for Sprague. I recently had a chance to catch up with Larry to find out a little more about him and his music.
The Free George: How did you decide on the name Dreams Die Hard for the return album?
Larry Stone: There were a number of reasons. It was giving notice that I’m back to playing music after a 20-year detour. It’s also for two of my good friends who passed away around that time: Marianne Fairall, who worked with our ski jumping program and helped my wife in her battle against cancer, and Stephen Bruton, a renowned Texas guitarist, songwriter and friend, who passed from cancer in May 2009.
TFG: Twenty years is a long time. What made you decide to take the detour from music?
Larry Stone: Well, I’ve been playing gigs whenever I could that wouldn’t interfere with my coaching work both with the US Ski Team and the Lake Placid Ski Jumping program. But I had to support my family as my two daughters were growing up and see them through school. Now that they’re off and running in their own lives and careers, I decided it was time to get back to music, while I still could.
TFG: Would you consider the new album to have an entirely different sound than Rockin’ Bones?
Larry Stone: The album definitely has more of a country and blues feel. Twenty years had elapsed since Rockin’ Bones, and one naturally grows into different approaches and sound, if you stay in an evolving mode.
TFG: Do you have any favorite songs off the album?
Larry Stone: I think my favorite song from this collection is the “Ballad of Shorty,” which tells the story of a young Hereford bull that escaped from my farm not long after arriving. Whenever we start this song in a show, it always makes me feel really good.
There are also two other songs on the album that are especially important to me: “Dreams Die Hard,” which was inspired by Marianne Fairall, as she fought so hard against her cancer. And the final one, “Down the Track,” which came to me when Stephen Bruton was fighting his final battle against throat cancer. The same illness almost claimed my wife a few years ago. We were so incredibly lucky that she survived, but it creates a profound sense of why does one person lose this battle and another person is spared.
TFG: You played with Bruton when you were in Fort Worth. How would you say your time in Fort Worth has influenced your music?
When I was there in 1974, Fort Worth was a very seminal musical source point, where blues met up with country music; the result was a wonderful blend of these influences. I was only there for a short time, but I was influenced by people like Delbert McClinton, Glen Clark, and definitely Stephen Bruton. I also had the pleasure of seeing T-Bone Walker in a club playing with one of the many Fort Worth Blues bands that my friends were involved with.
TFG: I was also intrigued by the cover art on the new album, is that from your farm?
Larry Stone: It is a shot from my farm—an old truck from the 30s that’s sitting in a pasture. My friend Sue Bibeau did the artwork; she’s done a lot of CD/record album designs, and she really came up with some great ideas for this one.
TFG: I know a lot of musicians have favorite instruments. Do you have a favorite guitar you like to play?
Larry Stone: I have a few different ones I play. If you listen carefully, you’ll hear my 1931 National steel Triolia guitar on “Dreams Die Hard” and “Haselton Blues.” I use my ’56 Telecaster for most of the other songs. On the CD, I play both acoustic and electric guitars.
TFG: There’s another band who plays with you on the album as well?
Larry Stone: Yes, Lost Country, a band from Fort Worth, Texas. They also play guitar on the album, along with members of my own band. It was a really fun album to make with some very talented musicians.
TFG: Regarding your band, are these the original members from when you first started?
Larry Stone: There’ve been several incarnations of The Stoneman Blues Band. Only Jeff Lefebvre on drums has been with me consistently. Drew has been playing with me since 2004 and Mick came on board this past year.
TFG: Who have been your major influences?
Larry Stone: I’ve had many. Besides the musicians in Fort Worth, I’ve been lucky to learn from blues man Earl Cotton in the Oakland, California area, as well as many others, including Jim Colegrove, David Wilcox from Toronto, and Amos Garrett. I love to play slide in some contexts but I love it all. I’ve always been drawn to James Burton’s sound and am a big fan of steel player Ben Keith, who plays with Neil Young, but was a part of the Woodstock group of musicians I got to know in the 70s.
My main musical mentor has been Jim Colegrove, who in addition to being a fine musician, is an immensely knowledgeable student of American roots music and has turned me on to so much of the evolution of American music. He produced both Rockin’ Bones and Dreams Die Hard and has been a major figure in my musical life. He has a website, www.thecoolgroove.com, you should check him out. He’s played and been involved with some great American musicians.
The Stoneman Blues Band / The Stoneground Express’ Upcoming Shows:
July 24th – The Galley at Westport Marina, 20 Washington Street, Westport NY
To learn more about Larry Stone and either of his bands, visit www.littleblackbrook.com
–Deb Handy is an Assistant Editor of The Free George.
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