Styx's Tommy Shaw Goes Bluegrass; Mobilizes Band Fan Base
From classic hits with Styx to his work with Damn Yankees and Shaw/Blades, guitarist Tommy Shaw has crafted a diverse résumé. But never has the veteran rocker taken a more adventurous detour than on "The Great Divide," a bluegrass collection released March 22 by Pazzo Music/Fontana Distribution.
"It's timeless music," Montgomery, Ala., native Shaw says. "Bluegrass is just like an old friend; it's rooted in my past."
Shaw co-produced "The Great Divide" with Brad Davis and Will Evankovich, enlisting a stellar cast of musicians and special guests that includes Alison Krauss, Jerry Douglas, Sam Bush, Rob Ickes, Stuart Duncan, Byron House, Gary Burr and Dwight Yoakam. Shaw also wrote or co-wrote every track on the album, which will be released on CD, vinyl and digital formats.
"I've written a lot of rock songs, but they don't necessarily lend themselves to telling a straightforward story," Shaw says. "Bluegrass has the same sort of thing as gospel: You can tell a story about somebody falling down a hole or some terrible thing happening, but there's redemption in it."
Standout tracks include triple A-targeted first single "Shadows in the Moonlight," a Shaw/Burr co-write about a girl falling for a guy from the wrong side of the tracks, and the tear-jerker title track, penned with Ohio-based writer Paula Breedlove. The song also provided the perfect album title, Shaw says: "I'm kind of reaching across that great divide from rock to bluegrass."
In addition to lining up print and Web interviews for Shaw, Fontana is mobilizing Styx's fan base by canvassing syndicated rock radio, engaging its online community and enlisting street team efforts during stopovers on the group's current concert schedule. A special feature also ran on music website TheComet.com, "The 11 Days of the Great Divide." Each day focused on a different song from the album, accompanied by an audio stream of the song plus Shaw's comments about the story behind each track.
"You can't expect a rock guy to be instantly welcomed when he branches out like this," Shaw's manager Sterling Bacon says. "Getting solid traction within the bluegrass and Americana communities will not happen overnight. So we're taking a targeted approach there. We want to find those early believers and credible voices who can help spread the word."
Word will no doubt spread following Shaw's March 26 debut on the Grand Ole Opry. Acknowledging it will be a night he'll never forget, the rocker is relishing the journey he's on with "The Great Divide."
"Anything that happens with this record is like icing on the cake," he says, "because the experience has been so much bigger than I ever anticipated. I wish I could go back in time and become a bluegrass player who's been playing for 30 years."