The Time Jumpers Say Their Final Goodbyes to Late Member Dawn Sears on 'Kid Sister'

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The Time Jumpers perform at The Empire Polo Club on April 24, 2015 in Indio, Calif.

Monday nights at Nashville's 3rd and Lindsley, many of the town’s most talented individuals get together to play music that ranges from traditional country to Western Swing. If you’ve never been to the club, you definitely need to hit the Music City nightspot to catch The Time Jumpers in action. Get there early, though. Seats tend to fill up rather quickly -- especially since artists like Miranda Lambert and Sheryl Crow have been known to sit in with the band. 

One famous fan of the Time Jumpers, Vince Gill, even joined the group back in 2010.

“You have this group of people that weren’t in their youth trying to be The Beatles," Gill says. "They weren’t trying to achieve stardom. You could sense from the first note of the first song that you hear from them, that there was this joy. You think ‘Here’s some people playing music for exactly the right reasons.’ The musicianship was what you were drawn to.

“I’m from Oklahoma, and a large part of my upbringing is that music, and to me, there was a lot of people who might play Western Swing, but they didn’t play it the right way. They never played it with the dance and the bounce that Bob Wills and those guys played it with. It lacked that swagger, that dance hall sawdust, Texas roadhouse vibe. That’s what puts the real joy in it.... Playing in this band has made me a better musician."

Founding member Kenny Sears tells Billboard the secret to their appeal. “We’ve always just focused on the music,” he says. “We never set out to try to be successful. We never thought there was any real chance of that. We just got together and started playing music for the love of playing music and having fun. The crowd sees that. We’ve been doing it since 1998, and we agreed then we’d do it as long as it was fun. It’s still fun, so we’re still doing it.”

On Friday (Sept. 9), The Time Jumpers release Kid Sister, their second album for Rounder Records. Titled in honor of member Dawn Sears, who passed away from cancer in December 2014, the album features her vocals prominently on the opening cut “My San Antonio Rose.” Kenny Sears, who is Dawn’s widower, says it was among the final tracks she cut before losing her voice.

“We actually started working on this album back in 2014, and we came in and cut some tracks. That was the first thing we recorded. Dawn had been singing that live. We wanted to do something familiar while we were getting the levels set, so we recorded that. We liked the track, and I thought about giving it a try and singing it. Pieces of it came out ok, but some of it was too low and not really in my key. Vince got in here, and started messing with it, and discovered the lines she wanted to fix were the ones I got, and vice versa. He put the two together, and ended up making a duet out of it.”

Gill said he considered it an honor to make Sears’ final work as good as it could be. “All we really had was her tracking vocal, which 80 percent was great. But, I knew she’d come back from upstairs and lynch me if I put out anything on her that wasn’t up to her standards. As I listened to it, I wondered ‘maybe we can make this a duet.’ So, I called Kenny, and asked him to come over and let me mess with it. So, luckily, it worked out. To me, it actually makes a better duet than it does someone singing a solo song. It lyrically lends itself to being a duet.”

Dawn -- who was also Gill’s harmony singer on the road for over two decades -- is given a fond farewell on the touching closing title cut. Gill is equally proud of the arrangement, which gives each member a chance to say (or play, as it is) ‘goodbye.’

“I think when you’re really moved by somebody in your life, and they’ve had an impact on you, it’s very easy to write because it matters so much. All I had to do was be honest, and remember my truth, and everything that I had in my heart for Dawn. Then, in the arranging, I wanted to give every one of the musicians a chance to play, and have it be as emotional as possible. In this band, the singing and the playing is all kind of equal. The vocal of mine is all live. I didn’t fix any of it, because of the emotion. I sang that song for her a few days after her passing, and then at the service. It was tough to get through, but the truth is always the easiest to write. You don’t have to make anything up. That’s how I felt about my little kid sister. That’s how I felt about her.”

There are also some upbeat moments on Kid Sister. Doug Green contributes some authentic Swing on the Hank Penny standard “Don’t Roll Those Bloodshot Eyes At Me,” and Billy Thomas (also a Gill band member) contributes “Blue Highway Blue,” which would make Owen Bradley grin with pride. Gill had nothing but praise for his contributions to the album – and the track.

“Billy Thomas is one of those secret weapons. I first met him in the 1980s. I hired him to do some background work. We just hit it off, and exchanged numbers. He told me he was a drummer, and I said ‘Are you kidding me? A singing drummer? I have a job for you if you want one.’ Bang. We’ve been playing together ever since. I’ve always known what a great singer Billy Thomas is because he sings with me. To me, that’s another element of this band that is the most rewarding from my seat is watching people discover people that they weren’t aware of. They know Ranger Doug. They know me. Dawn was kind of a secret weapon. A lot of people didn’t know that much about her, but when she opened her mouth, then they did. Then, it was game over. Billy’s the same way. It’s fun to watch people discover something they didn’t know.”

All in all, Gill says the band has taken on a life of its own -- one that never ceases to amaze him. “It is compelling to get to do something that you don’t normally do that is nothing but fun. And, it’s morphed into more than any of us thought that it was going to. On top of playing fifty Monday nights a year, we also play thirty or forty on the road, so it’s even more than we even anticipated.”