After just a year in business, Billy Blue Records scores a major coup in the bluegrass community by signing the legendary Doyle Lawson, Billboard has learned exclusively. Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver make their bow on the label with Live in Prague, Czech Republic, due Aug. 30. The 14-song set was recorded live before a sold-out crowd at Dlabacov Hall in downtown Prague.
“It’s a pretty good way to celebrate a one-year anniversary,” says Billy Blue A&R/creative director Jerry Salley, who launched the label on June 13, 2018, in partnership with Daywind Music Group.
“Doyle and I have been dear friends for nearly 30 years. He’s a legend. He’s in the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame,” Salley says. “It absolutely puts our label at the top tier to have someone of his caliber and strength of history, but the bottom line is not only is he an incredible musician and singer, but he’s an incredible person.”
Lawson is equally excited about working with Salley, an award-winning singer, songwriter and producer, who just received a nomination for the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. In fact, in the early ’90s, Lawson had tried to hire Salley as his lead vocalist, but his songwriting career was on the rise and he declined. Last year, Daywind Music Group president Ed Leonard tapped Salley to head up both Billy Blue and Daywind’s new Americana label, Billy Jam Records.
When Lawson’s deal was up at his previous label, Billy Blue seemed like the right move. “Life has many twists and turns, and I’d been with the label I was with for close to 15 years,” the 75-year-old icon says of his previous relationship with Mountain Home Music. “I just began to feel a need that maybe it was time for me to move on. There’s no ill will. So when the opportunity to do the live recording came about, I called Jerry and asked if he’d be interested.”
Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver recorded the new album on Jan. 26. “We are very pleased with it,” says Lawson, who still performs more than 100 dates a year with his band. “Live recordings are really hard to get to where you can make them user-friendly for radio because you’ve got all the elements of the environment, the room noise or whatever you have to deal with. Thankfully today with the knowledge that people have and the expertise, we can get a lot of that out.”
In considering locations for a new live record, Lawson chose Prague because of his fondness for the city and the enthusiasm of the fans. “That was my third visit to Prague,” he says of the January trip. “It’s a wonderful, beautiful old city. What enticed me so much even on my first visit is they are such warm people and they love music. People chartered a bus from Slovakia to come down to the concert and they all had T-shirts made with my picture on it. I was beginning to get writer’s cramps from signing all those shirts, but they were so thrilled.”
“Living Like There’s No Tomorrow” is the first single being released from the new album. “I had tears. It was so good,” Salley says of his first impression of the song. “I told Doyle, ‘People usually don’t want to start off with their first single being a ballad, but that’s just too good not to put out there.’ The audience starts applauding in the middle of the song before he ever finishes.”
Lawson agreed that the song was a strong lead single and also an opportunity to feature the band’s new vocalist Jake Vanover, who joined the outfit last December. The remainder of the band consists of Josh Swift on dobro, Joe Dean on banjo, bassist Jerry Cole and Stephen Burwell on fiddle.
“I’ve got a great crew. They are all hungry for the music, love it and want it to be good, and everybody gets along good,” says Lawson, who began his career 56 years ago when he landed a job playing banjo with Jimmy Martin and the Sunny Mountain Boys.
A 2006 recipient of a National Heritage Fellowship awarded by the National Endowment for the Arts, Lawson lives in Bristol, Virginia. Retirement is not in is vocabulary. He still loves making music and has no plans to slow down. “My mother’s philosophy when she turned 80, she said, ‘I’m not ever going to get old; I’m just going to die one of these days,’” he says. “She was about three months shy of 98 when she died. She never complained.”
Salley is thrilled to have one of bluegrass music’s greatest ambassadors joining Billy Blue, whose roster includes Joe Mullins & The Radio Ramblers, Appalachian Road Show and Donna Ulisse.
“Doyle is like the Energizer Bunny. He just keeps going and going,” says Salley. “He’s already talking about the next record and what he’s thinking about doing. I love that about him. He’s always looking forward.”