By Marlana Ward
Hailing from the mountains and valleys of Western North Carolina and Northeastern Tennessee, a local music group is taking their musical heritage to the masses. Claybank, a bluegrass band based out of West Jefferson, North Carolina, has been drawing the attention of Nashville recording studios and bluegrass enthusiasts alike with their lively performances of traditional-style bluegrass music.
In January 2015, four men with a passion for bluegrass instruments and fun came together to found Claybank. The band chose its name because they do the majority of their practice and music development in the Claybank community of Ashe County. Band members include North Carolinians Gary Trivette, Jacob Greer, Zack Arnold, and Mountain City resident, Tyler Thompson.
Thompson’s love of bluegrass began at a young age. “I have always loved bluegrass,” Thompson remembered. “As a small kid, when we were in the car I used to ask my parents to ‘put Doyle Lawson on the radio’ all the time. My dad had a Smoky Mountain hymns videocassette that I used to watch all the time because I loved the music so much. I heard a cassette of Southern Accent, a local band that Gary was in when I was 10 years old and that’s when I decided I wanted to play bluegrass.”
As a young man Thompson began to feel his passion for bluegrass starting to wane and went to pursue other endeavors. “When I joined the Army Reserve at 18, I was at a point where I was actually kind of tired of music. I had spent all my teenage years doing nothing but playing in bands, contests, and things like that,” Thompson recalled. “I had big dreams like any kid would and wanted to do it professionally, but some discouraging setbacks had me ready to hang it up and spend my time doing something else. I went to basic training and then to San Antonio, Texas for several months and hardly even thought about bluegrass. I didn’t even pick up an instrument once for nearly a year, until I came back home and started working again. Gary called me in February of 2012 and asked me to play guitar for Carolina Crossing, and that rekindled my love of playing.”
With the formation of Claybank in 2015, the four men from the Appalachian Mountains have been able to take their love for their musical heritage to far beyond the hollers and hills that surround them. “We have played some small concerts for about 50 people and we have played some festivals to crowds of about 1,500,” said Thompson. “We have some shows coming up this year that may be some of the biggest we’ve ever played!”
Their entrance into the bluegrass community has not gone unnoticed. Recently, the band has had doors opened to them with a recording contract that could take their music even further than they could have dreamed. “It was almost surreal to a bunch of guys that initially planned to do no more than just play some local gigs on the weekends,” Thompson shared. “We met Andrea Roberts, who took us in, mentored us and became our manager. We then met with Sam Passamano and Steve Gulley at Rural Rhythm Records and they agreed to sign us. Since then we’ve been able to see our first single on the bluegrass charts as high as number two, our album debuted at number eight on the Billboard Bluegrass chart, and we are currently nominated for six Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music of America (SPBGMA), including Album of the Year and Song of the Year.”
For the rest of the story, pick up a copy of this week’s Tomahawk.