I posted a story about Kings in Disguise, a group with two members of Blue Sparks from Hell, Andy Goessling and Tim Carbone. Some years after KID dissolved in the misty miasma of time, The Lost Ramblers ran across a gem of a lad from Neuva IIersi named John Skehan, a very good piano player who set his sights on learning to play bluegrass mandolin. “Johnny Red,” as I came to call him, brought sanity, humor and his incredible musical sensibilities to a group in sore need of all of those things.
It didn’t hurt that he also typically brought his mother Lois and several nubile young fans to most jobs, so for a while we had an awesome band mom, which I miss more than the actual band. I love you, Lois Skehan!
There. I said it.
Anyhow, back to the story, John had long been part of the New Jersey music scene, and one day Carbone asked him to drop in and do a session to put together a demo tape for a new band. John never wasted an opportunity to play, and this one was a beaut. Nothing Carbone and Goessling had ever done had been anything less than sterling, and I was pumped for “our” John Skehan. I even hooked the band up to play the first Pocono Bluegrass and Folk Society WinterFest in Y2K, their first public appearance, although with a line-up a bit different than the one they settled on a few months later, if memory serves.
Soon after the tapes came out, the band booked Telluride, and the train was rolling.
I remember John coming to us, in his mind on the horns of a dilemma because Railroad Earth had made a big splash and he might be able to play full time, meaning he had to quit the Ramblers..
“Pish posh!” I told him, and told him he was crazy to even worry about it for an instant.
“Several thousand have done that for lots less compelling reasons,” I could have said to him.
He did worry about letting us down, though. He is that kind of guy.
Of course, two decades later, I think we all know he called that one right.
Railroad Earth, a group that began as a musical lark has quickly grown to be a juggernaut steaming across the country and entertaining packed houses. On November 28th and 29th, at 8 pm, the popular group will return from a grueling tour to the Sherman Theater, the closest thing to a home venue the band plays.
“We’re getting ready to play a show here in Birmingham. We played Chattanooga, Boston, Austin, Urbana, and we played at the Wood-Song Old Time Radio Show in Lexington. It was cool. The other act that they taped while we were there was Chris Theile and Edgar Meyer, the world’s best mandolin player and bass player. I think that airs in a month or so. We’re done Monday and then we have a bit longer of a break. We’ll be home until New Year,” said John Skehan, virtuoso mandolinist for the band.
The band’s latest release, “Amen Corner,” came out in June of this year, and was recorded at Sci-Fidelity Studios in Sussex County, New Jersey in a converted old home that made the experience a unique one.
“We had the drummer in the dining room, the bass player in the kitchen, the fiddler, Tim Carbone and I in a large room, and if you go to the link on our home page you can see Andy Goessling playing the banjo in the bathroom, sitting on the counter with his feet on the hopper,” laughed Skehan.
Fans of the band can access various videos documenting the recording session by going to the website and clicking the link for “Amen Corner”, where Skehan said they will find videos shot of the sessions by a professional friend of theirs.
Railroad Earth takes its name from a poem by Walt Whitman, and the genesis of the group is all about the music scene of Northwestern New Jersey and Eastern Pennsylvania. Fiddler Tim Carbone and now-banjoist Andy Goessling were the better part of Blue Sparks from Hell and Kings in Disguise, both highly popular groups that performed beginning in the 70’s. Then another wildly popular band named From Good Homes disbanded after cutting two albums with RCA, and that left the lead singer and guitarist, Todd Schafer, underemployed. The three got together with Skehan, who was playing bluegrass at the time, made a demo, and within months had been booked at major bluegrass festivals like Tellyride in Colorado.
Their music, featuring drums and electric bass, would be considered “newgrass” by most traditional bluegrass fans, but the players have deep experience with the more traditional varients of the music as well. Carbone plays guitar as well as fiddle, and his musical style ranges from old-timey and Cajun to jazz and swing. Goessling is also a mutli-instrumentalist who only began playing banjo when the band formed, and has been seen playing saxophone and clarinet simultaneously, while not playing mandolin or guitar.
Original songs penned by almost all of the group members make up the repertoire, which is full of high-energy music and acerbic lyrics that underscore the band members sense of humor. It’s a nature for all their fans, who call themselves “hobos” and jump at the chance to see the group perform.
As for the upcoming show in Stroudsburg, Skehan had kind and grateful words.
“We’ve always had a very good time there; it’s one of the best theaters in the region and makes for a great home-town show. To me, it’s such a nice theater and has such history. It’s cool that Berkowitz is making a go of it and keeping a large quality venue. It’s an important thing to have, especially in Stroudsburg, which is such a fine town,” Skehan said.