He’s been a teacher, a sideman, and a producer, but South Carolina native Andrew Crawford is set to hoist his own banner in 2021 with the release of The Lonesome Season, a bluegrass odyssey that explores and shares his passion with an accomplished group of like minds. Embracing the guitar and a career in the studio and on the road as a teenager, Crawford’s impressive credits include spots recording and touring with Jim Lauderdale, Randy Kohrs, and Vince Gill. He’s begun stretching his legs in the arena of production, most recently helming Appalachian Hearts for fellow Carolinian Brandi Colt, who will be joining Crawford along with multi-instrumentalist Sterling Waite when the trio takes the stage at JBA on Friday, July 30th.
AI- You’ve got a background in bluegrass. Tell me what drew you to that and when you started playing music.
AC- I started playin’ when I was about 15 and by the time I was 17 or 18, I was already makin’ money doin’ it and already decided I wanted to make a livin’ doing it. I got a touring gig with a guy named Randy Kohrs when I was 20 out in Nashville. So I basically moved out there and managed to still go back and forth to college when I could. I started tourin’ with Randy and a guy named Jim Lauderdale. I don’t know if you’ve heard of Jim?
Of course, I have! I have met and spoken to Jim on a couple of occasions and he’s just a wonderful fella!
Yeah! Through playin’ with Randy, I got to play with Jim off and on for those years too, which was really cool. I did that about six or seven years actually, and then moved back home and kept on playin’ and started teachin’ more. Played mostly in the Southeast, did some more tourin’. When I was with Randy though, I got to play at the Ryman and I got to play all big major festivals, got to be on the Rachael Ray Show (laughs), and do a lotta cool stuff like that! In the last few years, I’ve been workin’ on gettin’ my own album out and bein’ a songwriter. I mean, I’ve been writing songs forever, but gettin’ my own music out and bein’ an artist myself!
Tell me about that time in Nashville. Were you able to do much studio work while you were there? Because it seems like that’s something that you do a lot of now.
Yeah, I did. That’s where I learned a lot of it. I played on Randy’s albums and played on some stuff with Jim. I played on quite a bit of people’s albums. With Randy’s albums, man, Rhonda Vincent was on there and Dolly Parton was on one of his albums! That was some pretty cool stuff! And then Jim was on Randy’s albums too! Randy’s albums still do well on the bluegrass scene.
Yeah, Jim’s big passion has always been bluegrass. I think if you gave him the choice between doin’ anything and nothing, he’d just rather play bluegrass for the rest of his days!
(Laughs) Yeah, man! A couple of years ago, I still play with the Jake Bartley Band, but I produced an album for them, and I was asked to go play at Vince Gill’s house. So I went there and played twice for Vince and Amy [Grant]. And I got Vince to be on that album that I produced for the Jake Bartley Band!
I was gonna ask about that! I watched a little video of you guys talkin’ about that experience and bringin’ in the song. He wasn’t there, but everybody at the house was kind of like, “Yeah, yeah, sure he said he’d sing on your album!”
Yeah (laughs)! That was pretty neat! And then the next time we went up and played, Vince was hangin’ out and stuff and it’s kind of a funny story, I got recruited into playin’ a song in a wedding– and Vince’s daughter sang it! So if you wanna talk about nerves? When your hero’s sittin’ there watchin’ you play guitar with his baby girl, who’s a phenomenal singer as well? Man, I was a ball of nerves playin’ a song I’d played a million times with his daughter singin’ it and him sittin’ in the crowd!
What’d he say afterwards?
Oh, he was cool! Vince was so great! He invited me to come up to the studio and told me anytime, he’d do anything for me if I ever needed it!
Let’s talk about what you’ve been doin’ now. Running From The Fire, that’s a fairly recent project that you’ve released as a full album. I’m assuming that’s only been digitally thus far?
Yeah, only digitally. I’m gonna have some prints on that done, but I’ve just been writin’ songs like crazy! Originally, I did that album to showcase my abilities in the studio in that I could produce full band stuff. So I put that album out and it’s done pretty well for me! Especially as far as gigs, and it seems like a lot of folks in the Red Dirt, Texas country scene have really liked it. And I’ve got a bluegrass album that’s about to come out as well!
Is that The Lonesome Season?
Yeah! It’s gonna come out on Pinecastle on Bonfire, which is kind of one company, and they picked [the album] up to be a label for me on that. So I’m gonna be pushin’ that one hard for XM radio, and I’m gonna go as hard as I can on that one! ‘Cause bluegrass is my passion as well!
So that will predominantly be bluegrass? On Running From The Fire, you’ve got some pretty heavily influenced bluegrass tracks like the title track, but this one will be in the more traditional vein?
Yeah, it will. I had some great players on Running From The Fire. I had Scott Vestal, he plays with Sturgill Simpson. He’s a buddy of mine and he played with Randy too. And then I’ve got Austin Tripp– he plays pedal steel with Cody Jinks– on that record. Well, on this record, man, I’ve got tons of some of the best singers and players in bluegrass! I’m all about gettin’ guests on my tunes! I got to be friends with all of these guys over the years and both of those albums, I basically feel like I’ve worked on ’em my whole life (laughs)! I tell people, “I spent 30 years makin’ this record!”
Do you have a release date for The Lonesome Season or are you still playin’ it by ear?
I actually have a meeting with the label, and we’re gonna talk about that. I’m gonna try to have a single out this summer and we’re pushin’ for the fall to get the album out.
You like to use scenes and moments from history as a backdrop for your songs. Are you generally a history buff?
I am, man! I’m more of a history nerd, I guess. I spend a lot of time readin’, studyin’, and the next album is gonna be the same way. I spend a lot of time divin’ into Civil War history, World War II history, and stuff like that. I just enjoy it!
Do you find that to be a go-to well for your creativity?
I do, man! I don’t generally write love songs, but history is just such a fascination. I can always sit down and write a history song. Like every time, I can sit down and write a history song. I don’t know if heard the single “Juliet’s War”? It’s a Civil War history song, but it’s also a Romeo-and-Juliet- type story. I try to find ways where I can incorporate and show how dark history was and at the same time relate it to things that people can relate to now.
Let’s talk about your production work. I don’t know if this is the most recent project you’ve been involved with, but you produced Brandi Colt’s Appalachian Hearts. You two actually, duet on the classic “So Lonesome I Could Cry”. How long have you been into producing other artists and what else are you workin’ on?
I wanted to start producing other artists right before COVID really kicked in, and when I produced the album for the Jake Bartley Band, I fell in love with the producing side of it for other artists. Not only just tryin’ to bring my ideas into it, but tryin’ to capture the sound that an artist already has. It kinda fell into my lap. I wanted to produce other artists but actually, once these singles started comin’ out, man, I started gettin’ more work than I could even handle! So now I’m producing for a guy named Jarrett Forrester. I got an album out for him, and I’m workin’ on quite a few more albums and singles for people. It’s been a really nice income stream, and it’s probably my favorite way to work these days.
You’re continuing to teach guitar, right?
Yeah, I do. For a while, that’s all I did was teach. I’ve had up to 50 students before with private lessons. That’s just kind of a swamp! I mean, I love teachin’, but now I teach about 12, 15 students, and I’m a little more selective with who I teach just based on my time. I love to teach. It’s one of the things I love to do, but I don’t want it to be all I do. I don’t want it to be like a day job.
With teaching, you have a particular focus when it comes to actual performing– not just the technique and playing, but actually being prepared to perform live.
Yeah, absolutely! I try to get students as early as their ability will allow to begin or to set something up even before they’re ready, to go ahead and enroll themselves in some kind of talent show or anything where they can work toward a performance. Because as a musician performs and it goes well, that’s all they want to do, man! It’s just cool! It lights the fire! It does, man!
You might also make that flip side argument that the first failure is very much like gettin’ thrown from a horse and havin’ to overcome that and get right back at it. I think that’s an important part of the process as well.
It is, but at the same time, I hate to sound this way for adults, but it’s almost impossible for new players and younger people to fail when it comes to performance, especially when it’s their first time. Even if they mess up or something happens, people still embrace it and they still get that. They still walk away usually wantin’ to do it again. I’ve never had a student perform that walked away from a performance, especially their first time, that just didn’t want to do it again!
You’ve got The Lonesome Season, you’re workin’ on havin’ that out in the fall, and at some point in time, you’ll get Running From The Fire printed up. Tell me what other irons have you got in the fire?
I’m really just startin’ to play more. I’ve been performin’ with Brandi Colt and stuff has really picked up for us. We’ve opened for Sunny Sweeney, we’ve been working with a lot of True Grit artists, and this summer I got a festival in Kentucky. We’re gonna be playin’ out in Oklahoma at Casper McWade’s ranch, and quite a bit of True Grit artists are gonna be on that. Just performin’ together, our show has really taken off where it’s just me and her and a little player.
Would that be Sterling Waite by any chance?
Now, I don’t know Sterling personally, but he has spent some time around this area where I’m at in Central Georgia, plays a lot with some guys out of Cochran, and just recently was performin’ on an album from a guy here named Andy Johnson. He just released an album called Help Yourself. So I see his name a lot and we know a lot of the same people, but I don’t believe he and I have actually ever met.
Sterling’s become probably one of my best friends, man! I’ve got two more tracks on the bluegrass album I’m finishin’ up, and he’s gonna be playin’ on those. We just really all clicked well musically together!