For Fiddling Prodigy Alison Krauss, The Key To Life And Music Is Setting Your Own Pace.
By Dave Irwin
JUNE 22, 1998: BLUEGRASS FIDDLER ALISON Krauss has some surprising musical tastes. "I love AC/DC," she laughs. "I like Tommy Shaw (Styx), Foreigner, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Bad Company, late '70s/early '80s hard rock, that whole era."
Her own music is nothing like that, of course. Steadfastly traditional, Krauss has carried bluegrass music to new heights of popularity. Since signing her first record deal at 14, she's become one of the premier fiddle players and vocalists in Nashville. She's been the youngest member of the Grand Old Opry since she was inducted at age 21.
Now 26, she already has nine Grammy Awards, as well as Country Music Association awards for Female Vocalist of the Year and Single of the Year in 1995, for "When You Say Nothing At All." Rolling Stone also named her Country Artist of the Year in '95, for her compilation album Now That I've Found You, which went double platinum. She's recorded with country artists such as Vince Gill, Alan Jackson, Clint Black, Merle Haggard, Emmylou Harris, Patty Loveless and Mark Chesnutt. She's also recorded with the Irish band Altan, rockers Bad Company and alternative group Phish.
She demurely offers no explanation for why she's in such great demand: "I don't know what it is; I just hope it's something good. I'm always so excited just to get a call."
Though her label, Rounder, is not a powerhouse in Nashville, Krauss says she sticks with them because they stuck with her before her blossoming success of the past few years.
"Back then," she says with her Midwestern twang, "I was 14 and as far as bluegrass being signed, it didn't even cross my mind to go anywhere else. All my favorite records were on Rounder--Tony Rice, Mark O'Connor. Early on there was a desire to go to the major labels, but not out of using my head. The way the labels court you is very flattering.
"At Rounder, they were more interested in seeing what you could become. They were into getting something recorded, not just sales. I get to work at my own pace, and we record exactly what we want to record. It's great."
She has renewed her contract with Rounder three times so far.
"I thank my lucky stars that I'm with them," she affirms. "I can't imagine anybody giving a 16-year-old girl control of her first album at a major label." Her seventh album, So Long, So Wrong, released last year, has already gone gold. The 14-song CD features straight-ahead, traditional bluegrass and several smooth-as-silk ballads.
Krauss tours relentlessly. Her band, Union Station, includes Ron Block on banjo and guitar, Dan Tyminski on mandolin and guitar and Barry Bales on acoustic bass. Everyone sings for those down-home harmonies.
"It's not flash--nobody hot-dogs," Krauss claims. "On their instruments, they're the best there is. Barry is my favorite bass player; I can't imagine going out without him. He and I have been playing together for eight years."
This tour, Union Station will be joined by dobro master Jerry Douglas. His distinctive style embellishes practically every country song recorded with a dobro over the past 10 years.
"He plays different things every night," Krauss marvels. "I stand next to him, and it makes me nervous."
Asked about her considerable fiddle technique, she replies modestly, "Boy, I don't really keep up with that. I just try to play the melody. I just try to keep it in tune and in time. That's my technique."
But perhaps the most telling statement about Krauss is her response to a query about the worst thing about the life she's chosen. Her voice softens as she replies, "Not being able to spend time with somebody you meet. You meet people and you'd like to spend more time with them, and you can't.
"One time, a guy gave me a picture of a girl that was sick, asking me to call her tomorrow, call her tomorrow. And I lost the picture with the phone number on the back. That girl will never know why I didn't call her," Krauss says quietly.
The incident was six years ago, and she still hasn't forgotten the call she wishes she'd made.
"The fans do more for you than you could possibly do for them," she states. "A lot of times, you're just treading water, wondering if you're really any good. There have been people who have played our records during a birth. To be able to touch a person's life like that with our music is just amazing."
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