daho is not known as a hotbed of bluegrass, but The Grasshoppers is looking change that.
The quartet's self-titled debut on Doobie Shea is the culmination of six years together, according to Glen Garrett, a founder and their guitarist. The Grasshoppers' sound is "more like a Porter Wagoner/Dolly Parton type thing" than the traditional brother singing bluegrass is known for.
The Grasshoppers also include his son, Jeremy Garrett on fiddle/vocals, Randy Glenn on banjo/vocals and Honi Glenn on bass/vocals.
"Randy and I have been playing music for 20 years together," says the elder Garrett. "We met at a festival in 1978. We've been in and out of bands together and jam sessions."
"My son (Jeremy) has been around. He started playing fiddle at age three. Honi and Jeremy met at contest in Caldwell Idaho. Honi came in first, Jeremy came in second. They were in high school. They got to be good friends."
"Soon, we started having Honi come over to our jam sessions. She would sing with us. We taught her how to play bass so she could go onstage and perform with us. She was quick learner. So, we started taking her with us, and she started performing with us."
"Honi contributes a lot because she has distinctive voice. She sings the lion's share…Her vocals come through on harmony singing."
Though the band has an often hard-driving, bluegrass sound, one thing setting them apart from most bluegrass quartets is their lack of a mandolin player. The mandolin is considered by many purists to be essential for bluegrass."Never had a mandolin player in the band," Glen Garrett says. "It's a matter of economics. Trying to get started and break in on national scene, we can't afford to carry a mandolin player."
On the album, co-producer Dan Tyminski, of Alison Krauss and Union Station fame, plays mandolin.
Garrett says the album resulted from the band's growing popularity. "We started entering and winning band contests. Every win prompted us to go to next level. We won the contest at Rocky Grass (Colorado) and in Louisville, The Pizza Hut Competition in 1998."
"That made us 1999 International Pizza Hut champions – that gave us a lot of exposure at different festivals."
According to Garrett, "Tim Austin of Doobie Shea heard us at the International Bluegrass Music Association conference. He liked what he heard."
"He gave us a phone and asked us if we'd like to be on his label."
All the songs are originals. This is consistent with the band's live shows."We'll do some traditional songs on stage," says Garrett. "Come Back Darlin', Muleskinner Blues, etc."
"We felt that a lot of the traditional tunes had been done as well as they're gonna be done," Glenn says, adding, "We're songwriters…that's one of our strengths. We wanted to showcase that.
Glen Garrett says, "If you're going to play bluegrass, you walk a fine line. People expect some traditional stuff…(but) if you look at older traditional bands like Monroe and Stanley, they did a lot of original stuff, but still sprinkled in there were traditional tunes or songs that others had written. That's what we do."
Glenn penned 7 of the CD's 12 tunes, including 'Hold On My Heart,' 'Cold Dark Night' and 'Set Me Free."
Glenn, ex-wife of Randy, says she's been writing since she was 5. "My mother wrote a lot of music…I followed Dolly Parton a lot and admired her music."
"My songs include a lot of gospel influences. There's a little rock and roll in there…I like to be very expressive and individualistic."
"I was exposed to bluegrass by Jeremy. He gave me a tape of Alison Krauss. She has her own flavor. Jeremy went on to expose me to Del McCoury, Flatt & Scruggs and others."
Glen Garrett says that one of his band's goals is "becoming known and getting booked in east," something that has proven to be a bit of a challenge in years past. "I don't know if it's a process of eastern mentality accepting western bands or western bands performing more music that's into mainstream of what's going on back east."
He says, "It is becoming less of an issue of late if using the Pizza Hut Competition as a gauge. Western bands have won last several competitions."
"The whole west and east coast is becoming closer of late."
Garrett believes once the album reaches a wider audience and bookings increase, people will think of The Grasshoppers less as simply a band from Idaho."On some of our tunes, you can hear a west coast influence. (But) if people didn't know we were from Idaho, they would never know. Since they do know, they read a lot into it."