Shenandoah is a Grammy Award-winning American country music band known for its bluegrass and gospel-influenced neotraditionalist country sound. It was founded in Muscle Shoals, Alabama in 1985 by Marty Raybon (lead vocals, acoustic guitar), Ralph Ezell (bass guitar, background vocals), Stan Thorn (keyboards), Jim Seales (lead guitar, background vocals), and Mike McGuire (drums, background vocals). Ezell was replaced by Rocky Thacker in 1996, shortly before the band broke up and Raybon pursued a solo career as a country-gospel artist. Seals, Thacker and McGuire re-established the band in 2000 with keyboardist Stan Munsey and vocalists Curtis Wright and Brent Lamb. Ezell later rejoined on bass, with Mike Folsom taking over after Ezell's 2007 death, and following Lamb's and Wright's departures, Jimmy Yeary became the fourth lead vocalist.
Shenandoah has released nine studio albums, of which two have been certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America. The band has also charted twenty-six singles on the Billboard Hot Country Songs charts, including the Number One hits "The Church on Cumberland Road," "Sunday in the South" and "Two Dozen Roses" from 1989, "Next to You, Next to Me" from 1990, and "If Bubba Can Dance (I Can Too)" from 1994. The late 1994-early 1995 single "Somewhere in the Vicinity of the Heart," which featured guest vocals from Alison Krauss, won both artists a Grammy Award for Best Country Collaboration with Vocals.
The original lineup, circa 1994. Top, L-R: Stan Thorn, Marty Raybon, Jim Seales. Bottom: Mike McGuire (left) and Ralph Ezell.
Lead guitarist Jim Seales and drummer Mike McGuire formed Shenandoah in 1985 as a house band in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, with bass guitarist Ralph Ezell and keyboardist Stan Thorn, as well as lead singer Marty Raybon, who had been in his father's bluegrass band since childhood. McGuire invited songwriting friend Robert Byrne to one of the session band's shows. Byrne then invited them into his recording studio to record a demo, which he then pitched to Columbia Records' CBS Records division. The band first wanted to assume the name The MGM Band, a name which was rejected for legal reasons; CBS suggested Rhythm Rangers and Shenandoah as possible names, with the band choosing the latter.
1987 ? 1990: Shenandoah and The Road Not Taken
In 1987, Shenandoah released its self-titled debut studio album, which Byrne and Rick Hall produced. This album accounted for the band's first two charting singles in "They Don't Make Love Like We Used To" and "Stop the Rain." The latter was the band's first Top 40 country hit, peaking at #28 on the Billboard Hot Country Singles (now Hot Country Songs) charts. John Bush of Allmusic wrote that this album "leaned a little close to the pop-schmaltz they later rebelled against."
The Road Not Taken was the band's second album, released in 1988. This album's first two singles ? "She Doesn't Cry Anymore," previously found on Shenandoah, and "Mama Knows" ? brought the band to the Top Ten for the first time, respectively reaching #9 and #5. After these singles came three consecutive Billboard Number One hits: "The Church on Cumberland Road," "Sunday in the South" and "Two Dozen Roses," which Byrne co-wrote with Mac McAnally, a veteran songwriter and the guitarist in Jimmy Buffett's Coral Reefer Band. "Cumberland Road," with its two-week run at Number One, marked the first time in country music history that a band's first Number One spent more than one week at the top. This song was originally recorded by its one of its three writers, former Rockets and Billy Hill member Dennis Robbins, as the B-side to his 1987 single "Two of a Kind, Workin' on a Full House," which itself later became a Number One for Garth Brooks in 1991. The last single from The Road Not Taken, "See If I Care," reached #6 on Billboard and #1 on Gavin Report. On January 22, 1991, The Road Not Taken also earned a gold certification from the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) for shipments of 500,000 copies in the United States. Tom Roland of Allmusic gave this album four-and-a-half stars out of five, with his review saying, "The songs mix the day-to-day struggles of everyday-Joe with a steady respect for love, personal roots, and family." In the wake of The Road Not Taken's success, the band played 300 shows a year in 1989.
1990 ? 1992: Extra Mile and lawsuits
1990's Extra Mile was led off by the Billboard Number One hit "Next to You, Next to Me." Written by then-solo singers Robert Ellis Orrall and Curtis Wright, this song held the Number One spot for three weeks, thus becoming the band's biggest hit. After this song came "Ghost in This House," "I Got You" and "The Moon over Georgia. These peaked at #5, #7 and #9 respectively on Billboard, and the latter two were Number Ones on the Gavin Report charts. The album's final single, "When You Were Mine," stopped at #38 on Billboard in 1991. Also that year, the band won the Academy of Country Music's Vocal Group of the Year award. Alanna Nash of Entertainment Weekly gave Extra Mile a B rating, saying that it was "unflinchingly commercial" but adding that "the band goes beyond Alabama's jingoistic flag-waving and Restless Heart's vapid mood-brighteners to showcase intelligent ballads and jaunty rhythm numbers." An uncredited review in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette said that the band "proved that no matter how overcrowded the field is, there's always room for quality." This album also earned a gold certification in the United States.
Following the release of The Road Not Taken, a band from Tennessee threatened to sue Shenandoah over the use of the name. After a financial settlement was made with this Tennessee band, four other bands all filed lawsuits over the band's name. These lawsuits depleted the money that the band had been earning on the road, with Raybon asking the label to pay for one-third of the money. The label refused, leading to the band's filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in early 1991 after the band paid more than $200,000 on court settlements. Although the lawsuits allowed Shenandoah to keep its name, the bankruptcy filing terminated the contract with Columbia; as a result, the label's officials filed a lawsuit against the band, claiming that it had tried to void its agreement with the label. The band's last Columbia release was a 1992 Greatest Hits package. After Shenandoah's departure, there were no other bands on Columbia's Nashville division; as a result, producer Larry Strickland assembled three musicans to create a new band called Matthews, Wright & King in an attempt to keep a commercially successful band on the label.
1992 ? 1994: Long Time Comin' and Under the Kudzu
By 1992, the band had moved to RCA Records Nashville, with that year's Long Time Comin' being the band's first release for this label. This album was produced by Byrne and Keith Stegall, a former solo singer best known for producing Alan Jackson's albums. Leading off the single releases was "Rock My Baby," also co-written by Wright, which went to #2 Billboard and Radio & Records, and #1 on Gavin Report. After it came the #28 "Hey Mister (I Need This Job)" and #15 "Leavin's Been a Long Time Comin'," whose music video featured a guest appearance by Eddy Arnold. The band was nominated as Vocal Group of the Year at the Academy of Country Music again in 1992. Long Time Comin' received a three-and-a-half star rating from the Chicago Tribune, whose Jack Hurst said that it was "an excellent brand of rural-toned blue-collar music." Nash gave a B- rating for Entertainment Weekly, where she said that the album had a more country pop-oriented sound than its predecessors.
1993 saw the release of Shenandoah's sixth album and second for RCA, Under the Kudzu, produced by Brooks & Dunn's then-producer Don Cook. It was led off by the #15 "Janie Baker's Love Slave," which was written by "Burning Love" writer Dennis Linde. Following this song was "I Want to Be Loved Like That," which went to #3 on Billboard, #2 on Gavin Report and #1 on Radio & Records. The album's third single release, "If Bubba Can Dance (I Can Too)," became the band's fifth and final Billboard Number One. Raybon and McGuire wrote this song with veteran Nashville songwriter Bob McDill after seeing a television commercial for line dancing instructions. "I'll Go Down Loving You," the last single from the album, spent eleven weeks on the Billboard charts and peaked at #46. Under the Kudzu put a stronger focus on up-tempo songs than the band's previous albums did, a move which was met with generally positive reviews. Michael Corcoran of the The Dallas Morning News called it "their strongest album to date," and Jack Hurst gave it three stars, saying, "Shenandoah carries most of this album with impassioned vocals rather than superior song content."
1994 ? 1995: In the Vicinity of the Heart and collaborations
In May 1994, Columbia's parent company Sony BMG released ten of the band's Columbia songs in a Super Hits compilation, which was certified gold in 2002. Shenandoah also collaborated with country and bluegrass singer Ricky Skaggs on the tribute album Keith Whitley: A Tribute Album, recording a cover version of Whitley's "All I Ever Loved Was You."
Later in 1994, the band left RCA for Liberty Records, which was then the Nashville division of Capitol Records. RCA gave Liberty the master recordings for a nearly-completed album, to which Liberty added "Somewhere in the Vicinity of the Heart," a song featuring guest vocals from bluegrass musician Alison Krauss. Liberty released the album in November 1994 as In the Vicinity of the Heart, with the #7-peaking "Somewhere in the Vicinity of the Heart" also serving as lead-off single. Vicinity became the band's fastest-selling album, and the first 175,000 copies were distributed with prepaid telephone cards which included an 800 number that could be called to receive a greeting from the band members. The album also produced the band's last Top Ten hit in "Vicinity"'s B-side, "Darned If I Don't (Danged If I Do)," which Brooks & Dunn's Ronnie Dunn wrote with Dean Dillon, a veteran songwriter and former solo singer best known co-writing several of George Strait's singles. After it came another Linde composition, the #24 "Heaven Bound (I'm Ready)," and finally the #40 "Always Have, Always Will," the band's last Top 40 country hit. Jim Ridley gave the album a two-and-a-half star rating in New Country magazine, citing the vocal performances on the title track and "I Wouldn't Know" as standouts, but saying that the rest of the album did not take any risks.
In July 1995, Raybon released a solo gospel music album for Sparrow Records, and in October of the same year, the same label released a multi-artist country-gospel album entitled Amazing Grace ? A Country Salute to Gospel, to which the band contributed "Beulah Land." Shenandoah also covered The Beatles' "Can't Buy Me Love" on the mid-1995 album Come Together: America Salutes the Beatles. "Somewhere in the Vicinity of the Heart" won Shenandoah and Krauss won the 1995 Grammy Award for Best Country Vocal Collaboration and Country Music Association award for Vocal Event, and "Darned If I Don't" was nominated for Grammy Award for Best Country Vocal by a Duo or Group the same year.
1995 ? 1997: Now and Then and departure of members
In December 1995, Ralph Ezell left the band, with Rocky Thacker taking his place on bass guitar. By 1996, Stan Thorn left as well, and Liberty Records was renamed Capitol Records Nashville. The band's only album for Capitol, 1996's Now and Then, comprised re-recordings of eight Columbia singles, plus the original recording of "Somewhere in the Vicinity of the Heart" and five new songs. Among these new songs was the album's only single, "All Over but the Shoutin'," which peaked at #43 on the country charts in 1996. Nash gave this album an A- rating in Entertainment Weekly, saying that Raybon's voice "beautifully capture the rites of passage in Small Town, USA." Larry Stephens of Country Standard Time also reviewed the album favorably, saying, "The familiar hits on this album have all been re-recorded, but they've lost none of their familiar and loved sound." William Ruhlmann was less favorable in his Allmusic review, giving it two stars out of five and referring to it as a "stopgap." A Christmas music album entitled Shenandoah Christmas followed in September 1996.
Marty Raybon and his brother Tim recorded one album as the Raybon Brothers for MCA Nashville Records in mid-1997, also charting at #37 on the country charts and #22 on the Billboard Hot 100 with a rendition of the Bob Carlisle song "Butterfly Kisses." Marty continued to tour with Shenandoah until the end of the year, when the band broke up and he sold the naming rights. In 2000, he released a second solo album and charted at #63 on the country charts with "Cracker Jack Diamond," his only solo chart single. Raybon has remained a solo artist, while Thorn self-released a solo jazz album in 2001.
2000 ? present: Reunion and Shenandoah 2000
In 2000, Seales, McGuire and Thacker re-established the band with new lead singer Brent Lamb, as well as songwriter/keyboardist Stan Munsey and guitarist/vocalist Curtis Wright, who co-wrote "Next to You, Next to Me" and "Rock My Baby." The former was a collaboration with former solo singer Robert Ellis Orrall, with whom Wright recorded on Giant Records as the duo Orrall & Wright in 1994. Before Orrall & Wright, Wright had been a solo artist for the Churchill and Liberty labels (including a self-titled solo album for Liberty in 1992), and he was a member of the Super Grit Cowboy Band in the 1970s and 1980s. In 2000, the new lineup recorded the band's next album, Shenandoah 2000, under the Free Falls label. It produced the band's last chart single in the #65 "What Children Believe." Jolene Downs of About.com gave this album a positive review, saying that it was a "very strong country album" and "a slightly different sound from the original group, but not bad at all." The band toured small venues in 2001 to promote this album.
Lamb left in 2004, with Wright succeeding him on lead vocals and original bassist Ralph Ezell later returning to the lineup. In 2006, the band released the album Journeys on the Cumberland Road label. Ezell died on November 30, 2007, and Mike Folsom succeeded him on bass guitar. Also, Wright left the band to join a re-established Pure Prairie League, and songwriter Jimmy Yeary took over as lead singer. Yeary and McGuire co-wrote a song entitled "You Never Know" as a tribute to Ezell, which was recorded by Darryl Worley on his 2009 album Sounds Like Life. Shenandoah has continued to tour in 2008 and 2009 with Yeary on lead vocals, mostly playing at community festivals and county fairs.
John Bush of Allmusic calls Shenandoah "one of the first groups to rebel against the urban cowboy image of the '80s and lead the way to the new traditionalism of the '90s." Pamela Shelton of Musician Guide referred to the band as "one of the most consistently admired country bands of the 1990s" and referred to Raybon's lead vocals as "lean, raw emotive." Raybon's vocals have also been described as "blend the soulfulness of rhythm and blues with the lonely intensity of great country music." Alanna Nash has described the band's work as relying on "sentimental lyrics revolving around the Southern experience," and said that the band "forged its very commercial reputation on a soulful gospel-and-bluegrass blend, with lead singer Marty Raybon's searing sincerity making even the tritest songs about small-town Southern values and attitudes memorable;" Shelton also made note of the band's gospel influences in the vocal harmonies of songs such as "Heaven Bound," while Logan Smith of the St. Petersburg Times said that the band has "woven together a highly polished sound built around precision musicianship and pristine harmonies, very much a hybrid of Raybon's bluegrass roots."
Mike Folsom ? bass guitar
Mike McGuire ? drums
Stan Munsey ? keyboards
Jim Seales ? lead guitar
Jimmy Yeary ? lead vocals, acoustic guitar
Ralph Ezell ? bass guitar
Brent Lamb ? lead vocals
Marty Raybon ? lead vocals, acoustic guitar
Rocky Thacker ? bass guitar
Stan Thorn ? keyboards
Curtis Wright ? lead and background vocals, guitar