20 Questions With Rhonda Vincent

Bluegrass Singer Talks Keith Urban, Cruises and Cornbread

When Rhonda Vincent called CMT.com recently, she was on her way to the airport headed for a bluegrass cruise. But luckily you won’t have to set sail to get the concert experience yourself. Recorded during a show last year in St. Louis, Mo., Ragin’ Live (on CD and DVD) revisits her most popular songs and adds some new ones to the mix. Though she missed a recent bluegrass awards show due to health issues, Vincent may still be the hardest-working woman in her field. She answers your fan questions about searching for the perfect mandolin, vacationing with her teenage daughters and a memorable jam session in California.

1.Let me start by saying, you have a beautiful voice! My question is, when will you make another video? I loved “You Can’t Take It With You When You Go.”

We just did, last week in Seattle. It should be heading your way in a couple weeks. It’s called “I’ve Forgotten You” and it’s from the upcoming live DVD and CD that we have. The video is not taken from the live DVD, and somebody asked why. But this song I felt really warranted a concept video. The melody is an upbeat tempo. It seems like every time I did a video, it was slow and sad. It’s still not exactly a happy song, but at least the tempo is up on that song. I have a leading man, and we have a few guest appearances right now, too.

2.If we were to look in your CD player right now, what CD would we find?

You would find Lee Ann Womack, her new CD. There’s More Where That Came From. I love that album.

3.Who would you love to record with?

There are several I would love to record with. Martina (McBride) would be a neat thing. She’s a CMA female vocalist and being the IBMA female vocalist, I thought that would be a really neat thing.

4.Do your daughters like bluegrass? Do they think your music is cool?

You know, they do. They like a lot of different styles of music. My youngest daughter listens to CMT all the time. Her TV goes constantly, 24 hours a day, listening to CMT. But they do like bluegrass. What’s interesting to me is watching them discover CDs and albums from years ago and then coming to me and saying, ’Mom, listen to this song!’ I’m like, ’Yeah, I heard that many years ago.’ (laughs) They think it’s really cool now. I get a kick out of that.

5. What inspired you to sing and play bluegrass music?

My parents, because I grew up in a musical family. It was a way of life. It was considered country music when I was 3 years old when I first started singing. For the acoustic part of it, my dad would pick up the banjo and lay down the electric guitar, and we discovered that acoustic music was bluegrass music. So I traveled with my family all my life and made this way of life into a career a few years ago.

6.I know that musicians and singers go back many generations in your family. Do you think singing is more an inherited trait or something that you picked up by association?

I really believe it’s inherited, and it’s inspired by your surroundings. My dad would pick me up every day from school, and we’d play until dinner. After dinner, friends would come over and we’d play until bedtime. There’s probably a bit of it that’s inherited, but if it’s nurtured at that point, you’ll grow to either love it or hate it, and I grew to love it.

7.I am a Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder fan, and one of the members of the band is Darrin Vincent. Is he related to you?

Yes, that’s my brother. I grew up performing with him and my family in the Sally Mountain Show. We still record and co-produce my albums together. I think he is the greatest harmony singer that lives.

8.When listening to music, who is your favorite artist to hear?

Oh, I like a lot of different artists. One of my personal favorite artists that I listen to is the Isaacs. They’re a gospel group. But with the current album I have, like Lee Ann’s, I will listen to that album over and over, for several months. The album I listened to before that was Keith Urban. I’m a huge fan of his. Golden Road, that’s a favorite album.

9.Who are some of the bluegrass old-timers you have gotten to pick with?

One of the pictures I have is when I was 13 years old and it was on my birthday. It shows me and Bill Monroe backstage in Knob Noster, Mo., picking together. But because I’m in bluegrass, I know most of the musicians there, and I guess I’ve performed with most of them. Buck White is one of my favorite mandolin players. I remember we used to trade mandolins and pick together. I think Buck White is my favorite performer, if I was to sit around and pick with someone. He’s also my favorite piano player.

10.I am a beginning mandolin player and currently own a Fender acoustic/electric mandolin. As I progress, what would you suggest as my next mandolin? I am on a very tight budget but want a true bluegrass-style mandolin.

Hmm. Well, I play a Smith Creek. They’re probably a little on the pricey side. There are mandolins in every price range, for everyone. It’s difficult to find a really great mandolin. You do the search. I looked for many, many years. I played a Sargent, which was a custom-made mandolin, and then discovered Smith Creek and really loved those. I would suggest you keep searching and that you’re probably not going to find the mandolin right away in your price range, but keep looking and talk to lots of people. Online, there’s a place called Mandolin CafĂ©, and talking to other people, you will be able to find the mandolin. Keep searching. It’s a long hard search, but it’s worth it.

11.Have you ever thought about hiring a Dobro player for your band?

Yes, I have. I’ve thought about a Dobro. In fact, I had a guy a year ago that was in the band, but we don’t have that many songs that warrant a Dobro. So it’s really not feasible to carry an extra person just to play Dobro on the few songs we have.

12.When you play bluegrass festivals, do you ever get a chance to jam with the fans? With your busy schedule, I can’t imagine that you would have time for that, but I’ve heard rumors that it’s something you like to do.

On occasion. We did this at Blistered Fingers in Sidney, Maine, and we also did it in Grass Valley, Calif., and Darrington, Wash. The idea came when there was a curfew at 11 p.m., and we were the last band and we went on late. They had to turn the sound system off. So I got this idea in the middle of our show. I said, “We can’t continue with our show because they’re going to shut the P.A. down, but if you’ll meet us at the Martha White boutique and bring your instrument, we’ll have a jam session. We’ll continue over there.” People joined in and they would sing their favorite song, and I’d sing with them or play it with them. It was a whole lot of fun. We do that on occasion. That was in Grass Valley, Calif., which is one of the largest festivals in the country.

13.What would being an Opry member mean to you, and do you think it will ever happen?

That is my dream, to be a member of the Grand Ole Opry, just because I grew up listening to the Grand Ole Opry, as long as I can remember. I stood outside in that line when it was at the Ryman, when I was 2 or 3 years old. I have so many wonderful memories. The music from the Opry has influenced everything I do. That would be the ultimate honor, to be a member of the Opry, and I certainly hope it’s going to happen someday.

14.Is it possible for people over 70 to learn to play a mandolin? We enjoy listening to it so much, but we would also like to learn how to play one.

Well, sure! I think that would be great. The mandolin is small in size, so it’s a great instrument for kids to start out on, and for folks who are 70, it would be a very basic instrument to start with. A lot of the beginning chords just require two fingers. I encourage you to get a mandolin and get started right away!

15.What’s your favorite cornbread recipe?

Rhonda’s Ragin’ Cornbread, of course, which is the winning cornbread at the Celebrity Cornbread Cook-Off in South Pittsburgh, Tenn. That recipe is probably at marthawhite.com. I won the cornbread cook-off four years in a row with different recipes, but my favorite is from the very first year, with Rhonda’s Ragin’ Cornbread.

16.I’ve watched you perform for many years, from Silver Dollar City in Branson, Mo., to larger venues. Which do you prefer, small intimate performances or large settings full of excited fans?

I like them all. I like to greet the day with many different things to do, many changing venues. People look at our schedule and say ’You’re playing an intimate theater here, and then you’re playing a large outdoor bluegrass festival.’ I like a variety, of having the uniqueness every day. But I did learn long ago that it’s the people that make the places special.

17.If you had not been blessed with the talent for singing and playing the mandolin, what do you think your job would be?

I majored in accounting. … I would probably be an accountant. In my last year of high school, I worked in the mornings and went to school in the afternoons.

18.What do you like to do when you’re not touring?

Spend time with my daughters, Sally and Tencel. I usually ask them what they want to do. I’m going on a bluegrass cruise and then in two weeks, we’re going on a cruise. They’re not able to go on the bluegrass cruise. I usually ask them where they want to go. Last year, we took a train to New York City and we shopped. We went to the spa. We like to relax and spend time together. Usually it’s shopping.

19.My two daughters (ages 14 and 11) play bluegrass and would love to make it their career. My oldest daughter plays mandolin. Do you have any advice for young people wanting to get started in music?

I would say take every opportunity to perform, whether it’s at church or a local country music show. There’s no replacement for experience. No matter where you get that experience, you can learn from everything you do. Perform as much as you can. My dad had friends over every night, so I got the experience because we were playing every day. Also, just being committed and really loving what you do. Whatever you do in life, make sure that you love it. That’s what I tell my daughters.

20.How do you manage to play so many dates in a year and make it look so easy? I know it must be hard to be on the road so much and away from home so long. How do you stay so healthy and beautiful out there on the concert trail?

(laughs) Ah! I haven’t been that healthy lately! It might be taking its toll. But I think it all works because I love what I do, and I love the people that I work with. It’s a combination of all those things. I have an incredibly supportive husband and family. It takes a combination of everything, but the most important thing is loving what you do. It makes it easy that way.