Wednesday, May 03, 2000

Yankee Grey: A band on the way

It joins country's club of award nominees tonight

By Larry Nager
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        After a long wait, it's been a year of living famously for the local band Yankee Grey.

[photo] Yankee Grey
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        Since last year's release of their debut hit, “All Things Considered,” the band has played the Grand Ole Opry and hobnobbed with many of Nashville's top stars. It's a long way from the Cincinnati honky-tonk circuit that not long ago kept the quintet in rent and groceries.

        “It's been pretty amazing,” says guitarist Matt Basford. “You get around these people and it's like you're part of the club, which feels pretty good.”

        Tonight, Yankee Grey takes its place as part of an even more exclusive club, the nominees for top new duo or group in the Academy of Country Music Awards. They're competing against the female trio SheDaisy and the duo Montgomery Gentry.

        Even if they don't win, the players in Yankee Grey are just happy to be in the race, says Mr. Basford.

        In August 1997 the band broke out of Cincinnati's country scene, landing a contract with Sony Nashville's Monument subsidiary.

        The show-biz myth says fame and fortune immediately follows. Instead, the members of Yankee Grey — Mr. Basford, singer Tim Hunt, drummer Kevin Griffin, keyboardist Jerry Hughes, fiddler Joe Caverlee and bassist Dave Buchanan — found themselves between a major label and a hard place.

        After playing Tristate clubs every night, they were in Nashville but weren't allowed to play clubs for fear of overexposure. For the first time in years, the guys in Yankee Grey had to get day jobs.

What: The 35th Annual Academy of Country Music Awards

When: 8 p.m. today

Where: Channels 12, 7

        “Even when we were working on the album, a lot of us were working regular jobs and stuff,” says Mr. Basford, who did stints as a security guard for the Opryland Hotel and at Nashville's River Days concerts.

        Those days are finally behind them. “All Things Considered” was enough of a hit to land Yankee Grey on the road and on the ACM awards, where they'll perform the song.

        The group's Untamed CD has sold approximately 100,000 copies, a major success for a first album by a country group. This year, Mr. Basford will be at River Days as a member of Yankee Grey, not the security force.

        Not that the guys in Yankee Grey are enjoying the same kind of success as their Monument Records label mates the Dixie Chicks, says Mr. Basford. “The fame always comes years and years before the fortune.”

        One hurdle the group still faces is the identity gap that has long plagued country bands. It takes many hits before fans know the performers of the songs as well as they know the songs.

        “You'll go to people, and they'll go, "Yankee Grey, I never heard of them.' But then you sing the song and they go, "Yeah I love that song.' But they haven't put the songs to the faces of the band. I think it's easier in country music to market a guy in a hat or three blondes than it is a bunch of not-so-good-looking guys.”

        Mr. Basford, 37, grew up in Monroe but lived in Cincinnati for eight years. Most of those years were spent in Yankee Grey, which he helped form in 1986. He says the guys' years together have helped them get over the rough spots.

        “From my standpoint of being in the band from the beginning, we've been together for so long that we went through a lot of the growing pains already.”

        In September, Yankee Grey will record its second CD, which Mr. Basford says should be even more of a showcase for the band's songwriting.

        Around the time the group released its first album, Mr. Basford and Mr. Hunt became fathers, Mr. Basford for the first time. That changed his point of view pretty quickly.

        “Everything I've ever wished for in my life all happened in, like, one year,” he says, still sounding a bit stunned. “It was like a really traumatic, life-changing experience.

        “It puts things in perspective,” he continues. “You want to watch the charts and make sure everything is going good. But if it doesn't do that good in certain points, you look at your family and you go, "Well, this is still the most important thing in your life.' It's not just about you anymore.”

        And all things considered, the music is still quite a thrill, he's quick to add.

        “You don't know that feeling until you felt it, when you play in front of like 1,000 people and they all sing the chorus of your song, where you can like stop and they're still singing it.”

        And then there are the simpler pleasures, like free guitars.

        “We got a Fender endorsement six months ago,” says Mr. Basford. “You go into the Fender Shop and you get a magazine and you go, "I want that one.' And two weeks later it's in the mail. It's like, "Wow! I can't believe they actually gave me a guitar.' It's hard to fathom sometimes.”

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