If Bob Wills is still the king of Western swing, the Time Jumpers must be his royal court.
One of the most talked-about musical acts in Nashville, the 11-piece, Grammy-nominated supergroup plays Durham’s Carolina Theatre on Monday – and they are currently the band to hear. Featuring some of the most prominent musicians in a town brimming with musical brilliance, members of the Nashville-based group include “Ranger Doug” Green (Riders in the Sky); pedal steel player of the year Paul Franklin; fiddlers Larry Franklin (Asleep at the Wheel), Hoot Hester (Grand Ole Opry house band) and Kenny Sears (Mel Tillis, Ray Price); and Country Music Hall of Famer Vince Gill.
All are fans of Western swing and the big jazz bands of the 1930s and ’40s.
“I’d say our roots are in Bob Wills and big band influences, like Count Basie,” says accordionist and piano player Jeff Taylor. “Andy Reiss, our guitarist, is probably one of the very top jazz guitarists to ever live in Nashville. He has a deep knowledge. It’s a great element that he brings. Paul Franklin brings a country and pop sensibility. Ranger Doug plays rhythm guitar and loves Freddy Green’s stuff from the Basie orchestra. There are elements of us that are unique.”
The Time Jumpers came together in 1998 in spontaneous jam sessions at the Grand Ole Opry. Soon, they landed a regular Monday night gig at the famed Station Inn and began drawing sold-out audiences. As word spread, it was not unusual to find such celebrities as Reba McEntire, Bonnie Raitt or Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant in the audience, tapping their feet in time to the swinging rhythms. When a larger venue was needed, the band moved across town to the club 3rd and Lindsley.
“We started jamming backstage at the Opry in Jimmy C. Newman’s dressing room,” says Taylor, who once performed in Newman’s band and toured with Elvis Costello. “Hoot Hester was the staff fiddle player on the Opry, and Little Jimmie (Dickens) would drop in and sing a song. Buck White would play piano sometimes.
“We never had an agenda other than playing music that we loved with folks that we loved and for people we loved. We just wanted an outlet. It was kind of musical therapy sessions.”
The Time Jumpers’ CDs – 2007’s live “Jumpin’ Time” and current self-titled Rounder Records release – have each garnered two Grammy nominations, and a third CD is in under way. The albums feature swing-style original songs penned by band members, along with such classics as Wills’ “Roly Poly” and Johnny Mercer’s “Yodel Blues.”
Besides their own recordings, the Time Jumpers have contributed a Western swing track, “All That’s Left,” to Miranda Lambert’s Album of the Year, “Platinum.”
Leave egos at the door
Gill, whose career includes bluegrass and pop as well as mainstream country music, joined the Time Jumpers when vocalist Carolyn Martin left to pursue other interests. Gill’s participation has boosted the band’s profile, even though his role is equal to that of the other members.
“Most everybody has been a bandleader or a side man,” Taylor says. “It’s so great to be in this band where we all have equal ownership.”
Taylor says it’s remarkable that for years, everyone in the band has gotten along.
“If someone throws something out there that’s not a good idea, everyone is not afraid to say it’s not a good idea in a tactful way that doesn’t hurt their dignity,” he says. “Everyone leaves ego at the door. We want to make the best music possible and the best arrangements.
“I couldn’t be happier and prouder to be part of something like this.”