From modern tales of love and loss to stories of hard-working mountaineers, the award-winning team of Steve Gulley and Tim Stafford wove compelling narratives out of historical events and personal, emotional journeys alike - and never so well as when the two coincide, as they do in "Long Way Around The Mountain," the new Mountain Home Music Company single from the duo. Built around a true story, the song offers a vivid portrayal of life underground and the violence that periodically flared up in the coal fields as miners sought to organize.
That alone would have given the release some gravity - it's a theme the two have treated more than once, both together and individually - but with the sudden passing of Steve Gulley in August at the age of 57, his musical legacy takes on an even deeper emotional weight. So it was natural that, when planning a second release from the duo's already-recorded material, thoughts would turn to a song based on events handed down from one generation of the singer's family to the next.
"'Long Way Around the Mountain' was special to Steve because of his family's connection to the events in the song," recalls Stafford. "Steve had a keen sense of family history, and as a History major at Lincoln Memorial University, he was well aware of the role of coal mining and labor unrest in Appalachia - and specifically his region. We had written about it before, with songs like 'A Town That Isn't There,' (recorded by Mountain Heart) which dealt with the company towns that many of his ancestors lived in."
On "Long Way Around The Mountain," muscular bluegrass picking from Ron Stewart (banjo, fiddle), Thomas Cassell (mandolin), bassist Barry Bales and Stafford on guitar give life to Gulley's heartfelt recounting of the story of his native eastern Kentucky's "Fork Ridge Coal Mine War" at one of the area's few non-union operations long ago - told in the voice of miner Marcellus Gulley, his great-uncle.
"Steve's dad, Don, said that Steve had spoken quite a bit with Don's mother - Steve's grandmother - about what happened in this case," Stafford continues. "And I remember Steve's vivid recollections about the miners being told to find another way home from the mine since there was 'blood running down the highway' and 'they were shooting men down at the gate.' We put Steve's words directly into the song as we told the story of hard-working men just trying to make a living, who learned through the grapevine that they had better take the long way around the mountain to make it home alive."
Listen to "Long Way Around The Mountain" HERE.
About Steve Gulley & Tim Stafford
When long-time, prolific writing partners Steve Gulley and Tim Stafford suggested "Still Here" to their new label, Mountain Home Music Company, as the title track and first single from their first recorded duo effort since 2010, no one knew how prescient it would turn out to be. Just weeks after "Still Here" was released, Steve was diagnosed with cancer, and within a few more weeks had passed away, leaving behind a grieving community of friends and colleagues - and a collection of recordings that, thanks to this collaboration, will continue to grow.
Though both men had been veteran songwriters and artists - both in bands and on their own - and Tim Stafford continues an active career, the two men enjoyed special acclaim as one of the most creative and successful songwriting teams in bluegrass music, with scores of recorded co-writes to their credit.
Steve Gulley cut his musical teeth at Kentucky's legendary Renfro Valley Barn Dance and Jamboree, where he came to serve as musical director before launching into full-time touring in the mid-1990s with bluegrass Hall of Famer Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver. By the beginning of the 21st century, he'd moved on to co-founding the award-winning Mountain Heart, followed by Grasstowne, and then, in 2014, his own Steve Gulley & New Pinnacle, which enjoyed a steady presence on bluegrass airplay charts, including four #1 hits. Steve was a sought-after vocalist, who appeared on the acclaimed Keith Whitley project, Sad Songs & Waltzes, as well as on albums by award-winning artists like Dan Tyminski, Ronnie Bowman and Dale Ann Bradley, and a popular radio host with a weekday morning show on Knoxville's renowned WDVX. As owner and operator of Curve Studio in Cumberland Gap, he recorded and produced projects for a growing list of fellow artists. In recognition of his long musical career and help in the development of young and aspiring talent, Steve was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Music from Tennessee's Lincoln Memorial University in 2016.
Tim Stafford performed locally around his native East Tennessee in the late 1980s before joining Alison Krauss & Union Station, with whom he recorded the transformational Grammy recipient, Every Time You Say Goodbye, in 1992. In 1994, he became a co-founder of and guitarist for Blue Highway, one of the music's most beloved and respected bands, which has been nominated for 3 GRAMMYs, won a Dove Award and collected nearly 30 International Bluegrass Music Association awards. He's a two-time IBMA Songwriter of the Year who works with a variety of co-writers, and a widely-recorded studio guitarist who's recorded with artists ranging from Willie Nelson and Jorma Kaukonen to bluegrass Hall of Famers Jesse McReynolds and Larry Sparks. Tim has also served regularly as a producer for others, including for two IBMA award-winning albums; co-authored Still Inside: The Tony Rice Story, a widely-praised authorized biography of renowned guitarist; taught music, American history, Mass Communications and Popular Culture and more at colleges and universities; and sat on the IBMA's Board of Directors in two separate stints, once serving as the Vice-Chair. In 2015, Tim was named a Distinguished Alumnus in the Arts by the East Tennessee State University National Alumni Society.
It's no surprise, then, that when these two accomplished musicians got together, the creative sparks would fly. Indeed, there's something magical about the collaboration - first widely recognized through an IBMA Song of the Year trophy in 2008, when Blue Highway made their "Through The Window Of A Train" the title track of their album, and confirmed in 2010 with the release of their own duo album, Dogwood Winter. Dozens of their songs have been recorded by a wide variety of bluegrass stars, but it wasn't until 2020 that the two reunited as performing partners for Mountain Home Music Company. Yet though the partnership was sadly cut short, Steve Gulley and Tim Stafford are widely acknowledged for their role in building a movement that simultaneously honors bluegrass traditions and leads into the future, establishing them as an indelible influence on our modern roots music world.