february 2011

charlie cushman
Charlie Cushman: ‘We have a spark with each other musically…’

Michael Cleveland Strengthens Flamekeeper Lineup With Charlie Cushman

‘I feel like everything is finally coming together the way I've always hoped.’

As good as they are, Michael Cleveland & Flamekeeper is getting better with the addition to its lineup of Charlie Cushman, one of the most respected banjo players on the scene.

Inspired as a child by the playing of Earl Scruggs, Cushman, born in Clarksville, TN, began taking banjo lessons and by age 10 was playing on WPHC radio in Waverly, TN, on the Saturday night “Tennessee Valley Jamboree.” He had his first payday as a musician playing alongside a ragtime piano player at Shakey’s Pizza Parlor in Clarksville, and at age 14, in 1974, joined the six-days-a-week Carl Tipton Show on WLAC-TV in Nashville; during his five years with the Tipton Show, he also took up guitar and upright bass, backing up some of the legends of country and bluegrass, including Bill Monroe and Tennessee Ernie Ford. In the early 1980s, Cushman went on the road with James Monroe and the Midnight Ramblers, Jimmy Martin and the Sunny Mountain Boys, and Mel Tillis and the Statesiders.  From 1986 to mid-1990 he could be found playing multiple instruments in different music areas of Opryland USA, when it was a theme park. In 1990, Cushman began working with comedian and fellow banjo man Mike Snider, with whom he stayed for 14 years playing bass and guitar. He also performed on the Grand Ole Opry regularly. In recent years he has been an in-demand session player with credits on recordings by a wide range of country and bluegrass artists, including Michael Martin Murphey, Rhonda Vincent, Marty Stuart, Merle Haggard, Vince Gill (with whom Cushman toured in support of Gill’s monumental, Grammy winning multi-disc album, These Days) and Tim O'Brien.

At the same time, Cushman is no stranger to Michael Cleveland’s music. He was on banjo for Cleveland’s 2006 Let ‘Er Go Boys solo album, and has performed with Cleveland on numerous occasions.

"I first met Charlie in 1999 when we played with Jeff White at the Station Inn," says Cleveland. "I knew after that gig that I'd played with one of the best. To have Charlie join the band is a dream come true."

Charlie Cushman performs ‘Earl’s Breakdown’ at the 2010 Bluegrass All-Star Jam, Bristol, TN, Feb. 28, 2010

"I'm so proud and honored to finally get to work with Michael and his band and I'm glad that this opportunity has finally lined up for us,” Cushman says, adding: "We have a spark with each other musically and I'm more excited about this than anything else I've done in quite a while."

clevelandCushman will make his debut as a Flamekeeper band member this month, on February 18, when the band convenes at Nashville’s beloved bluegrass venue The Station Inn, to perform material from its forthcoming Rounder album, Fired Up, due for release in early spring. An enthusiastic Cleveland sums up his feelings about having Cushman on board thusly: “I feel like everything is finally coming together the way I've always hoped."


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