Karl Shiflett & Big Country Show

The Karl Shiflett & Big Country Show is a tribute to classic bluegrass at its finest.  Shiflett, a Texas native, organized the band in 1993 with the intention of presenting a bluegrass show the way it was done in the late 1940s and early 1950s.  This included everything from stage attire – big-lapeled suits, wide ties, felt hats, and two-toned shoes – to performing around a single microphone and working out the intricate choreography that this type of setup demanded.  Their single microphone was a replica of a vintage RCA-44 that was popular in radio stations in days gone by.  They performed the old songs, too, but they also wrote new ones that fit the mold.

After spending some 5 years perfecting their show, the band’s performance at a 1998 IBMA World of Bluegrass showcase put them on the fast track for recognition within the bluegrass community.  Their retro presentation was met with unbridled enthusiasm and it was here that they came to the attention of Rebel Records.

Their self-titled debut disc with the label was released in 1999. The album enjoyed immediate success, dominating the top of the bluegrass charts, and one of the songs – “Where the Smoke Goes Up (And the Money Goes Down)” – was particularly well received.  Like their stage show, the CD was a mix of some bluegrass classics and some classic sounding new songs.  Among the vintage tracks was a hymn popularized by Charlie Monroe called “When the Angels Carry Me Home,” a 1930s tune by Fiddlin’ Arthur Smith, “The Girl I Love Don’t Pay Me No Mind,” and a Carter Family favorite, “I Know What it Means to Be Lonesome.”  A real bonus for bluegrass fans was the inclusion of two Bill Monroe compositions that were previously unrecorded:  “Delbert’s Breakdown” and “The One I Love is Gone.”

By all accounts, Karl’s second Rebel release, In Full Color, matched or surpassed his debut.  One reviewer noted that if an award were available for Fun Record of the Year, this disc would “eliminate the need for other nominees.”  Another observed, “The group has it down and they’re having a lot of fun making fine music.”  The album is balanced evenly between new band originals and bluegrass/country favorites.  Fans familiar with vintage country music will recognize “Misery Loves Company,” a 1962 hit for Porter Wagoner, and “Down in the Willow Garden,” a traditional ballad that was given definitive treatment in the 1940s by Charlie Monroe.  Also noteworthy is Karl’s treatment of a 1960s song recorded by Flatt & Scruggs called “You’re Gonna Miss Me When I’m Gone.”

The third and final album Karl Shiflett & Big Country Show album recorded for Rebel was called Worries On My Mind.  Banjo legend Sonny Osborne heartily endorsed the project by saying that “I have it in my car player, which is usually reserved for ‘40s Monroe and Lester and Earl.”  With this release, Karl continued with the classic style of 1950s bluegrass, applying its stylistic trademarks to a set of virtually all new material – only three songs had been previously recorded.  These include Johnny Cash’s “I Still Miss Someone,” Virginia Stauffer’s – by way of Bill Monroe – “I Live in the Past,” and a 1954 song by country singer Terry Fell called “Truck Drivin’ Man.”