March 21, 2006

Cherry pickin’: Catching up the Cherryholmes family, IBMA Entertainers of the Year

Cherryholmes is a family bluegrass band from California that’s come a long, long way in a very short time. Parents Jere (bass) and Sandy Lee Cherryholmes (mandolin) are joined by four children: daughter Cia Leigh (banjo), 21; son B.J. (fiddle), 17; son Skip (guitar), 15; and daughter Molly Kate (fiddle), 13. Last fall, the band won the coveted IBMA Entertainer of the Year award, and a glimpse at their Web site (cherryholmes.net) shows that they’ve gained much wider notice lately.Glen Hensley and Kato Wilbur, members of the Louisville organization Bluegrass Anonymous, interviewed the family just days after they won the IBMA award. An excerpt of that interview, which ran in BA’s quarterly newsletter, Pickin’ Post, is reprinted here with permission.Bluegrass Anonymous: What was it like to win Entertainer of the Year?Jere Cherryholmes: I was remembering back to our first trip to IBMA three years ago. We were basically an unknown quantity playing in the lobby. To go from playing the lobby to getting the pinnacle award at IBMA in three years is a testament to how hard the folks here with me have worked and how much talent they have.BA: What do you tell the kids if you haven’t already told them about the responsibility of winning this award?Jere:  We’ve done that all along the way. Every time we reach another level we talk about what it’s going to take to move forward and that this is not the time to relax. We have to work harder. We have to carry ourselves like entertainers of the year and go out to the audiences and prove we deserve to be. And make sure we hold on to it (laughing). We don’t want to be a one-hit wonder. We want to be able to come back next year and at least be in contention for it.BA: Sandy, if you could take us back in time and tell us about how the band got started and the events surrounding the beginning of the band.Sandy: We started the band about a month after the death of our 20-year-old daughter. We had gone to a bluegrass festival to just break away from the routine. We had been doing a lot that month, sorting through things and just doing all the things you have to take care of when something like that happens. We went to see Jim and Jesse at a festival and had a great day.On our way home, we talked about it, and Jere said we ought to start a band with the kids — just to do this because it would be good for us to have something we’re doing together. It was a way to while away the hours at night. (The kids) would learn music during their schooling.BA: Were they home-schooled when you started (the band)?Sandy: Yes. We’ve been doing it a long time. We added a music class to everybody’s daily routine, and I would mostly work with them on parts they would need to know to play certain songs we decided would be good for every one of us to learn. We would try to get everybody playing on whatever level they could play. We had a lot of church songs we knew. We really didn’t know many traditional bluegrass tunes and we wanted to learn some.We had a connection with the Calvary Chapel in Downey (California) from our older daughter working there, and we were preparing to put together a concert for the seniors group. We actually were preparing to put it on before our daughter passed away, but the week we were going to do it was the week she passed away. She was going to sing with us. So we regrouped and started the bluegrass group and decided to reschedule the concert, which gave us a reason to practice these songs. It was the very first gig we ever did as the Cherryholmes bluegrass band, complete with hillbilly costumes.BA: When you all were starting, you basically wanted to see what did or did not work with an audience — what would keep them in their seat or what would make them get to get a sno-cone?Jere: Our philosophy was, first thing we did was smack ’em as hard as we could right on the nose and get their attention. And once we got ’em, we started taking them places. Then we’d let ’em get a little relaxed and eased back in their seats, then we’d smack ’em again and bring them back up to the front of their seats. Then, when you get towards the end, you have to really drive it home.BA: B.J., who is your biggest inspiration on fiddle?B.J.: Probably every traditional fiddle player in the business as well as some of the more contemporary ones. Ron Stewart is one of my favorite traditional players. I get a lot of my traditional licks from him because he plays that Benny Martin style so well. One of my biggest influences starting out was Aubrey Haynie, because that’s the first music I was given to listen to.BA: Molly Kate, who is your favorite female fiddle player?Molly: I don’t really listen to female artists for fiddle playing. The closest thing to that I listen to is Alison Krauss. Mainly I listen to Bobby Hicks, Stuart Duncan, Aubrey Haynie, Benny Martin, Chubby Wise and Kenny Baker. I haven’t really studied much female fiddle playing, I guess because I love the licks of the old fiddle players. There’s not many female fiddle players who actually play that stuff.BA: Jere, if you had a motto to sum up your family what would it be?Jere: Our motto is take no prisoners. We got that on our very first tour when we came out here. We call it a fishing expedition, because nobody had ever heard of us out east and we knew we were gonna be against a lot of good bands and we came out and played for practically nothing.  And I told the kids back then we were going to dub it the “Slash and Burn” tour. Take no prisoners. We get up there and play, and win them over. For more info on Bluegrass Anonymous, visit www.bluegrass-anonymous.org