Tammy Rogers and Thomm Jutz
As songwriters, musicians, and friends, Thomm Jutz and Tammy Rogers explore the Appalachian sounds that inspire them on Surely Will Be Singing, their first-ever album together. Recorded in their home studios in Nashville, these 12 original songs echo the acoustic production, lyricism and vocal blend of their folk and bluegrass heroes while naturally setting a foundation for more music to come.
The pair met in 2016 when seated at the same table at a music industry gala, yet their creative paths had run parallel for years. Rogers may be best known as a co-founder and fiddler in the Grammy Award-winning bluegrass band, The SteelDrivers. Meanwhile, Jutz toured as a guitarist for Mary Gauthier, Nanci Griffith, and David Olney, before developing a reputation as one of bluegrass music’s most prolific songwriters. At the end of that industry event, they exchanged phone numbers with the intention of writing together sometime. Five years later, they’re still collaborating on a near-weekly basis. Among a catalog of more than 140 songs, they selected a dozen of the best for I Surely Will Be Singing.
“We’d always talked about making a duo record,” Jutz says. “We started on some demos and when the pandemic hit, we were writing on Zoom. We both said the last thing we wanted was to say when this thing is over that we wasted a year sitting on the couch and watching TV, so let’s stay with it. And that’s what we did.”
Rogers adds, “We’re both very serious about what we do but we’re also very easygoing in the way we approach things. That’s at the heart of how we write. We’re both willing to see where things naturally go. I love that because at the end of the day, we usually wind up with something I wouldn’t have come up with on my own.”
Surely Will Be Singing begins with its uplifting title track. It was inspired by the realization that bird life blossomed significantly during the pandemic because of less traffic. And as people spent more time at home or outside during lockdown, they were more likely to notice that abundance
“Also, that song talks about playing music not just because it’s a career,” Jutz continues. “It talks about singing and playing and creating because you were created to do that. It’s a really simple song, too, musically and lyrically. We’re so influenced by old music that simplicity is something we’re always looking for.”
The album then leads into “On Your Own,” with Rogers singing lead. Accompanied by her haunting fiddle, Jutz steps to the mic in “All Around My Cabin Door” before they get back to harmonizing on songs like “Long Gone” and “Mountain Angel.” The imagery in these songs especially calls to mind acoustic landmark albums like Skaggs and Rice, where it’s often only one or two people performing the songs.
As classically trained musicians with a reverence for the past, Jutz and Rogers also share a penchant for conveying a sense of place. They grew up thousands of miles apart – Jutz in rural Germany and Rogers in East Tennessee – yet their musical references are surprisingly similar.
“Thomm is such a student of American roots music, specifically the Appalachian area – and that’s where I’m from,” Rogers says. “My roots are from there for many, many generations back. So we can talk about these things and in some ways he articulates it even better than I do, even though I’m from there. It’s this amazing balance that we have. Not only do we have this ability to talk about things, but where our natural interests go, there’s such an understanding there, almost innately.”
When Rogers was around 5 years old, her family moved from Rogersville, Tennessee, to Texas. Her father bought her a three-quarter size fiddle a few years later and it immediately became an extension of herself. Along with playing and touring with her family’s bluegrass band, she absorbed the music of her grandmother’s records whenever she’d travel back to Tennessee in the summertime. Among her earliest memories are listening to The Carter Family and seeing Mother Maybelle Carter and Sara Carter holding the guitars on the album cover – and once, as a young child, traveling to Gatlinburg, Tennessee, to hear Mother Maybelle play the autoharp.
Jutz’s pivotal moment came when he watched Bobby Bare singing “Detroit City” and “Tequila Sheila” on a German television show. That epiphany set him on a course of learning to play guitar and seeking out as many bluegrass and folk records as he could. After writing songs for the bands he formed in high school, Jutz began to study the craft. Following his lifelong dream, and inspired and encouraged by his mentor, songwriter Richard Dobson, Jutz moved to Nashville in 2003 and became a U.S. citizen in 2008.
In the years that followed, both musicians achieved remarkable success in Nashville’s diverse music community. Rogers landed her big break when she was hired to play fiddle in Patty Loveless’ band in 1990. Later in that decade, she co-founded one of Nashville’s earliest alt- country indie labels, Dead Reckoning Records. Now firmly established as a producer, musician, and songwriter, Jutz received his first Grammy nomination, in the Best Bluegrass Album category, for his 2020 set, To Live in Two Worlds, Vol. 1. He’s written or co-written innumerable bluegrass radio hits, recorded by artists like John Prine, Balsam Range, and The Steeldrivers.
A composer’s perspective is at the heart of the song “A Writer’s Tear,” while “Speakeasy Blues” hearkens back to the ‘20s and ‘30s era that Jutz embraces. In addition, “About Last Night” draws on their deep country influences and “Five Winters More to Come” feels like a long-lost folk tune. Their voices entwine beautifully (and mournfully) on “There Ain’t Enough Time” while “The Tree of Life” and “The Door” offer a perspective that only comes with life experience.
Although it took more than a decade to finally cross paths, Jutz and Rogers’ friendship now almost seems familial. That warmth resonates throughout Surely Will Be Singing.
“Music to me is very visual, Jutz says, “and when I listen to this record we made, I’m transported back to where we wrote them and that’s a dear remembrance to me.”
Rogers concludes, “I look forward to getting out there and playing these songs live and to see how people respond to them. We’ve talked about touring Europe and hopefully making another record or two because we just enjoy being together.”
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