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Making the rounds in Nashville
West Terre Haute's Terry Eldredge is a familiar face on country's hottest circuit

By Mark Bennett/Tribune-Star

Bud Eldredge remembers that phone call.

His son Terry was a veteran of the Nashville music circuit, singing and playing guitar alongside Music City legends such as Dolly Parton and The Osborne Brothers.
And it was Terry's move to Nashville to pursue that career - along with brothers Grady and Payton - that enticed Bud and Maryjane to follow them from West Terre Haute to Tennessee in 1988.

Now, 13 years later, the voice on the other end of a telephone line was telling Bud that Terry was clinging to life in Vanderbilt University Hospital at Nashville. His son and a friend had been driving to attend a birthday celebration at a golf course nearby that afternoon in 2001. A teen-ager driving a pickup truck ahead of them turned into the path of their car. The force of the collision broke Terry's ribs, shattered his left leg, ruptured his spleen, punctured his lung and cracked vertebrae in his neck.

"They said he had so many things wrong with him, they weren't sure if he was going to make it," Bud recalls.

But Bud had seen Maryjane recover from open-heart surgeries and nine congestive heart failures.
"We've been blessed," Bud says. "His life and his mother's life have both been saved."

Doctors inserted 18 screws and a steel rod into Terry's reconstructed left leg. Bud and Maryjane, who've been married 52 years, brought their son to their home and nursed him back to health. His recovery took seven months and included a benefit concert by his fellow Nashville musicians to defray his medical expenses.

"He walks pretty good now," Bud says.

To say the least, 42-year-old Terry Eldredge is doing just fine.

He's the lead singer of the hottest new bluegrass band in America, The Grascals. In July, they performed on network TV with Parton during the CMA Music Festival on ABC. At last month's International Bluegrass Music Awards in Nashville, they won honors as Emerging Artist of the Year and for Song of the Year. And just 10 days ago, The Grascals opened for famed country duo Brooks and Dunn at Irving Plaza as part of the "Country Takes New York" festivities surrounding last Tuesday's Country Music Association Awards Show in the Big Apple.

That crash in 2001 was an accident, but Eldredge says his survival was not.

"I was just feeling like I was left here for a reason - to touch people through singing and playing," he says.

It took time to reach the big-time

Terry's been making music since his boyhood days in West Terre Haute.

With tutoring from Wabash Valley music icon Louie Popejoy, Terry - barely 13 years old - and his two brothers formed a trio called The Bluegrass Posse. They honed their skills at gigs around Terre Haute in pizza parlors and even bars. "I could go in there as long as I was playing music," Terry says, chuckling.

But some of their largest audiences, Terry says, showed up for "our home pickin's" each week at the Eldredge family home, right across the road from West Vigo High School. Sometimes nearly 100 people would show up.

"Momma'd be fixing food, and we'd be making music," says Terry, speaking by telephone from his own home in Nashville.

As a high schooler, he loved art class and singing in West Vigo's Viketones, directed by his music teacher Betty Akers. But his future was already unfolding. On weekends, the Eldredge boys drove to Nashville and performed at the Grand Ole Opry behind country comedy act Lonzo & Oscar. Even on the day of his class' commencement at West Vigo, Terry was on the road playing in Seattle.

"But I did graduate," he emphasizes.

While Grady and Payton eventually returned to West Terre Haute to raise their families, Terry stayed and became one of the most familiar faces to Nashville music insiders, performing over the years there with the Osborne Brothers, Wilma Lee Cooper, Larry Cordle, Lonesome Standard Time, The Sidemen and, of course, Dolly Parton. Even now, Eldredge, who has been single since a divorce in 1988, still plays with The Sidemen for their regular Tuesday night gigs at the Station Inn in Nashville - "the Carnegie Hall of the South," as he puts it. And it was there that Eldredge linked up with his future Grascals bandmates.

Then, a little more than a year ago, they began talking about forming a bluegrass band that could appeal to broad audiences.

Eldredge offered just one demand.

"I said I don't want this to be just another throw-together band that puts one or two records together and quits," he says. "I want this to be what I retire with."

No one argued with that.

The other Grascals are Milan native Jamie Johnson on lead and harmony vocals, David Talbot on banjo and acoustic guitar, Jimmy Mattingly (who spent the first 10 years of his life in Terre Haute) on fiddle and mandolin, Terry Smith on upright bass, and Danny Roberts on mandolin. Eldredge, who handles lead vocals with Johnson as well as rhythm guitar, is described by Roberts as "everybody's favorite singer who's never been a frontman of a band."

Even now as the guy at center stage with The Grascals, Eldredge - whose resume includes solo albums "Your Own Set of Rules" and "Making the Rounds - insists that there is no frontman.

"We're a democracy," he says. "And if four out of the six like something, we'll do it."

They've quickly become friends with similar objectives.

"We all love the music, and we all love each other," Eldredge explains. "And we all have the same goal - to go as high as we can."

They're on a rapid climb. Two months after forming The Grascals, they began recording a self-titled debut album. A month later, landed a deal with Rounder Records. A month later, their biggest break arrived.

Dolly's a big fan

Eldredge and Mattingly had performed on Dolly Parton's rootsy "Halos & Horns" album a few years earlier. And so when she began looking for a band that could serve as both an opening act and the backup group for her 2004 "Hello, I'm Dolly" tour, The Grascals asked Parton to listen to their CD.

"She just fell in love with it and said, 'You guys are great, and I want you to open for me and play in our band,'" Eldredge says.

In fact, Parton gushed to the Nashville media, "They are one of the best bluegrass bands I've ever heard. Their new CD is one of the greatest albums I've ever listened to. And the fact that it's their first just tells you how talented they really are."

That CD - "The Grascals" - is an inviting 13-song mix that includes bluegrass and folk standards such as "My Saro Jane," "Sally Goodin" and "Sweet By and By"; an Irish jig "Bevans Lake Crossing" written by Talbot; a country classic "Lonely Street"; and an old Travis Tritt hit "Where Corn Don't Grow." And throughout the album, The Grascals are not afraid to toss in some steel guitars and percussion - real no-nos among bluegrass purists.

"Straight bluegrass is all acoustic instruments - there's no electricity," Eldredge says. "You get beat up sometimes for having a drum on there, but we do it anyway. And those people that complain, still buy the album."

Nearly a thousand people lined up for autographs after their performances alongside Parton at Radio City Music Hall last November.

"They'd say, 'I don't like bluegrass, but I love y'all,'" Eldredge remembers. "And we'd say, 'Well, you just hadn't heard the good stuff.'"

Perhaps The Grascals' best stuff comes on their Song-of-the-Year single "Me and John and Paul." It's a bittersweet tale of three lifelong friends, scattered after high school graduation and then reunited at the gravesite of Paul, who'd gone off to war and died. Eldredge's wistful vocal explains their bond ...

"First day of high school on my way to class,
"Three football players said they wouldn't let me pass.
"I set my books down, and I rolled up my sleeves,
"And then I noticed there were two boys next to me.
"It was me and John and Paul, best friends you ever saw,
"All for one and one for all ..."

Music was his destiny

Singing, Eldredge has learned, is about feeling, not just thinking. He told that once to a young singer who came to Nashville from Arizona. That kid was Dierks Bentley, now a country star.

"I said, 'Dude, process through your brain and let it go through your heart and out your mouth, and then you'll sing country,'" Eldredge says. "Don't ever think about singing. Think about what you're saying, and that'll come through. I mean, good grief, listen to George Jones. Everything he's saying means something. He's like an opera."

Eldredge gave some deep thought to "Me and John and Paul," written by Harley Allen. Eldredge had old friends whose names were Paul and Jack, and hinted at maybe singing it that way. But The Grascals stuck with Allen's original names, and for good reason.

"Either people think we're singing about The Beatles or they're thinking we're singing about the apostles," he says.

Right or wrong, Eldredge's subtle voice touches listeners, just as he'd hoped he would after his car crash in 2001. Proof of his destiny came just a couple months after Terry regained his strength and returned to performing. A fan at The Sidemen's Station Inn shows sought out Eldredge one night. The man said the band's music was his only refuge from a life that had unraveled to the point that he'd considered ending it. Eventually, his life improved.

"And I got to thinking, what if I hadn't lived? What would've happened to that guy?" Eldredge says.
Music is important to Terry, says his dad, and it's easy to hear that.

"It's his sincerity of living, sleeping and breathing his music. That's his life, period," says Bud Eldredge, whose daughter Sheri also lives near Nashville. "He's excited and happy when he's got an instrument in his hands and he's singing."

Nashville still fascinates Terry, who's played around the world, from Germany, to Switzerland, to Japan.

"We go out on the road and come back, and it's cool to see it. I can say, 'That's Nashville, Tennessee - Music City,'" he says. "It still gives me a thrill to say, 'I'm making music and making money in Nashville, Tennessee."

Mark Bennett can be reached by telephone at 1-800-783-8742, Option 6, Ext. 377, by e-mail at

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Terry Eldredge bio

Born: April 18, 1963.
Hometown: West Terre Haute.
Family: Parents Bud and Maryjane Eldredge of Nashville, sister Sheri of Nashville, and brothers Grady and Payton of West Terre Haute.
Job: Lead singer and rhythm guitarist for The Grascals.
Fellow members: Jamie Johnson of Milan; Danny Roberts of Leitchfield, Ky.; David Talbot of London, Ontario; Jimmy Mattingly of Terre Haute and Leitchfield, Ky.; and Terry Smith of Reidsville, N.C.
Web site:
Band's new debut album: "The Grascals," which includes the single "Me and John and Paul" on Rounder Records.
Solo albums: "Your Own Set of Rules" (1992), and "Making the Rounds" (1994).
Also performed with: Lonzo & Oscar, Wilma Lee Cooper, Mike Scott & the All-American Band, the Osborne Brothers, Lonesome Standard Time, The Sidemen, and Dolly Parton.


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