The Time Jumpers aren’t making music for the fame and fortune that comes along with the territory—they are simply doing it because they love it.
Nashville’s most legendary musicians—”Ranger Doug” Green (vocals, acoustic rhythm guitar), Paul Franklin (steel guitar), Brad Albin (upright bass), Billy Thomas (drums, vocals), Kenny Sears (vocals, fiddle), Larry Franklin (fiddle), Andy Reiss (electric guitar), Jeff Taylor (accordion, piano), Joe Spivey (fiddle, vocals) and Vince Gill (vocals, electric and acoustic guitars) —make up the 10-piece band that can be found Monday nights at a downtown Nashville club, 3rd and Lindsley, putting on one of the hottest shows in town.
Today (Sept. 9) the western swing/traditional country band has released their third album, Kid Sister. The record contains 14 new and classic western swing and traditional country songs that pay tribute to a much-loved member of the band, the late Dawn Sears. Dawn— who passed away from cancer in 2014 – is the “Kid Sister” that inspired the title track, written by Vince Gill, and her final recordings can be heard on the new record.
Nash Country Daily was lucky enough to have four of the ten members— Vince Gill, Kenny Sears, Paul Franklin and Billy Thomas— in the NCD studios to talk about the new album, Kid Sister and what makes the Time Jumpers so special.
NCD: For those people that are not aware of the Time Jumpers, can one of you give us a little history on how they got started?
KENNY SEARS: The band actually started over at the Opry— in the dressing room from jam sessions. We found a little magic playing the ole western swing kind of music—It’s just happy music and fun, as well as challenging. We decided we should find a place to play. We started at the Station Inn in 1998. We outnumbered the audience often times back then—but we weren’t there for that. We were there for the fun of it and the music. All these years later, we’re still doing it for the fun of playing the music and some really nice things have happened along the way. It’s all been gravy and icing on the cake, however you want to say it. We’re still in it for the same reason, we’re still doing it for the fun of playing the music.
NCD: You forgot that part about you all being the finest musicians in Nashville.
VINCE GILL: It’s impolite to say that about yourself.
NCD: Ok, I said it for you. Kid Sister—the third Time Jumpers studio album— is a tribute to the late Dawn Sears, Kenny’s wife and valued member of the Time Jumpers, who passed away from cancer two years ago.
VINCE: Yeah, honestly it did not start out as a tribute record to Dawn—that’s just what life dealt unfortunately. We started the record with Dawn in tow and the first track we cut was ‘San Antonio Rose’. She was going to sing that song and all we had was a scratch vocal that she did and never got around to getting back to it because of her illness. I thought ‘here’s a piece of Dawn that maybe we can find a way to use.’ Obviously we didn’t have the entire song done and I thought this might make a good duet. I said, ‘Kenny, what would you think about maybe doing this as a duet with Dawn and be one last neat thing?’ Because we didn’t really go back and have at this record again until after her passing. Things were different then. We didn’t have her great voice to lean on and sing the majority of the songs—which she deservedly should have and could have. We went on and made this record because we all felt like her spirit would say, ‘you all need to just go play, you’ve always played and I’m not going to be a part of it.’ Away we went—recorded some songs, found some songs. The title of the album came from a song I wrote after her passing. That’s what she was to me—she sang on the road with me for over twenty years. She was like my kid sister that I never had. I had a big sister, but I never had a kid sister. That’s what the song wound up being called, was “Kid Sister”. I asked the guys, I said, ‘would you mind if we recorded this song and put it on the record and call the record Kid Sister in honor of Dawn?” Of course everybody was in agreement.
NCD: What’s the significance of the album cover?
VINCE: The album cover is beautiful. It’s the farm that Amy [Grant] and I got married on. Jim McGuire [renowned Nashville photographer] and I went out there at sunrise one morning and took those pictures at dawn. That’s the point.
NCD: And Dawn also appears on another song, “I Miss You,” that you [Vince] wrote with Ashley Monroe, correct?
VINCE: Yeah, I wrote that song with Ashley some years ago and was actually intended to be on a record of mine—on the “Guitar Slinger” record. I had too many songs and it didn’t quite fit and for whatever reason it didn’t get on that record. I had this piece of [Dawn and I] singing almost a duet together. Some of these songs that we recorded on Kid Sister were intended for her and I to do duets on. ‘Table for Two’ was also going to be a duet. But I had this piece of ‘I Miss You’ and her voice was just so glorious on it. As I listened to the song, it was very Roy Orbison-ish in its production and melodic structure, but the lyric was not appropriate for what we had just been through in the passing of Dawn. With Ashley’s blessing I re-wrote the lyrics of the verses and made the song more about someone passing and therefore it had honesty to it— it had the truth in it. We wound up playing a new track to our vocals— to my vocal and Dawn’s vocal together. It was really beautiful to get to record to her voice again. Magical.
Kid Sister track listing with songwriters:
1. “My San Antonio Rose” (Freddy Powers)
2. “I Miss You” (Vince Gill, Ashley Monroe)
3. “We’re The Time Jumpers” (Vince Gill)
4. “Table For Two” (Vince Gill, Max D. Barnes)
5. “Empty Rooms” (Doug Green)
6. “All Aboard” (Paul Franklin)
7. “Blue Highway Blue” (Debi Smith Cochran, Billy Thomas, John Paul Daniel)
8. “I Hear You Talkin’” (Cindy Walker)
9. “The True Love Meant For Me” (Vince Gill)
10. “Honky Tonkin’” (Vince Gill, Troy Seals)
11. “Bloodshot Eyes” (Hank Penny)
12. “Sweet Rowena” (Vince Gill, Pete Wasner)
13. “This Heartache” (Kenny Sears)
14. “Kid Sister” (Vince Gill)
NCD: The album is not all western swing. I hear traditional country and a big band sound. Was that a conscious decision to mix it up or did it just happen that way?
PAUL FRANKLIN: Well, western swing music started back in thirties. Bob Wills, Spade Cooley, Tex Williams, they were all country musicians who loved Ellington, Basie, all the great big bands. They didn’t use horns necessarily. Some of them, early on did— but that’s what they try to emulate with country instruments. We’ve just basically taken that torch and ran with it in modern times. Now, we do the same thing they did. They brought in the pop music of their day and we’re kind of bringing—it’s not pop-country—but it’s the classic country sounds of early George [Jones], early Buck [Owens], and infuse that with what we’re doing and it’s really working. People seem to really like it.
NCD: Can each one of you tell me what your favorite song on the album?
BILLY THOMAS: We just had somebody mention ‘Sweet Rowena.’ Somebody said that’s really gritty and bluesy— it’s a great extension of our band, a new side of it. There’s a real cosmopolitan thing that we have also, but this is a gritty side. It wasn’t there before when I first joined. It’s expanded now. I think that’s one of my favorites.
PAUL: For Time Jumpers fans, this record has a lot of new feels that we never did really explore. Billy’s song, ‘Blue Highway Blue,’ gives us a little blues element. That’s one of my favorites. “Sweet Rowena” is kind of like that— it has a little New Orleans in there. We’re just kind of all over the map, but it all ties in together because of ten people’s input into each song.
KENNY: I like ‘All Aboard.’ It’s an instrumental that Paul [Franklin] wrote. It’s fun, it’s just a fun romp. Of course, “I Miss You” [sung by Vince Gill and the late Dawn Sears] too. I have to like that because Dawn’s on it. But there’s only one instrumental on this record and it wouldn’t bother me if there were more, because it’s just a fun way to show off the musicianship in the band.
VINCE: My favorite is the ‘We’re The Time Jumpers’ theme song. Not because I wrote it, but I’m proud of it. I set out to try to write songs that felt old and it’s a great challenge. The Texas Playboys had a really cool theme song that I’ve known my whole life. I thought, ‘We should have a theme song!’ I found a way to work everybody’s name into it—even Darlene, who’s Joe’s [Spivey] wife, who helps work the door along with Mama Jean Hughey, who was married to John Hughey, former member of this band that passed away. Just a little bit of a tip of the hat to a Monday night [when the Time Jumpers perform at 3rd and Lindsley in Nashville]—and how much fun it is in Nashville. It was so steep in that really great traditional western swing era of the thirties and forties— that you put that record on and you do get transported to the thirties and the forties, it’s legit. It stands up and it feels timeless.
NCD: Vince you produced this album – does that mean you were the sole decision maker?
VINCE: No, no, it’s a completely joint effort and this was really kind of the guys’ idea to give me that kind gesture of saying I produced this—but I didn’t do much. I just kind of messed with it, because all the arrangements were done by the guys, we all do it together, everything’s democratic. I did all the grunt work, basically. I went and did all the vocals. I did all the vocal comping. With a little bit of fairy dust here and there on a few notes to help a few folks out and whatnot—It’s not really the typical producer role that you would see in most records. The truth is, this kind of band doesn’t need producing. You don’t produce this much history, this much legacy of musicianship.
NCD: How does one get to be a part of the Time Jumpers?
BILLY: I’m one of the new guys, because of Vince. I’ve played with Vince for many, many years and because Dawn was there—there was that connection also. I think I got ‘big brothered’ and ‘big sistered’ into that. When I first heard the material —I had heard the band way back when they played the Station Inn [a Nashville venue for bluegrass music] and with a whole different type of band. I fell in love—first of all—with the fiddles. The fiddles being a trio of fiddles and then just the combination of how it’s a large sounding band with different instrumentation than what I had ever heard on a big band. I was taken with that. They needed a sub and I’d had gone in and subbed for Rick Vanaugh—who was a drummer at that time— and everybody seemed to like the feel that I brought to the band. So when they made a change—my name came up and I said ‘absolutely!’
“I Miss You” is the first single released from the project, Kid Sister, that is available today (Sept. 9). Check out “I Miss You” sung by Vince Gill and the late Dawn Sears.