The Red Stick Ramblers started recording their upcoming album in 2005 at Dirk Powell’s Cypress House Studios in Breaux Bridge. It was mostly finished by the time they reached the end of a contract with Memphis International, the label through which they released their previous two albums (Right Key, Wrong Keyhole, Bring it on Down). With three albums under their belt and a steadily growing crowd base, they felt that the time was ripe for shopping the record to some bigger players in the roots music world. Hightone, Rounder, and Sugar Hill immediately came to mind, the latter being particularly high on the wish list, considering a talent lineup that included Dolly Parton, Sam Bush, and the highly acclaimed Nickel Creek.
“Sugar Hill is a label that has a big presence at a lot of the festivals that we play,” says Linzy Young, the band’s lead singer and fiddle player, “and a few of their artists are some of our peers like the Duhks and Sonny Landreth.”
After the Ramblers spent the summer of 2006 playing shows and roots festivals such as Merle Fest, the Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival, Floyd Fest, and Acadiana’s own Festival International, they decided to make another serious push at signing a deal. They enlisted manager George Hardy as manager and lawyer Peter Irvine, and about a week before the Christmas holidays, they heard Sugar Hill was interested. A formal offer was scheduled for January 1, so the band looked forward to finishing out a good year and starting fresh as new talent on a bigger scene.
Then just as it seems things were turning in their favor, Sugar Hill’s North Carolina office had been shut down and whoever had originally dealt with the Red Stick Ramblers was no longer in the position to offer the guys promotional koozies, much less a record deal. The Ramblers learned this shortly before leaving town for a gig in Nashville and made a mad dash to try and salvage the situation.
“We scrambled to find some kind of contact with Sugar Hill,” Hardy says, “hoping beyond all hope that they would honor the promises of an ex-employee, and at the very least we could get somebody from their Nashville office out to the show.” Instead, providence interceded.
Within days of the gig, Sugar Hill hired a new VP of A&R, Gary Paczosa, who Ramblers’ guitarist Chas Justus knew from when they worked on Linda Ronstadt and Ann Savoy’s Adieu False Heart (Vanguard). Justus played on the album and Paczosa engineered it.
“Peter calls me and tells me that Gary is now the A&R man for Sugar Hill,” says Young. “I called Chas and said, ‘Call the guy up.’” Justus convinced Paczosa to come down to their show that night, and he showed up with some of Sugar Hill’s staff along with two of the label’s bluegrass heavy-hitters, Casey Driessen and Tim O’Brien.
“When we got there, nobody wanted to talk to the guy about business,” Linzy Young says. “Everyone was trying to stay cool and all that, but I’m thinking ‘Hey, I don’t know the guy that well. I’ll talk to him.’” Before the show was over, Driessen and O’Brien joined the band onstage and the wheels were set in motion. The Red Stick Ramblers’ Sugar Hill debut, Made in the Shade, will be released September 11.