It’s hard to think of a band that better embodies the sound of North Carolina than the Red Clay Ramblers. The bluegrass group celebrates the state in its 2009 album, Old North State, but its fiddle-driven folk and songs about barbecue have been oozing the traditional sound for 40 years.
Pianist, Elizabeth City native and UNC-Chapel Hill creative writing professor Bland Simpson joined the band in the ‘80s and talked to Diversions writer Kelly Poe about the band’s newest endeavors and its show at the ArtsCenter next Wednesday.
DIVERSIONS:* It’s been a couple of years since the latest album was released. Do you have anything new in the works?
BLAND SIMPSON: We’re working on a new one. I would guess it’d be out sometime in the first half of 2012. We bring a lot of rhythm to the repertoire and I hope the freshness that we aspire to is in the wit that goes into the arrangements.
We try to make really interesting, witty arrangements and illustrate and express the kind of wonderful, lively, joyous qualities of American music as best we can.
DIVE:* How long have you taught at UNC?
BS: I started in the spring of ’82 and taught through the fall semester of ’86. I was involved with a show that was supposed to go run off Broadway in the late spring of ’87, and that was when Tommy Thompson and Jack Herrick asked me to join the Ramblers.
It was about six or eight weeks of touring. Originally, I thought we were only going to be doing that for a couple of months, but then the piano player, Mike Craver, who had left supposedly temporarily, stayed with the show he went off with.
The show I was to do did not materialize, so I stuck with the band. We had quite a bit of touring work and some movie work in ’87 and ’88, but as ’89 went on, I thought I wanted to get back in the teaching line-up at Carolina, and luckily I was able to do that.
DIVE: Do you ever get students who try to take your classes because of the Ramblers?
BS: Occasionally somebody will say “I know that you work with the Red Clay Ramblers,” or something like that, but by and large, no.