Johnny has appeared on NBC's TODAY SHOW
PEOPLE MAGAZINE did a full page article on Johnny
Johnny appeared on the CBS EVENING NEWS (with Dan Rather)
Johnny has performed on the GRAND OLE OPRY Stage five times
CNN aired a taping of Johnny in March 2000 Staats continues to head out every day in his big brown UPS truck, and no matter how busy he gets with his music, folks around Sandyville, West Virginia area can still count on Johnny to deliver right on time.
Click here for Johnny's NEW YORK TIMES Review!
JOHNNY HITS THE SPOT
"[Producer] John Van Meter plugged the album
to me," says Debbie Zavitson, A&R Director
at Giant Records Nashville, of mandolin
virtuoso Johnny Staats' new Wires & Wood
"I told him I was looking for some kind of special project to put on the label.
He said, 'Well, I might just happen to have that for you.'
I took the package with me over the weekend and listened to it, and fell in love with Johnny Staats. I love the album, of course, but I felt like the guy who is playing this, and wrote these songs, must just be so real. His emotion and playing just killed me. I called John back and said, 'Lets do the project.'"
THE AUSTIN CHRONICLE--
UPS driver by day and coon-hunter by night, Johnny Staat's virtuosity on the mandolin has swooned a millionaire into volunteering to be his roadie and a pet-store owner into dropping his business to be his manager. It seems that everyone from common strangers to country hat acts are drawn to work with this West Virginian.
Five seconds into opener "Mandolin Meltdown," this pied picker will draw you in too -- and from there, it'll be all your wee brain can do to keep up with the notes as they flip and fly like the most nimble of gymnasts. As if providing a stroke of mercy for the easily winded, rest stops in the form of ballads ("Coal Tattoo," the title track, "Timbuktu") are interspersed throughout the Staats-penned compositions. Staats' nasally tenor doesn't approach the soul-tearing quality of the trad bluegrass greats, but it's sturdy and affecting nonetheless -- it's got the lonesome, if not the high. The instrumentals ("Legend of the Ghost Coon," "Escape from Taiwan," "Catch Me If You Can"), at once jazz, bluegrass, classical and none of the above, don't cut up anything that David Grisman and the like have not cut up before, but with breakneck, breathless talent like this, whether or not Staats is an innovator is hardly relevant. While many musicians express themselves through their instrument of choice, it's as if the very soul of the mandolin is expressed through Johnny Staats.
JOHNNY STAATS KEEPS THE (UPS) DAY JOB
By Jon Weisberger
At this point, two months after the release of his debut, "Wires And Wood," it's tempting to make the media attention Johnny Staats has gotten, rather than he and his music, the center of a story. After all, it's unusual (to say the least) for a young bluegrass picker to not only release his first album on a major Nashville label, Giant, but to be the subject of national press and television coverage before the album's even been released.
Evidently, CBS and the New York Times have only recently become aware that many of even bluegrass' most talented and best-known musicians have day jobs. Staats, though, knows it all too well. Born, raised and still living in West Virginia, he's spent plenty of time around the bluegrass scene in his native area.
"I started listening to Bill Monroe and playing the mandolin when I was real young, probably around eight or nine," he recalls. "I think I bought everything Bill Monroe put out. I listened to him, and then as I was getting older, I wanted to explore different kinds of music. I started hearing Sam Bush and the Newgrass Revival, and I liked the way he was playing - it wasn't exactly bluegrass - but I wanted to get my own style, too."
That the young Staats did and not only on the mandolin. "A guitar player here in West Virginia, whose name is Robert Schaefer, won an international guitar competition. Well, Robert lives just down the road from me, and I loved how he played the guitar, so I immediately got a guitar and started. I said, 'I'm just going to learn how to play like that.'
He and I would go to a lot of contests, and you know, we'd have fun at it, but we never would take it seriously. Sometimes he'd win, sometimes I'd win. It's just all in fun. A lot of people go to contests, and they'll get all upset if they don't do well, but that wasn't the case with me." Not that he had a lot of occasion to get upset anyhow; he won the Ohio State Guitar Championship in 1992 and 1993, and in recent years has taken home three trophies from Charleston, West Va.'s Vandalia Gathering for his mandolin playing - plus another for guitar - as well as a guitar award from a Merlefest competition and a victory for his band at the Winterhawk Bluegrass Festival in New York.
While some players make a career of contests, though, that's not for Staats. For one thing, he writes his own tunes, which doesn't necessarily get you very far in contests. All but one of the seven instrumentals on his album come from his pen, many of them now well-polished after years of playing.
Staats has a distinctive style, not only in his playing - "I use a lot of pull offs," he says, "because instead of just hitting a bunch of notes - ticky, ticky, ticky - the pull offs add more flavor to it" - but also in his composition. "I like minor chords," he says, pointing to a feature unusual in bluegrass. "I've been in some bands before that didn't even believe in a minor chord. I mean, you say 'hit an E minor chord there,' and they say, 'what's that?' I've been writing some songs in major keys, but I really love the minor keys; there's just something about them, on any instrument, that really gets to me." "I wrote a lot of the songs on the CD back when I was in high school. I just never did get a chance to put them on tape before. I had all these songs and nowhere to put them, and it wasn't until I was about 28 that I went to Nashville and we started working on the CD. It took us a couple of years because of our work schedules."
The "we" here is no accident, and it refers not only to the musicians who appear on "Wires And Wood." Understanding it goes a long way in explaining how the album came to be and why Staats is getting so much attention. The story goes back to his double victory on mandolin and guitar at the Vandalia Gathering in 1997. Ron Sowell, music director for public radio's popular Mountain Stage show, heard Staats there and was, he says, "blown away." Sowell, in turn, brought a tape of the performance to Sony Publishing's John Van Meter, himself a bluegrass fan of long standing. When Van Meter shared his enthusiasm, the project was born. "Ron took me over to John's house, and he said, 'I just want to throw a little party and have some pickers over.' I said, 'well, you do that, and I'll come down and play some.' So I took off work and went down there, and he had (former Newgrass Revival bassist) John Cowan there that night. He had Jim Hurst, and there were a couple of other pickers too. It just all clicked together.
So then, they started thinking about doing a CD with those guys" - Cowan, Hurst, banjoist Scott Vestal and a select handful of guests, including Sam Bush himself. With the project completed, Van Meter and Sowell set to work finding a label. Staats remembers, "When John Van Meter first told me, 'I've got this record label that's going to release the CD, Johnny,' I said, 'well, okay.' He said, 'It's Giant Records.' Well, I didn't know the difference between a major label and any other, so I said, 'Is that a pretty good label?' He said, 'Well, I'll tell you, it's a step above a bluegrass label. To be honest with you, Johnny, I can't remember the last time a bluegrass act did get on a major label.'
"Being on a major label and not being Top 40 country...I wondered a couple of times, you know, what made Giant want to put this CD on their label. Granted, I'm not going to sell as many albums as The Wilkinsons or Clay Walker, but they love, it, and they told me that they wanted it."
The fact that, signed though he was to a major label, Staats had no intention of giving up his day job as a UPS driver, gave a special twist to his story - at least in the eyes of much of the press. Staat's interest in economic security is genuine - "I realize that with the style of music I'm playing, it's risky, and this way if it falls flat and doesn't go any further, at least I've got a job with benefits" - and so is his appreciation for the latitude the company has given him to make appearances, but he's not unaware of its benefits as a news angle, either. "This UPS thing just added icing to the cake, and this kind of business you need all the help you can get," he says with a disarming frankness.
Still, in the end, it's clear that for Staats, it's the music that matters. He's excited about a couple of high-profile appearances with the John Cowan Band, but he's even more enthusiastic about his own band, the Delivery Boys (his old guitar buddy Robert Schaefer's in it), and their summer schedule. "I drive for UPS," he chuckles, "and the drummer works for the Post Office, and the banjo player, he delivers concrete. So I said, 'boys, let's just name it the Delivery Boys.'"
Whatever it's called, though, it's a fine, solid band behind a powerful picker - and who knows? Maybe someday Johnny Staats will be able to do as well for himself fronting a band as driving a truck. That he can't do so yet says a lot more about the music business these days than it does about him.
The Johnny Staats Project arrives riding a wave of big-time media acclaim (The New York Times, People Magazine, CBS, and NBC, to name a few) and big-time expectations for Staats as a mandolin savior. Judge Wires & Wood by that criteria and you may never find it a satisfying listen. However, when you finally grasp the idea that this is a debut record from a heretofore amateur musician and full-time UPS driver in West Virginia, you start to realize that Wires & Wood is an amazing achievement. Backed by many of Nashville's finest players, Staats nimbly balances a number of styles ranging from straight-ahead bluegrass to Celtic reels to gentle lullabies to thoughtful folk. He's well versed in the "jazzgrass" style popularized by folks like DAVID GRISMAN offering several crafty, cunning instrumentals that prove him to be a surprisingly evocative and engaging composer.
At the heart of it all, of course, is Staats's astonishing mandolin work: it's incredibly fleet and fluid, boasting clarity, precision, and taste at even the most ridiculous speeds. He doesn't resort to pet licks and there rarely seems to be a superfluous note amid the torrent. He's also a rich, honey-voiced tenor singer, even if his voice is not his greatest strength; at the very least, his earnest vocal songs give you a chance to catch your breath. Ultimately, the Staats Project may not do anything that the Grisman Quintet or the TONY RICE UNIT didn't do 25 years ago, but the fact that he does it as well says quite a bit about this no-longer-hidden talent. --Marc Greilsamer
Butch has been playing with Johnny Staats for 25 years, first with "Fazt Brake" then with "Crossroads" where the band won first place in the band competition at Winter Hawk, New York... and now his longest run with "The Delivery Boys."
Butch started playing the banjo at the age of 12. His first influence was Earl Scruggs and Alan Munde and as he advanced he started listening to Béla Fleck, Alison Brown, Scott Vestal, and Tony Trischka.
Osborne plays various styles but likes the progressive end of the spectrum with tunes like Swing 42, Minor Swing, Memories of Mozart and other various Jazz and Classical tunes.
Butch has won the West Virginia State Banjo Competition several times; at MerleFest and many other wins with a total of 62 first place trophies. He completed his first CD in 2007 titled "All of Me" featuring the banjo but with some pretty fancy stuff from Johnny Staats on mandolin, Robert Shafer on guitar and Roger Bush on percussion.
Butch teaches advanced banjo from his home in Parkersburg, West Virginia.
(Richard Schaffer Photography)
Roger has been playing with Johnny since the days of their first band, CROSSROADS.
In 1993 he, along with Butch Osborne, accompanied Johnny to Taiwan where they were to perform for an extended time. The trip there and back was what prompted Johnny's signature song, "Escape From Taiwan."
Roger is a family man who hails from Coolville, Ohio in Athens county. What a great name for a really "cool" guy.
He grew up playing in his family's gospel band. He now plays the bass and sings bass also acting as a catalyst to bring the Johnny Staats band together.
(Richard Schaffer Photography)
Dave brought his multi-instrument and wide-ranging vocal abilities from his family band, The Vaughn's to join Johnny Staats and the Delivery Boys.
Having performed with artists such as Dale Ann Bradley and Darrell Webb, Davey also heads
his own band, Redd Brand.
He is married to Erin Matheny Vaughn who sings lead and tenor with her husband's band alternating between guitar and bass.
Vaughn plays guitar, bass and mandolin. He plays a variety of music from bluegrass to acoustic, and country.
(Richard Schaffer Photography)
Ray Cossin, the 17 year old fiddle player started out as a student of Johnny Staats and is now a full-fledged member of The Delivery Boys.
He was named the 2009 West Virginia State Youth Fiddle Champion. He won third place in the adult division and has gotten first and second many times in the 15 and under category.
"Contests are fun but what I love the most is getting together with different people and jamming. I would have to say that my favorite fiddle player is Jim VanCleve who plays with Mountain Heart."
Cossin has been part of the American Mountain Theater House Band and is also a member of Redd Brand.
Ray loves playing with his brother, Doug, who also plays banjo and guitar with Redd Brand. Ray loves to play all kinds of music; mostly bluegrass, but he also likes folk, classical and acoustic. He plays violin, mandolin and guitar.
(Richard Schaffer Photography)