An Interview with Ross Nickerson.
I know many people are looking forward to Ross Nickerson returning to Australia for the 4th Banjo Conference as well as Harrietville, including me. With the news that Ross is bringing a new band to Australia, I took some time last month to ask him a few questions for the Australian Bluegrass Blog about himself and the new band he is touring with this year.
Ross, Can you tell us something of your teaching style that you’ll use here for the banjo camp in Australia?
One of the things I focus on most in my workshops is skill building, working with students on technique and ways to improve their overall ability. It’s easier for students to learn songs after they have developed their abilities learning how to physically play a banjo. I also enjoy helping students make the best use of their practice time. Teaching students to practice more effectively is a way I feel I can contribute to everyone making progress, which ultimately will lead them to experiencing more fun and fulfillment from their picking.
What can people expect to take away from the camp?
A lot of fun! I’ve never had so much fun teaching and interacting with students at a Banjo Camp. You Aussies are a fun loving bunch and a pleasure to be around. Sometimes learning an instrument takes a bit of humor to get through the difficult parts. The faculty at Banjo Camp will without a doubt send the students home with loads of new knowledge, tips and inspiration. However, they key to the banjo camp’s success may be the way everyone supports each other sending a student home with lots of inspiration, a feeling that they are not alone, and a new found will to succeed, and with a sense of humor about it too.
Where did the band’s name ‘X-Train’ come from?
It came up by accident in email banter between band members and joking about something. Mark Miracle our mandolin player mentioned X Train in the context of, “we could call ourselves “Blank Train” but used X instead of the word blank, and I really liked the sound X Train and so did everyone else, it’s a lot better than Blank Train too.
Who are the members of the band?
Peter McLaughlin, guitar and vocals, Ross Nickerson, banjo and vocals, Mark Miracle, mandolin and vocals and Bob Denoncourt, bass and vocals.
Where do they each come from?
The band is based in Arizona, I live in Florida now. Bob, Peter and I have eastern roots but Mark was born in the desert and still lives right in the middle of it. Lots of Cactus at his house…
Where did you find them – how did the band get together?
We as friends and band members go way back. Peter, Bob and Mark live in Arizona and I did for many years. I played in two different bands with Peter and Bob in the 80’s based in Tucson. Bob and I also worked together in a different band based in Nevada for 4 years in the 90’s. Peter and I have performed and recorded together off and on since the 80’s as well. Mark is also from Arizona but from the Phoenix area so we would see each other at festivals out west a lot but in different bands. For instance, Peter, Bob and I were in a band that won the Telluride Band Contest in the 80’s, Mark was in a different band that won the same contest later down the line.
Do they have any individual strengths that they bring to the band?
Peter McLaughlin has a list of accolades a mile long. He has won about every guitar contest he’s been in. The only one I know he didn’t win he got second in at that was the National Flatpicking Championship and the next year he won. Speaking for myself, I have been all over the place picking and teaching and spreading the good word of bluegrass and helping others learn. Bob always seems to end up in a good band, he has played with some really really good bands, he is an excellent harmony singer and rock solid on bass. Some of his career highlights include working with banjo legend Don Stover for many years and recording several records with him. Mark is an amazing picker. A very selfless player that can’t help but steal the show. He is a lot of fun to pick with and always has a good rapport with the audience. He has been in bands that have won the major contests in the western part of the United States
Have any of the band members been to Australia before?
I am a repeat offender, and really enjoy it here. I enjoy it so much that I want to bring my friends and share it with them. Two years ago it was Hungry Hill, the band I was in from Canada for many years. We were here a month touring and had a wonderful time at Harrietville. The band also had a lot of fun backing up the students at the Banjo Conference too. Bob lived in Sydney for about three months. When I asked him about coming on the trip, is jaw about dropped, he had been just talking about wanting to come back. Peter and Mark have not been here yet but they are excited to visit. They will fit in well. All the band members will be good ambassadors as people and with their music.
Do you have any plans to record with the group?
We have been pretty tight on stage and already have enough for a CD of live shows. We are playing at a big festival in California in a couple of weeks and we are going to record those sets too and then narrow it down and produce a live CD.
Thanks Ross, look forward to seeing you once again.
I have a website for the band called xtrainbluegrass.com. There is some live video and sound clips, also links to the different member’s websites and some other information. I hope to meet lots of you at Harrietville and other places in OZ. We will be in the Brisbane area too in early December, Thanks – Ross Nickerson.