Grammy Nominee & Mountain Stage host Larry Groce and his wife Sandra Groce, violist with the West Virginia Symphony, have made a new studio recording called Live Forever (Produced by Don Dixon). It includes four of Larry’s original songs and eight covers, mostly songs connected to Mountan Stage over the years. This very well received recording is Groce’s first album in over two decades.
"this album demonstrates that [Larry] should not have stayed away so long. While the album consists of mostly covers of songs done by artists who appeared on the show--such as Townes Van Zandt, JesseWinchester, and Billy Joe Shaver--the originals are the treasures. Most notably, 'What Do You Think About (When You Think Of Love),' which was inspired by the great American writer Raymond Carver. In it, Groce becomes the Robert Altman of song...'When the Mist Clears Away'...captures West Virginia, in all itsmagnificence and obscurity, like few others.”
Amos Perrine-No Depression
THE MAKING OF “LIVE FOREVER”
It’s been 27 years since Larry Groce made a recording like “Live Forever”, a mixture of original and cover songs. The new album was partially funded by Social Security payments (America’s universal crowd source) and Larry now refers to himself as a “submerging artist”. He’s not out to establish a career. So why record again?
Before he helped start the venerable live performance radio program Mountain Stage, he made his living as a singer/songwriter. As his role of artistic director and host increased, he realized, sometime in the mid-eighties, that he was no longer a performer, he was a producer. Although he continued to do shows and write songs, by 1989 the transition was complete. But he never totally stopped singing.
Fast forward to 2015. Mountain Stage guitarist/leader of The Carpenter Ants band, Michael Lipton and producer/singer/songwriter/bassist Don Dixon (REM, The Red Clay Ramblers, James McMurtry) had been trying to convince Larry to record again for a few years. George Korn, media professor at Ohio University, joined the persuaders. Larry was not convinced until his wife and musical partner, Sandra, made the argument that their two daughters should have a record of mom and dad performing together. That tipped the scales. But he wanted a record that wasn’t just aimed at his girls.
So Larry and Don chose some songs and Larry and Sandra worked on guitar/viola arrangements for them. Then, with Don at the helm, they assembled at Michael’s house in Charleston, WV, and began the short and simple process. It moved to Larry’s house for the last day because he has a piano.
Don asked veteran drummer Jim Brock (Joan Baez, John Mellencamp, Kathy Mattea, Jimmy Buffet) to play anything and everything except a trap set, Michael played electric guitars, Julie Adams and Bob Thompson of the Mountain Stage Band added harmonies and piano and Larry’s high school buddy, Ray Wylie Hubbard, stuck around after an appearance on Mountain Stage to sing on the title song. The two hadn’t sung together since they were in a Dallas jug band together in 1966. Don took care of the bass and everything else that was needed.
The recording was finished in four days. The vocals, acoustic guitars, piano and basic percussion were recorded together with no overdubbing. Viola, bass and electric guitar were a combination of live and overdub. Don mixed it all later in his studio.
The songs were of the utmost importance. Songs are at the center of the work Larry’s done on Mountain Stage for the past 33 years. He and Don went through many of the classic songs that Larry already knew and picked out the ones that worked best. They also considered some new ones. Then they chose a few of his originals that seemed to fit in the mix. They discovered that almost all had some strong connection to Mountain Stage.
“If I Had A Boat” and “Live Forever” were two that Larry was introduced to when the writers sang them on the show. Lyle Lovett sang the former in 1987and Billy Joe Shaver performed the latter solo in 1995 and with his co-writer and son Eddy in 1998. A touching version of “Twilight” was done by Rick Danko and Garth Hudson in 1989, and Joan Baez asked for “The Boxer” to be the finale song on a show in 1997 (Larry had learned that song shortly after it came out in 1970).
Larry had loved “Pancho and Lefty” for many years, but was blown away when Townes Van Zandt performed it on Mountain Stage in 1991. Jesse Winchester visited Mountain Stage ten times starting in 1986 and performed “Songbird” on one of those visits. It was a must.
There’s even a Mountain Stage story attached to one of Larry’s originals: “I sang ‘In the Wilderness’ on Mountain Stage back in the nineties, and after it aired, we got a call from Bette Midler’s office in NYC saying Bette had heard it on the show and liked it. I spoke with her and sent her a recording. Her interest puzzled me until I realized that some of her biggest hits (“The Rose”, “From a Distance”) were basically acoustic folk songs. She never recorded it but was nice to get the call.”
Each song on the album communicates strong experiences and emotions. Larry wanted his two daughters to know them because he thinks they will learn something from each (now he wishes they would stop singing them already). But he feels the same is true for everyone. Songs have been at the core of his life. They are powerful things.
Larry: “Whether you’re 17 or 67, you should be singing because you’re compelled to sing, because you have a passion for it. The best songs have a hymn-like quality, they speak heart to heart. I hope these speak to you.”