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Members include Ralph Ezell (left band 1995), bass; Mike McGuire, drums; Marty Raybon (born in 1960 in Sanford, FL), lead vocals; Jim Seales, lead guitar; Rocky Thacker (joined band 1996), bass; and Stan Thorn (left band 1995), keyboard. Addresses: Record company--Capitol Nashville, 3322 West End Ave., Nashville, TN. Management--Turner and Company, 1018 17th Ave. S., Nashville, TN 37212.

From their diverse roots in bluegrass, funk, and southern rock, the members of Shenandoah have joined together to form one of the most consistently admired country bands of the 1990s. Fronted by the lean, raw, emotive vocals of lead singer Marty Raybon, the quintet--which in an earlier incarnation included bassist Ralph Ezell, drummer Mike McGuire, guitarist Jim Seales, and keyboardist Stan Thorn--has reaped numerous Number One hits, gold records, and awards. Their 1995 hit "Somewhere in the Vicinity of the Heart," performed with bluegrass vocalist Alison Krauss, earned a coveted Grammy. Although several members of the band parted company in the mid-1990s, Shenandoah has continued to win new audiences with their musical expression of the true southern roots of country music.

Getting his start in music by playing alongside his father in a family bluegrass band, the irrepressible Florida-born-and-bred Raybon moved to Nashville in the early 1980s and made the rounds in an attempt to begin a solo career. "I spent a Christmas Day in Nashville flat broke, stayin' in a house with a friend of mine who'd already gotten his eviction notice," Raybon admitted to Country Music contributor Bob Allen. "The heat was turned off, the lights was turned off, and all I had to eat was a can of corn. Only thing I had to open it with was a butter knife, but I guarantee you I got that sucker open!" In 1985, after several discouraging years, he learned that the MGM Band--a house band for a club in Muscle Shoals, Alabama--was in need of a lead singer. Raybon tried his luck, got the gig, and boarded the first bus headed back down south.

Originally comprised of former session musicians McGuire, Seales, and Thorn, the MGM Band later took on Ezell; after losing their gig at the MGM, the five musicians got a new job and developed a new sound under the name Diamond Rio. While their act caught the ear of Nashville producer Rick Hall, their band's new name didn't. He gave them two options: "Rhythm Rangers" or "Shenandoah." Choosing the name Shenandoah appeared innocent enough; unfortunately, it would prove problematic, to say the least.

Meanwhile, under their new name, the band signed with Columbia and released their self-titled debut album in 1987. While the record yielded several top ten hits, including "She Doesn't Cry Anymore" and "Mama Knows," it would be their next two efforts, The Road Not Taken and Extra Mile--accompanied by a relentless touring schedule of 300 shows a year--that would build the group's strong fan base. Singles like "Church on the Cumberland Road," "Two Dozen Roses," and "Next to You, Next to Me" won over country listeners in droves and earned the group several awards, including vocal group of the year honors from the Academy of Country Music in 1991. For many fans, the deep love of family, tradition, and the South were embodied in Raybon's rough-edged vocals.

Unfortunately, these successes were overshadowed by legal problems resulting from the group's name. Copyright infringement suits were filed against them by an ever-growing flock of self-proclaimed "Shenandoah" bands, and it would take three years and a severe financial downturn before the suits were finally settled and the group could once again perform as Shenandoah. Meanwhile, their recording contract with Columbia expired in 1990 after the release of their third album--a top-seller, the proceeds of which they would be unable to touch during litigation. Concert bookings were on the decline due to nervous promoters, so the five bandmembers found themselves unable to record, sign contracts, or give press interviews. With putting food on the table for their young families a top concern, thoughts of giving up on the business and moving on to something else crossed the minds of these discouraged musicians more than once.

By supporting each other through the rough times, the members of Shenandoah were able to stick it out. In 1991 they declared corporate bankruptcy, which enabled them to purchase the rights to their name. After signing a new contract with RCA, they were back on track and full steam ahead; the group turned out several hits-- including "Leavin's Been a Long Time Comin'" and "Rock My Baby"--on 1992's Long Time Comin'. And Raybon was even able to find some good in the band's three-year ordeal, telling Allen: "The best part of it all is the contact we have with people out there on the road.... You wouldn't believe how many people have come up to us and said they were pulling for us the whole time." The pain of their experience wasn't lost on the bandmembers either; when Shenandoah found itself on the other side of the fence after Arista signed a hot bluegrass-based group calling itself Diamond Rio, they graciously handed over their legal right to the name free and clear, thereby sparing the new band the same problems they had so recently endured.

Shenandoah would record one more album as part of their contract for RCA, 1993's Under the Kudzu. Featuring a host of upbeat singles, the album was considered by many critics to be the group's best effort yet. "The best thing about Under the Kudzu," noted Allen in Country Music, "is that Shenandoah has managed to put new bubbles in the bath water without throwing out the baby. The band's heartfelt southern harmonies and appealing Sunday-down-South sincerity somehow remain intact, even amidst the muscularity, heightened decibel levels and rowdy two-steps of this album." "I Want to Be Loved Like That" swiftly climbed to Number One, followed by the redneck manifesto "If Bubba Can Dance (I Can Too)," which won over younger fans with its rowdy high spirits. As Raybon told Jennifer Fusco-Giacobbe in Country Song Roundup, with Kudzu the band had made a conscious decision to change their sound: "The thing, probably more than anything, was we wanted to make sure that as country music changed, and as big as country music was getting, that we were going to be able to change with it."

After the completion of their two-label contract with RCA in 1993, Shenandoah signed with Capitol Records' Nashville-based Liberty label and produced Somewhere in the Vicinity of the Heart. The Grammy-winning title track, a ballad pairing the rugged vocals of Raybon with the angelic soprano of Krauss--a bluegrass veteran but a newcomer to the country charts--became one of the biggest country songs of the year. "Darned If I Don't (Danged If I Do)" and "She Could Care Less" provide the album's rollicking counterpoint, and "Heaven Bound (I'm Ready)" is an earthy take on gospel harmony that reflects the group's affection for the southern-based gospel tradition. In addition to the group's Grammy-nominated contribution to the 1995 album Amazing Grace: A Country Salute to Gospel, Raybon recorded a self-titled solo gospel album during the same period.

Aside from marking a full decade together for the five musicians who had built their collective reputation under the hard-won name of Shenandoah, 1995 proved to be a year of transition as well. Thorn left the band to take a turn as a jazz musician, and Ezell opted to trade touring for studio work inside Music City limits in order to spend more time with his family. Around the same time the group decided to compile their first greatest hits album, as the remaining bandmembers rerecorded nine of their past hits--"Ghost in This House" and "Sunday in the South," to name but two--and added five new tunes, including "I Will Know You," "Lonely Too Long," and "All Over But the Shoutin'." Released in early 1996 as Shenandoah, Now and Then, the album marked a milestone for the group. "When you get it dangled in your face that you may not have the opportunity to do what you love and care for, I think you cherish the days you have left in it," Raybon told Deborah Evans Price in Billboard. "[Now and Then is] going to give us a chance to say to the fans ...'Everything that we've been through, the good and the bad times, you stuck with us and we appreciate it.'"

by Pamela Shelton

Shenandoah's Career

Began performing as MGM Band (house band for MGM Club), Muscle Shoals, AL, 1985; played local clubs; signed with Columbia and released debut album, Shenandoah, 1987; released first Top Ten single, "She Doesn't Cry Anymore," 1988; were sued for copyright infringement over the use of their name, 1989; suit resolved in band's favor, 1991; signed with RCA, 1991; signed with Capitol Nashville, 1994; released single "Somewhere in the Vicinity of the Heart," with Alison Krauss, 1995. Raybon has also recorded a solo album, Marty Raybon, on the Sparrow label, 1995.

Shenandoah's Awards

Favorite Newcomer Award, TNN/Music City News, and country group of the year, Cash Box, both 1989; vocal group of the year, Academy of Country Music, 1991, for Extra Mile; Grammy Award nomination, 1991, for "Ghost in This House"; vocal event of the year award, Country Music Association, 1995, and Grammy Award for best country collaboration with vocals, 1996, both with Alison Krauss, both for "Somewhere in the Vicinity of the Heart."

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