Pickin' & Grinnin'
Local bluegrass band records first CD
The New Balance has growing fan base in Kentuckiana
NORTH VERNON, Ind. (September 2015) – At age 52, vocalist Ronnie Deaton is certainly old enough to be the father of the four other members of his band, young men who range in age from 18 to 24. In spite of this age difference – and perhaps in many ways helped by it – The New Balance band has been tearing up the bluegrass music scene.
The New Balance bluegrass band from Jennings and Ripley counties includes (from left) Kyle Clerkin, Zion Napier, Garret Smith, Caleb Smith and Ronnie Deaton. The band has gained in popularity in the region.
Over the past year, The New Balance has been getting more and more popular, playing at numerous events across southern Indiana, Kentucky and beyond. They recently placed fifth at the Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music of America (SPBGMA) competition, and their first professional CD was just recorded at a Nashville, Tenn., studio.
“These kids are good – it’s rare,” Deaton explained in reference to the four “boys” he currently plays with in The New Balance: Zion Napier, Caleb Smith, Garret Smith and Kyle Clerkin. “Things are kind of starting to take off.”
Long before this takeoff, however, Deaton was singing and pickin’ with a number of other bluegrass bands. Throughout his long career, Deaton has opened or been on stage with groups such as Chris Cagle, Toby Keith, Tim McGraw, Ricky Skaggs, J.D. Crowe, IIIrd Tyme Out, Lonesome River Band and others.
Growing up playing bluegrass in church, Deaton started his first band more or less by accident back in 2000. Needing to fill a last-minute open time slot at the Jefferson County, Ind., fairgrounds, Deaton grabbed a few of his friends who never formally played together before. They had a great time, and the group Skynny Lynrd was born.
Described as a progressive bluegrass band with a tune similar to Merle Haggard’s “Workin’ Man Blues,” Skynny Lynrd played together for five years until some of the musicians just got too busy to keep it going.
“There’s a lot of burnout playing in these bands,” Deaton explained.
Photo by Don Ward
The New Balance features impressive talents of four young men and veteran lead singer Ronnie Deaton.
With one member from Skynny Lynrd, Deaton went on to start his second band in 2005, this time called Common Ground. “I wanted to put a good group together – not just a parking lot pickin’ band,” he recalled.
• For more information about the band, visit: www.NewBalanceBluegrass.com.
Sure enough, Common Ground became popular and began playing shows throughout the area. It was at a music festival in Columbus, Ind., that Deaton first heard the three brothers – Napier, Caleb Smith and Garret Smith – playing together as youngsters with their uncle.
“They love to play, and they were so good,” said Deaton. “They’ve been playing since they were real little.”
Years after that experience, Common Ground was beginning to fizzle out. Many of the musicians were facing health problems, and the band just couldn’t keep its tour commitments anymore. Not wanting to cancel his shows, Deaton asked the three boys and a friend of theirs – a group going by the name The New Balance – to play with him instead. “The rest is history,” he joked.
Caleb Smith recalled this experience as well, explaining that since Deaton had gotten them a gig years ago, they felt compelled to help him out. “Yeah, sure, it’s the least we could do,” he said.
Originally planning on returning to Common Ground after his group members healed, Deaton soon realized that wasn’t going to happen. His band mates either wanted to quit or didn’t have time to play anymore, so it was time for Deaton to find a new group. He didn’t have to look too far, however. The New Balance members instantly asked him to join their band as their lead vocalist.
“They wanted me to sing,” Deaton recalled. “Caleb is a killer guitar player. They didn’t really need any instrument help.”
Beyond Caleb Smith’s guitar playing skills, the band already had mandolin covered by Napier and the upright bass position filled by Garret Smith. Shortly after Deaton joined the group, they added on a longtime friend of the boys, Kyle Clerkin, to play banjo. “He was the missing piece – he fit right in,” Caleb Smith explained.
Since joining up with Deaton and Clerkin, The New Balance has certainly been picking up steam. They just wrapped up the recording of their first official CD about a month ago in the Nashville studio of bluegrass legend Ricky Watson, lead guitarist and vocalist for J.D. Crowe.
Caleb Smith described this experience as a chance to work with “some of the nicest people on earth.” He felt very blessed to be able to record in such a professional studio and to also work with renowned fiddle player Michael Cleveland.
“We were able to see what a real studio is all about,” Caleb Smith recalled. “It was a very humbling experience.”
Now that the CD is finished, the group will be sending it out to some recording labels to see if anyone will pick it up. The band members are optimistic. They have been encouraged by many professionals in the industry to go for a label. “I think we’re gonna be in pretty good shape,” Deaton said.
Oh yeah, and about their band name, The New Balance? Caleb Smith explained that he and his brothers were trying to think up a name for their group years ago. “People really enjoyed what we were doing, so we thought we’d start a band,” he said.
Racking their brains to come up with a compelling, inspiring group name, they happened to look down at their shoes and noticed one of the brand names: New Balance. “It is actually named after the tennis shoe,” Caleb Smith said laughing.
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