2011 Prize Winner: Sammy Shelor
Virginia Country Music Hall of Famer, Sammy Shelor is a 5x IBMA Award Winner for Banjo Performer of the Year, 2011 recipient of the Steve Martin Banjo Prize and has received numerous other awards and recognitions during his impressive career. Sammy currently leads the Lonesome River Band who have been entertaining audiences for more than 33 years.
When Sammy Shelor joined Lonesome River Band in 1990, he never envisioned himself leading the band only ten years later. Fresh off a six year stint with the popular Virginia Squires, Sam came on board along with Ronnie Bowman and before long, had recorded the landmark LRB CD, Carrying The Tradition with Dan Tyminski and Tim Austin. This recording quickly moved the band to headliner status, where they have remained ever since. When founder Tim Austin left in 1995 to focus on his studio, Sammy and Ronnie Bowman took over band management, and when Ronnie left in 2000, Sam found himself in charge, leading the band that had hired him fifteen years earlier.
Through changes in vocalists and rhythm sections, the constant in the wildly popular LRB sound has been Shelor’s insistent, driving banjo style. His peers in the International Bluegrass Music Association have voted him Banjo Player Of The Year on four separate occasions, and banjo pickers all over the world have studied Sammy’s tab books and instructional DVD from AcuTab. Sammy got an early start with the banjo, when his grandfather fashioned him a banjo from an old pressure cooker lid when Sam was only four years old. His other grandfather then issued a challenge, promising to buy him a real banjo if the young Shelor would learn to play two songs.
Sam met that mark in short order, and with the help of a family devoted both to him and to bluegrass music, he soon found himself entered in contests at fiddler’s conventions near his home in southwestern VA.
By age ten, he was performing in local bands and became a full time professional musician when he graduated from high school, joining The Heights Of Grass at age 19. That band eventually morphed into The Virginia Squires, and brought Sammy into contact with banjo legend Sonny Osborne, who helped shape the young picker’s approach to working as a pro banjo player. Sonny also showed Sam the importance of using a quality instrument, and introduced him to the sound of the pre-war flathead Gibson banjos that are now so highly prized by banjo players all over the world.
Since becoming a member of Lonesome River Band, Sammy has been featured on dozens of successful recordings, both with LRB and as a guest player. His solo project, Leading Roll, is still a popular title in the Sugar Hill Records catalog and his work on Knee Deep In Bluegrass for Rebel Records helped that project earn the Instrumental Album Of The Year award from the IBMA in 2001.
As a testament to Sammy’s prominence and influence in the banjo world, he has his own signature Sammy Shelor banjo fingerpicks, and a signature model banjo produced by Huber Banjos. His influence on amateur and semi-pro pickers can be demonstrated by a casual walk through the parking lots or jam sessions at any bluegrass event, where licks and phrases which Sam has added to the repertoire are heard alongside those contributed by Earl Scruggs and JD Crowe.
Sammy also recorded and performs with country super star Alan Jackson on the “The Bluegrass Album”. They have performed at Carnegie Hall, The Late Show with David Letterman, The Station Inn, and more.