Jump to Content

Welcome! You’re browsing the No Depression Archives

No Depression has been the foremost journalistic authority on roots music for well over a decade, publishing 75 issues from 1995 to 2008. No Depression ceased publishing magazines in 2008 and took to the web. We have made the contents of those issues accessible online via this extensive archive and also feature a robust community website with blogs, photos, videos, music, news, discussion and more.

Close This

Town and Country - Shorter Artist Feature from Issue #27 May-June 2000

Johnny Staats

Picker of the litter


Johnny Staats received an unusual amount of media attention leading up to the March release of Wires & Wood, his Giant Records debut. Much of the focus in reports by such high-profile sources as The New York Times, People and the CBS Evening News has been on Staats’ day job as a UPS driver, but what ultimately matters is his extraordinary music.

Staats grew up in Jackson County, where he still lives, listening to Bill Monroe. He started his first band, Bluegrass Heritage, when he was seven. After years on the festival circuit, Staats came to the attention of the right people when he won both the guitar and mandolin categories at the 1996 Vandalia Festival in Charleston, West Virginia. Andy Ridenour, producer of the syndicated radio program “Mountain Stage”, immediately put Staats on his show; band director Ron Sowell was, to put it simply, “blown away.”

“He’s an incredibly gifted player,” Sowell says, “being on ‘Mountain Stage’, I’ve heard the best in the world, and he’s one of the best.” Inspired, Sowell took Staats to Nashville and hooked him up with John Van Meter, who eventually co-produced (with Sowell) Wires & Wood.

While many a talented contest winner has failed to translate live energy into studio magic, Wires & Wood is a keeper, a joyous and heartfelt celebration that goes well beyond the boundaries of traditional bluegrass. “I like the term Americana,” Staats says. “It encompasses a lot of things — bluegrass, country, folk. Hopefully, we’re starting something that more people will follow.”

Any album that features the kind of guest list Staats attracted — Tim O’Brien, John Cowan, Jerry Douglas, Sam Bush, Kathy Mattea, Sara Evans — is bound to have plenty of followers. But Wires & Wood is a distinctive, visionary album, not just a forum for celebrity cameos. In addition to the expected instrumental nuggets (which showcase Staats’ stunning range, from the breakneck “Mandolin Meltdown” to the lilting “Jessica’s Lullaby”), Staats honors his roots with a driving, passionate reading of Billy Ed Wheeler’s West Virginia classic, “Coal Tattoo”.

Staats’ singing, for those familiar only with his nimble chops, comes as a revelation. He finds a sweet yet dusty middle ground between the cool sophistication of Tony Rice and the backwoods soul of John Cowan, who Staats calls “my very favorite singer.”

In fact, the album’s high water mark occurs when Cowan, along with Tim O’Brien, offers high lonesome harmony on the title track, a deftly composed (by Van Meter, Sowell, Jon Ely and Tim Bays) and beautifully performed statement of purpose. Its gentle, loping melody is reminiscent of “Satisfied Mind”, and the lyrics strike a deep, immediate chord. It’s the kind of song destined to become a festival classic, both onstage and around the campfire: “If I had the money, if I had my say/I’d just sit right here/and make music all day/It lifts up my mind/runs deep in my blood/When I lay my hands on wires and wood.”

Enjoy the ND archives? Consider making a donation with PayPal or send a check to:
No Depression, 460 Bush St., San Francisco, CA 94108


Did you enjoy this article? Start a discussion about it, or find out what others are saying in the No Depression Community forum.

Join the Discussion »

Find out what's going on in roots music. Share concert photos and videos, learn about new artists, blog about the music you love.

Join the No Depression Community »

Originally Featured in Issue #27 May-June 2000

Buy our history before it’s gone!

Each issue is artfully designed and packed full of great photos that you don‘t get online. Visit the No Depression store to own a piece of history.

Visit the No Depression Store »

From the Blogs

  • Drinking Nectar with Wendy Colonna (Album Review)
    In ancient Greek and Roman stories, nectar—that sweet, golden, unadulterated liquid—provides sustenance to gods and goddesses. Nectar’s purity offers energy to those who imbibe its sweet liquor, but nectar’s sweet essence offers an elixir that heals and, for the inhabitants of the heavenly realms at least, drinking nectar also confers immorality upon them. I […]
  • Red Heart Alarm - Hammer Anvil Stirrup (Album Review)
    Seattle is increasingly becoming a bastion of alt country Americana bands vying to be the next big thing toting the Ballard Avenue sound. Red Heart Alarm have coined one of the best terms for their sound calling what they do “Gruntry,” explaining that it marries their native city’s Grunge legacy with the melodic twang of classic Americana/Roots music. The ba […]
  • Matt Woods – With Love From Brushy Mountain (Album Review)
    Ever-bearded Tennessean troubadour Matt Woods’ second full length studio record, With Love From Brushy Mountain, is slated for a May 13, 2014 release.  This comes as a follow up to his first full length, The Matt Woods Manifesto, a trying task in and of itself.  Woods is hands down one of the hardest working singer/songwriters I’ve ever come across.  He eats […]
  • Rod Kennedy (1930-2014) and the Kerrville Folk Festival - Interview & Remembrance
    Rod Kennedy’s legacy is incalculable for those who truly love music, he departed this earthly plane on Monday 14th April 2014. R.I.P. The following “warts and all” late May 1986 interview with Mr. Kennedy, the founder of the Kerrville Folk Festival, was the lead feature in the debut issue of the Kerrville Kronikle fanzine sometime around 1988. No serendipity […]
  • The Redlands Palomino Company - Broken Carelessly (Album Review)
    It’s looking to be a good year for what one might loosely term “alt country” albums with Scots acts the New Madrids and Red Pine Timber Company handing in excellent efforts so far. Time now to look to London to see what’s cooking down there and keeping their end up are The Redlands Palomino Company whose fourth album, Broken Carelessly is released this week. […]
  • Simone Felice - King Tuts Wah Wah Hut (Glasgow - 4/11/2014)
    With his second solo album safely under his belt Simone Felice is rapidly conforming his status as one of the finest purveyors of Americana around these days. Fortunately (for us) he remains somewhat under the mass radar allowing audiences to see him in intimate settings such as the hallowed King Tuts, a perfect space to see and hear his shamanistic offering […]

Shop Amazon by clicking through this logo to support NoDepression.com. We get a percentage of every purchase you make!

Subscribe To the No Depression Newsletter

Subscribe to the No Depression Newsletter