The Western Flyers

The Western Flyers are, left to right, bassist Gavin Kelso, Katie Glassman on fiddle, and Joey McKenzie on guitar.

Fiddler and songwriter Katie Glassman is well-known to Front Range audiences for her award-winning work as a solo artist, with her band Snapshot, and with The Western Flyers, a band that also features guitarist Joey McKenzie and bassist Gavin Kelso.

We caught up with Katie via email ahead of The Western Flyers’ show at Daniels Hall on Saturday, May 7, 2016. The 2015 National Swing Fiddle Champion talked about how the Flyers came together, the band’s upcoming album, and where she fits in in the world of Western swing.

What is like to play with guitarist Joey McKenzie and bassist Gavin Kelso? Had you played with them before, even informally, before forming The Western Flyers?

Katie: I’ve grown up traveling to oldtime fiddle contests around the country and listening to bootleg fiddle jam tapes where I first heard the great fiddling of Joey and his wife Sherry. They have both been very influential in the Texas style fiddling scene and as true students of the music, they knew, learned and played alongside all of the greats who were my heroes before them. Joey is a 3-time World Champion Fiddler…So I would often ask Joey to accompany me at contests and we began jamming when I was 13 years old. We’ve always had a strong musical connection.

Three years ago, I drove up to Buffalo, Wyoming to jam with Joey and see his band The Quebe Sisters perform. Gavin was their bass player and that’s where we met for the first time. I still remember that first hotel room jam. Since then, these two have my my dream rhythm section to play fiddle tunes with. They’ve been my team in winning every contest on my resume in the last two years, including the National Swing Fiddle Championships in 2015. And besides all that, they are two of my best friends.

The Western Flyers formed just last year, how did the band come together? Though you’ve been together a relatively short time, how has the band evolved to this point?

Katie: The band began rather informally as I would fly down there to jam every New Year’s Eve. But, once it became officially The Western Flyers, with the help of Joey’s mentoring, I began woodshedding authentic Western Swing and really pushing to develop my part as the 3rd member of the band. I jumped into a situation where these guys have played together as a rhythm section for years. So, I’ve spent a bunch of time in Texas rehearsing and learning. We all have been super dedicated to playing our parts accurately and bringing the music we love to life. Sherry McKenzie is an experienced band manager and booking agent and so much more. Without her, we would be nowhere. She landed our first gig at the Library of Congress. What an honor! We’ve also had the honor of playing with the last living Texas Playboy, Leon Rausch. Playing with a great is an unparalleled experience in my life. It has kept us all inspired to really keep this music alive.

When does The Western Flyers album come out? Can you tell us a little bit about that project and what the recording experience was like?

Katie: Our official release date for Wild Blue Yonder is July 3, 2016. We are very excited about the project. The music was recorded live at Mighty Fine Productions with Colin Bricker in Denver. We are just finishing up mixing at Audio Dallas with Paul Osborn. We wanted to capture the sound of the great Ray Price and Bob Wills recordings of the 50s. The audio has gone through an analog board. The artwork is composed of four, 4×4 original paintings by Brad Smith in Burleson, Texas. He captured us in a horse pulled wagon flying over a modern cityscape. We recorded a mixture of traditional music, beginning with Bob Wills’ “You’re From Texas” to old classic swing standards like “I’ll See You In My Dreams” and “No Moon At All.” We featured Joey and Gavin’s harmony vocals on a couple including the Ray Price shuffle “Heart Over Mind.” We also included a medley “Texas Style Fiddle Tunes” and a Joe Venuti/Eddie Lang duo.

You have a busy tour schedule this summer, with several different projects, including dates with The Western Flyers, Snapshot, and solo appearances. Beyond the obvious differences like personnel and set lists, do you approach preparing for those shows differently?

Katie: That’s actually a very good question. I’m smiling right now because, yes it is different. I take all the projects I play in very seriously. But, it is a bit of a different experience playing in a band with one of your heroes. No stone is unturned before a gig. Its not a casual thing for me, I really try to step it up every time. And I’d say that’s been a positive influence on everything in my life.

Western Swing draws from many musical influences – jazz, country, pop, blues, folk and more – and yet it is rooted in traditions established by the likes of Bob Wills, Hank Thompson and others. How do you balance staying rooted to tradition, and at the same time remain open to new influences?

Katie: I am a very rooted player and music listener. I see one of my roles in music as maintaining authentic ways of fiddling and passing it down to future generations. There are plenty of people trying to pave new paths and stray from tradition. That’s not me. I purely want to be another branch on the fiddling family tree. I love the music I play and just strive to remain tasteful.

This interview was conducted via email with Swallow Hill Music Marketing Manager Barry Osborne.