In 1984, as red-hot supergroup Alabama prepared to record their new tune “If You’re Gonna Play In Texas (You Gotta Have a Fiddle in the Band),” the knew they better get a red-hot super fiddle player into the studio to contribute some magic to that track.
The fiddler who helped turn that tune into Billboard’s Hot Country #1 Single that year?
Meet Platinum Award Winning Blaine Sprouse.
Originally from West Virginia, Blaine Sprouse is the son of a clawhammer banjo player who taught six-year-old Blaine a few guitar chords when he showed some interest. The budding young musician soon turned to the fiddle, beginning to teach himself on a glued-together instrument he’d found in a dumpster.
Because he didn’t have a bow, Sprouse had to make do at first with plucking tunes. When finally optained a bow, he began mastering bow techniques and working tunes up for local dances.
As Sprouse was learning, his father took advantage of every available opportunity to take the boy to the regional bluegrass festivals that happened around his hometown. Whenever Bill Monroe was part of a festival’s lineup, Sprouse knew Kenny Baker would be there, too.
“Kenny was my inspiration,” Sprouse recalls, all these years later.“He made the fiddle sound like no one else, and I wanted to find those same deep warm tones. I was hooked!”
Before he turned eighteen, Sprouse fast-tracked his professional career by joining Jimmy Martin as a Sunny Mountain Boy, touring the United States and Japan. After a move to Nashville, he left Martin to fiddle for Bill Monroe’s son, James, as part of his band, the Midnight Ramblers. Close proximity to Kenny Baker allowed Sprouse to enjoy the kind, generous mentorship of the master fiddler; the two also became lifelong friends.
When a hand injury sidelined Baker and forced him to temporarily stop working for Bill Monroe, Sprouse wore a Bluegrass Boy hat for several months, a role he repeated several times on subsequent occasions. Subbing for Eddie Stubbs, Sprouse later joined the Johnson Mountain Boys for their tour of Moscow. Much in demand as sideman and session player, he toured everywhere from Africa to Japan with and recorded with a stunning array of legendary bluegrass and country artists, including Charlie Louvin, Jim and Jesse & the Virginia Boys, and the Osborne Brothers, often performing on the Grand Ole Opry where he had earlier fiddled for both Bill and James Monroe.
In 1981, Sprouse joined banjo innovator Butch Robins to found The Bluegrass Band, poised to become “one of the most important acts in bluegrass music,” as Robert K. Oermann noted in his review of their debut album, Another Saturday Night. Unfortunately, the ensemble proved short-lived when Sprouse departed to join the Osbornes, and bandmate Alan O’Bryant left to form the Nashville Bluegrass Band.
Performing with both Grand Ole Opry members and the “young Turks” of bluegrass, Sprouse continued to carve an impressive nichefor himself as a fiddler, working with many artists and appearing regularly at Nashville’s world-famous Station Inn: The Roland White Band, The Dreadful Snakes, The Sidemen, Nashville Jug Band and The Cluster Pluckers, with whom Sprouse also appeared on Austin City Limits and entertained former president Bill Clinton and vice-president Al Gore when they visited Nashville on the campaign trail.
Sprouse’s four critically acclaimed solo recordings include the twin fiddle album Indian Springs, produced on Rounder Records in 1989. This glorious recording, which Sprouse made with Kenny Baker, is a wonderful example of the intuitive musical chemistry shared by the two fiddlers.
In the early 1990s, Sprouse fulfilled a lifelong desire to return to school to complete an education he’d had to abandon because of a family tragedy years earlier. He earned a law degree from Vanderbilt University in 1994. In 2009, his interest in music resurfaced when his fourth solo recording, Dogwood Winter, was reissued as Appalachian Mountain Fiddler.
Most recently, Sprouse worked as Peter Rowan’s primary fiddler, making appearances with Rowan at events like Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, MerleFest, Telluride Bluegrass Festival, RockyGrass, Gathering of the Vibes (subbing in for the late, great Vassar Clements in a reunion of Old & In The Way), A Prairie Home Companion, and many more. After nearly a decade, Sprouse made the decision to return to West Virginia to be closer to family when COVID changed the trajectory of his musical life once again.
As of 2023, Sprouse is a respected fixture in West Virginia bluegrass music as a distinguished judge in fiddle contests, as well as appearing at local and regional events with Richard Hefner and the Black Mountain Bluegrass Boys. He remains open to recording projects, private fiddle lessons, and performances with old and new friends.
Also a gifted mandolin and guitar player, Sprouse is equally at home with bluegrass, blues, swing, jazz and folk music. As he once told a reporter for Frets Magazine, “Music is my life. I just love to play.”
His heart continues to answer the fiddle’s call.