A short bio will soon be available here, but if you really want to know all about me RIGHT NOW, here’s my musical life as written and perceived by me. I wrote most of this so that some time in the future I’ll be able to remember it myself.
About me, from me:
Hello! If you’ve just stumbled onto this site and you’re wondering what in the world is “Ashby Frank”, I’m sure you’re not alone.
First of all, we can go over what Ashby Frank is NOT:
-Ashby Frank is not a folk music duo
-Ashby Frank is not a mutual fund
-Ashby Frank is not a brand of hot dogs
-Ashby Frank is NOT plural (my last name is not FRANKS)
-Ashby Frank is not a new term for a particularly brash way of being “frank“, but I’m working on it.
-Ashby Frank is not nearly as serious or distant as you think I am…most of the time.
-ASHBY FRANK DOES NOT speak of himself in the third person.
I always thought my name would make a good brand of paint. Maybe I’d be a good competitor for Sherwin-Williams? Hmmm.
Publisher’s Clearing House and various other spammers send mail to Frank Ashby. I WILL answer to Frank or Ashley, I’m used to it. Don’t feel bad, Ashby isn’t a very common name.
OK. So what is an Ashby Frank? It’s a professional mandolin player, singer, and songwriter living in Nashville, Tennessee, USA. I’m also very interested in geography, economics, politics, automobiles, exercise, health, history, computers, cooking, nature, travel, gadgets, electronics, sound engineering and sports. Oh, and I’m also a Kentucky Colonel. (See you CAN get a cool title even if you don’t get your doctorate… just learn to play music that people in Kentucky like)
I was born on April 19th, 1983 in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, but I grew up in the small township of Tyro south of Winston-Salem and a few miles west of Lexington (aka the Barbeque Capital of the World) in the western part of Davidson County, NC. I’m part of the 3rd generation of Franks to grow up in Tyro, and probably the last. The Frank family that lives around these parts is originally from southern Davidson County, but when they dammed the Yadkin River and flooded the home place to build High Rock Lake some Franks went farther south, and my side of the family went north to Tyro.
All of my professional life and much of my social and home life revolves around music, and that’s what this website is about. It’s an attempt to chronicle what I consider to be a great life, be it very strange and sometimes very frustrating and demanding.
I was exposed to many kinds of music from a very early age. My dad listens to country, rock, bluegrass, and southern gospel. Everything from Jerry Jeff Walker to Janis Joplin, and Fleetwood Mac to Jim and Jesse.
My mom listens to classic rock and roll (Three Dog Night, Moody Blues, Elvis), orchestral music, and all kinds of other stuff. She plays and teaches piano (here’s a link to her studio). She taught music to my sister and me, as well as hundreds of other children in the community through programs at her studio and at church where she was the organist.
Starting when I was probably 5 or 6 years old, my sister Jennie and I would perform for various church, social and family functions. While Jennie went on to star in local musical theater and sing at major events around the area, I was pretty shy about performing. My mom signed me up for guitar lessons when I was around 9 years old. After a little bit of hesitation, I found that I really enjoyed playing and learning. I remember my father offering me a substantial (for a 9 year old) cash reward for learning my first song, which he wanted to be “Wildwood Flower”. I like cash rewards, so I suffered through the blisters and learned the song…much sooner than my dad anticipated, I’m sure.
My guitar teacher Mr. Len Presnell’s main instrument wasn’t the guitar, it was the mandolin. Mr. Presnell is a very good traditional-styled mandolinist originally from the mountains of North Carolina near Valley Crucis. He let me pick up his Gibson mandolin and play it during guitar lessons, and for some reason he noticed that I picked out tunes pretty quickly.
So when I wanted an electric guitar for Christmas so I could play the kind of music that I listened to on country radio, Mr. Presnell told my parents that they should consider getting me a mandolin and see how I liked it.
But even before I started playing the mandolin, my parents had taken me to a few bluegrass shows and I started to really enjoy the music, and for a few hours one summer evening, they took me to the Galax Old Fiddlers Convention right down the road from my Grandparent’s cabin where we’d spend quite a few days every summer. I don’t really remember what I thought of the Fiddler’s Convention then, but a few years later it became a very important place and time of the year for me.
While I had never really been into bluegrass or even mandolin music all that much, I had enjoyed listening and singing along with my mother’s first cousin Scotty and his wife Cathy when they played and sang bluegrass songs on the guitar and mandolin at family gatherings, and I also enjoyed listening to the tunes that my teacher Mr. Presnell played.
Well, I guess it worked and I stayed away from that evil rock and roll, and I loved playing the mandolin that they got me that year for Christmas My parents never pushed me into music, but they did give me incentive to play, and gave me the right kind of instruments and lots of encouragement. I know lots of successful musicians grew up in an environment without supporting parents, but knowing myself and my personality I don’t think I would have ever had the confidence to get on stage or play in front of people the first time if it weren’t for the encouragement of my whole family, and for that I’m forever grateful.
Ok, so where was I? I think I’m playing the mandolin now. I’m 10 I think. (flashback…. I was really into NASCAR, NCAA Basketball, fishing, politics, and the World Wrestling Federation. I wonder what happened to Sgt. Slaughter?) Ok, ok.
I had met some players from around the area through Mr. Presnell, and I started playing at local jams. Right after I started messin’ with the mandolin, our local Lutheran Brotherhood Agent Eddie Conrad from nearby Thomasville brought a young fiddle player named Jimmy Van Cleve and his father Don to a little jam session at our church. This was the first time I ever got to pick with someone around my age (Jimmy was 14, and I was probably 10).
Not soon after that, my parents started taking me to bluegrass shows around the area. I enjoyed hearing and learning about this kind of music, but the audience at these shows consisted of much older people. Even though I never really was a kid that liked to hang around big groups of normal kids, I don’t think I remember feeling like I fit in at these events, and I don’t remember being all that attracted to the music. But all of that would change very soon.
Later that year, my cousin Scotty told my mom about a large Bluegrass Festival only about 25 miles from our house that we didn’t even know existed. So we packed up the van and attended the Denton Bluegrass Festival in Denton, NC near where all the other Franks in Davidson County live .
After the first day, my opinion of Bluegrass music had changed drastically. That weekend I saw so many bands that made me want to learn to play and learn about the music. The Lonesome River Band (Ronnie Bowman, Darrell Webb, Tim Austin, and Sammy Shelor), Alison Krauss and Union Station (Alison Krauss, Ron Block, Barry Bales, Adam Steffey, and Dan Tyminski), Lou Reid, Terry Baucom and Carolina (Lou Reid, Bauc, Clay Jones, John Wade), New Vintage (Gena Britt, Russell Johnson, Earl Lewellyn, Carl Caldwell, and Jan Johannson), IIIrd Tyme Out (Steve Dilling, Russell Moore, Mike Hartgrove, Wayne Benson, and Ray Deaton) and legends like Doyle Lawson, J.D. Crowe, and Tony Rice! I could go on and on. I was hooked and went home and practiced and practiced.
That week in Denton, Gena Britt from New Vintage gave my mom the name of Tim Moon in Asheboro, NC when she asked about mandolin teachers in the area. I would take lessons from Tim for the next few years and he was a GREAT teacher.
A few months later, I started competing at local fiddlers conventions, and going to festivals. Before I knew it, it was all I wanted to do. My mom and dad bought a used Winnebago for us to use at festivals on the weekends. We went to Merlefest which at the time was quite a bit smaller and more “Bluegrassy”, and we also “camped” at other fiddler’s conventions in the area like Elk Creek and Mount Airy. These contests meant a lot to me at this time, and I started to win awards like “Most Promising Talent” which was very cool. Though I must admit, that even at that young age, Ashby, yes I, being the cynic from birth that I was and still am, well…. I thought it was kinda cheesy. I liked the ribbon, but they usually weren’t blue and I wanted to win the bigger money prizes like the older guys were winning.
By the time the next Galax Fiddlers Convention came around I started to realize how amazing the culture of these events is. There is more to win by learning from the experts and enjoying pickin’ with these musicians, than there is in the contest on the stage. It’s hard not to really love Galax if you hang around it for a couple of years. You can see so many different and unique characters, styles, and forms of music. It’s great.
I started playing with a few local bands, and my parents were very willing to take me to as many shows and contests as I wanted to play. Playing in a band setting from a very young age probably changed the way I thought about music. I think I’ve always been more of a “song” person, versus being a player focused on instrumental “licks”.
One of the really cool things about bluegrass is that you can meet the “stars” very easily, and they’re all very approachable. All of the people that I looked up to in bluegrass and met were VERY nice to a kid in a ball cap with a mandolin case on his shoulder… people like Alison Krauss, Ronnie McCoury, Ronnie Bowman, Sammy Shelor, Kenny Smith, Lou Reid, Russell Moore, Tony Rice, Scott Vestal, Sam Bush, John Duffey, and Bill Monroe. I even got to pick on stage with Mr. Monroe for a set when I was 13 years old.
So after a few years of playing around the region and going to contests and festivals and taking lessons from Tim Moon and later Lou Reid, I started winning contests and making more and more friends in music. At the age of 14 in 1997, I won the mando contest at the Galax Fiddlers Convention (with the rhythm guitar backing of Kenny Smith).
A year later, with the advice of festival promoter Milton Harkey, I started working on my first recording project which we asked Lou to produce. Lou did a very good job producing the album and singing lead and harmony on quite a few tracks on the album. “First Crossing” also featured some of the best pickers and singers in the business. I had done a little bit of recording before, but getting to play with people like Lou, Rob Ickes, Barry Bales, Alan O’Bryant, Gena Britt, Kenny Smith, and Stuart Duncan was a real thrill for me and a very good experience.
During that time I played occasionally with Lou and Carolina at a dinner theater called “Fiddler’s Grove” in Liberty, NC. Getting to share the stage with such a great bunch of players and be a small part of one of my favorite bands was quite an honor for me. It also gave me another opportunity to pick with Jim Van Cleve who was in Lou’s band at the time.
In the year 1999, I turned 16… which means I got my driver’s license! Seeing that all that I wanted to do was go places to see, hear, and play music that made for a pretty exciting year. That year I placed 1st in the Galax and Merlefest Mandolin Contests as well as winning the “Pizza Hut International Bluegrass Showdown” in Louisville, KY with a band that I helped form called Southern Drive and the SPBGMA Band Contest in Nashville, TN with the group New Reflections. My CD was released in the winter of ’99 and was played all over the world on acoustic music radio programs. It was a very good year for this young musician.
In March of 2000, I got my first real “road gig” with Jeanette Williams. I met Jeanette and her husband Johnny a few years earlier at Galax and was really thrilled that they would give me a chance to go out on the road and start doing what I wanted to do for a living. They were really great to work with for, and the band was always a fun bunch to be around. I remember my first gig with them was in Ocilla, GA, and during my two years with Jeanette’s band we toured all over the US, parts of Canada, and France. The trip to France in the spring of 2001 was my first trip over seas and I had a BLAST.
Members of Jeanette Williams and Clearwater while I was in the band were: Jeanette and Johnny Williams, Tim Jefferson, Tommy Morse, Steve Fraleigh, Marsha Bowman, and Donica Christensen.
During this time I started my study of entertainment technology and sound engineering at Guilford Tech in Jamestown, NC. It was a pain to fit all the classes in with playing on the road and working some at home, but I did graduate in 2002.
In 2001, after a year and a half on the road with Jeanette, I left the group to start a band with banjo masher supreme-o and top-knotch girl singer Gena Britt. Gena had been the first real professional bluegrass musician that I ever met and I got to be very good friends with her while she was playing with Lou Reid and Carolina.
I played around the country with Gena and the band for about a year and a half, and I’ll be on her CD that’s way over due and coming out soon. Gena and her husband Tim are two of my best friends in the world and I wish I could see them more often. The members of the Gena Britt Band while I was there were: Beth Lawrence, Keith Tew, Greg Martin, Shannon Slaughter, Clay Jones, and Tim Tew. GREAT memories remain from the days with the Gena Britt Band.
While playing as a house musician for the Doobie Shea Records showcase room at the IBMA World of Bluegrass, I met Marty Raybon. I remembered Marty as the former singer for one of the country group Shenandoah, but I learned that he was forming a bluegrass band. After meeting Marty and practicing a few times, I became part of his band Full Circle.
Over the next 4 years, I would travel the country playing at churches, bluegrass and country music festivals, and concert hall venues with Marty. It was a pretty cool adventure. I first played the Grand Ole Opry as a member of Marty’s band, and I also played on three albums with the group.
Members of Marty Raybon and Full Circle during my tenure with the band were: Clay Jones, Patton Wages, Edgar Loudermilk, Glen Harrell, Shane Blackwell, and Derick Dillman.
After I graduated college and went full-time with Marty’s group I decided that it was time for me to move to Nashville. With my move came a lot of excitement and growing up. Obviously being a mandolin player isn’t always the most fiscally rewarding profession in the world, but it’s been worth it! Only now after three and a half years in Nashville does it really feel as much like “being home” as it does when I’m back in North Carolina.
After moving to Nashville I started playing part time with one of my favorite singers on the planet, Ronnie Bowman, as well as filling in occasionally with Alecia Nugent. I’ve also started working more and more as a sideman on various projects in Nashville since I moved there, and I hope that will continue for as long as I’m in town. It’s an honor to have people ask you to play on their recordings.
When Alecia needed a full-time mandolin player in 2006, I was happy to help her and start as a member of her band. She’s based out of Nashville and it was very nice not to have to wear out a car driving to meet a band every weekend.
I can’t tell you how much I enjoy hearing Alecia sing and traveling with her group. She was so much fun to sing with and is a great person to know.
Later in the year, Jim Van Cleve (now living in Nashville, working with the group Mountain Heart, and recording and producing is own Grammy nominated projects), Aaron McDaris (from The Grasscals), Darrell Webb (from Wildfire and Rhonda Vincent and the Rage), Greg Martin (Ronnie Bowman Band), and I decided to start a band to play around Nashville. All of us have been friends for quite a few years, and thought that it was time for another generation of sidemen to start playing on our days off of the road. The result of that idea is called the “Mashville Brigade”. We play at the world famous Station Inn every Tuesday night, and have some great guest artists when one of us is out of town.
So that long story is pretty much where I’ve been. I doubt ANYONE has made it this far but if you have here’s where I am now.
In July I started playing with the group Special Consensus. It’s great to start singing lead and steppin’ out front a little bit. We’re recording an album in March. So come see me on the road, or in Nashville with the Mashville Brigade, and remember to read my blog and find out where I’ve been and where I’m going.
Oh, and another thing! Even though I greatly enjoy writing, I’m not a professional, nor was I an English major, or even a good speller. So as you read my site and the things that I write, please don’t expect perfect grammar, spelling, or punctuation and don’t bother correcting me.
I made it through various levels of the North Carolina Public Education System, years of home schooling, and graduated with honors from Guilford Tech in Jamestown, NC all without mastering the correct use of the English language. Phonics have never “worked for me”, and I think the English language has too many rules with exceptions. The way I speak is correct to me, and most people can understand me.
However, you should be forewarned that I may type and speak in my native tongue and dialect which is called New Southern American English at any time.
Who knows?!?!….I might even throw in some Tidewater, Canadian, New Yawk, NCAE, Chicagoesse, Old Southern American English, or Gullah terms that I’ve picked up along the way from my travels and from my band mates. (You really should read the linked article about Southern American English, which I found to be quite entertaining, but if you’re not from or have never been around these parts please don’t believe that there’s anyone left down here that’s at all connected to modern Southern society that still uses phrases like “That dog is yernses.” unless we’re using our own dialect sarcastically. WE DO, however, tend to put the letter “s” at the end of words which don’t require it.) You never neaux.
By the way, I learned all that stuff about exactly what dialect I speak by looking it up at my FAVORITE website and time killer in the world, which, along with other distractions, keeps me from practicing as much as I should and lets me read about all kinds of interesting things which most of you PROBABLY would not find all that interesting and understandably so (I’m weird). I’ll tell you about all of my other time killing vices later on in my blogging life I’m sure.
If I interest you, hang around this site and see where I take you. I think it’s going to be very fun and entertaining for all interested parties. I also encourage you to subscribe to my RSS feed if you’re into that sort of thing.
Thanks for reading my story here, drop me an email if there’s anything I can help you with.