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Ryan & Brennish Thomson

Updated Feb 2, 2024

Playing in a full time Nashville band

by Ryan Thomson

In July of 1982 Seagrams Seven Corporation sponsored a “Battle of the Bands.”  in which 1600 bands from around the country competed. I didn’t know that at the time. I was busy playing for contra dances and performing old time music with the Captain Fiddle Band. As a side interest I had joined a blues band in Dover, playing lead electric violin in a band with vocalists, sax, electric bass, and drums.  Earlier in the summer I had driven to Virginia on an old time fiddle tune collecting trip.  

In September I was back into my 4th year of graduate school. I enjoyed the process. Based upon a paper that I had presented at the American Psychological Convention in New York, I had received an offer from Kenneth Hammond at the University of Colorado to leave UNH and study under him in Boulder. 

At the end of a semester my 4 year financial assistantship UNH ended.  I had just finished teaching a course and was writing up student’s grades when I took a break to read the Boston Globe paper. One classified listing caught my eye, “Fiddler and guitarist wanted for full time Nashville band. Call to audition in Boston.”

On a lark I made an appointment to audition. I showed up and found a room full with people with violin cases -  hot bluegrass fiddlers, violinists from Berklee School of Music, older guys with cowboy hats and western shirts. I took a seat, listened to the other players, and waited for my name to be called. 

A live band played songs that I had never heard before. I was assigned tasks - playing fills on a slow ballad, jamming on a fast blues boogie, and doing a solo on a country rock song. They thanked me politely and called in the next musician. It was a fun experience, and I quickly put it out of my mind.

Two days went by and my phone rang. I had been invited back to a second audition with only a dozen players. As I waited I heard some great playing. There was a guy from Berklee who could play scales all of the way up the neck in every position, the bluegrass guy with screaming runs of notes, and cowboy fiddlers with “perfect” sounding solos. 

They threw tunes at me in hard keys, tested how fast I could go, and finally asked me to play a hot fiddle tune solo. I envied the abilities of some of the other players but returned home to New Hampshire, ready to get back to work on my dissertation. I was satisfied that I had done my best. A couple of days went by. I received a phone call. The caller got right to the point, “We’re down to the last two players. We really like this other guy’s technical ability, but you could improvise and solo on anything we threw at you, so you get first choice. You have two days to decide and then the bus leaves for Nashville.

I weighed my options. On the academic side I was very busy working on my Phd.  On the music side I was a strong dance fiddler and had won many fiddling prizes, including the Blaine Stubblefield Northeast US trophy from the National Fiddle Contest. I could jam competently on nearly anything I heard, which got me lots of gigs with other musicians. I could always go back to college. How often does someone get a chance to tour with a pro band?

Two days later I was on the tour bus as the replacement fiddle player in the band that had won 2nd place in the National Battle of the Bands sponsored by Seagrams. It turned out that being 2nd place wasn’t a problem as the Seagrams management actually preferred our band over the band that the Nashville contest judges had picked. So they flew the Baked Apple Band out to Phoenix, Arizona, to the Pointe Resort to perform at the annual company party. Glenn Shields(Edwards) was our lead vocalist and band leader.

A Baked Apple gig in Arizona:

Dodging a Brahma bull at a Seagrams 7 gig

Newspaper article announcing the 1981 Seagram's 7 International Band of the Year competition. Baked Apple Band ends up winning 2nd place and hires Ryan Thomson as fiddler after gaining a contract from a Nashville agency.
Newspaper advertisement for Baked Apple Band performing at the Holiday Inn for two weeks straight in Chillicothe, Ohio, 1983.

Ryan Thomson fiddles two straight weeks with the Baked Apple band at this Holiday Inn in Chillicothe Ohio.

Menu cover from the S.Kickers Steak House in Utica, New York, 1983, collected when the Baked Apple Band performed there with Ryan Thomson as fiddler, image 1 of 2.

This is the front and back cover of the S. Kickers menu. We played at this roadhouse in Utica, New York, for 4 weeks straight - Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday nights, and Sunday brunch. They had a gold Cadillac in their lobby and a full time person whose job it was to polish all of the brass railing in the fancy club.

One Sunday morning we had set up on stage to play for the brunch. We had just started our first song when the manager rushed up to us and waved for us to stop playing. We noticed that a half dozen men in expensive suits, some wearing sunglasses, had just entered the club. The manager explained that they had an important business meeting and desired quiet, and that we could take the day off with pay.

We performed at road houses 6 days a week in locations including Mississippi, 

Alabama, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania.

a photo of Ryan Thomson's plane ticket to Arizona to fiddle with the Nashville band - Baked Apple,  for Seagram's 7 annual coorporate celebration on March 8, 1983.
1981 Seagram's 7 International Band competition results in the Baked Apple Band winning 2nd place. they hire Ryan Thomson as fiddler.

from the Chillicothe Gazette, Ohio, 

January 29, 1983

Menu cover from the S.Kickers Steak House in Utica, New York, 1983, collected when the Baked Apple Band performed there with Ryan Thomson as fiddler, image 2of 2.

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