Rhonda Vincent
Overnight Success: Years in the Making
Rhonda Vincent and the Rage

November 3, 2001
By Russ Ringsak
She has one of those biographies that's almost hard to read, kind of like reading about Wayne Gretzky. She started playing when she was five years old -- music, not hockey -- and by the age of six was the drummer in the family band. So if you're a fifteen-year-old kid and you're thinking of learning to play an instrument and you read something like this your little heart is just going to sink. "Ten years behind already, and I'm only fifteen." I personally didn't pick up a guitar until I was 20 years old and I have felt 15 years behind ever since, and now I know why. And every day you don't practice at least four hours of course you get another day further behind; for most of us amateurs life is just one long stretch of falling farther back, like the old sign that used to hang in the restaurant of my home town: "The Hurrier I Go The Behinder I Get."

And somewhere way up in the front of the pack, far beyond what you can see through the dust, there are people like Tiger Woods and Rhonda Vincent, people who play like demons or sing like angels and who have done it since they were five. And about all you can do is just buy a ticket and sit there awestruck.

The snare drum, stand and brushes were given to her on her sixth birthday by her father; she learned mandolin when she was eight and took on the fiddle when she was ten. The family band was called the Sally Mountain Show, and it still is, and she still plays in it whenever she gets a chance. But she has a heck of a career going right now and is raising daughters aged 11 and 13 and is touring behind her new CD at the same time.

In her mid twenties, after cutting nine albums in 20 years with the Sally Mountain Show, she appeared on TNN's You Can Be A Star and was offered a job to sing with Opry star Jim Ed Brown. Things went well and Rebel Records signed her and she did 3 solo albums with them and was then offered a deal by Giant Records to record mainstream country. She opened shows for Alan Jackson and George Jones, appeared on the Grand Ole Opry and on TNN, NBC and CMT, filmed five videos, cut 3 more albums and did guest appearances on 15 others, including one with Ralph Stanley and five with Dolly Parton. And for all of this, she is still in her thirties and still married to her husband of 16 years.

And she still did bluegrass festivals and began to realize that was where she really wanted to be, and she spoke with Rounder Records and they liked the idea and they went to work; put a band together, called it The Rage, and produced Back Home Again, released in 2000, a return to the high-energy bluegrass she grew up on.

The new album is called The Storm Still Rages, her 19th. She is feeling good about this latest one, which features three songs she co-wrote with Terry Herd; her debut as a serious songwriter. Back Home Again won her a number of awards (including Female Vocalist of the Year and Album of the Year) and put her on the covers of magazines, but she feels, along with a lot of other people, that this one is even better.

So here she is, "in the right place at the right time," doing what she most wants to do and doing it as well as anyone out there. Someone wrote that she is "another overnight success years in the making." The new album ends with a minute-long version of the Martha White Foods theme, the company that for years sponsored Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs. Flatt & Scruggs performed the tune thousands of times all over the world, and Vincent says "My dream has been to record the 'Martha White Theme'... I know people have big dreams. That was one of mine."

And now, as part of a new sponsorship deal, the company has given her and The Rage a tour bus, the Bluegrass Express. It's beautiful. Red, white and blue, with notes all along the side and the big letters: "Now, BAKE IT RIGHT with MARTHA WHITE." This week she and The Rage are driving up from her home in Kirksville, Missouri, and I'm looking forward to seeing the Bluegrass Express sitting on Wabasha Street in Saint Paul this Saturday afternoon.

A writer and truck driver, Russ Ringsak has been with A Prairie Home Companion since 1974.

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