Joe Ely left West Texas as a teenager and "followed Woody Guthrie west and the blues guys down south; was on the West Coast during all the big hippie days." After living in Europe for a while, he returned to Texas. "I always knew the best musicians were in Lubbock," he says. Ely's new CD is called Satisfied At Last (Rack 'Em Records). His work with the Flatlanders (Ely, Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Butch Hancock) includes 2009's Hills and Valleys (New West Records).
When he was a kid, John Lithgow wanted to become a painter — a watercolorist — but he has definitely made his mark in acting. By anyone's measure, he has carved out a stellar acting career — from television (3rd Rock from the Sun, How I Met Your Mother) to film (Terms of Endearment, The Rise of the Planet of the Apes) to Broadway (Requiem for a Heavyweight, M. Butterfly) and more. And in addition to his eight acclaimed children's books, Lithgow has a brand-new memoir: Drama: An Actor's Education (HarperCollins). "My first stab at a book that weighs more than three ounces," he quips.
Growing up in Indiana, Jearlyn Steele sang with her siblings as The Steele Children. One by one, they moved to Minnesota and started singing together again. Now music is the family business. Jearlyn also hosts Steele Talkin', a Sunday-night radio show that originates on WCCO in Minneapolis. Her most recent solo CD is Jearlyn Steele Sings Songs from A Prairie Home Companion.
In the 1980s, Jevetta Steele — along with her family group, The Steeles — toured the world in the musical The Gospel at Colonus. The show had another successful run at Ordway Center for the Performing Arts in 2010. And many remember Jevetta's Academy Award-nominated performance of "Calling You," from the film Baghdad Café. Among her solo albums is 2006's My Heart.
Mandolinist/composer Peter Ostroushko grew up listening to tunes played at family get-togethers in the Ukrainian community of northeast Minneapolis. It's the music that provides the basis for many of his compositions. His first recording session was an uncredited mandolin set on Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks. Since then, his works have been performed by the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra and the Kremlin Chamber Orchestra, among others, and his music is featured on public television specials such as the Ken Burns film The National Parks and Minnesota: A History of the Land, for which Peter won an Emmy. An all-instrumental CD, When the Last Morning Glory Blooms, was released last year on Red House Records.
Calling themselves Storyhill, acoustic duo Chris Cunningham and John Hermanson are longtime musical collaborators, dating back to high school days in Bozeman, Montana. Their 2007 album — simply titled Storyhill — was named Best CD of the Year by the Indie Acoustic Project and led to their winning the prestigious Kerrville New Folk Songwriting Competition. Their latest recording is Shade of the Trees (Red House Records).
Four-time Grammy winner Steve Wariner is acclaimed for his instrumental abilities, his singing, his producing, and his hit songwriting. He has charted some 30 top-10 singles and has been a member of the Grand Ole Opry since 1996. His early career was propelled by his musical hero, Chet Atkins, about whom he says: "Try to do what he does technically. Then try to do it with his touch, tone, and feeling, and you're reminded that you can't out-Chet Chet. He was something else." Wariner's latest CD is Guitar Laboratory (SelecTone Records).
Gillian Welch and David Rawlings
Gillian Welch grew up in Los Angeles, where her musical parents wrote for The Carol Burnett Show. In the early 1990s, she met Dave Rawlings at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, while the two were students waiting to audition for the country-band class. Over the past two decades, they have carved out a highly successful career, including Welch's latest album, The Harrow & The Harvest (Acony Records).
Garrison Keillor was born in Anoka, graduated from the University of Minnesota ('66), and lives in St. Paul. He is the author of numerous books, including Pilgrims: A Wobegon Romance, and Guy Noir and the Straight Skinny (Viking), and the editor of several anthologies of poetry, including Good Poems: American Places (Viking).
The Guy's All-Star Shoe Band
The Guy's All-Star Shoe Band is led by A Prairie Home Companion music director Richard Dworsky. Keyboard player, composer and improviser in any style, he also writes all the script themes and underscores. His latest CD is So Near and Dear to Me.
Chet Atkins called Pat Donohue (guitar) one of the greatest fingerpickers in the world today. And he writes songs too — recorded by Suzy Bogguss, Kenny Rogers, and others. Nobody's Fault (Bluesky Records) is the most recent of Pat's 10 albums.
Gary Raynor (bass) has performed with the Count Basie band and Sammy Davis Jr., with whom he toured for several years. He was first call for dozens of touring Broadway shows, including the first presentation of The Lion King. Gary teaches at the McNally Smith College of Music in St. Paul.
Peter Johnson (percussion) has played klezmer music with Doc Severinsen and jazz with Dave Brubeck. He was a drummer for The Manhattan Transfer and for Gene Pitney. He has toured the world, but he always comes back to home base: Saint Paul.
One minute he's mild-mannered Tim Russell; the next he's George Bush or Julia Child or Barack Obama. We've yet to stump this man of many voices. In other roles, Tim played the part of Al, the stage manager, in the Robert Altman film A Prairie Home Companion and a detective in the Coen brothers' A Serious Man.
On APHC, Sue Scott plays everything from ditzy teenagers to Guy Noir stunners to leathery crones who've smoked one pack of Camel straights too many. The Tucson, Arizona, native is well known for her extensive commercial and voice-over work on radio and television, as well as movie and stage roles.
Lovingly selected from the earliest archives of A Prairie Home Companion, this heirloom collection represents the music from earliest years of the now legendary show: 1974–1976. With songs and tunes from jazz pianist Butch Thompson, mandolin maestro Peter Ostroushko, Dakota Dave Hull and the first house band, The Powdermilk Biscuit Band (Adam Granger, Bob Douglas and Mary DuShane).