Lorraine Jordan is down-home, in a kick-off-her-shoes kind of way. You’d never guess she’s a star in the music world, along with her bluegrass band, Carolina Road.
Jordan and the band have had well over a decade of success together. Their latest album, Back to My Roots, garnered critical acclaim, and its title song hit the No. 1 spot on the Bluegrass Unlimited National Bluegrass Survey last fall.
We caught up with Jordan, of Garner, between her annual Christmas in the Smokies Festival in Tennessee and hopping a plane to California.
After playing a mandolin solo in our photography studio, she sat down long enough to chat about her career — sans her show jacket and shoes, of course.
“I’m just me, and I don’t try to be anything else,” Jordan said. “I think that’s why the band is popular; we’re very reachable, and what you see is what you get.”
Jordan says she was considering retirement from her traveling music career, “But then we got the number one song with ‘Back to My Roots.’ It’s spectacular! To have that number one song means your song is best of all. How can I walk away from the fans?”
Bluegrass is a friendly world, Jordan says; Carolina Road even throws an annual Christmas party for fans.
“At festivals, fans meet us at the bus, invite us to their campsites, bring us brownies, help us carry stuff,” she said. “And all the bluegrass bands are friends.”
“Back to My Roots” reflects on simpler times in life. The song’s video features people and places from Jordan’s coastal hometown of Vanceboro, N.C., and from Raleigh and Garner, her home since 1984.
Scenes even include her parents, Royce and Janice Jordan. (Watch the video at www.youtube.com/CarolinaRoad1.)
The album also marks a return by the band to Jordan’s roots of traditional bluegrass music; her commitment to the sound has earned her the title of “Lady of Tradition.”
“The difference with Carolina Road is it’s my band,” she said. “I like being the leader, knowing what music I want to do. It’s traditional, but with a fresh approach. When you hear Carolina Road, you’re gonna hear legendary standards, and fiddle, and banjo. I want to keep it going, and make a mark.”
A full-time performer for 20-plus years, Jordan is also the co-creator of the award-winning Daughters of Bluegrass project, a series of albums bringing together the best female pickers and singers in the genre.
“I just always loved music; even when I was little I wanted to sing and play,” Jordan said. “And by middle school, when all the other kids were at the skating rink, I just wanted an instrument in my hand.”
Beach music rules in Vanceboro, but Jordan took up electric bass in “what they call classic rock now,” till the bluegrass bug bit her via the town’s older generation.
The opening bars of rocker Rod Stewart’s song “Maggie May” introduced her to the sound of mandolin, and she’s since become known for her “chop.”
So what is a mandolin chop?
“It’s the offbeat,” Jordan said, “the snare drum of bluegrass. It’s exactly the opposite of the bass. It plays a very important role; without the chop you don’t have the drive of the music.”
Jordan remembers the thrill of watching her musical hero, famed mandolin player the late John Duffey, perform in Alexandria, Va.
“He broke a string onstage and jokingly asked if anyone in the audience had one. I did! He played my mandolin while I changed his string, then I got to play with him on stage, and we became friends,” Jordan said.
These days, full-time travel with an all-male band offers its own memorable moments, Jordan says.
“I try to be one of the guys, be a team,” she said. “No drama. They say they wouldn’t tour with any other woman.”
The touring has drama enough of its own. Jordan offers an example:
“We went to play the Ralph Stanley Festival on Clinch Mountain in Virginia; talk about a mountain to take a bus up! We had to back up the curves. Then a lady hit us with her car and took off.
“By time we got there we were being announced. We jumped out of the bus tuning our instruments as we went, and went right out onstage and played the show.”
Known as one of the hardest working bands in bluegrass, Carolina Road performs in about 60 festivals each year, to crowds that can number tens of thousands. The band also plays a Royal Caribbean bluegrass cruise each October, featuring workshops and jam sessions.
Carolina Road travels internationally, and has toured in countries including Russia, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Canada as part of the U.S. State Department’s American Music Abroad program.
Jordan personally produces two festivals each year, Christmas in the Smokies in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., and Bluegrass in Cherokee here in N.C. Her dad, “my number one fan,” emcees those fests and serves as sales manager.
Locally, Carolina Road plays at Tir Na Nog in downtown Raleigh on the second, third and fourth Thursdays of each month, from 7 to 9:30 p.m.
Jordan’s two children are grown now, and her husband, Tom Langdon, isn’t a fan of the tour-bus life his wife maintains, so he keeps his own gospel music career local.
Jordan does have companions on the road, though: J.D and Polly, her Maltese friends. She pauses during our interview to take a call from their sitter, answering to the ring tone song of “Who Let the Dogs Out.”
When she is at home in Garner, Jordan enjoys riding her Honda 750 motorcycle, playing with the dogs and watching Panthers football.
Also a lady of faith, she plays with her Christian rock group, Jordan River Band, at Garner United Methodist and other area churches as the Carolina Road schedule allows.
“I have a love for music. It’s in my blood,” Jordan said. “It’s fulfilling, and I want to give back to the people who appreciate it.”
So when might she actually retire, and what will come next?
“In three years, maybe,” Jordan said. “I’ll probably continue to play Christian rock in churches. And well, I hear all about these TV shows people watch, so I might check them out!”
That’s only if she can be still long enough … after all, she’s made a life of moving to the music.
Learn more at carolinaroadband.com.
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