Dan Tyminski

Although born and raised in the Green Mountain State (Vermont) some 600 miles from the Mountain State (West Virginia), Dan Tyminski has so thoroughly absorbed the bluegrass associated with the latter that he’s one of the most recognized faces, popular voices and respected musicians the genre has ever seen. And in doing so, he’s reminded folks all over the world that New England – its Puritanical beginnings and Yankee traditions aside – has been a bluegrass hotbed for the better part of a century.

For those unfamiliar with the region’s banjo-pickin’, dobro-strummin’, mandolin-pickin’-and-a-strummin’ history, here’s a snapshot: New England has produced an extraordinary assortment of renowned bluegrass groups including Bob and Grace French, The Charles River Valley Boys, Joe Val & the New England Bluegrass Boys and Southern Rail, singer-songwriter-producers like Peter Rowan and Jim Rooney, a label that’s promoted the genre for more than five decades, Rounder Records, and bluegrass-friendly venues such as Brandy’s I, Hillbilly Ranch, The Bull Run and The Cantab Lounge, the last of which has held weekly “Bluegrass Tuesdays” for the past 30 years, emceed by local legend Geoff Bartley.


Outside the bluegrass community, Tyminski is best known as the voice of George Clooney’s character in The Soggy Bottom Boys in the 2000 film O Brother, Where Art Thou? The rendition of “I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow” that he, Pat Enright and Harley Allen recorded for the soundtrack won the Country Music Association Award for Best Single and a Grammy for Best Country Collaboration.

Tyminski has taken home at total of 14 Grammys for both solo projects and collaborative ones and been part of vocalist-violinist Alison Krauss’s band Union Station for 31 years. In addition to recording three solo albums, he’s worked with country-music icons including Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson, Reba McEntire and Randy Travis.


Born on June 20, 1967, in Rutland, Vermont, Tyminski’s interest in stringed instruments began at age six, sparked when his older brother left him his mandolin while he was in the Navy. In high school, as his classmates rocked to Def Leppard, danced to Prince and styled their hair a la members of Duran Duran, he immersed himself in the banjo, his primary instrument from age 12 to 21. “I love rock and roll,” he told NPR in 2017. “I love heavy percussion, big music. But for whatever reason, everything that I did growing up was just tunnel-vision acoustic. When I had a banjo, that was it. I couldn’t think about anything else.”

Around age 15, Tyminski formed The Green Mountain Boys with his brother and the group stayed together for about five years, during which time he added guitar and mandolin to his instrumental talents. He cites his primary influences as guitarists Del McCoury, Tony Rice and Larry Sparks, mandolinist-banjoist Ricky Skaggs and mandolinist-guitarist Jimmy Martin.


In 1988, 21-year old Tyminski moved to Virginia to join The Lonesome River Band on mandolin, hired by the group’s banjo-playing founder Sammy Shelor, a Virginia Country Music Hall of Fame inductee and five-time International Bluegrass Music Association Banjo Player of the Year Award recipient. Tyminski appears on two of the group’s albums, 1989’s Looking for Yourself and 1991’s Bridging the Tradition, the latter of which won the IBMA’s Album of the Year award.

Asked in 2019 how he landed the gig, Tyminski said it was through no direct effort of his own. “It was a word-of-mouth thing,” he told music website Last.fm. “We ended up playing some shows at the same venue and when the position came up for a musician, one of the guys in the band gave me a call.”


In 1992, Tyminski joined Union Station and he’s recorded and toured with the band backing Alison Krauss ever since. In 1994, he recorded a third album with The Lonesome River Band, Old Country Town, and in 1995 he played on Krauss’ rendition of “When You Say Nothing at All,” which hit #2 in the Billboard Hot Country Singles Sales chart.

Though known for the slick, Nashville-originated sound called “countrypolitan” that provides enormous crossover between country and pop charts – as evidenced by her 42 Grammy nominations and 27 Grammy awards – Krauss has showcased Tyminski’s down-home vocal style on albums and in live appearances. This has been particularly the case since the release of O Brother, Where Art Thou? – eight years after Tyminski joined Union Station – and the success of that soundtrack has been a boon for Krauss and other bluegrass artists in terms of crowd sizes and record sales

While performing with Union Station and The Lonesome River Band in the ‘90s, Tyminski also appeared on LPs by Dolly Parton, Vince Gill, Billy Dean, Randy Travis, Clint Black, Sara Evans, Leann Rimes and Willie Nelson, among others.


In June 2000, Doobie Shea Records released Tyminski’s first solo album, Carry Me Across the Mountain, six months before the release of the Oscar-nominated Cohen brothers film that made his voice known to millions. The 11-track LP, which includes one Tyminski original and two songs he co-wrote, features Union Station musicians and some of the best-known figures in bluegrass such as dobroist Jerry Douglas and guitarist Tony Rice.

A collection of traditional ballads, mountain songs, spirituals and instrumentals in stark contrast to Krauss’ more progressive presentation of the bluegrass genre, the album received mostly glowing reviews, with AllMusic critic Stanton Swihart praising Tyminski’s “gorgeous, graceful, toasty lead vocals” and calling the album “a lovely little first effort as leader for Tyminski.”


In 2007, when Union Station was on hiatus as Krauss toured with former Led Zeppelin frontman Robert Plant, Tyminski formed The Dan Tyminski Band with Tennesseans Justin Moses (fiddle, dobro) and Barry Bales (upright bass), Hoosier Ron Stewart (banjo) and Virginian Adam Steffey (mandolin).

In 2008, Rounder Records issued their debut album, Wheels, which hit #1 in the Top Bluegrass Albums chart, won the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Album of the Year award and was nominated for a Grammy. While touring to support the LP, the group appeared in Vermont at Barre Opera House and Rutland’s Paramount Theatre, in Maine at Brownsville’s Stone Mountain Arts Center and in Massachusetts at Northampton’s Iron Horse Music Hall.


In 2009, C.F. Martin & Company introduced the D-28 Dan Tyminski Custom Edition acoustic guitar, which its namesake plays on stage in addition to his well-worn 1946 Martin D-28.

In 2013, in an epic departure from his bluegrass bailiwick, Tyminski sang lead on Swedish deejay-producer Avicii’s international hit “Hey Brother,” which soared to #1 in the Billboard Hot Dance/Electronic Songs chart, the UK Dance chart and rankings in over 20 other countries. Ironically, he had no interest whatsoever in the collaboration until his daughter convinced him that it was a fabulous idea.

“My assistant called me and asked if I was interested in doing an EDM song for this guy Avicii,” he told NPR in 2017. “And to be honest, I had to ask what ‘EDM’ was. She kinda explained, ‘It’s electronic dance. It has that oontzooontz sound.’ My immediate reaction was, ‘Let’s say thanks but no thanks. That’s a little too crazy for what I do.'” Before making a final decision, however, he asked his 20-something daughter what she thought and she assured the then 50-year old Tyminski that it was a huge opportunity. Looking back, Tyminski says he’s glad he checked in with the younger generation since the experience “really opened my mind in some ways.”


In 2017, Mercury Nashville issued Tyminski’s latest album, Southern Gothic, a 13-track collection of songs he co-wrote. Though rooted in traditional bluegrass and Americana, its electro-pop orientation was a significant stylistic departure; the title track itself is shaped around a programmed beat and a dobro sample that the LP’s producer, Jesse Frasure, found in a royalty-free audio library.

“We kind of had a sample, almost like you would in a hip-hop track, of this dobro lick,” Frasure told NPR in 2017. “I just thought the sound was cool. and matched up with pretty low-end [Roland] TR-808 drums. That kind of grungy hip-hop vibe mixed with his voice was sort of a cool new direction.”


In October 2021, the Bluegrass Heritage Foundation gave Tyminski its Bluegrass Star Award for doing what the organization calls “an exemplary job of advancing traditional bluegrass music while preserving its character and heritage.” Joining him on stage at the ceremony was one of his earliest and most lasting influences, Del McCoury, who’d received the same award in 2015.


In December 2020, guitarist Tony Rice, one of Tyminski’s musical heroes, died at age 69 and in 2022 Tyminski recorded the five-track EP One More Time Before You Go: A Tribute to Tony Rice, released in July that year by North Star Records. Four of the songs are acoustic guitar and voice only; the other is the Tyminski-penned title track where he’s joined by mandolinist Sam Bush, dobroist Jerry Douglas, guitarist Josh Williams and double bassist Todd Phillips. The disc also features guest vocalists Molly Tuttle, Dailey & Vincent, Billy Strings and Gaven Largent and critic John Jobs of Americana Highways called it “a certified, timeless American classic” and “an audio masterpiece.”


Asked in the 2017 NPR interview what he thinks about people always associating him with the soundtrack to O Brother, Where Art Thou, Tyminski said he doesn’t mind in the least. “Max Baer forevermore was Jethro Bodine after he played that part on The Beverly Hillbillies,” he said, “and I will forevermore in some people’s eyes be seen as ‘the man of constant sorrow.’ I embrace it.”

Asked what’s he’s done and/or is doing to broaden people’s naggingly narrow perception of him, Tyminski said he doesn’t think about the issue, leaving all such image-crafting decisions to what he called “business types” at record labels. “You know, my tombstone will not read, ‘Here lies the man that had the plan.’ That’s just never been me,” he said. “I don’t know that it ever will be me.”

(by D.S. Monahan)

Published On: September 15, 2023