Since 1982, the Lonesome River Band has entertained audiences with original tunes. Under Sammy Shelor’s direction, the band has stayed relevant for decades, breaking new ground while maintaining its trademark sound.
“We do a lot of our own material – songs that have never been done before,” says Sammy. “Some may think we’re just stupid for staying in the business for so long, but we love it, and our fans seem to love what we are doing.”
Sammy serves as the band leader, booking manager, road manager, bus driver, and even bus mechanic and came on board with Ronnie Bowman. “Ronnie and I kept the band together.” When Ronnie left in 2001, Sammy took ownership of the band. “It takes a lot of work to run a band,” Sammy says. “Probably way more than people might imagine. I may not be the best banjo player, but I’m good at driving a bus.”
Actually, Sammy is a fine banjo player. He played with the Virginia Squires for six years before joining the Little River Band. He was voted in as a member of the Virginia Country Music Hall of Fame, awarded the IBMA Banjo Player of the Year five times, and received the Steve Martin Prize for excellence in bluegrass and banjo in November 2011. Martin himself presented the award on The Late Show with David Letterman. Following the presentation, the Lonesome River Band performed as the show’s musical guest, joined by Steve Martin.
Banjo players around the world look to Sammy’s banjo expertise. Serious pickers study Sammy’s tab books and watch his instructional DVD from AcuTab.
The band has released 23 albums since Sammy joined the band in 1990. “They had released four albums prior to me coming on board.” To stay current, Sammy says that the band works to release a new album every twelve to eighteen months. “We had an album come out in January of this year, and we are working on songs for our next album, which we will record next January or February.”
When the Bluegrass Unlimited chart came out in 1991, the Lonesome River Band had the first bluegrass album at number one. Carrying the Tradition, released on the Rebel Records label, stayed on the chart for six months.
The band is based in Floyd, Virginia, close to where he was raised, in Meadows of Dan, Virginia. Covid was a challenging time for the band. “We went from 80 to 85 dates a year to nothing overnight,” he says. “We are now up to 70 dates this year. So, we are not quite back up to 100 percent, but we are hoping we’ll be at full speed next year. That schedule works great for us. It keeps us on the road a lot, but we are still home half of the year.” Sammy says that Sirius XM helped them a lot during Covid. “They made sure bands that toured for a living were played in rotation. We are grateful for that.” One thing that helped pay the bills during that time for Sammy was selling his prized banjo. “I hated to do it, but it helped me to be debt free.”
Sammy’s driving banjo style helps keep the Lonesome River Band consistent.
“We have had a few band changes here and there, but honestly, I think right now we have the most talented people who have ever worked in the band. It’s fun to go on stage with them.”
The touring and playing never get old for Sammy. “We love meeting new folks and visiting with old friends. It’s a way of life that we all enjoy. We are fortunate to have great fans. We honestly feel blessed every day to have the opportunity to do what we do.”