Tommy Shaw’s heartfelt solo bluegrass album was released 5 years ago today on March 22, 2011.

by Mike Mettler

The Great Divide, Tommy Shaw’s fifth solo studio album and his first foray into bluegrass, was released on CD and LP by Pazzo Music/Fontana 5 years ago today on March 22, 2011.

Co-produced by Shaw, Brad Davis, and Will Evankovich and recorded at Sound Emporium in Nashville and The Shop in Los Angeles, The Great Divide showcases Tommy’s downhome roots like never before, as the Montgomery, Alabama native enlisted the likes of Alison Krauss and Dwight Yoakam (background vocals), Sam Bush (mandolin), Jerry Douglas and Rob Ickes (dobro), Byron House (bass), Stuart Duncan (fiddle), Scott Vestal (banjo), Chris Brown (drums), and the aforementioned Davis and Evankovich (guitar) to help get across his singular vision.

From the opening can’t-go-wrong stomp of “The Next Best Thing” to the press-on fortitude of “Umpteen Miles” to the acoustic-driven historical tale of a certain piano playin’ president in “Give ’Em Hell Harry” (your Styxologist’s personal favorite track on the album), The Great Divide is perhaps the best realization of the indelible DNA that’s essentially been at the core of every song Shaw has ever written.

In a Styxworld exclusive, Tommy recalls the origins of this most special, personal work in his recorded canon to date. Give ’em hell, Tommy.

Tommy Shaw: The Great Divide ended up being my mother’s favorite record that I ever made. It really was an act of love. It was me paying tribute to the music that I heard when I was little. I used to be able to hear the Grand Old Opry at night on the radio. And we’d see Porter Wagoner and other artists on a local TV show called The Country Boy Eddie Show. They played that kind of music.

Not only that, but a bandmate of mine, Ricky Parsons — who we all called Jabbo — had an uncle, Billy Byrd, who played in one of Hank Williams’ bands, and he knew all of that music. Whenever he would come over, Jabbo would call me up and say, “Uncle Billy’s coming!” So I’d get in the car and run over there, and we’d all sit around and play Hank Williams tunes. I mean, it just goes on and on. It was part of my upbringing.

So to finally have a chance to put together those songs that were bouncing around in my head and give voice to them on The Great Divide — I haven’t been the same since, to be honest with you. That voice has been awakened in me, and there are more songs being written. I don’t know when I’ll get around to putting them all on an album again, but they’re out there, and they’re in here! (chuckles heartily)

So, yeah, I’m really glad I made that record. I got to work with some of the greatest Americana and bluegrass musicians in town, and it really did just open up a new door that I’m certainly not interested in closing anytime soon.