What’s a nice boy with a British father and an international upbringing doing on a street corner of Macon, Georgia, plucking on a banjo and riffing lyrics about uniquely southern themes, like the glories of putting your car up on blocks?
For neo-bluegrasser Sterling Waite, his move from the Upper West Side to the Deep South was one part economic and one part familial. Macon is where he found his best post-grad school job offer but, by a stroke of good fortune, it’s also in the general vicinity of where his Mom was born and where his parents and grandparents still live.
With his arrival in Georgia, Waite set aside his interest in a progressive rock vibe for the challenge of developing his bluegrass skills.
“Part of why I started getting into playing bluesgrass music came from my interest in my heritage and my mom’s roots in North Georgia and North Carolina,” he says, noting that his Mom was the insoiration for one of his most beautiful songs, “Fire’s Creek.”
“I wrote that song for my Mom as a birthday present back in January 2011,” he recounts. “The inspiration for it was my move from New York to Macon. I was met with this kind of strange “you’re not from here’ kind of thing. I was like: hold on a second. I didn’t grow up here but I have all sorts of relatives from around here.”
“I met with this feeling of wanting to get more acquainted with that side of my family and my background. Aside from being for my Mom, it was about going up to Fire’s Creek, where she was born, and getting more acquainted with my heritage.”
Even though his involvement in traditional Southern music is part of a greater examination of his history, Waite’s certainly not a retro-minded artist. After gathering his band, The Cotton Avenue Hustlers, around a pair of mikes to record his first album, Free In The Mountains, he put together considerably more recording devices for his more recent work, Rose Hill.
“I’m getting real big into the process of recording, mixing, mastering; it’s such an awesome art-slash-science. I recently invested in the gear to record the whole band live,” he adds, mentioning how much he liked Tom Petty’s “Mojo,” a notable live-in-studio piece.
So does Waite have it in mind that Macon is just a layover on the way to bluegrass stardom?
“It would be awesome to tour with a big name band. We’ll sometimes make a weekend out of it, traveling a couple or three hours to Savannah to play, and I’ll get a little glimpse of what ‘life on the road’ is like. And that’s one weekend, where I get home on Sunday and get to rest up. I can’t imagine doing it 250 nights a year.”
“If an opportunity fell in my lap, though, I’d have a hard time walking away from it. But, I’m completely content just playing for fun. If I just did what I’m doing I’d be very happy with it.”
Download free copies of Waite’s album’s “Free In The Mountains” and “Rose Hill” on Noisetrade.