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Volume 26, Number 4 — April 2019

Slim Pickens alumni find success

Ashley Trager, on guitar and Caleb Hardin on banjo carry on the musical.
Ashley Trager, on guitar and Caleb Hardin on banjo carry on the musical.

By Leslie Grace | A! Magazine for the Arts | February 23, 2016

leBandy Brownlee has seen many talented musicians come through Slim Pickins and his choral classes in its 20-year history. The following are his reminiscences on some who passed through Slim Pickins.

"It should be noted that I've taught many musicians in my choral music classes who excelled in all aspects of music. Quite of few of them have taken up careers in music teaching. Slim Pickins members emerged from this sizable talent pool.

"Eric Cuddy and Kris Mangrum were in different generations of Slim Pickins, and have gone on to church vocations. Eric and Kris are music ministers in local churches and are responsible for producing weekly praise and worship music.

"Josh and Rachel Johnson were raised in a musical, performing family. Josh was and is always a formidable mandolin player who backs up his playing skill with a wicked tenor voice. His sister, Rachel, has gone on to play fiddle with bands such as the Stevens Sisters, the Boohers, ETSU Pride Band, Dixie Beeliners and Darin and Brooke Aldridge.

"While Rachel was with the Aldridges, the group received several IBMA nominations. Rachel toured Japan twice with Maro Kawabata. She graduated from ETSU with a major in public relations and a minor in bluegrass, country, and old-time music. Rachel earned an elementary ed degree from St. Andrews University. She continues to play and teach.

"I met William MacMorran as a musician when he was 13 years old. Brownlee met Will for the first time when he taught Will in kindergarten in 1994. That year Will gave Brownlee a bottle of marinara sauce for Christmas. "At that time, he was playing Celtic guitar with a band called Celtic Air. It was a student group directed by his mother, Jane MacMorran. In Slim Pickins, William was truly a person who inspired those around him to work harder and go farther, musically.

"After Slim Pickins performances, invariably he would be back stage with his peers, jamming until someone would turn off the lights. William became a mainstream Celtic guitarist and is still playing with the iconic Seven Nations. He graduated from Belmont University with a B. S. degree in recording engineering. At ETSU, William completed a Masters of Arts in liberal studies. He teaches there as a full-time lecturer in Appalachian Studies. William is also teaching at Northeast State and is a Pro Tools lab tech in their entertainment technology program.

"Sydney Raines is a top-notch vocalist who graduated from Belmont University with a degree in business administration in music business. At Belmont she did some of everything singing, recording, walking bands down the red carpet at the Grammys as a press escort, and studying in Los Angeles as part of the Belmont West program. As an intern, Sydney helped coordinate travel and budgets for artists such as Kelly Rowland and Alanis Morrisette. Currently she operates Raines Entertainment, which offers artist development and business consulting. Sydney is also the director of client services at Nashville's longest running CD manufacturing company.

"Dustin Howser was a great lead guitarist with Slim Pickins and also assisted with CD project production. He started his own cover band at 14 and developed his group to the point that they played in Tri-Cities venues every weekend. By age 16, Dustin had shifted to blues and at that point his fellow band members were all over 30 years old. The group played steadily twice a week at local venues. Dustin's stint in Slim Pickins gave him a broader musical outlook. He joined a country band, which signed an independent deal with a label in Nashville. This worked out well as he began to attend Vanderbilt. Dustin is still doing studio work and playing live, but his double major at Vanderbilt is aerospace propulsion and biomechanics.

"Two current members, Caleb Hardin (going to Middle Tennessee State University for pro audio) and Ashley Tragler (going to Belmont University for music performance) will undoubtedly carry on the proud tradition of accomplishment handed down through the generations of Slim Pickins," he says.

>> Slim Pickens celebrates 20 years.

Topics: Music