MADISON, W.Va. – Brandon Shuping can’t remember a time when he couldn’t make music.
For as far back as the musician can recall, wires and wood have been a integral part of his life. Even today, the stage is where he is most comfortable. “I’m not usually comfortable in social situations,” he said. “Put me on a stage and I’ll communicate with you all night long but I’m not always real good conversation.”
Shuping, 37 was born in Melbourne Florida and spent time growing up in North Carolina before moving to Mingo County in 1995 as a teeneager, where his mother was raised.
Southern West Virginia represents where home is to him. “There’s just something about driving out (U.S.) 119 and passing Southridge,” he said. “I start relaxing as soon as I’m past all of that. I love Boone County. The people are real and I feel safe here. West Virginia is my home.”
Shuping’s father, the late legendary bluegrass banjo master Garland Shuping married Elaine Vance-Looney and two years later in 1979, Brandon was born.
“My dad was a good teacher,” he said. “He was patient but you knew not to get too comfortable with the banjo because he was going to be the only gunslinger in the house.”
Today, Shuping’s main instrument is the mandolin but he can be seen playing bass or acoustic guitar and even his father’s prized vintage Deering banjo with various groups in the tri-state area. “My dad was working with the Jim and Jesse show,” he said. “The Friendly Neighbor show would bring in major acts and Jim and Jesse came in to do a prerecorded a show around 1976. That is where my parents met. My mom was seventeen and my dad was in his mid to late twenties.”
By that time, Garland Shuping had made a name for himself as a valued sideman and had already performed on the legendary Grand Ole Opry stage. “Dad came back and started dating my mom,” he said. “He played with the Bluegrass Alliance as well (which later spawned Newgrass Revival).He wanted to step away from being a side man and form his own group. He felt he was capable and he was capable and that aspect of his career didn’t pan out like it did for others like him.”
Garland Shuping broke out on his own with “Wild Country” and his new bride would sing and play tambourine among other instruments. They released the album, “Banjo Man’s to Opryland.” Married in 1977, Garland and Elaine divorced in 1982 but it didn’t end their professional music relationship.
Wild Country continued to tour for a few years. Garland Shuping had a reputation as a progressive player in those days, exploring the melodic boundaries of his instrument. Beyond Jim and Jesse and Bluegrass Alliance, his career saw him sharing the stage with The Osborne Brothers, Jimmy Martin and the Sunny Mountain Boys, the Little Roy and Lewis Family and Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys.
Bluegrass Alliance was also once the home of country music superstar Vince Gill, who joined the group after Garland’s tenure.
“I love the internet in the respect that I have learned things about my dad that I didn’t know,” he said. “I found a photo of Bill Monroe (who some credit as the creator and innovator of the bluegrass genre) holding a microphone up to his banjo.
That picture means a lot to me. It’s amazing. It says it all.” While Shuping makes his living today as a musician, he said that it gets harder each year and that music lovers often entertain themselves at home with the internet, versus seeing a live group.
“I haven’t had a day job since 2001,” he said. “I know that if I were willing to travel more I would have a lot more work but the truth is, I like staying close to home. For the right gig, I’d definitely rethink that.” The musician can be found playing in “String Therapy,” “Step Into The Blue,” and every Wednesday night at the Madison Moose Lodge he plays bass among other instruments with the “Wiley and Fro Show,” featuring popular local musicians Ritchie Wiley and Jeff “Fro” Rakes. Shuping was also a former member of “The Rarely Herd.”
“I could have done a better job over the years of networking,” he said. “I’m not too proud to play anywhere and I work hard. It isn’t often that I’ll turn down legitimate work.”
The college educated multi-instrumentalist said that he experimented with rock music and other genres before coming back home to bluegrass once he discovered his voice on the mandolin.
“The mandolin is my bread and butter,” he said. “It feels more like home to me than any other instrument. I once wanted to be a banjo player and my dad used psychology in the way he taught. He would pick my brain a lot in general and it was the same way with music. It wasn’t a conscious effort not to primarily play the banjo. I just gravitated to the mandolin.”
Shuping’s mother retired from music in 1992 and currently resides in Florida. His sister Kara, also a musician, is married and lives in Colorado. Garland Shuping passed away after a heart attack in 2000 just days before his 49th birthday. He was living in Rockwell North Carolina.
The son owns the home in Rockwell that belonged to his father but has no desire to live in it today. It’s the memories that mean the most to him. “Wild Country played the 1994 NCAAA Basketball Final Four in Charlotte,” he said. “It was me, dad, mom and Lonnie Carpenter.
I made $2000 that week and I was hooked and knew I wanted to make music for a living. Of course, $2000 weeks have been few along the way. I have real good memories of being with my parents that week. It was just amazing.” The group reunited for a select number of shows in 2014, which saw Shuping take the stage with his mother and his sister.
Shuping cites an auto accident where he was nearly killed in 2007 after he fell asleep at the wheel as a turning point in his life. He was thrown from his truck and skidded along the pavement after it rolled over multiple times. He suffered broken ribs and a collapsed lung.
“I’m very, very thankful that I only hurt myself and nobody else,” he said. “I was doing things at that time that I shouldn’t have been doing. I’m a lucky man to get a second chance and I know it.” For the future, the young musician who shares a home with his girlfriend Kathy Cook just wants to keep working.
“I just want to keep my head above water and keep moving forward,” he said. “In the end, there was a Brandon Shuping before all of this and there will continue to be one, regardless of where I’m playing or who I’m playing with.”
Phill Perry is a freelance reporter for Civitas Media. He can be reached at 304-369-1165.