Larry and Sandra Groce make an album that will ‘Live Forever’

Larry and Sandra Groce perform cuts from Larry’s new record, “Live Forever.” The record arose from wanting to document themselves performing together for their children, and then it grew into a full album.
Sandra played extensively on the album, which features several covers and the full version of “Simple Song,” the “Mountain Stage” theme.

“Mountain Stage” host Larry Groce has joked about his new record for months.

Sitting around the kitchen table with his wife Sandra, a violist for the West Virginia Symphony Orchestra, the 67-year-old smiled, and delivered the line once again.

He said, “I call myself a submerging artist. You probably hear about emerging artists all the time.”

Grinning broadly, Groce added deliberately, “I am not the future of music.”

But he’s not washed up either.

Groce’s new record, “Live Forever,” is a collection of hand-picked covers, like Lyle Lovett’s “If I Had a Boat,” and Townes Van Zandt’s “Pancho and Lefty,” as well as a few older originals, including the full version of “Simple Song,” the longtime theme to “Mountain Stage.”

Sandra performs on most of the tracks and is a large part of why Groce decided to record again.

“We’ve been playing together for 15 years,” she said. “We have, like, 15 songs.”

They also have a pair of daughters.

Originally, the record was something to give to their children, but then it just grew.

Groce hasn’t recorded in years. His first record was made in 1969. He had a Top 10 hit in the mid-1970s with the novelty song, “Junk Food Junkie,” and then recorded steadily, including making children’s records for Disney.

“I’ve done more than 20 records,” he said.

Most were recorded before he co-founded “Mountain Stage” in 1983, which altered the direction of his career. As host, producer and artistic director of the show, there hasn’t been a lot of time for a separate music career.

“I realized somewhere between 1985 and 1990 that I was no longer a singer/songwriter,” he said. “Realism set in.”

Mostly, he was fine with that. He still performed outside of the show occasionally and, from time to time, people approached him about making a new record.

Groce said his answer was always, “Why would you want to buy a record from me?”

“That’s still an open question,” he said.

Recording something for his kids became a starting place.

Michael Lipton and Don Dixon were brought in to help put the record together. Lipton plays guitar in the “Mountain Stage” band and helps mix the show. Dixon is a record producer with many credits to his name, the most well-known of which is his work in the 1980s with REM. He’s also a longtime friend of the show and a frequent guest.

“Don’s bona fides are well known,” Groce said.

Dixon and Groce chose songs together, but Groce said he let Dixon manage the record.

Most of the songs have a direct connection to “Mountain Stage,” one way or another, but Groce said they also are just good songs.

“The ones I didn’t write are pretty good,” Groce joked, adding, “They’re classics, and I’d want my daughters to know them — and they ought to, by now. They heard them all about a hundred times while we were making the record.”

These also are songs he feels everybody should know.

They recorded at Lipton’s house, as well as in the music room of the Groce’s home to use the piano.

Sandra, a classically trained symphonic performer, said “I’ve always wanted to do something like this.”

Groce even got his old friend, Ray Wylie Hubbard, to sing with him on the record’s title track, “Live Forever,” a cover of the Billy Joe Shaver song.

“You can sing that song when you’re 25,” Groce said, “but it means something different when you’ve crossed 40.”

It became, perhaps, more poignant after Groce’s father died over the winter.

The album was recorded and then mastered. Originally, the plan was to release it in late winter, but in mid-January, West Virginia was hit with a severe snowstorm.

“The ‘snowpocalypse,’ ” Sandra said.

The snow began falling Friday morning and didn’t stop until Saturday afternoon. Much of the state was paralyzed for days, but “Mountain Stage” had a sold-out show scheduled for Sunday night.

“We weren’t sure if we were going to have it,” Groce said.

But guests on the show, including Guster and Robert Earle Keen, said they could make it.

“Mountain Stage” decided to go forward, even if the snow kept the crowd away, but then guest Rhett Miller couldn’t get to Charleston.

The show was short an act.

The Groces stepped in, and they debuted material from the record. Robert Earle Keen even filled in for Hubbard.

That show will air this weekend on Public Radio stations across the country, including West Virginia Public Broadcasting.

“I haven’t heard the set,” Groce said. “I’m dreading listening to it.”

“I think it went well,” Sandra chimed in supportively.

Groce acknowledged that he’s not his kindest critic.

During the show, Groce announced that they had a record, which they didn’t.

“We didn’t get them until three days later,” he said.

They considered a larger-scale release of the album. Groce called a few record industry people, looked into hiring an agent or a publicist, but decided against it.

“We’re not starting a career here,” he said. “I don’t expect any kind of landslide demand for this.”

Sandra countered, “Oh, I do. I think people are going to go crazy.”

For longtime fans of Groce or collectors of all things “Mountain Stage,” it’s a must-have CD, but neither Larry nor Sandra envision taking the record out on tour.

“We’re not going to do six weeks away from home for the record,” Sandra said.

Instead, Groce said, they think they might do a few house shows and play some listening rooms, probably with old friends like The Carpenter Ants or Todd Burge.

If people buy this record, there might be a follow-up.

“I don’t hate this,” Groce said. “I’m open to doing more, and might try to write some more. To write, there needs to be some kind of incentive for me.”

Interest in another record might be enough. None of this is really about the money.

Groce laughed and said, “This record was partially funded by social security.”

Reach Bill Lynch at lynch@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-5195, follow @LostHwys on Twitter or visit Bill’s blog: blogs.wvgazettemail.com/onemonth.

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