Introducing Dean Sapp & Harford Express
Formed in 1969 Dean Sapp has developed what has become one of the finest traditionally based bluegrass bands in the country. Origianl material, tight harmonies, and great instrumentation have given this band a sound that is truly unique, but still remains 100% traditional bluegrass. Veterans of both stage and studio, their stage shows have won them loyal audiences where ever they have played. Their welll reviewed recorded product has received airplay worldwide, and Dean's song writing talents have garnered the respect of his peers.
The band's wide reertoire allows them to play to any audience. from bluegrass festivals, square dances, family style concerts, and all gospel shows the material presented is always tasteful, well presented and performed.
Live radio is something Dean and the band have always enjoyed, and tried to work with local bluegrass DJs in the area in which they are appearing. Well respected by their fellow musicuans, they have backed up such performers as Mac Wiseman, Bill Grant & Delia Bell, and others.
Dean Sapp & Harford Express have enjoyed a steady upswing in popularity. With many recorded projects to their credit, they have performed at bluegrass events up and down the west coast and in the midwest. In addition to releases on the Old Train label, cuts have been featured on Prime Cuts of Bluegrass, Volume 8. A songbook of Dean's original material is also available.
Based around the voice and playing of Dean Sapp, the Harford Express is now numbered among the front runners of those who are continueing to carry the torch of traditional bluegrass. Once you see and hear Dean Sapp and Harford Express, I'm sure you'll agree.
DEAN SAPP grew up in a family whose musical roots go back to southwestern Virginia and northwestern North Carolina. Born into a family with musicians on both sides, he was exposed to traditional bluegrass and old time mountain music from childhood. While his parents played guitar and autoharp, it was his grandfather, John Miller, who gave 8 year old Dean his first instrument to call his very own. It was a banjo assembled from bits and pieces of several different models, an open back style, and came with a first lesson from the giver. Dean, who had started on guitar at age 6, was exposed to the great artists of the day at nearby Sunset Park and New River Ranch. Sitting in the front row with his family each weekend he saw firsthand such stars as Flatt & Scruggs, Bill Monroe, Mac Wiseman, and others. As Dean became more proficient in his playing he traveled with Uncles Sonny and Johnny Miller to jam sessions throughout the area, developing his own style as well as expanding his skills. At age 13 he backed up his Uncle Sonny (the late, well known fiddle player for Del McCoury) on stage at Sunset Park. Sonny was so pleased he asked Dean to "just go ahead and pick out a number on your banjo". He chose "Flint Hill Special", which the crowd loved. "I was hooked" he remembers, "I knew this was what I wanted to do".
Playing with other bands in the area, as well as with his Uncle Sonny, Dean came to be a talented multi-instrumentalist who could fill in on banjo, guitar, mandolin, dobro, or bass, as well as sing both lead and harmony. While demand for his talent as a sideman was high, he formed his own band in 1969. The band, Harford Express, quickly became popular at local clubs and bluegrass venues in the southeastern Pennsylvania, northeastern Maryland, and northern Delaware area. Dean, who was playing banjo at the time, as well as doing the lead singing heard banjo player George Osing at a party and offered him the banjo job. "Playing banjo will always be one of my first loves, but with doing the lead singing I feel I can do a better job while on the guitar" Dean states.
The band first went in the studio in 1987 and produced it's first of many recordings, "Can't You Hear Me Calling". It quickly became a best seller in the region, earning the band a wider audience, and prompting them to release "Hard Times Have Been Here" a year later. On Dean's third release "The Last Public Hanging", he covers Ola Belle Reed's "High on a Mountain". Having grown up around the Reed family, Ola Belle refers to Dean as "just another one of my kids", and had shared the stage with him on many occasions. The 1992 release of "Long Black Veil" contains the first recordings of Dean's own original material, which has become a hallmark of the band. While well rooted in the traditional style, the songs are fresh, with great lyrics that Bluegrass Unlimited says "could all have been written 30 or 40 years ago". "Tears of Joy" a self penned number is the title cut for the all gospel project that was done in 1993. 1994 saw Dean Sapp & Harford Express reach even larger audiences, thru travel to festivals as far west as Kentucky, and by the release of their 18 cut Cd "Above the Dixie Line". The inclusion of two of the bands songs on Prime Cuts of Bluegrass Volume 8 brought requests for more material from radio stations around the world.
At the IBMA World of Bluegrass Trade Show in Owensboro Kentucky, Dean released his eighth release "You've Never Had the Blues". With many originals including the title cut, his name has now become affiliated with those of contemporaries such as Alien Mills, or Marshall Wilbourne as a writer of bluegrass material. David Davis of the Warrior River Boys had this to say: "Dean Sapp is one of today's most talented and gifted singers of traditional bluegrass music, and with the Harford Express, they represent one of today's best examples of pure and authentic traditional music". Dean's skill on guitar and banjo, as well as his exceptional voice have given his band a style and sound they can truly call their own. As a partner in a bluegrass music shop, Dean makes his living teaching all bluegrass instuments, buying, selling and is also a factory authorized repairman for Martin and Gibson guitars. "I really do live for bluegrass music" he states.
With many excellent reviews in various publications, outstanding original material, great instrumentalists, and an exciting live show, it's no wonder Dean Sapp and Harford Express continue to win new fans where ever they perform.
GEORGE OSING (banjo) has played banjo with Harford Express since 1979 and has developed a unique blend of styles that has no description other than the Osing style. Unlike many banjo players, George strives to enhance the performance of the other band members. His fast paced, highly complicated array of licks is always true to the melody of the song, but is never just another mechanical rendition.
DAN CURTIS (mandolin, & harmony vocals) is a well known Baltimore superpicker. He has played with Waiter Hensley, Foggy Bottom, Leon Morris, and Eastern Heritage, and too many other bands to list here. He has an usually great stage presence and the audience is drawn to his smile and happy temperament. He is an irreplaceable asset to the Harford Express. His mandolin playing, vocal backup, and original compositions have added just the right touch.
BILL GRAYBEAL (upright bass, lead & harmony vocals) is a multi talented person. He is no stranger to the bluegrass music world, having played in the past with Ted Lundy, Bob Paisley and the Southern Mountains Boys, Dan Paisley and the Bluegrass Buddies, and Fertile Dirt, as well as time spent in South America playing bass for a number of groups there.
"It is perfectly obvious from the included titles and the actual performances that Mr. Sapp has been playing and singing traditional bluegrass music for some time. While one may now find any number of highly polished traditional bluegrass albums, there is something warm, convincing, and endearing about "Can't You Hear Me Calling". For one thing, Sapp has a fine voice. His vocals are forceful, on pitch, and authentic to the idiom. His vocal delivery will take the listener back to a time when people just plain, old-fashioned liked it that way--you know, that good ol' bluegrass style of heartfelt, emotional singing reminiscent of the Monroe-Martin duets on Decca, of Carter and Ralph Stanley on Columbia in the early '50s."
"This traditionally-based band from the Baltimore area relies heavily on Sapp's lead vocals, which are of the low, slightly grainy quality and vaguely reminiscent of Charlie Moore. The instrumentals are solid. The band has some interesting material, and the ability to produce some intriguing arrangements of more standard fare. Good, straight ahead stuff here."
"Dean Sapp and the Harford Express have been a popular bluegrass group in the Delaware, Maryland, and Pennsylvania area for nearly a quarter of a century. Having previously released six albums on Nashville's Sky Bow Records, Sapp and the Harford Express recently released The group's seventh recording, "Tears of Joy". The members of the Harford Express rightly realize that, though the tunes of gospel songs are frequently outstanding, lyrics are absolutely necessary if musicians are to capture the true essence of gospel music, which of course is the gospel message. And thus on "Tears of Joy" the group understandably emphasizes vocals over instrumentals." "Lead singer Dean Sapp sings with emotional conviction. Examples of Sapp's singing can be heard on "When God Comes to Gather His Jewels" and the a cappella "Talk About Sufferin". Sapp's quavering voice is most effective when contrasted with the smoother harmony vocals of group member Danny Curbs. The performances themselves are quite moving. Dean Sapp and the Harford Express have produced one of the most enjoyable collections of traditional bluegrass gospel material in some time."
"Dean Sapp and the Harford Express render well a bluegrass sound rooted in the 1950s styles often ignored outside the DC-Baltimore and Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana areas. Sapp's seventh recording project displays some excellent lead singing and instrumental support on the slower songs, plenty of original material on venerable themes, and a refreshing change of pace from today's vocal trio approach. Sapp possesses a deeper voice than most bluegrass lead singers. "I Haven't Seen Mary in Years" gives listeners the best idea of the sort of song on which he shines. As a songwriter Sapp proves a pleasant throwback as well. His compositions relate to American themes and all could have been written 30 or 40 years ago. In short Dean Sapp and the Harford Express have produced an enjoyable, generally well crafted CD. Sapp comes across extremely well as lead vocalist. The band delivers subtle back-up that works exceptionally well. Dean Sapp and the Harford Express could become quite a force."
One way for a bluegrass band to develop a wider market for its music is to put out a professionally packaged recording of the band playing at the top of its form, and Dean Sapp & Harford Express have their hearts in the right place where traditional bluegrass is concerned. The personnel of this Maryland based band are Dean Sapp on guitar, banjo, fiddle, and lead vocal. Bill Graybeal playing acoustic bass and singing tenor. Dan Curtis on mandolin, singing harmony, and George Osing on banjo. Sapp has a strong, mournful voice. Sapp does a stirring joh on both "I Ain't Got No Home in This World Anymore", and on that fine Stanley tune "The Darkest Hour is Just Before Dawn". Harford Express gives us a taste of Dean Sapp's instrumental prowess on "Belles of Lexington". Sapp shows a deft touch on the banjo on this one, with solid breaks and good timing. Six of the twelve songs on the disc are original numbers. Dean Sapp likes to write in the "Blue and Lonesome" bluegrass vein, and he has recorded five sad songs here, from the title track "You've Never Had the Blues" to "Last Prisoner's Waltz". The sixth original is a lively instrumental by Dan Curtis called "Danny's Blues in B". Liner notes are always a nice addition to a recording project, and a courtesy to the listener not seen often enough. The notes here give a lot of information about the songs and the players. The bluegrass music scene can't do without bands like Harford express who help keep the traditional sound alive. This recording is bound to please all."
"Dean Sapp & the Harford Express have been a very popular group in Maryland, Delaware, and Pennsylvania since the group was formed in 1969. I noticed a strong influence from the late Charlie Moore on Dean Sapp's lead vocals. That is intended as a compliment. Charlie Moore was a great singer, and a wonderful song writer. "Intro to Brown Mt. Light" reveals Dean's feelings about Mr. Moore. "It is my personal opinion that Charlie Moore never got the recognition that he deserved as a bluegrass singer. So with respect for and in memory of Charlie Moore we have included this next song on this album". Dean's lead vocals exhibits very true notes, and his ability to sing at a high or low pitch with no loss of quality was very impressive. The ballad type of songs such as "Will You Love Me", are excellent choices for Dean Sapp.
Dean's "Above the Dixie Line", is based on a Civil war theme. The tiddle is played by Dean Sapp in an old-time style that perfectly fits the mood of the song. Impressive Dean Sapp original songs on this recording include "Am I dreaming", "I Touched the Stone", "The Soldier's Song", "The Blue & the Grey", "Letter in the Mailbox", and "Goodbye Baby Blue". "Nana's Paw", and "Danny's Blues in B" are instrumentals written by mandolin player Danny Curtis. These tunes have all the right parts in the right places. Banjo player George Osing has been with Dean Sapp for sixteen years. He displays fine work on all the songs. His version of "Big Sandy (River)" is a good example of how fiddle tunes can be played on the banjo. Good music. Make them a worthwhile addition to your collection."
You won't find Dean Sapp & The Harford Express listed in the upper eschelon of bluegrass music - not yet, that is. But if solid musicianship and perseverance, coupled with a love of the music means anything, Sapp is on his way. His eighth recording, "You've Never Had the Blues", may be the boost that he needs to get on that top shelf. This project is a nice blend of bluegrass standards and original compositions by Dean Sapp. "I Ain't Got No Home In This World Anymore", a Woody Guthrie work that won't receive any accolades for grammar, receives high grades for Sapp's soulful delivery. It's elegant in it's simplicity. The title cut, "You've Never Had the Blues", is a Dean Sapp composition that has a nice traditional feel, something that is rare in a contemporary song. Black Mt. Rag, The Darkest Hour, and Pretty Polly are time-tested songs delivered in the 50's style of Dean Sapp and the Harford Express. Sapp has the early bluegrass styles nailed down on these tunes. I really like the band's rendiditon on Belles of Lexington. Bean Sapp proves to be a multi-instrumentalist with some fine banjo work that is matched by the mandolin licks delivered by another skilled musician, Dan Curtis. If you like some bounce to your bluegrass, let your laser beam scan "Danny's Blues in B", an instrumental composition by Dan Curtis. Bill Graybeal walks the bass through this tune, swapping licks with Sapp on the guitar. The banjo position of the Harford Express is in the capable hands of George Osing. This band is composed of bluegrass vetrans who really deliver, both instrumentally and vocally. The Baltimore-Washington area is known as "the capitol of bluegrass music". Dean Sapp & the Harford Express have certainly contributed to that recognition; they are"bluegrass senators".
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|February 22, 1997 Saturday||Chesapeake City VFW Evening of Bluegrass||6:00 pm||6:00 pm|
|May 4, 1997 Sunday||Gettysburg Bluegrass Camporee, Gettysburg PA||time not available yet|
|June 29, 1997 Saturday||Rehobeth Beach DE (boardwalk)||7:00 PM|
|July 11, 1997 Friday||Kingsdale BG Festival, Kingsdale PA||sets at 4:00 pm and 9:00 pm|
|July 19, 1997 Saturday||Oak Grove Baptist Church, Eel Air MD||anniversary party, 12 noon|
|July 20, 1997 Sunday||Belleview State Park, Wilmington DE||time not available yet|
|July 26, 1997 Saturday||Old Bedford Village BG Festival, Bedford PA||time not available yet|
|September 12 & 13, 1997 Friday & Saturday||Strictly BG Festival, Louisville Ky||time not available yet|
|September 27, 1997 Saturday||Arcadia BG Festival, Arcadia MD|
|October 25, 1997 Saturday||Chesapeake City VFW Evening of Bluegrass||6:00 pm|
|November 29, 1997 Saturday||Chesapeake City VFW Evening of Bluegrass||6:00 pm|
|December 27, 1997 Saturday||Chesapeake City VFW Evening of Bluegrass||6:00 pm|
|January 31, 1998||Chesapeake City VFW Evening of Bluegrass||6:00 pm|
|February 28, 1998||Chesapeake City VFW Evening of Bluegrass||6:00 pm|
|March 28, 1998||Chesapeake City VFW Evening of Bluegrass||6:00 pm|
|April 25, 1998||Chesapeake City VFW Evening of Bluegrass||6:00 pm|
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Sharon K. Bean
© Peter E. Milano