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It's a long way from the rolling hills and rowdy honky tonks of Wheeling,
West Virginia to the relatively staid streets of Nashville's Music Row. But
for Chris Denham and John "Sixball" McCombs, making the move to the
Music City seemed to be the only choice in 2005.

Denham and McCombs were founding members of the country-rock band
Coaltrain, and the group was looking to record its first CD. Denham is the
group's lead vocalist and fiddle player while McCombs mans the bass and
handles some of the harmony chores.

"Wheeling is a great music town with a great history in country music,"
Denham says. "It was home to the Wheeling Jamboree starting in the early
'30s and some of country music's biggest acts got their start there.

"But when you're in the country music game, Nashville is the place to be so
we made the decision we would have to go to Nashville to give Coaltrain a
chance," he continues. "And that's what we did."

The members of Coaltrain packed up and headed south following in the
footsteps of such legends as Grandpa Jones, Hawkshaw Hawkins and
Wilma Lee Cooper and the Clinch Mountain Clan along with contemporary
acts like Brad Paisley and Tim O'Brien - all of whom enjoyed early
success playing in and around the Wheeling area.

"Some acts are still discovered locally, but we just felt that Nashville
was a more logical choice for us," Denham recalls. "And we've been
fortunate to have some success here in Music City."

It's a modest conclusion. Denham and his gang recorded their eponymous
debut album in 2006, and then kicked around town for awhile playing
local gigs before getting a big break late in 2007. Ironically, Coaltrain
was slotted as the opening act for Neal McCoy back home at Wheeling's
Wesbanco Arena.

"We had done well in Wheeling before we left," Denham explains, "but I
think moving to Nashville and recording the album allowed us to get some
airplay back home in Wheeling. And that opened some doors to help us land
the opening slot for Neal."

Within three months, Coaltrain was back in Wheeling this time with
another friend in tow - Denham's connections working on the Big & Rich
tour in 2007 in between Coaltrain gigs had led to a friendship with the duo'
s opening act Cowboy Troy. When Big & Rich decided to scale back on
touring in 2008, Denham invited the country rapper on the road for
another gig in Wheeling, and a partnership was born.

"We played four songs with him, and got a good reaction from the crowd,"
Denham remembers. "And I think he was excited to see what we could do so
we learned the rest of his set and went on the road together.

"We were the opening act at most shows, and then after a break, we
would back him up on his own set."

The remainder of 2008 saw Coaltrain touring the country with Cowboy
Troy in support of his sophomore album "Black In The Saddle." This
included opening slots for Pat Green, T. Graham Brown, Jamey Johnson
and James Otto on some dates, and led to the band making solid
connections with other country acts including Dan Evans, a new country
star best known so far for his appearance on the reality television show
"The Biggest Loser."

"It (touring with Cowboy Troy) opened some doors for us," Denham says,
"and for that we're grateful. But I think it also showed us that we were
definitely a viable act on our own. We've been able to book return dates to
a lot of the clubs we played last year appearing on our own."

And, as Denham explains, it's led to a close partnership with Evans.

"We're working together to book dates on the side with Dan, and we'll be
touring with him as the opening act and backing him up on his own set,"
Denham says. "We really like what he does and respect where he's coming
from as an artist, and we are excited about doing this tour with Dan."

Coaltrain has come a long way from those days playing the working-class
bars in and around Wheeling. They've played arenas and some of the top
clubs and casinos in the United States after appearing in more than 35
states last year alone.

"I look back at all we've done and I honestly know it was the right choice
to come here (Nashville)," Denham says. "We wouldn't be where we are
today if we had stayed in Wheeling, and it's been an amazing ride."

Coaltrain has seen many changes along the way including the loss of
three of the original members that moved to Nashville from Wheeling, but
that amazing ride will continue in 2009 as Denham and McCombs soldier on
along with guitarist Jeremy Holt and drummer Rudy Miller. In addition to touring as Evans' supporting act, the band will be headlining their own dates in 2009, and
Denham says Coaltrain's long-awaited sophomore effort is almost ready.

"We'just released our sophomore project "How I Roll"," Denham
explains with obvious enthusiasm. "We feel like it's a good statement of
where we are as a band now.

"Obviously, we'd love to breakthrough with a hit and get some airplay, and
we love Nashville and the opportunities we've had here, but we're also a
pretty stubborn bunch," he laughs, "and we aren't afraid to stay out on
the road and do what it takes to push this album on our own."

If Coaltrain's history is any indicator, you can bet that's exactly what they'
ll do.

Coaltrain biography provided by last.fm.



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Live @ Junction Inn (Otley) on Tuesday, 18th November 2008



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