Cecil Soil Magazine — July/August 2010
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Voshell: Dean Sapp's Music Store
Ava Voshell

Dean Sapp is wired for sound. That is, the sound of his beloved stringed instruments. Whether it’s a guitar, banjo, bass, fiddle or mandolin, he can play it, tune it, build it, fix it, teach it, or sell it.

His customers are generally of a Bluegrass, country or gospel bent, but all with a common love for music. Dean Sapp’s Music Store & Repair Shop, on Route 40 near North East, displays almost any make or model of stringed instrument. He sells them direct or on consignment. Besides building and repairing the instruments himself, Dean has scheduled workshops on craft and repair and other workshops for teaching the art of playing – both for beginners and career musicians as well. A visit to his store is definitely a learning experience.

Dean worked as a carpenter from 1978 until 1990. On the side, he built and repaired the instruments he loved to play, as well as served as back-up or substitute musician for local Bluegrass bands. After a three-story fall to a concrete surface that shut him down for a while, he turned to the profession he loved best – building, repairing and playing musical instruments. He still does some carpentry work on off months when not touring with his band or busy in the shop. “I like to keep busy,” he said. His logo, “Old Train Music,” is stamped on all his handcrafted instruments. “It takes about two months to build a guitar,” he said. “Price usually starts at $2,000. Mahogany, Spruce, and Rosewood are choice wood grains that go into the making of a guitar.”

Dean is recognized as one of the foremost banjo and guitar pickers in Bluegrass music circles. His banjo picking style is often compared to that of Earl Scruggs, who taught him the style and gave many pointers during his visits to Sunset Park in West Grove. Dean formed his own band, The Harford Express, in 1986 and tours up and down the eastern seaboard as well as points south and west. His energetic good-time music earned him a permanent welcome at the Georgetown Oyster Feast, where he has performed for the past 20 years. The band is booked pretty solid in summer months and during festival season. They travel in a 1953 tour bus that sleeps eight. He and The Harford Express band have 14 recorded Cds to date. Dean has a strong, commanding voice and really gets into his music with exuberant picking and singing. He has played with Mac Wiseman (a country legend and an idol of his).

Dean has written more than a hundred Bluegrass and country songs, starting when he was just 16 years old. Many of these are songs based on real life stories such as “The Night the Titanic Went Down.” Another of his hits is “Steel Bars and Greystone,” a lament about the lost years of a man behind prison bars. A big part of the recordings released by The Harford Express band contain songs that Dean personally wrote. They also include a mix of Bluegrass and rousing country reels, as well as soul-stirring folk songs and gospel. He is a Christian and an associate pastor at his church. Although raised in the Oxford area, he has the friendly demeanor and charm of a Southern gentleman.

Dean grew up surrounded by family members deep into Bluegrass and country music. John Miller Jr. And Sonny Miller (both relatives of his) were part of local bands in the area. John Miller Jr played with the North Carolina Ridge Runners and Sonny Miller was part of Alex, Ola Belle and the New River Boys band. “It’s in my bones,” he says.

His 1997 release of “The Night the Titanic Went Down” so impressed the Australians that the promoters of their Ausgrass of ’98 Festival invited him to an all-expense paid opportunity to perform for the ten day event held at Fitzroy Falls, near Sydney. He traveled without his band, performed with a stand-in band of their choice and conducted workshops during the tour. “It was a great experience,” he said. “So many Australians love country music; I just fit right in!” His recording, Live from Australia, went number one on the Australian Bluegrass charts.

Dean keeps a performance airplay chart in his shop with color coded push pins indicating frequency and places of air play for his band. According to the chart, he has played heavily in Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio, Connecticut, Texas, Kansas and California. He also gets a lot of air play in foreign countries like Japan, Holland, Germany, France and Canada.

Band members include: Dean Sapp, banjo and lead vocalist; Tom Valiquette, guitar/bass/vocals; Bobby Long, bass/guitar/vocals; and Tom Beers, mandolin. Some memorable band members of the past include George Osing (with Dean’s band for 20 years), Bill Graybeal and Mike Pell.

Dean lives in Aberdeen with his wife, Linda. They have three children: Melissa, Jason, and Angie.

From county halls and festivals to concert halls and churches, Dean Sapp and the Harford Express can fit right in with their brand of traditional country and Bluegrass music.
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