Dennis Stroughmatt has dedicated his life to being a bridge in the music world that connects the past with the future.

Stoughmatt will be hosting an album release party for his latest project,“Wrong Side Of The World,” which features classic country hits like “Wine Me Up,” “Maiden's Prayer” and “Sing Me Back Home,” in conjunction with an appearance at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Southern Illinois Opry in the Herrin Civic Center.

“I have been fortunate to play in the shadows of so many great artists. I feel a special connection to the material,” Stroughmatt says. “The original singers were all human. They all had faults and good sides like everyone else. They sang about the realities of life with such emotion you could feel it in their voice.”

Also appearing will be Whitestone and bluegrass house band Cassie Andrews and Calico Creek.

Tickets are $15 and can be purchased at the door, online at siopry.com or by calling 618-988-1207.

Stroughmatt has direct ties to Wade Ray and Buddy Spicher, two of the greatest fiddle players of all time.

Ray retired to Sparta in 1979. He led a Southern California swing band from 1949-58 that rivaled Bob Wills in popularity. He played fiddle for Willie Nelson. Ray was 85 when he died in 1998.

While attending Southern Illinois University Carbondale, Stroughmatt would frequently drive to Sparta to take fiddle lessons from Ray, and the duo studied music together from 1996-98.

“We went to a Willie concert in St. Charles, Missouri, and Wade took me backstage to meet Willie. When we were introduced, Willie said 'Any friend of Wade Ray is a friend of mine.' He walked us up to the stage and let us sit there and watch the entire show,” Stroughmatt said. “Wade and I became close friends. He willed me his fiddle when he died. I'll cherish that instrument forever.”

A few years ago, Stroughmatt was contemplating making a Ray Price tribute album. Before he started the process, he sought out the fiddle player Buddy Spicher, of Price's touring band The Cherokee Cowboys, for lessons.

Spicher is a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame and the National Fiddling Hall of Fame. He has played on more recordings than any fiddle player, including work for Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, Dolly Parton, George Strait and George Jones. The list is endless.

“Before I could take lessons, I had to go to Buddy's house to audition. Buddy does not accept students unless they have achieved a certain talent level,” Stroughmatt said. “We have worked together a long time now and became pretty good friends.”

Stroughmatt has released two critically acclaimed tribute albums to Ray Price and The Cherokee Cowboys, “Talk To My Heart” and “One More Time.” The first album featured five original band members and seven played on the second, including Pete Wade and “Little Red” Hayes.

“Pete and Red where there the day they became The Cherokee Cowboys. It was a blast getting these guys together,” Stroughmatt says. “I put out the albums just because I love music. I am very much a traditionalist. This was more about the band than Ray Price. The type of music they played is becoming extinct. The ability to play behind the singer is almost a lost art.”

Later this year, Stroughmatt will receive a Classic Country CD of the Year award for “One More Time” from the Rural Roots Music Commission.

The 45-year-old Stroughmatt is a member of the National Old Time Fiddlers Hall of Fame. He grew up playing drums and piano. At 16, he was attracted to the sound of a local group that included Mount Carmel fiddler Chlores Worlow.

Worlow was the Illinois Old Time Fiddle Champion from 1974-76 and again in 1983, but he was beaten the next three years by Alison Krauss of Champaign.

“Where I grew up there was a lot of oil wells, so we attracted workers from Texas and Oklahoma and they loved Western swing,” Stroughmatt says. “I've been blessed to play and learn from so many great musicians. I feel a special connection to the material. My goal is to bridge the gap from the older generation, learn all I can and pass it on to the new players that are just starting.”

The band Stroughmatt is bringing to the SI Opry includes Dow Smith on lead guitar, Cord Fitch on steel, Bill Toler handles bass, and drummer Jimmy Beers.

Stroughmatt is also leader of the Cajun band Creole Stomp, which drew a crowd of over 1,500 earlier this month for an annual show at the Pheasant Hill Winery in Whittington.

VINCE HOFFARD can be reached at 618-658-9095 or vincehoffard@gmail.com.

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