Return to Sons of Sylvia

Franklin Co.'s Sons of Sylvia to open for Carrie Underwood
Franklin County natives Sons of Sylvia open for Carrie Underwood on Friday in Roanoke.
By Tad Dickens

In the music business, it's one thing to have talent. It's another thing altogether to have connections. Turns out, Ashley Clark has both.

Clark, singer/songwriter/guitarist for Sons of Sylvia -- a group that got its start in Franklin County -- used to be the fiddle player for Carrie Underwood.

He started with Underwood in 2005, when she was merely an "American Idol" winner, not the multiplatinum country crossover artist that she would become. But during Clark's relatively short time with Underwood, he was part of her meteoric rise.

By late 2007, he had left the band to join forces with his brothers on the short-lived Fox television show "The Next Great American Band." They won the competition, changed their band name from The Clark Brothers to Sons of Sylvia (Sylvia is their mother) and went to work making an album.

An old friend had taken notice. Underwood called on the band to sing with her on a number called "What Can I Say." Then she called on Sons of Sylvia to join her as an opening act on a tour that hits Roanoke Civic Center on Friday.

"I rode the bus with her for about two and a half years, so we became friends and stuff, and we would hang out and play music," Clark said in a phone conversation last week. "You know, we're friends. But I had no idea she would ask us to do all this.

"I saw her in California, and as soon as I saw her, I grabbed her by the shoulders and I said, 'Are you sure you know what you're doing? You know we're nobodies, right?' " Clark said.

"She just laughed. She was just like, 'Yes, it's all right. I know what I'm doing.'

"She's just so cool to us and I'm just very thankful for her, you know."

In conversation, Clark frequently uses the word "thankful."

He's thankful for the fans who have been lining up for meet-and-greets after shows. He's thankful that he's able to play music for a living. He's thankful the band's debut CD, "Revelation," has done well.

The album was No. 33 on the Billboard pop chart when it was released in May. It peaked at No. 9 on the Billboard rock albums chart and at No. 6 on the digital albums list. The single "Love Left to Lose" hung around the adult pop chart for 11 weeks, though it never rose higher than No. 32.

And Clark is thankful for the chance to grow as a musician and songwriter.

All of this is easy to understand, looking back on the career adventures that he and brothers Austin and Adam have experienced.

Coming home

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, they were part of the Clark Family Experience, with three other Clark brothers, and signed to Nashville, Tenn., label Curb Records. Tim McGraw produced their single, "Meanwhile Back at the Ranch," and it was the 13th best-selling country song in the nation in 2001.

But they struggled with Curb over the creative direction of an album the label didn't release until well after the band members filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection. The album, with essentially no promotion, tanked.

Only Ashley, Austin and Adam remained in the music business, touring as sidemen out of Nashville (where they're still based). But Ashley videotaped a brotherly jam session in Austin's basement, sent it to 19 Entertainment, producer of "American Idol," and the company signed up the remaining Clark brothers for "The Next Great American Band."

Now the act is returning to the Roanoke Valley for its first public performance since a mini-set in Rocky Mount, after the show finale's network broadcast. Ashley Clark said he is nervous about the Roanoke Civic Center gig.

"It's cool playing everywhere around the country and different countries," he said. "But it's like, when you go home you'd better do good, because you're representing.

"We just played Nashville, and I think I'm going to be more nervous in Roanoke than in Nashville, for sure, because you know ... a lot of industry people show up and stuff [in Nashville], but like Roanoke, that to me is the big one."