Norcross draws from Shelburne and Vermont memories for new record

Rick Norcross holds a photograph of himself (center) and two friends on the last voyage of the Ticonderoga in 1954. Photo by Eileen O’Grady

The first thing that Rick Norcross sees when he wakes up every morning is the scale model of the bottom deck of the steamboat Ticonderoga, which hangs above his bed.

“Waking up, it’s like I’m underwater,” he laughed.

Next he sees the collection of old photographs and paintings of the boat that cover the walls, along with newspaper clippings and press releases from the early 1900s.

Norcross’ house is a shrine to two of his favorite things: western swing music, and the Ticonderoga. The converted train depot on Burlington’s waterfront where he has lived for the past 33 years is chock full of CDs, Gene Autry movie posters, and Ticonderoga memorabilia, including china from the steamboat’s dining room, buttons from crewmen’s jackets, and even a framed letter from Electra Havemeyer Webb herself, thanking a donor for their contribution to the museum’s Ti fund.

Norcross, front man of the well-known Vermont band Rick and the All-Star Ramblers, has a connection to the Ticonderoga that few can claim. On November 6, 1954 when he was 9 years old, he rode on the steamship during its final voyage from the shipyard to the mouth of the LaPlatte River, before it was transported by railway car over two miles to its final resting place at the Shelburne Museum. Norcross’ mother was secretary to the director of the Shelburne Museum at the time, and they lived in an apartment above the Toy Shop on the museum’s grounds.

“It became my playground,” Norcross said of the museum, which at the time was just beginning the process of moving historic buildings, like the lighthouse, the covered bridge, and the boat, onto the property. “Every day we’d go down the road and see how much further the Ticonderoga came on its voyage from the basin to the museum grounds.”

A lifelong musician, Norcross explores his childhood connection to Shelburne in some of the songs on his new album, “Welcome to Our Vermont,” which will be released July 15. Described by Norcross as “a 14-song musical tour through our Vermont,” this record is a collection of some favorite tunes from his previous seven releases, re-recorded and re-released alongside several new tunes. Norcross teamed up with the Vermont Travel & Tourism Department and the Agency of Agriculture to create this album, where each song corresponds to a different town or geographical location in the Green Mountain State, including three dedicated to the Town of Shelburne.

Track no. 9, “Shelburne Yesterday,” is a nostalgic depiction of the town in the 1950s. It was first recorded on Rick & The Ramblers’ other new album, “Green Mountain Standard Time,” which was released in February. Each verse tells of a different memory from Norcross’ youth: the fishermen who would sit and tell tall tales around the stove in the Shelburne Country Store, 10-course dinners for $3.95 at the Shelburne Inn on Thanksgiving, and evenings where it seemed as if the whole town gathered at the home of the Parkers — the first family in Shelburne to own a television set — to eat popcorn and apple pie and watch TV together.

The other Shelburne-themed tracks on “Welcome to Our Vermont” are: “Here’s Yer Hat, What’s Yer Hurry,” a humorous song about proper Vermont etiquette, and a crowd favorite, “I Rode the Ti,” about the steamboat’s journey to the Shelburne Museum.

Born in Hardwick, Norcross got his introduction to music listening to Pete Seeger records and started playing guitar when a local radio host and fiddle player offered him lessons in exchange for accompaniment. “Up in Hardwick at the time, a lot of people played instruments,” Norcross noted. “That was where I came from, out of the folk deal.”

In 1951 Norcross and his mother moved to Shelburne, where they lived for the next 10 years. Norcross delivered the Burlington Free Press to 37 families and attended Shelburne High School, where there were only about 20 students in the entire school. Although he has spent some time touring and living outside of Vermont, Norcross says he always returned to Vermont, mostly because of the people he knows here.

“Like [my] song ‘What Goes Around Comes Around’ says, you never really understand the values of Vermont until you go out and live somewhere else,” Norcross said. “I guess I’m just a sap. That’s why I wrote all those songs.”

Norcross describes Western Swing as “folk music and jazz and polka music and even modern day pop music all rolled into one dance style.” Although the genre doesn’t exactly have a wide following, Norcross said the band’s Vermont shows always attract large crowds, and their albums have gotten national and international acclaim as well.

“Not only are we the best Western Swing Band in Vermont, but we’re also the only one, which makes it a lot easier,” he said with a chuckle.

Rick & the All-Star Ramblers will be performing some of their new music at the 22nd Annual Summer Concert Series at Shelburne Farms on July 12.

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