Hailing from Northern Ohio, Ernie Thacker was raised on the essentials of bluegrass music. Steeped in the work of Bill Monroe, Ralph Stanley, and Jimmy Martin, Thacker took classical violin lessons as a child but quickly fell under the tutelage of an uncle who played in a bluegrass band. Breezing through studies in fiddle, mandolin, and guitar, he soon began to gain renown in the surrounding towns. By chance, Thacker ended up moving to live with his grandparents and attending the same church as his idol Ralph Stanley, who was soon convinced enough of the boy's talents to offer him a spot in his band as a mandolinist. Only 16 years old at the time, Thacker joined Stanley as a touring and recording member, eventually moving up to become the group's lead vocalist and guitarist by the age of 18. Five years, six albums, and one Grammy later, Thacker left to pursue his own musical vision as a solo artist.
Keith Whitley, Hank Williams, and Elvis Presley, Thacker continued in the traditionalist vein of his previous work, though added a contemporary edge to dilute the more stringent bluegrass elements. His debut, 1996's Tennessee Blues showcased his considerable talents as an instrumentalist and vocalist, but probably was somewhat disappointing to those expecting a more dogmatically bluegrass approach. The follow-up, 2002's Chill of Lonesome, continued in a similar path, with bluegrass veterans like Dan Tyminski and Rob Ickes joining Thacker on a set of songs that retained a traditional edge, but seemed poised to break through on the contemporary country mainstream.