Outsider A-Side: The Great Divide Look on the Bright Side with Their New Album ‘Providence’

by Clayton Edwards
(Photo credit: Sierra Haney via Sarah J. Frost PR)

Singer-songwriter Mike McClure came together with Kelly Green (bass), Scott Lester (rhythm guitar), and J.J. Lester (drums) to form The Great Divide in 1992. The Stillwater, Oklahoma-based band released their first album Goin’ for Broke in 1995. With that album, they began to shape the future of Red Dirt music. You can still hear their influence in bands like Turnpike Troubadours and Jason Boland & The Stragglers, among others. Unfortunately, the band parted ways in 2003.

In 2012, The Great Divide reformed and added Bryce Conway (B3 Organ) to the band. They played live for about a decade before finally getting back into the studio. This Friday, Providence, the band’s first new album in 20 years will hit shelves and streaming services.

Ahead of the big day, Mike McClure sat down with Outsider to talk about getting the band back in the studio, the optimism on Providence, and more.

Getting the Band Back Together

Mike McClure (The Great Divide): It’s really great. We started playing shows again in 2012. We’ve played shows here and there – one a month or a couple a month. But, what has changed lately is we all got together to make a record. We haven’t done that in 20 years. Now, going into the studio, it was emboldening.

We haven’t done that in so long and to actually sit down in a room and come up with new music that we all liked and felt something for was pretty magical.

Working with Lloyd Maines

Mike McClure (The Great Divide): We had Lloyd Maines play steel and dobro on the record which was a really cool connection for us. Lloyd produced our first three albums. He’s a world-renowned player and he was a mentor to us. So, that was another cool thing that got to happen on this record.

He made me want to produce records after working with him. I wound up doing that. Just seeing Lloyd doing his thing and trying to do something like it.

What Took Great Divide Back to the Studio

Mike McClure (The Great Divide): Well, we added a B3 player, a guy named Bryce Conway. Bryce came along and he knew the band. He was a DJ at JC Cowboy’s, a club in Weatherford, Oklahoma. He knew our band from back in the early 90s when he worked out there. Bryce played keys for No Justice and wanted to come out with us for a weekend. He came out with us and we really loved him.

It was his excitement about being in the band because he always loved our band – he just kept saying “Man, we really need to do a new record” and just kept on us. We finally said, “Alright let’s go do it.”

I think sometimes when you inject some new life into a band or any kind of situation, it adds new energy. His energy was really a catalyst for us getting back in the studio. Once we were back in there, it all really clicked.

Taking Time to Heal and Grow

Mike McClure (The Great Divide): We had a terrible breakup in the early 2000s. It was like a divorce. We all went this way and that way. This was all kind of solidifying us coming back home. Coming back together as a band and as people sitting around in a room and making music which was the reason we started in the first place.

I got sober three-and-a-half years ago. That really helped me in all of my dealings with people. The other guys had time to heal over what they needed to heal about. Of course, coming together and trying to find that common ground – forgiveness, acceptance, and moving on. Just loving each other. That’s a big thing that’s all over this record, in the lyrics.

The Great Divide Hopes to Bring Hope with Providence  

Good Side” is something that I wrote coming out of the pandemic. “Last I heard the world was ending / Everybody let each other down.” That was the way it seemed to me at the time. We’re just trying to get out of that funk that 2020 and 2021 was for all the various reasons. Man, that was just a strange time.

With this record, I’m hoping to pull up and out of that and inject a little bit of hope and some happiness, and a little less negativity. I’m just so tired of that after the last couple of years. It’s time.

There are other songs on there that talk about setting the blame down. Stop blaming. I’ve been studying that in my own life. I’m trying to tend to the garden I can touch instead of being worried about things that I don’t have any control over.

There’s a little bit of that and a healthy dose of optimism in there.

The State of Red Dirt Today

Mike McClure (The Great Divide): I think it’s pretty amazing, especially from where I’m sitting. I started a studio called the Boohatch in Ada a long time ago. The first album I did there was Turnpike’s Diamonds & Gasoline. Then, there’s Kaitlin Butts, she’s blowing up right now. A bunch of those bands that I got to work with when they were younger bands, it’s cool to see them now. Turnpike’s getting inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame. They’re doing great.

It keeps coming in waves. There was The Great Divide – us- and [Jason] Boland and Cody [Canada] and Stoney [LaRue]. That wave came through. Then, here comes John Fullbright and Turnpike Troubadours. Before The Great Divide, there was Tom Skinner, Bob Childers, and The Red Dirt Rangers. It’s just different waves and I’ve been fortunate enough to kind of ride a bunch of different waves with other bands.

It always keeps coming.