May 2011

Classifieds – May 2011


GUITAR LICK CARDS: from standard to stellar, 81 licks are isolated on playing cards. Line them up with the same chord progression as your favorite song and voilá!, it’s a new arrangement! Rearrange the licks for endless variations. They’re inspiring! Available for mandolin and banjo too. $11.50 ppd. per set. Andrew Cushing, 6079 McKinley Pkwy., Hamburg, NY 14075.

BANJOTEACHER.COM: Ross Nickerson books, CDs, and DVDs. Banjo instruction for beginners, intermediates, and advanced banjo students. Banjos for sale, special accessories, workshops, and free stuff.

LEARN DOBRO, FIDDLE, GUITAR, BANJO, MANDOLIN, BASS & BLUEGRASS HARMONY SINGING. Friendly, easily accessible DVD lessons. Order direct from Punch in the words ‘rootsreview’ in the sale code area and receive 35% off all orders.


DOBROS, MANDOLINS, BANJOS, GUITARS, VIOLINS, AUTOHARPS, DULCIMERS, ETC. Old & new. Great prices/selections. All inquiries promptly answered in person. Deal with the people who care. Harry & Jeanie West, 116 East Broad St., Statesville, NC 28677, 704-883-0033, e-mail:, or

OME BANJOS: Outstanding selection of original, American made, vintage quality banjos. Bluegrass, old-time, Irish, and jazz styles. Models ranging from zen simplicity to elegant opulance. Free color catalogue. E-mail:,, 303-449-0041.

BILL’S MUSIC SHOP & PICKIN’ PARLOR. Bluegrass headquarters in South Carolina. Weber, Deering, Washburn, Blueridge, and other brands. New and used. Strings and all accessories. Dulcimers, autoharps. If we don’t have it, we can get it. 710 Meeting St., W. Columbia, SC 29169, 803-796-6477, e-mail:,

RESOPHONIC GUITARS handcrafted in the Ozarks. Best sound or your money back. Contact,, 870-283-5512.

VISITING NORTH CAROLINA? Stop by and check out our large selection of old, new, vintage stringed instruments, accessories, etc. Reasonable prices. Friendly service. Harry & Jeanie West, 116 East Broad St., Statesville, NC 28677, 704-883-0033, e-mail:, or

NICK LLOYD BASSES in Cincinnati builds, repairs, and sells upright basses. Quality work, honest service, and prompt turnaround time. Shipping available. 513-681-1863 or

WANT TO BUY: OPEN-BACK BANJOS. Prefer five-string, will consider all others. Bob Smakula, Smakula Fretted Instruments, P.O. Box 882, Elkins, WV 26241, 304-636-6710, e-mail:

ALL TYPES OF BANJOS: New, used, vintage. Bought, sold, traded. Parts, accessories, repairs. Bedford Banjo Shop, 106 S. Richard St., Bedford, Pa., 814-623-2187, e-mail:,

UPRIGHT BASS, $195. Violin, Fender guitar, banjo, flute, clarinet, trumpet, $79 each; saxophone, $195; viola with flame-maple back, $195; mandolin, $99. 516-377-7907.

C.F. MARTIN GUITARS, GIBSON, DEERING, JBOVIER, KENTUCKY, DOBRO™, GOLDTONE, WASHBURN, also other well known brands. Free friendly advice, prompt personal reply. Harry & Jeanie West, 116 East Broad St., Statesville, NC 28677, 704-883-0033, e-mail:, or

WWW.BANJOSELITE.COM: Liquidation of very fine collection.

THE ADAMS HANDMADE MANDOLINS. Great sound and volume. A-style, $1,200. F-style, $1,500. Units now available. Satisfaction guaranteed. Call 407-656-2462, e-mail:

JBOVIER CUSTOM SHOP: F-5 mandolins, E-mandos, pre-owned & vintage mando-family instruments.

RATLIFF MANDOLINS: Building the finest handmade mandolins for over 25 years. Visit us on the web at

BEST IN THE WEST: Large and dynamic selection of new, used, and vintage guitars, banjos, mandolins, Dobros™, ukes, etc. Featuring fine instruments for the player and the collector. We ship worldwide. Intermountain Guitar and Banjo, 712 E. 100 S., Salt Lake City, UT 84102, 801-322-4682, e-mail:,

WANTED: PREWAR MARTIN D-18 & D-28s and pre-1940 Gibson F-5 mandolins. Larry Cadle, 606-248-7898.

FOR SALE: 1952 D-28 MARTIN. The guitar used to record “Silver Tongue And Gold-Plated Lies.” No refin., no cracks, original case. Close to perfect. $45,000. Call 740-926-1677.

JASPER RESONATOR GUITARS. Free brochure. Visit our website @, 8979 W. Starwood Ln., Greenwood, LA 71033, 318-464-0695.

BOURGEOIS GEORGIA DREADNOUGHT. Premium Adirondack/mahogany. 1930 voicing. Excellent recording/performance w/Calton case, $2,800. 336-813-0205.


“IT TAKES A VILLAGE TO TUNE A BANJO” bumper stickers, $3. Order online at

37-ACRE BLUEGRASS FESTIVAL CAMPGROUND in beautiful Ozarks for sale, due to serious illness of owners. Historic bluegrass park celebrates 43rd Labor Day festival. Oldest ongoing music park west of Mississippi. Call Marilyn Deward, Resorts Int’l., 616-532-4835. Browse website,


MITCHEL’S PLATEMATE IS RECOMMENDED and used by the oldest guitar maker in the world. Mitchel’s Platemate is also sold in many music stores nationwide and highly recommended by some of the best acoustic guitarists. Mitchel’s Platemate can be ordered online at or by phone: 330-898-7438.

EUPHONON CO. STRINGS: Bulk major manufacturer strings at fantastic savings. Phosphor Bronze guitar $27.50/dozen sets. 80/20 guitar, $25.50/dozen sets. Shipping $6 up to 2 dozen sets. Electric guitar, mandolin, banjo, dulcimer available. 1-888-517-4678, P.O. Box 100U, Orford, NH 03777,


WADE HILL: SUPER JAMMING is banjo player Wade Hill’s newest release from Saber Records. This album contains rare vintage recordings featuring Wade Hill, Vassar Clements, Josh Graves, and Red Rector all jamming together, backed up by some of East Tennessee’s finest musicians. For free catalog, send SASE to Saber Records, 6509 Vestine Dr., Knoxville, TN 37918.


STRING KING, SINCE 1989: FULL SERVICE REPAIRS, handmade guitars. Gibson Level A shop. Martin experienced. or 330-798-1055.

TAYLOR GUITAR WARRANTY REPAIR CENTER: Factory-trained and certified Taylor Guitar specialists. All warranty and non-warranty repair work. Appalachian Bluegrass Shoppe, 643 Frederick Rd., Catonsville, MD 21228, 800-845-8456, e-mail: Serving the music community since 1960.

VIOLIN BOWS REHAIRED ($30) and repaired. Handmade bows for sale. Violins bought, sold, repaired. Tom Owen, P.O. Box 413, 301 S. Byrd, Coalgate, OK 74538, 580-927-9939, e-mail:


FOR SALE: BACK ISSUES OF BLUEGRASS UNLIMITED from 1995 to present. Call Frank Gheen, 386-235-4842.

New Releases – May 2011

MATO1315 (compact disc)

New Timey 2011 (compact disc)

Blue Circle Records BCR 026
(compact disc)

(compact disc)

Rounder Records 11661-0659-2
(compact disc)

Mountain Fever Records MFR110214
(compact disc)

Heart Squeeze Records HS2K111
(compact disc)

(compact disc)

(compact disc)

(compact disc)

(compact disc)

Rounder Records 11661-0658-2
(compact disc)

B-Sharp Records CD-002
(compact disc)

Mudthumper Music 9780983100300

Patuxent Music CD-215
(compact disc)

Valley Heat Records
(compact disc)

Red Rocking Records RRR06
(compact disc)

Rural Rhythm RUR-1080
(compact disc)

No Label, No Number (compact disc)

Rural Rhythm RCH-2005
(compact disc)

Appleseed Recordings APR CD1125
(compact disc)

Rural Rhythm RUR-1074
(compact disc)

Rounder Records 11661-0662-2
(compact disc)

Rebel Records REB-CD-1840
(compact disc)

Univ. Press of Mississippi 9781604738308
(compact disc)

Mel Bay MB22208DVD

Hal Leonard 9781423422419
(compact disc)

Mountain Roads Records MMR-1011
(compact disc)

Flying Horse Music, No Number
(compact disc)

No Label, No Number (compact disc)

No Label, No Number (compact disc)

Additional Releases – May 2011


The Milford Station Bluegrass Band is an atypical musical group based in a small town a few miles north of Richmond, Va. This latest release features 12 selections comprised of standard pieces like “Bringing Mary Home,” “Sugar Coated Love,” and “Send Me Your Address From Heaven.” Of special note, is a guest appearance by fiddler Chris Sexton. The proceedings also feature an unidentified bonus track. While there is not much here that stands out above the ordinary, there is still plenty of basic bluegrass that should find an audience with those familiar with the Milford Station Bluegrass Band. (Robert Caruthers, 17352 Newmarket Ln., Milford, VA 22514,

Old Blue Records OB-706.

Old Blue Records OB-704.

The New North Carolina Ramblers are a long established old-time string band that derives their name from the late Charlie Poole’s early group. In fact, the band was founded in 1960 by Kinney and Doug Rorrer who were nephews of Charlie Poole and Posey Rorrer. The current group consists of Kinney Rorrer, Kirk Sutphin, Jeremy Stephens, and Darren Moore all whom are proficient on several instruments. This latest pair of compact discs features a whopping 49 musical performances. Live And Lively starts off with a live recording where various band members (and assorted guests) pop in and out from time to time. The bulk of the recordings are studio versions of such traditional pieces as “Lost Indian,” “Baltimore Fire,” “After The Ball,” “Weary Prodigal Son,” others. Four And A Half is similar in scope with performance of such classics as “Golden Slippers,” “The Great Reaping Day,” “The Murder Of The Lawson Family,” “No Depression In Heaven,” and 21 others. The music of the New North Carolina Ramblers is truly a national treasure, and both of these collections should be part of any serious old-time music collection. (Old Blue Records, 4300 Elmstone Rd., Midlothian, VA 23113,

Fishtraks FT-1880.

Taylor’s Grove is the New England-based duet of Mac McHale (guitar, mandolin, banjo, and vocals) and Carolyn Hutton (guitar and vocals). Taylor’s Grove was the name of the small country church that Carolyn used to attend while growing up in North Carolina. Mac McHale is probably best known as the lead singer of the Old-Time Radio Gang (BU, Dec. ’03). Keep On The Sunny Side is the duo’s debut recording and consists primarily of well-established numbers such as “Put Me In Your Pocket,” “Single Girl, Married Girl” “Kneel At The Cross,” “I’m Going Back To Dixie,” “Goodbye Little Bonnie,” and 13 others. Of special note is “I’ve Got The Old Blues Back Again” which Mac composed and recorded with the Old-Time Radio Gang several years ago. Also making a guest appearance is Rick Watson on mandolin and bass. Keep On The Sunny Side is traditional duo vocalization at its finest and should find instant favor with anyone familiar with the music of Mac McHale and Carolyn Hutton. (Crooked Cove Records, P.O. Box 2215, Hampton, NH 03043,


Highway Of Broken Dreams is the second release from Donny Nuckles & Chesham Creek. The 14 selections are all original compositions by Donny and dedicated to the residents of Virginia who were relocated from their mountain homes when the Shenandoah National Park was created in the 1930s. Of special note, is the presence of guitar virtuoso Larry Keel. Noted highlights include the title song, “Appomattox,” “Poor Old Rebel Soldier,” “Preacher Man,” and “When The Angels Come To Carry Me Home.” Donny Nuckles & Chesham Creek have created a magical offering of Americana sure to be appreciated by music lovers everywhere. (Donny Nuckles, 49 River Song Ln., Sperryville, VA 22740,



An interesting aspect of this rather unpretentious compact disc is there is apparently no one named Nick Diamond present on any of the dozen selections. The actual participants are Billy Parker (mandolin and vocals) and Doug Bond (guitar and vocals) who are former members of the Oregon-based bluegrass band, The Wallys. The selections are from a myriad of sources including The Beatles (“A Little Help From My Friends”), Harlan Howard (“Busted”), the Stanley Brothers (“Memory Of Your Smile”), and the traditional “Little Sadie.” Dennis Coats (banjo and bass) makes a guest appearance on Loudon Wainwright III’s “The Swimming Song” and contributes the whimsical “Bacon Grease.” While the title suggests that other releases will be forthcoming, there are some interesting arrangements featured on this one that should placate the friends and followers of Billy Parker and Doug Bond. (


This latest compact disc collection from Tim (mandolin, banjo, pedal steel guitar, and vocals), and Savannah Finch (guitar, bass and vocals) can best be described as new age Americana music. All ten selections are originals composed by the Finches including “Lovely Lovely Ladies,” “Your Love Is Like Moonshine,” “Heart Full Of Trouble” and the bouncy instrumental “T.A.F.A. Rag.” Of special note is the presence of guest pickers like Mike Auldridge (resonator and pedal steel guitars), Rickie Simpkins and Patrick McAvinue (fiddles). While the music of Tim and Savannah Finch clearly extends beyond the boundaries of bluegrass music, it should find favor with anyone anxious to explore new territories. (Eastman Strings, 22525 Gateway Center Dr., Clarksburg, MD 20871,


Schiffer Publishing 9780764335716. (Schiffer Publishing, Ltd., 4880 Lower Valley Rd., Atglen, PA 19310,

Here is an interesting instruction program by John Ressler that should be of interest to anyone aspiring to start building stringed instruments. First of all, a pickin’ stick is a three-string fretted instrument with a hollow body and played like a guitar, but strung and tuned like a dulcimer. This 71-page booklet provides complete step by step instructions on how to build and play your own pickin’ stick. Included are tools and basic materials needed, patterns and layout, construction procedures, fret and tuner installation, and final setup and playing instructions. This program is intended for beginning luthiers who want to hone their woodworking skills. In essence, it could prove to be a valuable source of information leading to the construction of more complex stringed instruments.

Kyle Creed: Clawhammer Banjo Master – By Bob Carlin and Dan Levenson

Bluegrass Unlimited - Mel Bay Presents Kyle Creed: Clawhammer Banjo Master - By Bob Carlin and Dan LevensonMEL BAY PRESENTS KYLE CREED: CLAWHAMMER BANJO MASTER

Mel Bay 9780786682713. CD included, 64 pp., $19.99.
Mel Bay Publications, #4 Industrial Dr., Pacific, MO 63069,

A tablature book on the banjo playing of Kyle Creed has been long overdue. In addition to Tommy Jarrell and Fred Cockerham, Creed (1912-1982) is one of the “big three” in Round Peak style banjo. His most well-known recordings, Camp Creek Boys and Liberty, are essential listening for any old-time player.

Bob Carlin and Dan Levenson, both masters of old-time banjo, have written an accessible and thorough introduction to Creed’s style, which is becoming more and more imitated by modern players. Both Carlin and Levenson each bring their own strengths to the project. Carlin has transcribed Creed’s tunes as close to the original as possible, even tabbing out the dragged notes and Galax lick. It’s essential in studying anyone’s style to leave your own style behind and look at what that player is really doing. Levenson has taken a slightly different approach in creating versions of the songs that were developed from his own ear and style, an equally valid approach, and one that is at the heart of the musical tradition.

What we have here then, is a nice confluence of these two approaches, even to the point of having two transcriptions of each of the 28 songs—one transcribed by Bob and close to, if not exactly as, Creed played it, and another version by Dan, which is more Dan’s personal style, but which still gets at the heart of Creed’s playing.

If you’re not familiar with Kyle Creed’s playing, this beautifully done tab book will lead you back to the original recordings and give you a foot-up and much insight into the master’s playing. CVS

Travis Chandler And Avery County – State Of Depression

Bluegrass Unlimited - Travis Chandler And Avery County - State Of DepressionTRAVERS CHANDLER AND AVERY COUNTY
Patuxent Music
Patuxent CD-212

Travers Chandler and Patuxent Music head Tom Mindte make a great match.

Both have a passion not just for traditional bluegrass of the ’40s to ’60s, but also for mining material of that era from deep in the catalogues of performers such as Charlie Monroe and Charlie Moore or from performers not as oft-remembered as they should be or from performers downright obscure.

Chandler’s Patuxent debut attests to that. Alongside Monroe’s “Nobody Cares For Me,” and Moore’s “Cotton Farmer” are selections written or once covered by Vernon Oxford (“Little Sister Throw Your Red Shoes Away”), the Bowes Brothers (“Too Deep In Heartaches”), Claude Boone (“Have You Come To Say Goodbye?”), Larry Richardson (“Let Me Fall”) and Dewey Farmer (the instrumental “Lonesome Smokey”). The recording opens with “Black Dust Fever,” a gem of a slow-to-medium 3/4 lament by Marvin Davis that sympathetically depicts the dilemma of coal miners (or anyone faced with limited options). Ultimately, you do what you have to do. In this case, the man works out his life in the mine, but, to his satisfaction, realizes his family could eat.

That sets the mood and underscores the album’s theme. These are hard-living songs, portraying tough situations. You can picture southern migrants listening to them in far away bars and taverns. In “Little Sister…” the singer pleads with a sibling, urging her to give up the dancing and honky-tonking that is bringing her ill repute. “Cotton Farmer” gives us the classic giving-up-the-farm song, with the farmer taking a job in town. “Too Deep In Heartaches” describes itself, while Hank Williams, Jr.’s “Stoned At The Jukebox” perfectly sums the conditions suggested by the album’s title cut.

To this material, Chandler brings a flexible lead voice somewhat reminiscent of Dudley Connell and Chris Brashear and brings a direct and unadulterated mandolin style full of blue notes and equal parts terse phrasing and tremelo passages. Backing him on this all-around quality debut are guitarist/vocalist Adam Poindexter, bassist/vocalist Blake Johnson, banjoist Mark Delaney, and fiddler Nate Leath. (Patuxent Music, P.O. Box 572, Rockville, MD 20848, BW

Bobby Osborne and The Rocky Top Xpress – Memories: Celebrating Bobbys 60th Anniversary As A Professional Entertainer

Bluegrass Unlimited - Bobby Osborne and The Rocky Top Xpress - Memories: Celebrating Bobbys 60th Anniversary As A Professional EntertainerBOBBY OSBORNE & THE ROCKY TOP X-PRESS
Rural Rhythm

In celebrating the anniversary of Bobby Osborne’s six decades(!) in showbiz, producer Glen Duncan has pulled out the stops. These 14 tracks, besides highlighting Osborne’s perennial talents, also feature vocal and instrumental assists from a high-profile cast that includes Bobby Osborne, Jr., Tim Graves, Patty Loveless, Emory Gordy, Jr., Ronnie McCoury, David Grisman, Sammy Shelor, David Harvey, Russell Moore, Japanese bluegrass maestro Takeharu Kunimoto, and Duncan. The opening track, a rousing Osborne/Russell Moore duet on the Randall Hylton favorite “Mountain Fever” sets the ambitious tone for what’s to come.

Besides producing, Duncan plays fiddle throughout and also penned several memorable songs. His keening fiddle all but steals the show on “Bring Back Yesterday,” a lovely, wistful ballad he penned, and on “Hiding In Hyden,” a jaunty bootlegger’s anthem he also composed for this project.

I’m sure Osborne, long ago, lost track of how many times he’s recorded and sung “Ruby,” which is probably the closest thing he has to a theme song. Yet, surprisingly, he brings new life into this old chestnut with a galloping, free-wheeling, almost frenetic vocal performance where he sustains some of those urgent high notes longer than seems humanly possible. Meanwhile, Duncan on fiddle lays down all the instrumental exclamation points at all the right places.

Perhaps best of all is a powerful, almost mystical instrumental ode to Bill Monroe called “Man From Rosine”—yet another sterling Duncan original. Here, Duncan, Osborne (Sr. and Jr.), along with McCoury, Shelor, Grisman, Graves and Harvey, meld their talents in a powerful and moving tour de force. All in all, this is a mighty fine album and a worthy celebration of Osborne’s six decades in “the biz.” (Rural Rhythm Records, P.O. Box 660040, Dept. D, Arcadia, CA 91066, BA

The Legacy of Roscoe Holcomb

Bluegrass Unlimited - The Legacy of Roscoe HolcombTHE LEGACY OF ROSCOE HOLCOMB

Roscoe Holcomb (1911-1981) was the legendary old-time banjo player whose powerful vocals inspired John Cohen to coin the phrase the “high lonesome sound” back in 1962 when he first captured Roscoe on tape for the film of the same name.

The Legacy Of Roscoe Holcomb, a hundred-minute black-and-white DVD, includes The High Lonesome Sound along with Cohen’s 2010 film Roscoe Holcomb From Daisy, Kentucky, as well as scenes from other sources such as Pete Seeger’s Rainbow Quest. In addition to its focus on Roscoe, who performs solo with banjo or guitar, the compilation examines the mountain culture that birthed such an extraordinary musician.

Roscoe’s own words provide a clue as to the possible reception of this project: “People like different kinds of music. Maybe something I like, somebody else wouldn’t care nothing about it and maybe something they like I wouldn’t care nothing about it. It takes all kind of people to make a world.” So, if you like your music raw and unencumbered with emotionally packed, keening vocals, then you will love this offering which includes “Single Girl,” “Little Birdie, and “Stingy Woman Blues.” If you prefer smoother edges, then perhaps you “won’t care nothing about it.” Bluegrassers will delight in Bill Monroe’s two live, on-stage numbers, “Live And Let Live” and “John Henry.”

Mixed in with all the mountain mournful are clips of a teenage couple doing the twist on Roscoe’s porch, men clogging at the Galax Fiddler’s Convention, and Marion Sumner fiddling for a square dance. But, what I loved most was seeing Roscoe funning with a little girl who was entranced by the drawer knob he put on his head to tease her. His wide smile stands in stark contrast to the overall grimness of the disc (old age, sickness, poverty, lack of jobs) and lets the viewer see the playful side of the man who “shapes every song to his haunted, stoic personality.” (Shanachie Entertainment Corp., 37 E. Clinton St., Newton, NJ 07860.) MHH

The Knuckle Knockers

Bluegrass Unlimited - The Knuckle KnockersTHE KNUCKLE KNOCKERS
Yodel-Ay-Hee Records

The Knuckle Knockers are husband and wife Bill Foss (vocals, mandolin, banjo, banjo-mandolin) and Martha Hawthorne (vocals, guitar, banjo), and Karen Celia Heil (vocals, fiddle, guitar).

They are ably assisted by Brendan Doyle and Maxine Gerber, each on banjo, on five cuts.

The CD opens with a lovely version of Samantha Bumgarner’s “Georgia Blues.” Next is “Shipping Port,” a fiddle tune from Johnny Johnson’s String Band. Their version of “Little Black Train” is laid-back but powerful. There are two originals, “Soldier Girl” by Martha, which is a female take on a child lost to war, and “Step In A Hole,” a lively and crooked tune by Karen. They do a nice job with the Carter Family’s “The Cyclone Of Rye Cove” and with the rhythmically complex “Christmas Time In The Morning” from Stephen B. Tucker. “Can’t Feel At Home” is a simple arrangement, but powerfully sung gospel number, also from the Carters. Dee Hicks’s “In The Pines” is quite different from the other slower song of the same name, though they share lyrics. Bill’s rag mandolin is showcased on “Wildcat Rag.” Karen shows her strong fiddling on “Brushy Fork Of John’s Creek” and “Little Bobby,” both from John Salyer and then on “All Night Long” from Burnett and Rutherford. The last of the 16 cuts is “The Hometown Waltz.”

All three sing lead. Each has a different style, and each is excellent. It’s a given that their harmonies are great in all combinations. This is old-time ensemble singing and playing at its best. (The Knuckle Knockers, 8 Putnam St., San Francisco, CA 94110, SAG

The Karl Shiflett and Big Country Show – Live From The Jerusalem Ridge Bluegrass Celebration

Bluegrass Unlimited - The Karl Shiflett and Big Country Show - Live From The Jerusalem Ridge Bluegrass CelebrationTHE KARL SHIFLETT AND BIG COUNTRY SHOW

Cumberland Highlander Productions continues offering quality DVDs of performances aired on its RFD-TV television program, this one featuring two complete shows (two DVDs), thirty songs in all by the Karl Shiflett and Big Country Show.

One is from 2009 with mandolinist David Long, banjoist Dillon Scott, and fiddler Preston Schmidt. The other dates to 2002 with mandolinist Randy Lindley, banjoist Jake Jenkins, fiddler Chuck Westerman on fiddle, and reso-guitarist Andy Ruff. The constants from both shows are Karl, his son Kris on bass, three tunes (“Bluegrass Breakdown,” “Misery Loves Company,” and “Where The Smoke Goes Up”), a couple of jokes, and a whole lot of showmanship and fun.

The older show, filmed outdoors in front of the refurbished Bill Monroe birthplace, leans more to traditional bluegrass such as “I Know You’re Married,” “I Live In The Past,” “You’re Gonna Miss Me When I’m Gone,” and “Old Dangerfield.” Lindley’s mandolin work shines throughout and the inclusion of the resonator guitar is a nice variant. The singing is tighter and more convincing than on the later show and Karl is more sedate (i.e., fewer leg kicks and mugging).

The newer show, filmed in a large shed-like structure at the same location, has slightly echoey sound and more of a swing and country feel with such tunes as “Don’t Get Above Your Raisin’,” “Why Baby Why,” “Act Naturally,” and “Kansas City Kitty.” Schmidt brings more verve to the fiddle playing, the choreography around the one mic has more life, and Karl has definitely upped his quota of leg kicks. But it’s all in good fun, and that’s the best way to describe these DVDs. (Cumberland Highlander Prod., P.O. Box 428, Rosine, KY 42370, BW

Richard D. Henry – I Had A Little Talk With Jesus

Bluegrass Unlimited - Richard D. Henry - I Had A Little Talk With JesusRICHARD D. HENRY

Here is a project of original gospel songs by Henry, who has put together a dozen songs that make for an interesting and musical program.

Henry sings lead with a trio of backup singers: Mike Fuller, Tony King, and Gene McDonald. All but two songs feature a quartet with McDonald’s sonorous bass adding depth to the harmonies. There is one solo, “These Hard Times (Are Temporary),” and a duet, “There Is Someone Waiting (And His Name Is Jesus),” sung with Fuller. The approach is down-home and the arrangements are traditional bluegrass. There is no attempt to go up town.

The picking is done by a who’s who of bluegrass session players. Scott Vestal on banjo, Stuart Duncan on fiddle, Mike Bub, bass, and Carl Jackson to name a few. The picking is tasteful and gritty throughout the project, adding to the classic sound of this recording. Henry is a good vocalist and knows how to put a song across. The harmonies are spot on. The playful, “Papa’s Dancing With The Angels” is a refreshingly “up” piece in a time when so many gospel projects tend toward a more serious nature.

If you like the traditional bluegrass gospel like they used to play, don’t miss this fine recording. (Fuller’s Vintage Guitar, 116 North Loop, Houston, TX 77006.) RCB

Patent Pending – Not A Day Goes By

Bluegrass Unlimited - Patent Pending - Not A Day Goes ByPATENT PENDING
Tuscarora Records

Patent Pending has been a long-running bluegrass band in and around Northern Virginia and West Virginia.

This latest recording is an important milestone in their illustrious music career.

The core group of musicians has been together for several years and is currently Eldred Hill (guitar and vocals), Rusty Williams (guitar and vocals), Leigh Taylor Kron (bass and vocals), Ed Barney (guitar), Buster Sexton (banjo and vocals), and Keith Dill (fiddle and vocals). Also participating in the proceedings are former group members Mike Hartnett and Wayne Lanham (fiddles).

Not A Day Goes By is dedicated to the memory of the group’s longtime banjo picker, Jim Steptoe who passed away shortly after planning for this project got under way. The 12 selections are an entertaining variety of familiar pieces and band originals. Eldred contributes several compositions including the title song, “Every Tear,” and Luther Johnson’s “Still.” Buster contributes the instrumental “Stillhouse Holler Blues.” Also featured are Mike Henderson’s “Do You Ever Dream Of Me” along with “Hard Times In Kentucky,” “John Barleycorn Must Die,” and “Don’t This Road Look Rough And Rocky.” Closing out the CD is a stirring instrumental arrangement of “Somewhere Over The Rainbow.”

The group’s stunning lead and harmony vocals are on the cutting edge of perfection, and Not A Day Goes By is a musical masterpiece that is guaranteed to leave the listener crying for more. Hopefully there will be other recording projects from Patent Pending in the near future. (Tuscarora Records, 2086 Sulphur Springs Rd., Inwood, WV 25428, LM

Notorious – The Road To Damascus

Bluegrass Unlimited - Notorious - The Road To DamascusNOTORIOUS
Black Socks Press
CD 28

Notorious is an interesting and eclectic folk ensemble built around the duo of fiddler/singer Eden MacAdam-Somer and guitarist/banjoist Larry Unger.

Their full-sized band adds mandolinist Sam Bartlett and Mark Hellenberg on percussion and banjo uke. They cover an interesting range of tunes and songs from Appalachian old-time to Eastern European music and swing.

While it’s easy to assume which end of their musical spectrum will appeal more to readers of this publication, it’s hard to miss the fact that Notorious plays all these styles quite well. The fiddling is vibrant and exciting, and the material they take on wanders freely and happily from traditional pieces like “Hangman’s Reel” to a number of fine instrumentals composed by Unger (no surprise since many of his tunes have become modern standards on the contradance circuit on which Notorious also travels.)

MacAdam-Somer is also a fine and versatile singer. Two tracks that will have a special draw for lovers of old-time music are a nice arrangement of Si Kahn’s “Wild Rose Of The Mountain” with harmony vocals by Frances Cunningham, and a beautiful and poignant coal-mining song of her own composition, “Beneath The Stones,” on which the always able bassist Mark Murphy contributes duet harmony.

While Notoroius is ably qualified to supply music for happy contradancers, The Road To Damascus is an excellent and representative indicator that they can dazzle listeners at a concert or a festival, as well as on a CD player. It may even inspire some lethargic bluegrass listeners to get out on the dance floor! (Black Socks Press, P.O. Box 6322, Lincoln, MA 01773, HK

Norman Blake – Green Light On The Southern

Bluegrass Unlimited - Norman Blake - Green Light On The SouthernNORMAN BLAKE
Plectrafone Records

When you are as talented as Norman Blake, nothing is needed in the studio but a guitar and microphone.

Blake, who retired from the road with his wife Nancy three years ago, recorded some of the old-fashioned Southern string music that he plays around home. His guitar and the Alabama Great Southern Railway are two constants from his life that come into play with this record.

He cut songs like “Railroading On The Great Divide” (recorded by A.P. Carter Family in 1952), the punitive death of “The Tramp,” “The Wreck On The C&O,” and the title cut that he wrote in the 1980s about his summer days down along the Southern Railroad in Sulphur Springs, Ga., in the 1940s. His wife adds harmony vocals along the way on some of the CD’s 17 cuts. Most songs he recorded date back to the 1920s and 1930s. Their origins he attempts to trace with the listing of each cut. Blake’s simple and pure vocals and acoustic picking of the rural songs from his childhood are delightful. All aboard for this latest excursion into music’s past with one of old-time music’s best friends. (Western Jubilee Recording Co., P.O. Box 9187, Colorado Springs, CO 80932, BC

Kirk Sutphin & Riley Baugus – Long Time Piedmont Pals

Bluegrass Unlimited - Kirk Sutphin and Riley Baugus - Long Time Piedmont PalsKIRK SUTPHIN & RILEY BAUGUS
Old Blue Records
OB CD-705

You can’t be more long-time friends than growing up in the same town and playing music together from the time you were young.

Riley and Kirk are part of the living aural tradition, the true vine of old-time music. They learned from players who were generations older than themselves and have played the music native to their home, since taking up music. Here they serve notice, as much as they ever would, that this is their music, their tradition.

Both men are accomplished banjo players and fiddlers. They ably demonstrate that here. We start out with a couple of spot on readings of Round Peak favorites, featuring Riley’s banjo and vocals with Kirk’s fiddling. We are treated to Riley’s fine fiddling on “Last Of Callahan,” a Kentucky tune first recorded by Wm. Stepp. Then they turn around and take “Riley And Spencer” back toward its African-American roots in a low-down two-guitar tour de force based upon the Rounder Records recording by Fields Ward.

“Evening Star Waltz” steps right along as Kirk nails the high notes with that Round Peak slide and Riley’s bass runs on the guitar (that earned him the name Riley) drive the proceedings along. As he fiddles this set, Kirk echoes the fiddlers who came before him, but also places his stamp on each tune. His versions of the Round Peak tunes here stand as a benchmark for the tradition. His rivals are few. His banjo playing covers both the clawhammer and fingerstyle approaches that marked the region’s styles over time. He is probably the most accomplished exponent of Frank Jenkins’ three-finger-style out there today. Riley’s banjo playing draws from the well with a rich touch, perhaps favoring Fred Cockerham more than others.

They cast a wide and deep net in their tune selections. Wade Ward’s “A Married Man’s Blues,” taken from a test pressing that had disappeared for sometime, is a welcome piece. Riley sings the melody, bending notes with his voice and then doing quite the same with his fiddle. All the while, Kirk’s banjo chugs along holding it all together very nicely.

There are 23 cuts here, drawing heavily from the Round Peak tradition and repertory. Kirk and Riley are deeply rooted in this home tradition. Riley has ventured out of it a bit here to bring in music from other areas while Kirk has mined the tradition to new depths. They know how to present their music with a subtle twist that puts it in a new light and brings out aspects that would otherwise be missed. Singing “Birdie,” known more today as fiddle and not the old song, casts it in a whole light.

There are a lot of folks out there who play old-time in the Round Peak tradition, but these gentlemen were born and bred to it. The tradition is them and they are it. They can no more leave it behind than they leave themselves behind. We are treated here to true old-time music played like few others can. (Old Blue Records, 4300 Elmstone Rd., Midlothian, VA 23113.) RCB

Joe Mullins And The Radio Ramblers – Hymns From The Hills

Joe Mullins and the Radio Ramblers - Hymns From The HillsJOE MULLINS AND THE RADIO RAMBLERS
Rebel Records
Reb-CD 1839

Joe Mullins’ new gospel recording is evenly split between two approaches.

On one side are seven songs recorded solely by Mullins and his band, the Radio Ramblers. Several of those are new songs, including the rousing “He Loves Me” by band guitarist Adam McIntosh, “Fair Weather” from Mike Ramsey of Brand New Strings, and “Be Jesus To Someone Today” from Tim Stafford and Jon Weisberger. They also cover the classic “Fallen Leaves” and the modal “O The Lord Of My Redeemer.”

On the other side are seven songs on which a guest artist appears with the band, taking the lead vocal entirely, as does Larry Sparks on “Come On,” or sharing the lead with Mullins, as Rhonda Vincent does on “We Missed You In Church Last Sunday.” The other guest vocalists are Paul Williams, Doyle Lawson, and Ralph Stanley. Of these songs, only Williams’ “Hold On To The Old Gospel Way” is a new song. All the others have a little age on them (Aubrey Holt’s 1974 tune “We Missed You…”) or a lot of age and fame on them (“Jesus Loves Me” and “Sweet Hour Of Prayer”).

Either way, the results are of high quality. Listen for the a cappella band quartets on “Rock Of Ages Keep My Soul” and “O, The Love Of My Redeemer.” On both, though particularly on “Rock Of Ages,” the organ-like blend of the harmony voices is thrilling to hear, recalling Doyle Lawson’s Rock My Soul album. Listen also for Ralph Stanley’s heartfelt rendering of the lesser-known elder’s viewpoint lyrics on “Jesus Loves Me,” and for the mandolin/guitar duet between Lawson and Mullins on the Louvin’s “I’ll Never Go Back” and for the slightly jaunty cover of “Fallen Leaves.” Most of all, listen for Williams’ “Hold On To…” As if it needs saying, Williams is one of our great voices and writers, and this pairing with Mullins’ clear tenor is a good one. But, then, so is this recording in general. (Rebel Records, P.O. Box 7405, Charlottesville, VA 22906, BW

Glenn Gibson – When Times Are Hard

Bluegrass Unlimited - Glen Gibson - When Times Are HardGLENN GIBSON

Glenn Gibson is a resonator guitarist who has put in side man and studio time with Charlie Sizemore, Marty Raybon, Karl Shiflett, and Dale Ann Bradley.

With this recording, he steps out from that role and assumes that of songwriter and lead vocalist. All of the songs here are his own, but the instrumental ballad “Barbara Allen.” You wouldn’t think there was much that would bring interest to that old chestnut, but Gibson manages to do so by slowing the melody to a crawl over archaic drones of fiddle and bass and just letting it drift, hauntingly so. About halfway through, a deep, slightly rattling drum breaks in, at first spare, then in rapping bursts, adding a celtic touch to a fine arrangement.

Of the remaining tracks, four are instrumentals and eight are vocals. Most of the better songs come in the first half or so, though the recording does end well on the forceful, traditionally-based instrumental “Cataline Breakdown.” That tune acts as a good bookend to the shimmering instrumental opener, “On Kerrick Lane,” also traditionally-based, but tempered by some contemporary touches and made noteworthy by the three distinctly different solos Gibson takes. That gives way to the two best vocals on “Cry Baby” and “In The Name Of Love.” The first is contemporary, slow and lilting, the second medium-tempo, country bounce and lilting. Both are well-suited to Gibson’s soft baritone vocals. Both also use percussion to nice effect. Also of note are “All Hallow’s Eve,” and a somewhat funky instrumental “Strut Don’t Walk.” “Before You Know It,” the most traditional bluegrass cut here, is a good tune, but needs a stronger voice than Gibson brings to it.

All told, this is a well-played and sung debut with several high spots balance by some average material. (Glenn Gibson, 5412 Catalina Ave., Louisville KY 40272, BW

Gary Ruley and Mule Train – The Southern Inn and Out Live

Bluegrass Unlimited - Gary Ruley and Mule Train - The Southern Inn and Out LiveGARY RULEY AND MULE TRAIN

Gary Ruley and Mule Train is a large, somewhat free-floating ensemble of talented musicians from in and around Rockbridge County, Virginia.

Some eleven names are listed in their press notes, and five of them, plus two guests (fiddlers Nate Leath and Shannon Wheeler) appear on this CD recorded live at the Southern Inn Restaurant in Lexington, Va. On stage for this show, along with Ruley and the fiddlers, are guitarist Larry Keel, mandolinist Danny Knicely, bassist David Knicely and banjoist Will Lee. Ruley, Keel, and Danny Knicely handle the vocals.

Anyone who has been to see a band in a bar or restaurant will recognize the feel and sound and intent of this recording. Because of the setting, the band aims to win over a crowd that has different expectations than it would in a concert venue. Such aims are not a bad thing, especially since being entertaining is the role of any band, but it does often result in the inclusion of quite a few standards. That’s what we get here.

From the bluegrass side come “Uncle Pen,” “Slew Foot,” “Little Maggie,” “Cincinnati Rag,” and “Pike County Breakdown.” From the rock and contemporary bluegrass come “Hard Days Night,” “Steam Powered Airplane,” “Great Balls Of Fire,” “Traveling Kind,” and “No Expectations.” Those recognizable tunes and the fact that 12 of the 13 songs are given fast and faster arrangements had the crowd worked up. Again, that’s not bad, but the crowd noise comes through the microphones and muddies the sound. Throw in the usual problems of recording acoustic instruments live in an uncontrolled space and the proceedings get wild, real quick.

Buried within are some excellent individual performances—particularly the mandolin work of Danny Knicely—while among the songs “Cincinnati Rag,” “Great Balls Of Fire,” and “Matterhorn” work best. In sum, you’d have to classify this as the kind of recording you buy at the show as a memento of your evening. (Keel Enterprises, 163 Little House Lane, Lexington VA 24450, BW

Craig Morris – Banjology

Bluegrass Unlimited - Craig Morris - BanjologyCRAIG MORRIS

Bluegrass is an egalitarian music. It is grassroots music. There are folks who go to festivals who never even get to the stage, they are so wrapped up in playing the music.

Some folks can’t help but share their music with others. Craig Morris is a fine banjo picker and he gathered a couple of long-time friends together in one of his friend’s studio and recorded 12 of his favorite tunes. This CD is the result.

Too often projects like this end up being the rote reiteration of well-worn evergreens. Morris and his picking buddies have put together an interesting set of tunes that reveal the depth of experience they have garnered playing bluegrass. There are two originals, “Lickety Split” by Morris and “Stobro’s Blues” by Ferrell Stowe, who plays resonator guitar on this track and Bill Emerson’s “Welcome To New York.” Craig Fletcher not only engineered the recording, he plays guitar, fiddle, mandolin, and bass, as well as resonator guitar on Doyle Lawson’s “Run Around.” He adds harmony to Del McCoury’s “Beauty Of My Dreams.” There are three vocals on this otherwise instrumental project by Stephen Helton who is an expressive singer who knows how to put the song across.

Morris is an accomplished banjo player with a great touch. He has a sense of tradition and innovation and the good sense to keep them in balance lifts his playing to a higher level. His take on the old fiddle tune “Stony Point” starts with a hauntingly modal banjo. It develops very nicely with Fletcher’s able fiddling. The picking and tasteful arrangements on a consistently well-chosen set of tunes make this project a listening joy. This recording is highly recommended to fans of banjo and well-played bluegrass. (Craig Morris, 2820 Candlewicke Dr., Spring Hill, TN 37174.) RCB

Cloverpoint Drifters – #2 Unplugged

Bluegrass Unlimited - Cloverpoint Drifters - #2 UnpluggedCLOVER POINT DRIFTERS

The Clover Point Drifters are a bluegrass band from Victoria, B.C., Canada

and their membership includes Mike Kraft (banjo and vocals), Larry Stevens (resonator guitar and vocals), Dan Parker (mandolin and vocals), Alan Law (guitar and vocals), and George Robinson (bass and vocals).

Their latest collection consists of 14 selections from a myriad of sources and are highlighted by vibrant vocals supported by precise instrumental accompaniment. The performances include renditions of standards like “Rider In The Rain,” “Lonesome Old Home,” and “Beautiful Brown Eyes.” Of special note is the instrumental “Kennedy Lake” composed by bandmember Dan Parker. Also of interest are several country-tinged pieces, “My Window Faces The South,” “My Shoes Keep Walking Back To You,” and Cindy Walker’s “I Was Just Walking Out The Door.” #2 Unplugged is mainstream bluegrass at its finest and a major milestone in the music career of the Clover Point Drifters. (Alan Law, 1205 Palmer Rd., Victoria, B.C., Canada V8P 2N8, LM

Carpenter & May

Bluegrass Unlimited - Carpenter and MayCARPENTER & MAY
Violin Shop Records

It is obvious by the end of the first song on this new album by Fred Carpenter and Tim May that the virtuosity expected from these two wonderful musicians is in full effect.

A wonderfully arranged take on the Beatles’ “We Can Work It Out,” the opening cut is one of several new acoustic versions of some popular songs from back-in-the-day featured on the project. Interspersed throughout, however, are an equal number of classic fiddle tunes such as “Whiskey Before Breakfast,” “Cherokee Shuffle,” and “Fishers Hornpipe,” all performed with a fresh approach.

Carpenter is the owner of the Violin Shop, a well-respected music business located in Nashville. He is also known as a top-notch fiddler who has played with artists such as Tony Rice, Emmylou Harris, the Dillards, and Kathy Mattea. May is a flatpick guitarist extraordinaire, a top session musician who is a Grand Ole Opry veteran performing on the show many times with Mike Snider. But this is more than just a duet album as bassist Charlie Chadwick was brought in to round out these songs and make them sound full to the brim. Taylor Carpenter plays the drums on the first track.

Along with fiddle tunes and remakes of popular fare from the American Songbook, Carpenter and May add to the diversity of this project with the Celtic sounds of “Isle Of Inishmore (Aire),” which then morphs into a beautiful version of the Orleans hit, “Dance With Me.” They also break out their jazz chops with a romping approach to Ira and George Gershwin’s “Lady Be Good.” The only song that really doesn’t quite hold up is “What A Wonderful World,” but only because it has been so overdone throughout the years. The rest of the album, however, is fun, powerful and superb. (Violin Shop, 220 Old Hickory Blvd., Nashville, TN 37221, DH

Boyd Deering with Jim and Inge Wood – Bridges: The Music of Boyd Deering

Bluegrass Unlimited - Boyd Deering with Jim and Inge Wood - Bridges: The Music of Boyd DeeringBOYD DEERING WITH JIM AND INGE WOOD

Marma Music
MM 6841

Inspired by the music of the great Kenny Baker

long-time fiddler for Bill Monroe and member of eastern Kentucky’s true vine of traditional fiddle music, Boyd Deering wrote these pieces.

He enlisted the able fiddle of Jim Wood, a masterful instrumentalist, and Jim’s wife, Inge, to perform these dozen tunes. The pieces are highly developed and capture the essence of Baker’s best work without being derivative. Jim Wood is up to the task of performing these sophisticated pieces, as they move through the paces of playing in different positions, time signatures, and bowings.

From the opening cut, “Little Jewel” we are treated to sounds that could easily have been made by Baker in his prime. The bowings and techniques that Wood brings to these performances are beyond the average fiddler. While touting in the liner notes about adding to the repertory of middle Tennessee old-time fiddle tunes, it will be an elite group that masters these tunes at the level they are performed here.

In addition to fiddle, Jim Wood plays several guitars, bouzouki, and bass. Inge plays rhythm guitar and Deering plays mandolin, octave mandolin, and harmonica. This is not bluegrass instrumentation, but this music is not outside the realm of bluegrass. Calling it old-time is to acknowledge that there are two worlds of old-time music. These tunes belong to the group that is based upon a tradition of fiddle contests with its ever-rising bar of excellence in performance.

There are great titles and strong tunes to go with them. Deering’s imagination and muse is rich. The waltz “Snowfall On Clover” is a moving piece. “Lafayette” recalls several other reels while having the strength of character to hold its own with the tradition. “Boomerang” would make a good bluegrass instrumental. With its sneaky time and blues-edged swing, it is a real launch pad for improvisation. This is one of most satisfying programs of original fiddles tunes to come a long in a while. (Boyd Deering, 705 Coolidge Road, Lafayette, TN 37083.)RCB

Features in our May Print Edition

Song Of The Mountains

By Larry Hypes

Southern Filibuster: A Multi-Generational Salute To Pioneer Tut Taylor

By Bill Conger

Henri Deschamps And The Bluegrass Legacy

By Ted Lehmann

Thicker’n Fiddlers In Hell

By Wayne Erbsen


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Together Again: Chris Hillman and Herb Pedersen

By Larry Nager

Chris Hillman and Herb Pedersen are looking at their alternate universe, and they don’t like it a bit. We’re sitting in the restaurant of Nashville’s Hilton Garden Inn as a crew of aging rockers gathers at the bar.

Bluegrass Unlimited - May 2011 - Chris Hillman and Herb Pedersen

Chris Hillman and Herb Pedersen

Their long hair dyed black or blond and arranged to conceal any thinning, they’re an oldies band dressed for 1975, sporting leather pants as wrinkled and out of style as the geezers wearing them. “Look at those guys,” Hillman shakes his head, whispering to his friend of almost fifty years. “We saw some of these guys at the airport one time and they looked a little beyond it. It looked a little odd, like they’re really trying to hang on to something a little desperately.”

Both he and Pedersen are certified legends of rock and pop. Hillman is a member of the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame for his work with The Byrds, the folk-rock band often called the “American Beatles.” After The Byrds, he played key roles in such seminal, genre-bending groups as the Flying Burrito Brothers and Stephen Stills’ Manassas. While Hillman headlined rock palaces, Pedersen was the L.A. studio scene’s most in-demand harmony singer, spending the late ’60s, ’70s and ’80s adding vocals, rhythm guitar, and occasional banjo to an estimated five thousand sessions, helping create hundreds of classics by Linda Ronstadt, Emmylou Harris, John Prine, James Taylor, Jesse Winchester, Kris Kristofferson, and countless others, doing scores for TV shows such as Rockford Files, Dukes Of Hazzard, and The A-Team and also touring with Jackson Browne and John Denver.

With those platinum priors, both men could be forgiven if they, too, clung to glory days, replicating their hits on an endless classic-rock circuit of state fairs and trade shows. But, in this universe, they’ve continued creating great new music and, dressing like full-grown men, returning to their roots in traditional country and bluegrass.

Today, at 66 (Pedersen is seven months older than Hillman), they’re making some of the best music of their illustrious careers in the simplest setting they’ve ever performed in—a duo powered only by their still-crystalline vocals, Pedersen’s bedrock rhythm guitar, and Hillman’s melodic mandolin. They can be heard that way on their latest CD, At Edwards Barn (Rounder Records). Minimally augmented by fiddler David Mansfield, lead acoustic guitarist Larry Park, and Bill Bryson on upright bass, they work through their musical histories. From The Byrds comes “Turn Turn Turn,” Hillman’s composition “Have You Seen Her Face,” and a surprising version of the psychedelic anthem “Eight Miles High” that sounds like the Louvin Brothers on acid. From Hillman’s Flying Burrito Brothers tenure is “Wheels” and “Sin City.” Herb Pedersen does his classic “Wait A Minute,” which he wrote and gave to his friend John Duffey and the Seldom Scene in the early ’70s. “Love Reunited” dates back to their Desert Rose Band days (the song was also recently recorded in full bluegrass mode by Bill Emerson & Sweet Dixie). And there are songs by artists who inspired them: the Louvins’ “If I Could Only Win Your Love” (which Pedersen sang with Emmylou Harris on her first major hit), Ralph Stanley’s “Going Up Home” [aka “Green Pastures”], and the Buck Owens/Don Rich duet “Together Again.”

The casual listener, unfamiliar with their history, might think that they’re just a couple more rock stars dipping toes in the bluegrass/Americana creek. But with careers that began in West Coast folk and bluegrass clubs nearly half a century ago, Hillman and Pedersen have more than earned places of honor as California bluegrass pioneers.

Back At The Ranch

Hillman grew up in the country—southern California country—where his family had a “ranch.” “It was about two acres, but in a very rural part of San Diego County,” Hillman recalls. “The town at the time was called Rancho Santa Fe, had about 800 residents, a gas station, and a little market and a pretty snazzy hotel. It became one of the wealthier enclaves of the United States. When my dad moved us down there in 1948, we called it a ranch, but it really wasn’t. My brother and me, we had chickens, two hogs we named Benny and Mike—he was raising hogs for the 4-H Club—and a burro. And then I got a horse when I was about eight. I’d been riding since I was five, and I would go off all over the place by myself.”

His parents loved the big band jazz and pop of the ’40s and early ’50s. Young Chris was first drawn to early rock’n’roll. “I loved all that, but I didn’t have the inclination to play guitar when Elvis came out. And then folk music came along. My older sister went off to college and came back with some folk records, really cool ones—Leadbelly, the Weavers, Pete Seeger’s solo records, Woody Guthrie. So that piqued my interest in learning the guitar and I got plenty of support from my folks. And then I heard bluegrass by way of the New Lost City Ramblers, by way of old-time music. My dad was so funny. He’d walk in my room and I’d have Flatt & Scruggs on and he’d say, ‘Are you sure this is our son?’”

The elder Hillman wasn’t the only California parent raising a hillbilly wannabe. Far to the north, Hillman’s future music partner was going through a similar process. “Here it is 1960, I’m in high school, Herb Pederson is up in Berkeley, California, approximately 700 miles away from me doing the same thing. But, he’s living in the city and he got from folk music to bluegrass. It touched a nerve. Guys not from rural Appalachia, but being touched by this music, the energy, the improvisation of it.”

By 16, Pedersen had started banjo. Today, instructional videos are a mouse-click away and seemingly every recorded banjo note is available in tablature, but fifty years ago, aspiring pickers wandered the wasteland searching for crumbs of information as to what strings, picks, and capos were the right ones. There was no Bluegrass Unlimited, no Banjo Newsletter. Pedersen sat in his bedroom with his open-backed Slingerland banjo trying to decipher the sounds from his record player.

“All I had was the LPs,” he says. “That Country Music LP that Lester and Earl did—the cover was white, they had on red coats, standing behind the WSM mic—that was my first initiation into bluegrass music on record. Mercury just put a whole package together of Lester and Earl’s stuff, and boy, that was just one of the greatest albums of all time.” Pedersen snagged what he could, slowing down his turntable to catch subtleties. “It was needle on the record. Listen, take it off, try it, play it at 16 2/3 (rpms). We figured that out real quick, that it was exactly an octave (lower), so you didn’t have to re-tune. That helped a lot. But it was very tedious, you had to have a lot of patience.”

In 1961, he saw the Redwood Ramblers with future bluegrass historian Neil Rosenberg on banjo at Berkeley’s Bear’s Lair coffeehouse. “Neil was actually the first five-string banjo player I ever saw,” he remembers. “It was great, just an electrifying sound.”

Hillman’s introduction to bluegrass was Vanguard Records’ Newport Folk Festival compilation. “It was Flatt & Scruggs and I went, ‘Oh my god!’ They did ‘[Old] Salty Dog Blues,’ probably the best version they ever did, and it was live…and ‘[That Was] Before I Met You’ and ‘Cabin On The Hill.’ I think it was three cuts. I started looking for those kind of records. I couldn’t find them where I lived, but I found what I could.” His finds included the first two Country Gentlemen Folkways LPs. “John Duffey was a huge mandolin hero of mine. Watching Mike Seeger at the Ash Grove (an L.A. folk club) really got me into the mandolin. He had that blond F-5. And I went, ‘I want to learn to play the mandolin.’ That’s what did it. I was on a mission.”

From Woodshed To Stage

Like Pedersen, it was trial and error as Hillman tried to unravel the mysteries of a cheap Kay mandolin. “It was $50 new. I worked half the summer to get the money to buy the thing in 1960. I was about 15 years old. I was taking what I could off of records. I didn’t really have the right pick or approach to it.”

He listened to classic recordings of the first generation—Flatt & Scruggs, Bill Monroe, the Stanley Brothers. But, he could also see the music live in SoCal’s budding bluegrass scene. Clarence and Roland White had moved to L.A. from Maine and formed the Country Boys/Kentucky Colonels, the band that brought bluegrass to The Andy Griffith Show.

Hillman’s first bluegrass band was the Scottsville Squirrel Barkers, which included banjo player Bernie Leadon, who, a decade later, helped start the Eagles. In 1963, Hillman got an offer to replace Herb Rice (father of Tony, Larry, and Wyatt) in the Golden State Boys with banjo player and future Bluegrass Cardinals founder Don Parmley and future country stars Vern and Rex Gosdin. Hillman learned a lot from those older, authentically country musicians. They, in turn, borrowed their young mandolinist’s surname to give the band a more folk-revival name, The Hillmen.

Hillman was working hard on his Gibson F-4, taking lessons from northern California mandolinist Scott Hambly, who played in the Kentucky Colonels while Roland White served in the military. After Roland’s return, Hillman started hanging with him as much as possible, learning a musical approach that still serves him. “He is to this day one of my favorite players, because he understates it. He plays so gently, he plays the melody so soulfully. He doesn’t play a million notes. He doesn’t need to. I got so much stuff from him.”

Back then, even in a huge state like California, the bluegrass scene was tiny, and Hillman was getting to know another young picker who’d just moved down the street. Pedersen had recently graduated from Berkeley’s St. Mary’s High School and relocated to southern California with the Pine Valley Boys, which included school pal and mandolinist Butch Waller (later of High Country) and singer/guitarist David Nelson (who would form New Riders Of The Purple Sage). Back in the Bay Area, Nelson played with the Wildwood Boys with Jerry Garcia on banjo.

Though The Hillmen made an album (reissued by Sugar Hill) and the Pine Valley Boys played Carnegie Hall, they couldn’t quite make a living. When The Hillmen broke up, Hillman took a gig with a pre-fab folk-bluegrass band called the Green Grass Revival, drawn to the $100 weekly salary (big money in the early ’60s).

“It was such a stupid group, and Dwain Story was in it with me, Carl Story’s nephew. Randy Sparks, who had done the New Christy Minstrels, formed it. It was his version of a bluegrass band, like The Beverly Hillbillies. But it was $100 a week and a place to stay; they had a house out in the San Fernando Valley. The songs were just horrid. Dwain would be on one side of the stage playing rhythm guitar and I’d be on the other playing mandolin and we’d just be rolling our eyes.”

Byrds Take Flight

Not surprisingly, when former Hillmen manager Jim Dickson approached him about a new folk-rock group called The Byrds, Hillman jumped, though it meant trading mandolin for electric bass. When he “went electric,” his bluegrass buddies, including Pedersen, saw it as a betrayal says Hillman. “He said to me years later, ‘You broke my heart when you put that mandolin down. You left us for money and women,’” Hillman recalls with a rueful chuckle. “There was a lot of us that felt that way,” Pedersen adds dryly.

Hillman admits it was easier to get dates as a rock star. “Girls didn’t like bluegrass,” he says with a laugh. “It was a whole new world when I went into The Byrds.” But in a group that included Roger McGuinn, David Crosby, and Gene Clark, it was the complex vocal harmonies, folk roots, and greater musical freedom that were the main draws, he asserts. “I wouldn’t have joined if I didn’t like the music.”

Hillman honed his singing, performing, and composing, writing and co-writing such classics as “Time Between” and “So You Want To Be A Rock’n’Roll Star.” He also met his next music partner, the brilliant singer-songwriter Gram Parsons. In 1969, after helping make The Byrds’ country-rock classic Sweetheart Of The Rodeo, which included Parsons’ masterpiece “Hickory Wind,” Hillman and Parsons left to go further into country-rock, forming the Flying Burrito Brothers. Along with trading his Fender bass for acoustic rhythm guitar, he picked up the mandolin again, featuring it on the Burritos 1969 debut The Gilded Palace Of Sin, notably on the anti-war bluegrass song “My Uncle.”

He regrets abandoning it. “It wasn’t worth it to stop playing the mandolin from 1964 and picking it back up in 1969. I lost a lot of headway. I had to play catch-up.” Parsons was a brilliant songwriter whose addictions made him an erratic performer and business partner, frustrating the more disciplined Hillman. Parsons left the band in 1970 for a solo career that ended in 1973 with a fatal overdose. Before he died, Hillman introduced Parsons to the woman who became his music and romantic partner, Emmylou Harris, whom Hillman had discovered singing folk songs in a Washington, D.C., coffeehouse.

Decades after his death, Hillman and Harris still perform Parsons’ songs, many co-written by Hillman. Two of them became bluegrass standards. “That’s thanks to J.D. Crowe, bless his heart,” Hillman says. “Larry Rice was working with him, and me having known him and his brothers since they were kids, he brought ‘Sin City’ and ‘Devil In Disguise’ to J.D. Crowe and the Kentucky Mountain Boys.” Hillman stayed with the Burritos, bringing in ex-Scottsville Squirrel Barker Bernie Leadon. By 1973, Hillman joined Stephen Stills’ band Manassas, frequently featuring his mandolin. Stills showed his appreciation with the gift of a Lloyd Loar F-5 that Hillman still treasures. But it doesn’t go on tour and Hillman says there have never been so many great mandolins available, citing the superb Red Diamond Loar copies by Ohio luthier Don MacRostie.

California To Foggy Mountain

While Hillman explored the worlds of rock and pop, Pedersen dug deeper into bluegrass. In 1966, he joined Ray Park and Vern Williams, the Arkansas-born duo recognized as the fathers of Northern California bluegrass. He recorded with them for Starday and moved to Nashville with the group in early 1967.

Like Hillman’s experience with the Golden State Boys, Pedersen’s tenure with Vern & Ray gave him a deeper feel for bluegrass. “You don’t have to be from a cabin in the Clinch Mountains to understand this music,” explains Hillman. “But I do believe the two of us were lucky, because he worked with Vern & Ray and I worked with Don and the Gosdins. We were kids and that was our window on authenticity. We learned the music; we learned the culture; we learned the cuisine; we learned how they spoke. We learned the whole thing, as opposed to maybe a kid who’d grown up with just the records. You get it through osmosis, you get the feeling for how to do it. You don’t have to come from Kentucky to play it, but you need the connection.”

“I think, more than anything, you have to have a feel for it,” agrees Pedersen. “You can learn the notes, but if you don’t have a feel for it…” The Nashville move didn’t result in the national success Vern & Ray had hoped for, but a TV appearance earned Pedersen one very high-profile fan. “Earl (Scruggs) had seen me on a local show and called me through the union, and we had a conversation on the phone. I didn’t believe it was him at first. I thought it was one of my buddies from California pulling a trick. But, we chatted more and I realized who it was and he invited me over to his house. He was, and is, just a very gracious person.”

Pedersen was excited to meet his idol, but admits he had a hard time ringing that doorbell. “It took me ten minutes to walk up to his front door. My heart was racing. I was trying to figure out what to say to him. But he made me feel right at home the minute I got there. He said, ‘Well, I kind of got you over here under false pretenses.’ And I said, ‘Well, what do you mean?’ And he said, ‘Well, I have to go into the hospital for an operation and I was wondering, if you had the time, if you could maybe sub for me with the Foggy Mountain Boys.’ I didn’t believe what he was saying at the time. I just kind of had this buzzing in my ears from that point on. And I said, ‘I’ll do my best.’ And he said, ‘Well, I’ve heard your best on TV and you’ll fit right in.’

“He made me feel very comfortable. He played guitar and I played banjo and he just asked me about certain tunes and we’d play them and he’d shake his head affirmatively and then we’d move on to something else. And then I said finally, ‘O.K., I need to hear you play something up close and personal.’ So, I took the guitar and he played ‘Home Sweet Home’ for me in C tuning and it was great! Oh man! Just the tone he got is still one of the great finds of the universe.”

At 23, Pedersen had the ultimate banjo gig, playing the classic Flatt & Scruggs repertoire with the original band, while Scruggs recuperated from hip surgery. He packed up his 1930 RB-3 and became a Foggy Mountain Boy for the Spring and early Summer of 1967. “It was terrific. It was just an unbelievable band and they were very supportive, all of them. We did all their Mercury stuff, the Carnegie Hall set. They were branching out a little material-wise, but they hadn’t gotten into the Dylan stuff in 1967.”

Pedersen’s bluegrass stock soared. “When I got off the road with Lester, I got a call from Dean Webb saying that things had changed in the Dillards and would I be interested in being in the band? And I said, ‘As a matter of fact, I’m coming out in a month to play the Ash Grove with Vern & Ray and I could come out to your house and play some music and see how it works.’ And, I did.”

Replacing Doug Dillard on banjo, Pedersen brought his harmony arranging skills, helping the group with its ambitious Wheatstraw Suite and Copperfields albums. That got Pedersen into the L.A. session scene. “While I was with the Dillards, Linda Ronstadt was doing her Hand Sown…Home Grown album and I think Rodney (Dillard) suggested that I play and sing on her stuff. It’s a word-of-mouth kind of a deal. Everybody back then was looking for outside players. When I started recording with the Dillards on Elektra, people heard my harmonies and they said, ‘Gee, we’d like to have some of that on my record.’ And that kind of steered me into more studio work and more singer-songwriters started coming into L.A. It just got real busy and I had a child at the time and needed to make money, so I decided to leave the Dillards in 1970 and just pursue studio work.”

California Bluegrass And Desert Rose

Pedersen was also doing uncredited sessions, discreetly hiding other artists’ flaws by “sweetening” tracks in the days before Pro Tools. That included the Burrito Brothers, says Hillman. “He’s the guy who would come in and fix things. We did The Last Of The Red Hot Burritos and I left the band; Herb came in and did some repair work. He could take a sloppy band situation and turn it into something really tight.” He also worked on the two Parsons solo albums, says Pedersen. “It was just tracks that needed a little shoring up. So, I would come in and play guitar and do harmony vocals here and there. I worked on his last two records and it was a little tough trying to thread the needle on the harmony parts.”

Pedersen also sang on Country Gazette’s two United Artists LPs. That high, clean, bell-like harmony synonymous with the California bluegrass sound is largely the creation of Herb Pedersen. “We would just try to do different types of stacks as far as the vocals were concerned. And a lot of that had to do with my love for the Osborne Brothers, the way Sonny and Bob just kind of changed the template with Red Allen, those high lead things. We would listen to everybody we could, and do the kinds of things that we loved.”

Session work with a who’s who of ’70s California singer-songwriters and tours accompanying Jackson Browne and John Denver paid for Pedersen’s bluegrass habit. Though not a prolific writer, along with “Wait A Minute,” he penned the bluegrass standard “Old Train.” Pedersen made three solo albums (Southwest, 1976; Sandman, 1977; Lonesome Feeling, 1984, still available on Sugar Hill).

Hillman sang on Lonesome Feeling and the pair reunited for Dan Fogelberg’s all-star Nashville-meets-Colorado bluegrass project High Country Snows (1985). “Dan called me to come down and play banjo and sing and (David) Grisman came with me and we had Russ Kunkel and Emory Gordy and Jim Buchanan, great players, and we did it out at Norbert Putnam’s place in Franklin (a Nashville suburb). Then when Dan decided to go on the road, he had run into Chris in Colorado at some festival. And he said to Chris, ‘It would be really great if you could put together like a bluegrass quartet and open for me, and then I’ll come out and we’ll do part of the High Country Snows album.’”

Along with Pedersen, Hillman recruited Bill Bryson, who’d played with Don Parmley in the Bluegrass Cardinals as well as with Country Gazette. To fill out the group, Bryson suggested John Jorgenson, a guitar and mandolin ace playing bluegrass and swing at Disneyland.

Realizing Jorgenson was the hotter picker, Hillman put music ahead of ego. “I thought John should be the mandolin player, ’cause he was way ahead of me,” he explained. “But, Dan thought I should play mandolin, because he remembered me from Manassas. So John played guitar, and that was the beginning of Herb and I working together.”

“And that was the beginning of the Desert Rose Band,” adds Pedersen. “When we got off the road, John said to Chris, ‘Why don’t we plug in and see how it sounds country wise?’ And so we got Jay Dee Maness (who’d played on The Byrds’ Sweetheart Of The Rodeo) on steel and Steve Duncan on drums, and there it was.”

Hillman says there was no business plan. “John wanted to do a country band. And I just had no real inclination to do that again. I don’t know how Herb felt, but we said, ‘OK, we’ll try it.’ We’d go out to this little funky club out at the beach, and we made like $6 a night. We weren’t looking for a record deal, and all of a sudden we had a record deal and we started writing songs in that vein and that’s how it happened.”

For the next eight years, the Desert Rose Band racked up an impressive string of country hits, electrified bluegrass songs like “Ashes Of Love” and “Once More,” as well as tributes to the stripped-down Bakersfield sound that Pedersen and Hillman had also grown up on. With an approach of mixing bluegrass with a more fully realized—and disciplined—version of the Burritos’ country-rock, The DRB was a major reason people who love real country look back fondly on Nashville’s mid-’80s “integrity scare.”

Back To Bluegrass

After the DRB ran its course in 1993, Pedersen continued playing bluegrass, frequently performing with Bay Area buddy David Grisman. They recorded with the all-star Here Today, featuring Vince Gill on lead vocals, as well as Grisman’s Home Is Where The Heart Is project in which he performed with some of the greatest singers of the first generation including Del McCoury, Curly Seckler and Red Allen, and Allen’s Bluegrass Reunion.

After Jerry Garcia died in 1995, Pedersen took over on banjo in Old & In The Way (renamed Old & In The Gray). In addition, the tireless Pedersen led the Laurel Canyon Ramblers with Bryson on bass, recording three albums between 1995 and 1998: Rambler’s Blues, Blue Rambler 2, and Back On The Street Again. In 1996, he and Hillman reunited for the no-frills honky-tonk of Back To Bakersfield. In 2008, they reunited the original DRB for a show at Nashville’s bluegrass capital, the Station Inn, leading to sporadic, ongoing reunions.

Pedersen’s also has a new quartet, Loafer’s Glory, with Bryson and the father/son team of Bay Area old-time music master Tom Sauber and his multi-instrumentalist son Patrick. Pedersen plays rhythm guitar, leaving banjo to Patrick. And then there’s the acoustic Hillmen-Pedersen duo, which grew out of the DRB reunion, an easier less-encumbered way for old friends to tour and enjoy the simple pleasures of making music together.

After lifetimes of playing with hundreds of musicians, both men agree something special happens when they work together. At this point, their relationship is a bluegrass version of the Sunshine Boys, as Hillman (who seems to know every banjo joke) constantly needles a good-natured and laidback Pedersen.

With nothing left to prove, they just want to play and record the bluegrass and country they love. As Hillman says, “We want to leave something good that we’ve done; leave a piece of art with our names on it.” They hope to do that for the rest of their lives, he adds. “Unless we choke each other to death on the road or I shoot him,” he laughs. “But I don’t see that happening. I think we’ll play as long as we can, as long as there’s people that want to hear it.”

Larry Nager is a Nashville-based writer, musician, and documentary filmmaker.