Hooked on Bluegrass

Teresa "Jokey" Michel

How did I get hooked on Bluegrass music??? Let’s see … to be honest, I had NO choice! Bluegrass music has always been a huge part of my life. My dad, Andy Cass, was an awesome all-around musician and singer, but mainly a fiddler and he played for square dances all around the Central Valley back in the 1940’s, ’50’s, ’60’s and ‘70’s. We went to all the bluegrass festivals and fiddling contests around here. Folks like Delbert McGrath, Ray Park and Vern Williams used to come to our house in Galt back in the late ‘60’s and ‘70’s and spend entire weekends jamming, eating my mom’s wonderful cooking, and visiting.

I was pretty little at the time, but I remember those weekends well. The sad thing is, they were always so busy playing music and enjoying themselves that they didn’t take any pictures or make any recordings.

When I was 5, my parents used to get me up in front of the crowds to sing. My signature tune was Rose Maddox’s version of “Rocky Top”. Later, I taught myself how to play my dad’s 1943 D-28 Martin (the one I play now), and way later, in college, I picked up playing the bass, so my mom, Bennie, bought me a nice upright, which I still have and play today.

My dad used to play with Bonnie Ventura (mandolin), who was Frank Solivan Senior’s mother. Our families were very, very close and generations of us have grown up playing music together. My mom used to watch all the kids while my dad and Bonnie would go play for square dances and other gigs. Frank Solivan Senior was about 3 or 4 years old at that time and stood up on a chair to play the upright bass! This was way before my time, of course, but it all continued, like I said, through the generations.

I am fortunate to have Frank Solivan II, along with his cousins from California (Ty Smith and his sisters), Idaho (the Bell family) and Hawaii (the Cruz family) all in my generation of having fun and playing music together.

My mom, who was also an awesome singer, used to sing with my dad, and later, after they divorced, she learned how to play the guitar as well. She and I would sing and play together a lot, which many of our current bluegrass friends remember. Since she’s been gone, I still hear her singing harmony to me when I “bellar” out “I Still Miss Someone” or “Rock Salt and Nails”. She had that awesome low harmony down to a science!

I am so happy to say that I still find myself and now my own family in the midst of numerous wonderful Bluegrass musicians and friends. We have so much fun, it almost doesn’t seem fair. I often wonder how other people who haven’t become hooked on Bluegrass get by in the world!

Well, there you have it…that’s how I got hooked, and now the next generation, my own kids, Mikayla and Zachary, are already hooked too! Oh, Joe was hooked the first time I made him go with me to a Bluegrass Festival. It was in 1989 and I took him to Strawberry, back when it was still a Bluegrass Festival…I told myself, “I really like this guy a lot, but if he doesn’t cut the mustard at the festival, he’ll have to be let go!” The rest is history!!

(posted 5/17/2009)

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