Hooked on Bluegrass

Tom Sours

To tell the truth I'm not really sure when I got hooked on Bluegrass. It's a style of music to which I've always been attracted. Flatt and Scruggs and Bill Monroe were always familiar to me. I got my first guitar when I was about 14, a junker hand me down from my sister-in-law. My next guitar was from an Army Surplus store in Chico CA when I was about 16. I would sit for hours just practicing chord changes and learning mostly folk songs. Being an Andy Griffith fan I loved seeing the Kentucky Colonels and Dillards on reruns.

I started going to the CBA Father's Day Festival in the late 70's, I heard about that from my brother who attended the first festival. I guess there were two main influences that really got me going after that. One was going to see the 8th Avenue String Band around Chico in the late 70's. The second was my then girlfriend (now wife) discovering and sharing with me the Seldom Scene. I thought Tom Gray's bass playing and Mike Aldridge's Dobro were about the best thing I'd ever heard. The same wonderful woman who turned me on to the Seldom Scene gave me a Kay Bass (the one I still play). I started taking lessons from Rick Dugan who was the bass player for the 8th Ave. String Band. He was a great teacher and really got me started on the right track. Now the hook was firmly set, I was really getting into the music.

I quit my job and moved to Levelland Texas to attend the Bluegrass Music program at South Plains College. What great fun that was, always someone to pick with and a great atmosphere for learning. I took Bass as a primary instrument under the tutelage of Ed Marsh, another great teacher. My secondary instrument was the Dobro. In addition I learned music theory, arranging, composition, sound reinforcement and studio recording. I've been playing in bands ever since.

There have been some musical highlights in my life. I had the pleasure of going to the jams at Paul's Saloon in San Francisco starting in the early 80's where I met many of the musicians around the Bay Area that I still count as my friends. I've been fortunate to play on stage at the CBA Father's Day Festival, coming full circle from beginning to play as a novice around the camp ground. I also had the opportunity to play at the Strawberry Music Festival, another of my training grounds. Both of those events were with Modern Hicks. My one brush with fame came from getting to back up the legendary Hank Thompson at the ABC rodeo in Lubbock, Texas. Poor guy's band didn't show up and I happened to be there for an earlier gig with a pick up band from South Plains College (including Stewart Duncan) and we were recruited.

If you're just starting out in Bluegrass the first thing I can say is you won't be sorry. You'll make great lifelong friends i.e., my fellow Camp Spam mates. Second, get a good understanding partner. While you may love the bass and don't mind (dare I say enjoy) sleeping with it in your festival tent, they may not (I know, hard to believe). It will go a lot smoother if they are understanding about things like that and don't mind if your instrument collection gets, shall we say, larger, than it really needs to be. It will also help when you say "Just one more song", for the umpteenth time.

The last thing I'll say is Bluegrass has been a great family experience. All my kids started going to the Father's Day Festival as infants. Two are now adults and continue to enjoy the experience. They, like my wife and I, have great friends that we see only at music events. Bluegrass Music comes with a community that is open to everyone. All you have to do is be civil, come in, sit down; if you're a picker open you case, tune up, take your turn, and let the fun begin. Everything else takes care of itself.

(posted 3/29/2008)

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