Hooked on Bluegrass

Tom Thorpe

I've been playing since I was about 5 years old. (No, I won't say how long that's been!) I've played 5-string banjo with various bands since about 1977. I play guitar, banjo, mandolin, fiddle, bass and for the past two years resonator guitar. I just love music and instruments! I've played professionally in folk, Irish, country, rock and bluegrass bands.

I learned to play instruments mostly thanks to my mother and father. We lived out on a little horse farm in Hartford, New York. There wasn't much to do out there, but my mom was always playing her piano, concertina, harmonicas or pretty much whatever else she could get her hands on. Being Costa Rican, she taught us all songs in Spanish and English. My dad, a true red-haired, blue-eyed Irishman, taught us bluegrass (he called it Hillbilly) and blues tunes he learned during his WWII Air Force training while stationed down in Texas, Mississippi, Louisiana and Florida. He just fell in love with Bill Monroe, Don Stover, Flatt & Scruggs, Bob Wills and Johnny Cash. He didn't play any instruments, but he sure encouraged my brothers, sister and I to play every chance we got. Dad introduced us to the songs by having us listen to WWVA, the 50,000 Watt radio station that originated in Wheeling, West Virginia and gave people up and down the East Coast a chance to hear this music at least once a week. Daddy even Jerry-rigged elaborate antennas so we could pull the signal in. Being the eldest in the family I got the task of climbing up on the roof and turning the antenna around until he would yell up that the program was finally coming in fine now.

My high school education was also different than most of my friends. I went off to a residential seminary in Hamilton, MA. Being so many miles away from home all year created some real lonely times for me. My mom saved the day for me again when she sent me a little guitar in the mail. Some friends of mine and I formed a folk singing group that performed for whoever we could around Boston, Cambridge and the North Shore area. That was in the early 60's during the height of the folk revival and Newport Folk Festival. Cambridge coffee houses were full of great musicians at that time. I guess it was there that I heard my first live bluegrass bands and met my hero, Doc Watson.

College and preparing to become a special education teacher then led me to the Rutland, Vermont area. I performed in a great little folk music trio called "The Reasonable Facsimile." Vermont and Upstate New York are also rich areas for talented musicians. Dan Tyminski from AKUS came from just down the road in West Rutland. Bluegrass music in this area is mixed with Canadian fiddle tunes, old time traditional repertoire and the rich heritage of the Hudson River folk musicians, i.e., Pete Seeger, Phil Ochs and Tom Paxton. The Adirondack Bluegrass League helped nurture my bluegrass fever. Thanks to their pot luck dinners and concerts in Corinth, New York I was able to meet Charlie Waller and Doyle Lawson. Both gentleman have been an inspiration to me.

Presently, I'm playing banjo, reso and guitar with a band called "Ampersand." I continue to be passionate about entertaining people of all ages. Their smiles, applause and thanks just make playing music the closest thing to Heaven I have experienced. Bluegrass is so much more than just notes; rather, it is the sense of family that you experience at festivals; it is the joy of seeing so many talented people in one place; and it is the security of knowing that you can add to this rich tradition and anchor yourself in the sound foundation laid down by Mr. Monroe and all those early pioneers who have paved the way for us all.

(posted 2/19/2008)

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