Hooked on Bluegrass

Ted Silverman



As a kid I grew up in a suburb of New York City called Tenafly, NJ. My primary musical interests back then were of course the Beatles, and all the great classic rock guitar icons of the day.

At 15 I was introduced to Jerry Garcia and his running mates by my friends. I soon came to realize this music was generally more accessible, more grounded, less grandiose and that the musicianship was just more intricate and cooler than that of those heavy rock icons. My first Grateful Dead LP was there acoustic masterpiece, “Reckoning,” which contained songs from the bluegrass idiom such as “Dark Hollow,” Charlie Monroe’s “Rosalie McFall,” and the George Jones country classic, “The Race is On ,” sprinkled amongst a bunch of other cool sounding songs from Garcia and Weir. In fact there were even cooler things presented by the Dead like Jesse Fuller’s “Monkey and the Engineer”, and the Memphis Jug Band Standard, “One the Road Again,” but at that time, I didn’t know the origin of these things, it just seemed that my cheap Sigma Martin guitar had a sound similar to jerry Garcia’s Martin and I could learn these songs off the record pretty easily.

It also happened that, with my parent’s permission, I got to see a couple of those 1980 Radio City Music Hall shows in New York City and which musically obsessed me from then on. A little while later I learned to pick more bluegrass music in Washington Square Park in New York City’s Greenwhich Village as I had a summer job in Soho in the early 80’s. Of course Old in the Way, with Jerry Garcia were a key influence on my music making at that time.

In college the Dead still obsessed me. I played in a bunch of rock bands, but still played acoustically too. Ultimately I began to explore all those musical doors the Grateful Dead had opened to see what lay behind them. This exploration led me things like Gus Cannon, the Memphis Jug Band, Jimmy Reed, Merle Haggard, Elizabeth Cotten, The Meters, Ornette Coleman, and of course Bill Monroe as well as a huge assortment of other, really cool music. Then I made a connection between the Dead and David Grisman (so many others of my generation) and hearing that first solo LP by the Dawg just got under my skin. After that, my mind open wide to Tony Rice’s Manzanita Album and I simply gobbled up everything I could that was connected to these two masters from the Carter Family to Delmore Brothers, Bill Monroe, Flatt & Scruggs, Jimmy Martin, Norman Blake, Bela Fleck, etc……

I started playing a mandolin, initially because it was easiest to get on an airplane. I taught myself how to pick this intriguing little instrument during a 6 week stay on the Big Island of Hawaii in 1991. Soon Thereafter I started playing swing jazz music in earnest on the mandolin with a San Francisco based band called Belle Monroe & Her Brewglass Boys. (At the same time I played swing mandolin with the same bunch of musicians in a band called the Chazz Cats which lasted about 12 years and died off with the popular demise of the neo-swing movement around 2000.) Sometime around the 1995, with the demise of Jerry Garcia, I got a (musical) life. The loss of Jerry Garcia in my life also became my gain.

Now I play bluegrass all the time with a wide variety of local bands and even when I play blues or rock bluegrass still informs my approach to making music. Bluegrass music has become and remains a primary musical passion for me. It is where I feel most at home as a musician and it moves my intellect the most in taking on new songs and tunes and invest them in my mind and fingers. Bluegrass also has a remarkable impact on my spirit. Above almost any other type of music It really hits my emotional “pleasure center” with the greatest impact.

(posted 2/3/2008)


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