Hooked on Bluegrass

John Reischman

I grew up in Ukiah California, and while there were many great musicians who lived there when I was growing up, there were none that played Bluegrass.

I was exposed to some great live music though. Robben Ford, who has played with Miles Davis, George Harrison, Joni Mitchell and others, was in a band in high school with my next door neighbor. I used to regularly go over and listen to their rehearsals. They were a really great Chicago-style Blues band.

My main exposure to Bluegrass when I was young was through television. I saw Flatt and Scruggs on ‘The Beverly Hillbillies’, and the Dillards on ‘The Andy Griffith Show’. In addition to this mainstream exposure, I saw a fair bit of Bluegrass on KQED from San Francisco. They had some great shows like Pete Seeger’s ‘Rainbow Quest’. I believe I saw the Stanley Brothers and the Greenbrier Boys on this show, as well as to some other great folk musicians. I also remember seeing footage from a folk festival and Bill Monroe was one of the featured performers.

In addition to these nationally based shows, there were some locally produced shows that occasionally had Bluegrass music. One in particular that I remember featured the Phantom’s of the Opry. I think the line up at the time was Paul Shelasky, Pat Enright, Robbie McDonald, Laurie Lewis and maybe Joe Zumwalt. I distinctly remember Paul being surprised by something on stage, and mimicking a response of Curly Howard of the Three Stooges. This gave me insight into the psyche of my future band mate.

Another performance that I remember seeing on TV was John Hartford's band with Norman Blake, Vasser Clements, and Tut Taylor. By this time I was making trips to San Francisco to Tower Records where you actually find Bluegrass records. I found solo records by the individual members of John Hartford’s band in addition to Bill Monroe and Frank Wakefield ( who I also saw on KQED) records.

I had been playing guitar since I was about 12 years old. When I was 16 a family friend lent me a mandolin. I had noticed the Bluegrass musicians on TV using the mandolin, so this is the music that I gravitated to on this new instrument. I had a lot of fun teaching myself to play the mandolin, and I have been hooked on Bluegrass music ever since.

(posted 2/3/2008)

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