Hooked on Bluegrass
I was born at home, and lived on my grandmother’s 40 acre family farm until I was 8 years old, when we moved into “town”, a nearby metropolis of 1,400 souls, called Farmland, (Randolph County) Indiana. I’m an early baby-boomer, but living out in the country as a kid with 4 generations under one roof (my great-grandfather, grandmother, mother & father and me), we might as well have been transported from an even earlier agrarian era. At the time I thought everyone must live this way. All my ancestors on my mother’s side were migrants from Randolph County, North Carolina, a long line of rural folks and country people. Grandma made lye soap and rag rugs, quilted and canned; supervised the huge garden and fall hog butchering, read me Bible stories nightly, and sang in church, located just down the gravel road from us, on Sundays and Wednesday nights. We had an outhouse, a well, and made phone calls from a crank, party-line wall-mounted oak phone. And with 10 brothers and sisters, my grandmother’s extended family made for a built-in safety net of kin all right there in my hometown. Dinner was the meal we ate at noontime; supper was the evening meal. We had then, and still have these days, a “family reunion” annually the 3rd Sunday of August. And the holiday the end of May to remember those ancestors passed on (many of them buried across the road in the Hopewell Cemetery) was always “Decoration Day”.
I heard bluegrass consciously for the first time when I was a teenager, Flatt & Scruggs Live At Vanderbilt. I had already started fooling with learning guitar, and immediately went out and bought all the bluegrass records I could find … Monroe, the Stanley Brothers, Reno & Smiley. I went to college, finally, after a few years of working in a factory and traveling. Indiana University in Bloomington is only a short drive from Bean Blossom, and in those days during the summer months, the Brown County Jamboree’s weekend shows were located in the decrepit, drafty old barn on the Bean Blossom grounds. I got together my little bluegrass trio and we auditioned for Birch Monroe, and he put us up on the Brown County Jamboree stage for a few songs, to polite applause. I saw live performances weekend after weekend from Bill Monroe, the Osborne Brothers, Reno & Harrell, Ralph Stanley, with lead singer Roy Lee Centers and a couple of teenagers named Ricky and Keith. It was a revelation.
I went on to play bluegrass fulltime in clubs for nearly 4 years with own band during the early and mid 70s after moving to Arizona. I met my current ex-wife and the mother of my children via bluegrass. (She’s a Nashville native). When we got married in the late 70s, Lynn Morris - still living in Denver and as yet undiscovered by the national bluegrass audience - was the “maid of honor” and her boyfriend at the time, Pat Rossiter, was “best man”.
During the intervening years I’ve promoted shows, worked in country radio for Buck Owens, owned an FM radio station, and moved to northern California. I’ve been fortunate enough to play part time with buddies and great musicians including Lynn Morris, Chris Brashear, Peter McLaughlin, Dick Brown, Roger Bush, Randy Graham, David Parmley, and more recently, Ron Stewart. The music, with its powerful themes of rural life, home, family, transition, migration, religion, love, loss, and redemption, has always resonated with me.
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