Hooked on Bluegrass
I was a closet rock and roll guitarist in high school, but I put my guitar away while attending college in Boston. While in my last year of study, I stumbled across some radio shows that played Old Time Music. The strangely familiar sounds of the string bands really struck a chord with me. Somewhere, somehow they awoke old feelings or memories.
Years later I learned that my dad used to play fiddle at square dances when he was a young man. I starting teaching myself rudimentary fiddle and later some mandolin (when I learned they shared a common tuning). In that summer of 1973, I heard my first live bluegrass at a large festival in York, PA. Up until this point, the only bluegrass that I could identify was from popular radio, television and film: "The Ballad of Jed Clampett" (1963); "Foggy Mtn Breakdown"(1967); and "Dueling Banjos" (1972).
I don't remember how I learned about this festival, but my girlfriend and I drove down from Boston and I was mesmerized by the Southern music culture. Although the festival was packed with big names, I only recognized a few— Doc Watson, David Bromberg and Earl Scruggs. While I enjoyed the unmistakable power of the festival's s bluegrass music, it was old time fiddling that really caught my ear.
I moved to Tucson, AZ and a year later (1974) I got to jam with a banjo player named Chip Curry who lead a bluegrass band called Summerdog. On the basis of hearing me sing only one song ("Little Girl Dressed in Blue", which I learned from Kenny Hall's Sweet's Mill String Band), he hired me to join his group singing tenor and playing mandolin. Not only was it my first attempt at playing bluegrass, but it was also my first time ever in a band.
I was a bit intimidated and amazed to find myself three months later performing at the first and only Bill Monroe Festival in Payson, AZ. Our group played several sets, each time between Lester Flatt's Nashville Grass and Ralph Stanley's Clinch Mt Boys!! I ended up having a very big time. In fact it took several weeks to wipe a smile off my face.
For the next three years (which I consider the happiest of my life), I had a blast learning to play bluegrass mostly from records and this on-the-job training with Summerdog. There really wasn't any other bluegrass around. We played the San Diego Folk Festival three times, opened for bigger shows in Tucson and played incessantly in bars and barn dances for the young local dance crowd. We even performed in three bluegrass musicals. There was no turning back, as I was definitely hooked.
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