Hooked on Bluegrass

Tom Manuel

The first record I ever owned was a bluegrass album. My Dad, a fan of the 5-string banjo, bought me a copy of Flatt and Scruggs "Hard Travelin'". I can remember listening to this record over and over and singing along to "Wreck of the Old 97" and "Miner's Blues" at the tender age of 7.

My Dad, although he tried enthusiastically to master the banjo for years, was possessed of a tin ear and a rather poor sense of rhythm. My Mother banished his practice sessions to the basement; I recall sitting at the top of the stairs, listening to the old man practice through the closed door, and thinking that his efforts were somehow both noble and pathetic at the same time. The point of this is that the Bluegrass seed was definitely planted in my brain at a young age, though it was to remain dormant for the next 20 some years.

Like most kids growing up in the 70's, I quickly became fascinated with rock music. I learned to play the guitar and spent my high-school and college years playing in various rock bands; any interest in bluegrass at this point was deeply buried. My interest in Bluegrass was re-awakened around 1990 when a friend loaned me a cassette tape of Tony Rice's groundbreaking Manzanita album. I was, to put it mildly, just blown away by this record. I had never heard anyone play the guitar like that, and the music just had some undefinable integrity that really spoke to me. This record lead me to take up flatpicking guitar with a vengeance.

It was downhill from there; pretty soon I was practicing 3 hours a day, travelling to festivals, going to jams, playing in bands, and hanging out with other bluegrass nuts just like me. Blame it all on Flatt & Scruggs and Tony Rice!

(posted 12/31/2005)

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