Hooked on Bluegrass

Bruce Campbell

I came to Bluegrass (saw the light, that is), rather late, compared to most of the folks I talk to at CBA. I've been a musician about as long as I can remember, but from the time I started (1967), it was rock-n-roll. I wanted to be the Beatles, then the Rolling Stones, then Ted Nugent. I made all the right moves -- dropped out of college to play gigs, grew long hair, stayed up way too late. The next thing I knew, it was 1981, and I STILL wasn't a rock star, despite all the sacrifices I had made for my art.

And what did I get out of it? OK, lots of fun, and a good musical education. But time was catching up. I was rapidly approaching real adulthood, which meant, with kids, a house and job, becoming a rock star would actually get in the way, (not to mention wake the baby). Reluctantly, the amps went into storage, and I went to the 5th String in Berkeley to buy an acoustic guitar, just to keep my chops together. I was still playing music with the same bunch of friends, only quieter.

We would do acoustic version of our favorite songs, and the next thing we knew, Doc Watson, Peter Rowan and Grateful Dead stuff crept in... Hmmmm... That Doc could REALLY pick it! Picked up a Tony Rice album -- wow! Bought more and more Bluegrass, and discovered that Bluegrass offered the same thrills I got from playing rock 'n' roll -- hot pickin', and showing off! The music seemed pretty easy to learn too. We began showing up at the regular jam at the 5th String, and then others.

I discovered another beautiful truth about Bluegrass -- you can learn to play it quickly, and contribute in jams, but learning the musical idiom that makes it magical is wonderfully (and frustratingly) elusive. Like the blues, it's a lifelong pursuit. We also discovered the joys of harmony singing.

The more I played, the more I realized I didn't know JACK about playing Bluegrass "right". Oh, some nights I came tantalizingly close, but it seemed like everybody else was better. My friends and I formed a Bluegrass band in the early 1990's and we've been playing ever since. And we're still chasing the perfect sound. It's that pursuit of the "real" Bluegrass sound, that "mountain" feel, that makes it an obsession. And when we get close, the hairs stand up on the back of my neck!

(posted 2/17/2005)

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