Hooked on Bluegrass
Leslie Abbott - 2007 version
I was living in Berkeley the first time I heard Bluegrass. It was in the 70's. After graduating from college, I took my big degree to get my first high paying job making sandwiches and serving beer at the "Stuffed Inn" near UC Berkeley. It was the custom that folks working there took turns playing their choice of music. My fellow worker, who played banjo, was heavily into bluegrass. I didn't even know what it was and ignored the word as it had no meaning to me. He played his music and I would be chomping at the bit for his album to finish so I could put something of mine on. I was into reggae and Afro-funk. He felt the same amount of enthusiasm about my choice. Before the last sound of the last song would be finished he would have yanked it off to put on who I now know was Bill Monroe. We had a little battle going on. In fact one time when I was in the bathroom and yelled out that there wasn't any toilet paper, Jim said he had me just where he wanted me! Don't get me wrong. Jim and I were friends. He came over and played my Dad's banjo a few times. After leaving that job, I moved to Santa Cruz and wouldn't be re-introduced to bluegrass until about 25 years later.
I was raised around music. My dad played 4 string banjo and as far back as my memory goes there was a jam at our house on Sunday evenings. They played Dixieland. The band was called the "East Lafayette Marching Funeral Band". They were all professors at Berkeley. My dad's secretary sang too. Folks danced and had plenty to drink. I loved it.
I knew zillions of songs from my dad. He taught me songs on the ukulele like C.C. Rider, Goodnight Irene, and St. James Infirmary. I enjoyed that time very much. But as his life got busier and busier, playing music with me didn't happen as much and I wasn't motivated to play by myself. When I look back I would say that some of the happiest times I saw my dad was when he was playing music. As his life got more hectic he wasn't playing at all. After a depression he committed suicide when I was 16 and that had a big impact on me. I didn't know how much playing music would mean to me but now often when I sing, I'm singing to my dad.
In 1986 and '89 our two sons, Luke and Kyle were born. Soon into their lives we started playing folk music with them. Carl's mom would come over and play with us. Carl and I are not musicians by any means. We just enjoy ourselves. Musically our sons passed us up on day two. But that didn't stop us. In 1997 we heard about the Good Old Fashioned Bluegrass Festival in Hollister. It was a whole new world, it appeared. People were informal, friendly and the music was fantastic. I was hooked. Luke had a banjo by then and went on "Kids on Stage" with Frank Solivan and played a rippin' "Petticoat Junction." He said he has never played that fast since. He was hooked too. Kyle ... well, you'll have to read his article about that.
When I first started listening to bands I was taken by the Stanley Brothers, Southern Grass (The Paisleys), The Crooked Jades, Kathy Kallick, and others. I mean really taken. I appreciate when a song is played with honesty and soul. I connect with the depth of the songs and the stories being told. They withstand the test of time.
This music is "people music". How wonderful it is that someone like me, not a musician, can get in on the fun. Seeing how much fun playing music with others is, our family is hoping to do what we can to help other people get in on the fun too. If you have ever wanted to play, but thought you couldn't, do take a look at our website, www.playingbyear.com.
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