In the hills of Washington D.C., 1957, Charlie Waller, Bill Emerson, and John Duffy formed the Country Gentlemen. They broke all the rules for a bluegrass band at the time. They weren't from the Appalachian region, they didn't dress in little uniforms, and they didn't play traditional songs from the mountains. What they did do was love bluegrass music, adapt modern songs to fit the style and they took the music world by storm. It was the era of the folk music revival and for nearly ten years, the Country Gentlemen rode the wave of popularity, disbanding in the late 1960's.
1971, and John Duffy is working in an instrument repair shop in Arlington when he gathers together an unlikely crew of part-time musicians who all share a love of bluegrass, but also like to play a variety of music, giving it their own unique sound. This odd-ball crew consisted of Tom Gray, who worked for National Geographic; Ben Eldridge, a mathematician and computer expert; Mike Auldridge, a graphic artist with the Washington Star; and John Starling, a physician and ear, nose and throat specialist. They only intended to play occasionally, hence the name - The Seldom Scene. They played every Thursday night at the Red Fox Inn in Bethesda, Maryland like other men play poker or go bowling weekly. Except they were playing to sell-out crowds at the tiny Red Fox. I'm glad that I was working just down the street from the Red Fox Inn at that time, and spent many an evening standing at the packed bar.
The Seldom Scene moved on to the Birchmere restaurant in Arlington, Virginia where they still perform weekly.
John Duffy died Dec. 10, 1996 and is sorely missed. The make up of the Scene has changed several times over the years but their core has always remained fine bluegrass instrumentation, tight harmonies, and an out of the ordinary playlist.
I chose to post some seldom heard cuts for your pleasure today.
Starting with a local street-singer from Washington D.C., Bob Devlin. Anyone wandering from bar to bar in Georgetown in the late 1970's has seen and heard Bob. He used to play on street corners with an amplifier powered by a car battery. He released two albums, one recorded on the street and "String Rambler"
in 1979. Why am I mentioning a street musician from Georgetown? The personnel on his album includes John Duffy, Tom Gray, Mike Auldridge, and Phil Rosenthal. Sounds like the Scene to me! Besides, it's a nice kick off.
Next we have the Country Gentlemen from a later period (1972). From their self-titled release on Vanguard Records
. Different personnel here; Charlie Waller, Doyle Lawson, Bill Emerson, Bill Yates with guests; Mike Auldridge, Ricky Skaggs and Al Rogers. They do "Traveling Kind", a song from the mind and pen of Steve Young. The Steve Young that wrote "Seven Bridges Road" that the Eagles took to the charts.
We'll finish this off-center tribute with a song off of one of John Starling's solo releases, "Long Time Gone"
on Sugar Hill Records
. Helping John out on this cut are some old friends. John Duffy, Mike Auldridge, Ben Eldridge, Tom Gray, and Scott Johnson (piano).
Sorry for the long post today, but in this humble writer's opinion, the Seldom Scene brought bluegrass out of the hills and opened it up for a little modernization, while still being true to it's roots. During their early days, they were very controversial, progressive bluegrass. Time has proved them to be legendary, one of the cornerstone bands of bluegrass music.
Enjoy the ride.
Bob Devlin - A Day In The Life Of Bluegrass Bill's America Country Gentlemen - traveling Kind John Starling - He Rode All The Way To Texas