We asked Chatham County Line to pick their five most influential bluegrass records as a band. Of course, they decided on six, scribbled in nearly illegible fashion on notepad papers taped together, faxed in while the band was on tour in Europe. The stationery, of course, was that of their favorite Norwegian brew, Hansa.
Hello, thanks for having us. I went looking for bluegrass records to do this bit, but the Virgin Megastore don’t have no “bluegrass” section. That’s what an American gets in Newcastle, U.K. Before I, Dave Wilson of Chatham County Line, and my bandmates John Teer, Chandler Holt and Greg Readling turn into werewolves, here is our argument for music in 2006. Imagine you’re adrift on a raft made of rubber, with CDs, batteries and a guy who hates bluegrass. You have three minutes to choose what you keep.
Del McCoury Band & Steve Earle, The Mountain
I went to see Del McCoury at the Carolina Theatre and made a decision that, if I was going to play music, I wanted to wear a suit and use a single microphone. When that came together with Steve Earle, who single-handedly got me into songwriting, the results were better than I could have ever imagined.
Old & in the Way, Old & in the Way
This started everything. Before any of us even knew what bluegrass was, we heard that record. It was a catalyst for people like me who had never really gotten into bluegrass. When you follow the path of Old & In The Way to Workingman’s Dead after you know about Gram Parsons, it’s a whole different sound.
Flatt & Scruggs, Flatt & Scruggs at Carnegie Hall!
When bluegrass was defined, it was defined by this record. Before they got to Hollywood (Beverly Hills), Flatt & Scruggs turned a bunch of Yankees onto the perfect sound that they used to make what Webster’s Dictionary defines as “bluegrass.”
John Hartford, Aereo-Plain
“Turn Your Radio On”–What else do you need to say? If you drive a riverboat up and down the Mississippi blindfolded, I want to know what goes through your mind. Brilliant, but I just use that adjective because I’m in Newcastle-upon-Tyne wishing the soccer match was a different day. My favorite Hartford quote is still “Uhh uhh uhh.”
Kentucky Colonels, Appalachian Swing! & Livin’ in the Past
All right, so I woke up a few months ago and turned on the TV. Andy Griffith was on, and it was the episode where, halfway through, there’s Clarence White. Clarence White is the best guitar player ever. That is why this is essential. Clarence White: Listen and learn.
When Jimmy Martin, Del McCoury, Peter Rowan, Bill Keith, Lester Flatt, Earl Scruggs, Sonny Osborn, Tex Logan, Kenny Baker, Bobby Hicks, Richard Greene, Stella Parton, Rual Yarbrough and Roland White have been in your band, how do you choose just one? Bill’s called “The Father of Bluegrass” for a reason. Buy any record with Bill on the cover and get learned. –Dave WilsonMore for sure
There’s plenty of North Carolina bluegrass action east, west, south and north of the Chatham County Line. Give these 10 a spin. Barefoot Manner. Bluegrass is just the starting point for this most adventurous band on the list. Bluegrass instrumentation in a genre-free world goes one of their mottos.
Bass Lake Drifters. Six strong out of Holly Springs, the Drifters are one of the newest additions to the areas bluegrass scene. But theyre no rookies, and they have the four-part harmonies to give flight to standards, like-minded originals, and an ace Friend of the Devil.
Big Fat Gap. The roots of this Chapel Hill outfit stretch from the UNC campus to Tony Williamsons Siler City home and beyond. And recently the guys stretched a bit themselves to serve as Michael Hollands backing band on his Tomorrows American Treasures record.
The Bluegrass Experience. With over 30 years of expert picking and harmonizing, this Tommy Edwards-led five-piece is the elder statesband of this list.
The Cadillac Stepbacks. Showcasing their versatility, the Stepbacks Trent Boutz, Nathan Golub, Jason Hedrick and Allen Ray are fresh from performing in Common Ground Theatres Shitkicker Monologues. The Grass Cats. Steven Martin, formerly of the Churchmen, is new to the Grass Cat fold. Expect more gospel tunes alongside the bands nimble originals and reworked pop-rock songs. (A grassed-up Hungry Heart, anyone?)
Kickin Grass. In addition to the wife-and-husband harmonies of guitarist Lynda Wittig Dawson and mandolinist Jamie Dawson, this energetic quintet possesses the excellent taste required to cover Scott Millers Dear Sarah.
Old Habits. Having a pair of brothers lead a bluegrass band has traditionally been a mighty good thing. And while Bennett and Craig Thompson of this Raleigh-based quintet arent Bill & Charlie or Carter & Ralph (who is?), theyre off to an excellent start.
Steep Canyon Rangers. A far-flung bunch, sureleader Woody Platt spends most of his time in his hometown of Brevardbut their UNC-Chapel Hill roots earn them inclusion here, as do their smart arrangements. Their latest record was produced by former Del McCoury Band bassist Mike Bub.
Tony Williamson. Mandolin master Tony Williamson, whose performance résumé ranges from the Bluegrass Alliance to the Duke University Symphony Orchestra, continues to inspire. For proof, see Big Fat Gap above.Rick Cornell