Why You Been Gone So Long?6 August 2010
I am merely the latest of a string of Curlys in bluegrass, but to my knowledge, there is but one Beppe in the genre, and that would be Beppe Gambetta, the Italian flatpicking virtuoso. Gambetta probably gets tired of being called “the Italian Tony Rice,” but well, he’s the Italian Tony Rice. He has recorded Rice staples like “Church Street Blues,” and he favors voicings that bring “The Gasoline Brothers”— that would be Rice and David Grisman— to mind.
Mention of Grisman isn’t coincidental. Halfway through the mandolin legend’s set at Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival last month, who should stroll on stage but His Beppeness. Check it out:
Gambetta shares with Tony Rice an ability to play lightning fast licks without breaking a sweat. Indeed, he plays runs so quickly and with so little movement of his right hand that the camera in this clip is apparently unable to capture the moment of contact between the pick and the string on those brief bursts of tremolo. Mamma mia!
Dawg and Beppe go back a ways. In 2001, they recorded a collection of mostly Italian tunes for a CD called Traversata. The number they play here— “Why You Been Gone So Long?”— was penned by the late country songsmith Mickey Newbury. Lots of people have recorded it, but to date I haven’t found a version that surpasses that of— you guessed it— Tony Rice.
It’s a great, bluesy, boozy tune, and given the date of the recording (1988), Rice might have brought a bit of, er, method acting to his rendition. Whatever the case, the album version captures one of Rice’s most vivid vocal performances. By the way, unless Tony Rice starts playing “O, Mio Babbino Caro,” nobody’s calling him “The American Beppe Gambetta.”
One More Thing…
Driving away from Grey Fox, a buddy who is a five-string specialist pointed out that, throughout the festival, the banjos were getting lost in the main stage audio mix. I confess I hadn’t noticed this at the time, but listening back to the Grisman set and some other performances, I see that my friend had a point. Here’s a brief illustration:
If you closed your eyes, you’d have a hard time telling that it was in fact a banjo playing there— no percussive “pop” at all. Fortunately, if someone is going to pioneer the art of “banjo miming,” Grisman’s longtime associate Keith Little is the man for the job. Seriously, Little has one of the expressive faces in bluegrass. I could watch him all day long— but I’d sure like to hear him as well.
Thanks to Geoff “Alpha Dog” Poister for providing the video footage of Gambetta and Grisman. Much obliged.
Yer Pal— Curly