Posts Tagged ‘Keith Little’


Cousin Curly in the Temple of Twang

12 April 2011

Before I get all distracted, let me show you this edition’s video, which comes from my travels to Nashville last spring…

From a certain point of view, the Ryman Auditorium could be seen as a microcosm of Nashville. Like the Music City as a whole, the Ryman is a really nice place that seems to hide its deep connection to bluegrass. While the back of the building is lined with display cases, you have to go to the third floor to find any significant bluegrass-related material. In some respects this isn’t a surprise, in that the Ryman hosts all manner of performances today, from Aretha Franklin to ZZ Top. But while I’m sure that ticket sales for bluegrass acts aren’t keeping the auditorium’s pews polished to a fare thee well, I reckon that the streams of pilgrims who are paying close to twenty bucks for the backstage tour are primarily drawn by the venue’s storied past. No doubt many grew up listening to the Grand Ole Opry, which called the Ryman home for several decades. If I’m correct about all that, it would follow that a good number of these are folks interested in an era when bluegrass was an integral part of the operation. So what gives?

But as I say, I found Nashville puzzling in the same way. A quick rundown of musicians based in Nashville reads like a directory of present-day bluegrass:

Alison Brown, Roland White, Bryan Sutton, Jerry Douglas, Jim Buchanan, Josh Williams, Valerie Smith, The Steeldrivers, Ron Block, Blake Williams,  Ricky Skaggs, Mark Schatz, Jerry Salley, Keith Tew, Gail Davies, The Infamous String Dusters, Melonie Canon, Casey Driessen, Sam Bush, Gillian Welch,  Daily & Vincent, John Weisberger, Dierks Bentley, Kathy Chiavola, Mike Bub, Larry Sparks, Tim Carter, Paul Brewster, Ronnie Reno, Tim O’Brien, Billy & Terry Smith, Fred Carpenter, Doug Dillard,  Tim May, Wayne Southards, Brad Davis, Barry & Holly Tashian, David Crow, Kevin Williamson, John Cowan, Mike Compton, Tim Hensley, Larry Cordle, Marty Raybon, Sharon Cort, Keith Sewell, The Chigger Hill Boys, Stuart Duncan, David Talbot, Ed Dye, The Grascals, Pat Enright, Scott Vestal, Donna Ulisse, The Farewell Drifters, Marty Stuart, Rickie Simpkins, Pat Flynn, Kim Fox, Pam Gadd, J.T. Gray, Tom T. Hall, Aubrey Haynie, Casey Henry, Tom Saffell, Randy Howard, Jim Hurst, Rob Ickes, Eddie Stubbs, Vic Jordan, Cody Kilby, Randy Kohrs, Alison Krauss, Jim Lauderdale, David Grier, Keith Little, Ned Luberecki, Del McCoury, James & Angela McKinney, Larry McNeely, Luke McNight, Ken Mellons, Patty Mitchell, Alan O’Bryant, Bobby Osborne, Heartstrings, The Overall Brothers, Continental Divide, David Peterson, Missy Raines, Lee & Elaine Roy, Carl Jackson, Darrell Scott, Jimmy Campbell, Ronnie McCoury, Larry Perkins, Larry Stephenson, Jim Van Cleve, Terry Eldridge, Andrea Zonn.

Whew. That’s just a start; I’ll bet there are literally hundreds more worth noting.  Even so, the music itself doesn’t even register as background noise. During my visit, I would regularly spin the radio dial from one end to the other. I never heard so much as a note that sounded like bluegrass. I know there is a vibrant house party scene in the Nashville bluegrass community, but that doesn’t explain why bluegrass isn’t a more visible— or, more the point, audible— part of the landscape.

But don’t get me wrong: I really like Nashville. As long as the Cumberland River behaves itself, it’s an elegant metropolis that also manages to be comfortable and friendly. Can’t wait for my next visit, by which time I hope I will have been granted the secret password and welcomed into Nashville’s occult (in every sense of the word) bluegrass scene.

Yer Pal— Curly


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

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