Friday, August 21, 2009

2009 International Bluegrass Music Award Nominees Announced

The 20th International Bluegrass Music Awards will be handed out in Nashville on the 1st of October. The nomination list this year is dominated by former sidemen-turned-bandleaders.
The Dan Tyminski Band, nominated for 9 International Bluegrass Music Awards, including "Entertainer of the Year."
Dan Tyminski is best known for singing and playing the guitar with Alison Krauss and Union Station. But when Alison opted to tour with singer Robert Plant and leave the bluegrass boys at home this year, the longtime sideman decided to put together his own band and went into the studio and recorded Wheels.

Smart move on his part, as the CD earned Dan and his band nine IBMA nominations including Entertainer, Instrumental Group, Male Vocalist and Album of the Year.

But Dan isn't the only one to score big with a side project.

Steve Martin could take home 6 trophies when the 2009 International Bluegrass Music Awards are handed out on 1 October.Academy Award and Grammy winning actor, author, comedian and banjo player Steve Martin received six nominations for his first ever CD made up of solely banjo music.

The title track to The Crow earned Steve and his sidemen (including banjo legend Earl Scruggs!) nominations for Instrumental Recorded Performance and Recorded Event of the Year. That last award goes to a project that isn't your ordinary album and Steve's CD -- produced by Nitty Gritty Dirt Band founder John McCuen and including appearances by world famous banjo players including Earl Scruggs, Tony Trischka, and Bela Fleck -- is just that!

The other nominees are Rob Ickes and Andy Leftwich for Angeline the Baker, Michael Cleveland and Flamekeepers Jerusalem Ridge, Struttin' to Ferrum by the Lonesome River Band, and Don't Tread on Me by Kristin Scott Benson.

If you're only familiar with Steve Martin from his movies, you may not know that he has been playing the banjo for many years. He learned to play as a teenager, but put put it aside while concentrating on his comedy, acting and writing careers.

Steve Martin's return to bluegrass didn't surprise fellow nominee (and banjo player) Eric Gibson of The Gibson Brothers. "You see artists all the time that have played bluegrass when they were young, and then go off and play other kinds of music," Gibson said. "They always come back to it. Once you start liking bluegrass and playing bluegrass I think it gets hold of you and it never lets go."

Friday, August 14, 2009

Earl Scruggs proves he still loves picking and grinning at Meijer Gardens

In the beginning of bluegrass was Earl Scruggs.

And bluegrass godfather Bill Monroe said, approximately, "Let there be banjo music in the band." And Scruggs' unusual three-finger style helped catapult Monroe's sound to a previously unknown level of acceptance.

And Monroe said it was good.

Earl Scruggs

Highlight No. 1: Excellent ensemble work on "John Hardy was a Desperate Little Man," from Earl Scruggs' authoritative banjo intro to virtuoso solos all around, especially flying-fingers acoustic guitar riffs by Jack White.

Highlight No. 2: Watching Scruggs the master when he wasn't in the spotlight, laying down creative and tasteful embellishments with the maturity of a legend as others took turns on the high-stepping "Doing My Time."

Time on stage: 1 hour, 20 minutes for Scruggs; 1 hour, 6 minutes for opening act Greensky Bluegrass

It still is good. Though Grammy-winning Scruggs has been plagued by back, hip and heart problems and is a little less able than he once was to play like a flame-thrower, two things were abundantly clear during Thursday night's Summer Concert Series in Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park's amphitheater:

• The Country Music Hall of Famer has hot licks left in his 85-year-old rolling and hammering-on fingers.

• And he still gets a young-at-heart kick out of picking and grinning.

The event, favored by blue skies and balmy temperatures, was part concert, part tribute and part love-in. Scruggs and cohorts provided the concert. An audience of more than 1,200 supplied the tribute and love.

The crowd was well broken in by a strong, 1-hour, 6-minute opening set from the talented, up-and-coming five-piece Greensky Bluegrass, of Kalamazoo. This is a big-name in the making, with a tight sound and intriguing lyrics. And check out impressive dobro player Anders Beck.

When Scruggs kicked into "Salty Dog Blues," the audience jumped to its feet for a welcoming ovation. There followed a 20-song master's class in bluegrass virtuosity from perennial dobro player of the year Rob Ickes, Grand Ole Opry fiddler Hoot Hester and acoustic guitarist-vocalist Jack White, with rock-steady support from Nashville drummer John Gardner and Scruggs' sons, bassist-vocalist Gary and acoustic-electric guitarist and vocalist Randy.

A gentleman in appearance (black suit, tie, dress shoes), Earl Scruggs also proved a gentleman collaborator. He relished the other players' times in the spotlight, masterfully adding plucked beats here, chattering rhythms there, subtle accents in some places, bold insertions in others, always appropriate to his companions' work.

From a Doc Watson hit, "Streamlined Cannonball," to Bob Dylan's "You Ain't Goin' Nowhere," to the poignant "In the Pines" -- "where the sun never shines and you shiver when the wind blows" -- to the honky-tonk "Dim Lights, Thick Smoke and Loud, Loud Music," the entourage played with the assurance of veterans, the crispness of accomplished musicians and the camaraderie of respected friends.

Scruggs took up an acoustic guitar and displayed artful fingering in breaks on the Carter Family's "You Are My Flower" and an old gospel tune, "Bound in Jail."

The audience was primed to sing along after Scruggs' banjo broke into his "The Ballad of Jed Clampett" from the 1960s TV show "The Beverly Hillbillies." From there, it was a short hop into his signature "Foggy Mountain Breakdown," which ended in its patented banjo tag and to a deafening standing ovation.

The company responded with a six-minute encore jam on the rapid-fire "Lonesome Reuben," highlighted by rock-tinged bursts from Randy Scruggs' electric guitar and a full-metal-jacket firestorm from Ickes' dobro. And while they were busy pickin', some 1,200 cheering concertgoers couldn't stop grinnin'.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Banjo player Earl Scruggs comes to Meijer Gardens in Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS -- Ask any good banjo picker in the world to tell you who inspired them to pick up the instrument. Chances are the answer will be Earl Scruggs.

Considered a pioneer in the history of bluegrass music, Scruggs' contribution to the evolution and popularity of the five-string banjo cannot be overstated.

IF YOU GO Earl Scruggs with Family & Friends

When: 6:30 p.m. Thursday; gates open at 5:30
Where: Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park, 1000 East Beltline Ave. NE
Opening act: Greensky Bluegrass
Tickets: $40 ($38 for Gardens members) at the box office, Star Tickets outlets, (800) 585-3737,

However, Scruggs -- who turned 85 this year -- is perhaps best known outside bluegrass circles for his Grammy-winning instrumental "Foggy Mountain Breakdown," which he first recorded with longtime musical partner, guitarist and singer Lester Flatt. The fast and rhythmically complex number was featured prominently in the 1967 hit movie "Bonnie and Clyde."

Flatt and Scruggs also are responsible for bringing bluegrass music into the mainstream with their 1962 hit song "The Ballad of Jed Clampett," the theme song for the highly successful TV show "The Beverly Hillbillies." The two musicians also made several appearances on the show, acting as family friends of the Clampetts and solidifying the duo's popularity worldwide.

When Scruggs performs Thursday at Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park as part of its summer concert series, the banjo prodigy will be joined by his sons Randy and Gary, who have played with their father since he and Flatt parted ways in 1969.

Scruggs, who was honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 50th annual Grammy Awards in 2008 and a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame, said he still loves to perform and plays 12-15 shows a year.

"I enjoy playing," he said. "You don't quit doing something you love."

Gary Scruggs, who also manages his father, said the show ""incorporates sort of a little musical history tour. It goes back to some early Flatt and Scruggs songs and includes Earl Scruggs Revue songs that we recorded back in the '70s. (We) also include more recent material."

Throughout his career, Earl Scruggs has distinguished himself from traditional bluegrass artists, not only with his innovative banjo style, but also with the music he has chosen to record. For example, he and Flatt undoubtedly created an uproar among bluegrass purists when they covered several Bob Dylan songs, including "Like a Rolling Stone" and "Rainy Day Women #12 and #35."

However, he still maintains the same attitude when it comes to picking songs.

"We go by a good song, it doesn't matter who has written it," he said.

Over the years, Scruggs has performed and recorded with such diverse artists as Dylan, the Byrds, Joan Baez, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Elton John, Melissa Etheridge and Sting.

"I enjoy working with other people," he said.

Born and raised in North Carolina, Scruggs says he caught the bug to play as a small child.

"We had banjo and guitar both in our home," said Scruggs, who taught himself to play. "I was playing, just switching around on banjo and guitar, but banjo was my first love."

By the time he was in his teens, Scruggs was playing at local dances and, while he didn't invent it, he revolutionized what is known as the three-finger picking technique on banjo, utilizing the thumb, forefinger and middle finger of the picking hand.

By his early 20s, Scruggs had landed a gig with the Father of Bluegrass Bill Monroe, as a member of Monroe's band the Blue Grass Boys. It was there that his syncopated banjo picking style, which incorporated blues and jazz phrasing, first gained notoriety.

"I was doing it before I ever met Bill Monroe," Scruggs said. "I call it hillbilly -- it's just old country music that I did over in North Carolina."

Gary said it's more than that.

"I'll jump in and brag a little bit on my father," he said. "What he did was develop new banjo rolls and patterns that enabled him to play a song (in a way) that would bring out the melody lines stronger than what was being heard by earlier three-finger pickers.

"His technique was a Rolls Royce compared to a T-model, if you want to make a car analogy from the difference that he brought to what was being played previously."

Monday, August 3, 2009

Photos of Earl at Rockygrass!

Here are a couple of photos of Earl at the recent rockygrass festival:

Historical museum opens in uptown Martinsville - Jim Eanes Exhibit

Two archivists opened the Martinsville Henry County Historical Museum in uptown Martinsville on Friday.

The museum has hundreds of artifacts on display, including historical images of important business, political, sports and entertainment people. There also are images of historical business and public buildings; memorabilia from businesses, industries, household life, entertainment and military service.

In addition, there are nearly 20 models of trade and war ships from several countries made by the late Durwood “Bo” Hanel, who was commissioner of revenue in Martinsville who had a hobby shop.

“I think it’s great. I love history,” said Shirley Lawson Foster of Figsboro as she toured the museum, at 41 E. Church St. She said it’s important to preserve the past to better understand the present and future.

“It’s spectacular," said Ruth Gravely of Collinsville. She especially enjoyed seeing a photograph of a train wreck in Koehler in 1946, which happened when she was a teenager.

The proprietors and archivists of the museum, in a 9,000-square-foot, two-story leased building, are Carl deHart, Martinsville archivist and a retired reference librarian, and Desmond Kendrick, the archivist for Henry County, DeHart said.

“We’re hoping a lot of people will be able to see evidence of our past lives and the way we lived and worked,” deHart said. Also, he said he and Kendrick hope to provide historical education for young people.

They both displayed a bit of their historical knowledge as they showed few of the items on display.

Kendrick said there were tobacco farmers, plug tobacco manufacturers and country store owners among his relatives, and he tried to reflect their lifestyles, livelihoods and business ventures in the museum collections. There are photos of some of them and their businesses, such as Peyton Gravely, 1790-1864, co-founder of Gravely Tobacco Co. in Leatherwood.

Since tobacco was historically such a vital part of this region’s economy, there is a model of a barn for curing tobacco; photos of various tobacco warehouses in the area; “premiums” from tobacco companies that Kendrick received when he was growing up, such as cigarette cases and cigarette lighters; photos of tobacco industrialist R.J. Reynolds, first cousin of Kendrick’s paternal great-grandfather; and a tobacco pipe made from tobacco leaf.

Photos show Charles Ward Holt, founder of Holt Department Store, in the early 1900s; William Letcher Pannill, founder of Pannill Knitting Co., in 1925; and several businesses dating from the 1800s.

Advertisements include 1930s ads for Palmolive, Chesterfield and Bon Ami. One photo shows Martinsville twins Dorothy and Grace Alexander, who deHart said were photogenic and athletic and were selected in the 1940s to do a nationwide advertising campaign for Chesterfield cigarettes.

“They were treated like queens,” he said.

Among the other artifacts overlapping business, politics, public service and human interest are a photo of Thomas Bahnson Stanley Sr., 1890-1970, who grew up near Horsepasture. He was the governor of Virginia from 1954-58 and also served in the state House of Delegates and the House of Representatives. He started Stanley Furniture Co. in 1922 and married Anne Pocahontas Bassett, whose father, J.D. Bassett, was one of the six founders of Bassett Furniture Co. in 1902. The gloves and purse Anne Stanley wore at her husband’s inauguration as governor are on display.

There is a display on Dr. Drewry Mason, a prominent medical doctor in Ridgeway who served on the school board and for whom Drewry Mason High School (now an elementary school) was named. Personal family items, such as photos and Dr. Mason’s medical bag and stethoscope, are included.

A photo also shows Sally Katherine Cook Booker 1857-1944, was the first woman from Henry County to serve in the Virginia legislature (at age 69) and the third woman in Virginia to do so. She served two one-year terms.

Among the military memorabilia there is a photo of an unsung hero of World War II with local roots. Maj. Gen. Edwin Martin, 1894-1945, who grew up in Martinsville and was a military aide to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt,. After FDR was briefed on the Germans’ attempts to develop an atomic bomb, he instructed Martin to do something right away. Martin instigated the Manhattan Project, which developed the U.S. atomic bomb at a cost of $2 billion, deHart said.

Other military memorabilia include awards and medals, a replica of a Civil War pistol, a World War I soldier’s hat and leg coverings and a World War II military recruitment poster.

As for the more ordinary daily lives of people, there are children’s toys; AM-only radios; old-timey projectors, fans, typewriters, telephones; a Victrola wind-up record player; bygone vehicles; and various household medicines and lotions.

Entertainment displays include sheet music of popular singers, such as Frank Sinatra, and a display on well known local musician Jim Eanes, a guitarist who was most known as a vocalist who played with Ralph Stanley. Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs and Bill Monroe.

The museum has a local sports hall of fame of sorts, too, including a few locals who went on to prominence in the big leagues, as well as some well-known local teams. One photo shows Randy Hundley, from Bassett, jumping off the ground as he protests an umpire’s call in a pennant game between his team, the Chicago Cubs, and the New York Mets. J.C. Martin, a Drewry Mason High School graduate, played for the Mets in that game.

Another photo is of Henry Emmett Manush, who managed the Martinsville Athletics farm team and went on to play for major league clubs. He had a lifetime batting average of .330 with 2,524 hits, and is in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Admission to the museum is free. It is open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, and by appointment. Donations will be accepted.

DeHart said that at present the museum is an a nonprofit, unfunded museum, which plans to apply for 501-3-C tax exempt status, and if that is approved, seek grants.