Tag Archives: Bluegrass
Marci and I went to see Alison Brown last night at a local San Diego supper club called Anthology.
Yesterday’s San Diego Reader carried an interview with Alison which included a nice mention for my radio show:
“And I tuned in every Sunday night to Wayne Rice’s Bluegrass Special on KSON. He’s still on the air and probably has one of the longest running bluegrass radio shows in the country. So, as it turned out, San Diego was a great place to learn to play bluegrass, even though that might sound a little counterintuitive.
Alison grew up here in San Diego, then went to Harvard University where she majored in finance. She became an investment banker with Smith-Barney but later ditched her banking career for a stint with Alison Krauss and Union Station. She later formed her own group The Alison Brown Quartet, which is more jazz-oriented than bluegrass. She now owns her own successful record label with an impressive roster of artists.
Her show at Anthology was fantastic. Yesterday was Marci’s birthday and while Marci doesn’t usually allow banjos at her birthday parties, she made an exception for Alison, who wished her a happy birthday from the stage.
I began my youth ministry career as a club director for Ventura County (California) Youth for Christ in 1963. Folk music was getting real popular about that time (Joan Baez, the Kingston Trio, Bob Dylan, the New Christy Ministrels) so we formed our own folk groups as a way to be “relevant” with teenagers. The first group I had was a trio patterned after Peter, Paul and Mary called “The Accidents.” I played the upright bass in that group. Then, after hearing the Dillards (who were playing folk clubs around Southern California and appearing on the Andy Griffith TV show), I learned to play banjo and formed a bluegrass group with my brothers called “The Rice Kryspies.” My wife Marci played the bass.
Harry White, who was Ventura YFC’s sound engineer, recently unearthed some old tape recordings of early YFC rallies, several of which featured The Rice Kryspies. The recording below was made on May 10, 1969–exactly 40 years ago. The introduction is by Ventura YFC director Roger Cross (who later became the president of Youth for Christ/USA). The song you’ll probably recognize. Just keep in mind that the Beatles were still together in 1969. This was very cutting edge stuff back then!
OK, I know bluegrass isn’t going to replace hip hop anytime soon as the music of choice for teenagers, but I’m no longer surprised by groups like the The Doerfels who suddenly appear out of nowhere. I don’t know too much about this family band except they are from Florida and just released a new CD featuring some of their original songs. The senior member (T.J. on banjo) is only 20 years old, joined by his sister Kimberly (19 on fiddle), and brothers Eddy (16 on mandolin), Joe (14 on bass) and Ben (13 on guitar). Check out this video:
I sometimes point to groups like this when I hear some of my colleagues express pessimism about the extent to which parents and other adults can influence teenagers in today’s media-saturated world. Let’s be honest here, teenagers who embrace and perform bluegrass music are not the norm. These are kids who have grown up in an environment, usually provided by their parents, where they have had constant exposure to the music and lots of encouragement from a community of bluegrass music fans.
I’ve spent time with many of these young musicians, like Nickel Creek (Chris Thile, Sean and Sara Watkins) who grew up here in the San Diego area. Also the Cherryholmes family, who also came from Southern California and have become one of bluegrass music’s biggest success stories. There are many more just like them. The Wright Kids, who were finalists on NBC’s “America’s Got Talent” show and The Clark Brothers, who won Fox TV’s “The Next Great American Band” competition a couple of years ago. I’m always impressed not only by the talent and skill of these kids on their musical instruments, but with how well-adjusted they are and how articulate and comfortable they are around adults.
So how did these kids become such accomplished bluegrass musicians? Did they find the sound of the banjo and fiddle too cool to resist?
To understand these kids, you have to meet their parents. I’ve met some of them and it’s clear that they made a choice when their kids were little to create a family culture that was centered around bluegrass music. In almost every case, these kids were home schooled and taught music as part of their curriculum. They made field trips to bluegrass festivals where they learned to play (jam) with adult musicians who were more than happy to show them how to improve their playing. I also have a hunch their parents turned off the TV and spent a lot of time playing and singing with their kids.
I know most people would shudder at their thought of their kids forming a bluegrass band, but I do think there’s something we can learn from these families about how to raise children up in the Christian faith.
Last Saturday night on the Grand Ole Opry: Actor Jack Black with Sam Bush (mandolin), Jim Mills (banjo), Bryan Sutton (guitar), Stuart Duncan (fiddle), Charlie Haden (bass) and other all-star pickers … must have been a fun night at the Opry house. Ricky Skaggs, Del McCoury and Michael Martin Murphey were also on the show.
March 7, 1976. Gerald Ford was President. The Pittsburgh Steelers were Super Bowl champs. Rocky received the Oscar for best picture. A peanut farmer from Georgia was beginning his campaign for the presidency.
That’s also when a very nervous banjo player went on the air for the first time to play bluegrass music on San Diego’s #1 country radio station KSON.
Who would have believed I’d still be there 33 years later?
We’ve done some big anniversary celebrations over the years (like a big show at the East County Performing Arts Center in El Cajon on our 25th) but this year I’ll celebrate on the air with some old songs from the past 33 years. A lot of great bluegrass has been recorded during that time. Alison Krauss was only 4 years old when I started my radio show.
Thanks to all the folks at Lincoln Financial Media (who owns KSON now) for keeping me on all these years and to all the bluegrass music fans who have been so loyal for so long. It has been a lot of fun (and it still is!)
You can listen to my show online when it’s being broadcast (10 p.m. on Sunday night) or you can listen “on demand” at kson.com/bluegrass.
Last year I acquired from my Aunt Mabel (age 90+) an old fiddle that belonged to her father (my grandfather Clay Powers) and before that, her grandfather (my great-grandfather). Actually I didn’t know that any of our ancestors on the Powers side (my mother’s family) were musicians. I always assumed the music in my family came more from my father’s side.
The fiddle came in an old home-made wooden “coffin case” that was damaged and the fiddle was not in playing condition when I got it. Inside the fiddle body was an inscription “Antonio Stradivarius 1740″ but it wasn’t really a Stradivarius violin. A google search confirmed that there were many Strad copies made in the 1800′s and almost all European violin-makers stamped the Stradivarius name on their violins.
Still, the fiddle looked nice (just needed repair) and it was a family heirloom. So I brought the fiddle home from Tennessee and had a luthier (violin-maker) in Bonsall restore it to playing condition. He also repaired the case. My plan was to give this treasure to my sister Mary (who plays fiddle) for Christmas but we didn’t get a chance to see her before Christmas this year … so I delivered the fiddle to her this past weekend and she was of course happy to get it.
The fiddle is not really in good enough shape to play regularly or in concert, but it sounds pretty good. Over the holidays I let the fiddle player in my bluegrass band, Tom Cunningham, play a couple of tunes on it just to see how it sounds. Marci shot a video: