On July 14, 1956, Richard Underwood was born in Seabrook, Maryland.
The 57 year old is best known for his hard-driving banjo playing for the Johnson Mountain Boys, that great neo-traditional band of the 1980s.
Underwood first experienced bluegrass music through the medium of television, watching the Earl Scruggs Revue playing Nashville Blues. He started to play the banjo at the age of 15 aided by a teacher who used tablature.
One of the first people that Underwood played with was Buzz Busby. Underwood told John Wright, author of Traveling The Highway Home ..
“Now I had played with some other bands besides Buzz, two or three other bands where it was for money but certainly not full time. It was barroom kind of thing on the weekends. It was nothing real serious.”
It was through playing in Busby’s Bayou Boys that Underwood met Dudley Connell, David McLaughlin and bass player Gary B Reid who were part of the nascent Johnson Mountain Boys. When not playing band dates themselves the threesome would often help Busby.
In 1979 Underwood joined the Johnson Mountain Boys and stayed with them until October 1986 when he left to pursue a 9-to-5 job.
During that period he participated in the recording of six albums; The Johnson Mountain Boys (Rounder 0135), Walls Of Time (Rounder 0160), Working Close (Rounder 0185), Live At The Birchmere (Rounder 0191), We’ll Still Sing On (Rounder 0205), and Let The Whole World Talk (Rounder 0225), singing lead on some tracks as well as playing banjo.
Underwood composed Newton Grove, Five Speed and Johnson Mountain Chimes.
While with the Johnson Mountain Boys Underwood helped out on the recording of Hazel Dickens’ A Few Old Memories and By The Sweat of My Brow; Del McCoury’s High Lonesome and Blue; The McCoury Brothers’ LP (Del McCoury and Jerry McCoury); Delia Bell and Bill Grant’s Dreaming and Gloria Belle’s The Love of the Mountains.
In recent years Underwood has worked with several bands including Bob Paisley’s Southern Grass, the Lynn Morris Band, the Seth Sawyer Band, the Scott Brannon Band, Seneca Rocks, the Silver Spring, Maryland-based Zion Mountain Boys and the Reunion Band, based in Boston.
He plays a Gibson arch-top banjo that used to belong to Donnie Bryant.
Bluegrass Today acknowledges the assistance of Banjo NewsLetter in the preparation of this story.
A two-time Editor of British Bluegrass News, he has been seriously interested in bluegrass music since about 1970. As well as contributing to that magazine, he has, in the past 30 plus years, had articles published by Country Music World, International Country Music News, Country Music People, Bluegrass Unlimited, MoonShiner (the Japanese bluegrass music journal) and Bluegrass Europe.
He wrote the annotated series I'm On My Way Back To Old Kentucky, a daily memorial to Bill Monroe that culminated with an acknowledgement of what would have been his 100th birthday, on September 13, 2011.
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