Pam Gadd has been a bluegrass trooper for more years than she may care to admit.
As a youngster, she was drawn to the sound of the music at the festivals she attended with her family. She soon had a banjo in her hand, and learned to play the driving Scruggs style as she also began to develop as a singer and songwriter. By 1979, she embarked on a music career and had memorable stints with The New Coon Creek Girls, and Wild Rose, a bluegrass/country hybrid that saw commercial success in Nashville.
Wild Rose was also an all-female band, which included fellow Coon Creeker Pam Perry, and multi-instrumentalist Wanda Vick. They released three albums on Capitol Records, with a couple of Top 40 singles, before disbanding in 1991.
But Pam never stopped performing and writing, touring with Patty Loveless and Porter Wagoner, and penning songs recorded by country artist, Terri Clark, as well as bluegrass artists, Carl Jackson and John Starling, Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver, and The Rarely Herd.
She returned to bluegrass in 1997, and has released three solo CDs, the latest, Benefit Of Doubt, released just this week. The bulk of the songs are her own compositions, with a couple of bluegrass classics for good measure.
Pam plays banjos and carries the lead vocals, with assistance from Bryan Sutton on guitar, Andy Leftwich and Aubrey Haynie on fiddle and mandolin, Wand Vick on resonator guitar, and Mark Burchfield on bass. Dolly Parton and Marty Raybon join Pam for a pair of duets, with harmony vocals from Steve Gulley and Dale Ann Bradley.
Here’s a taste of one of her songs, a hard-driving bluegrass song, Hit The Highway.
We had a chance to discuss all this with Pam recently, from her early days in bluegrass right through the new CD release. My initial questions asked how she became acquainted with bluegrass music and drawn to play the banjo.
“I grew up with the music, but it would definitely be that I loved the bluegrass festivals and the bands we heard there. It was then that I really fell in love with bluegrass. I loved the Osborne Brothers cause I’d heard them since childhood, and the Country Gentlemen – I’d always loved their haunting records (Bringing Mary Home was the very first song I learned on the guitar when I was 8 years old). I loved Charlie Waller and the later generation Gentlemen, as well.
Loved The II Generation. They were extremely cool for a kid in the 70’s. The Seldom Scene with Duffy and Mike Auldridge and Ben on banjo, they were just a thrill at the end of a night up on stage at the Festival of the Bluegrass, and Ralph Stanley with Keith Whitley (which was when I remember really loving what he did) just further drew me in. Playing the banjo was so much fun, and there were so many great pickers in the Florence, KY and Cincinnati, OH area.
It never dawned on me to even play the banjo until one day Daddy said, ‘Why don’t you learn to play the banjo?’ and I said…’OK.’ He’d met a guy named Jeff Roberts at Mac Wiseman’s Renfro Valley Bluegrass Festival from up in northern KY where we lived who said he’d give lessons. And so it all began. Daddy had a 1974 Vega banjo he’d tried to learn to play- with no luck, and so in frustration he put it in the paper to sell. Thank God nobody bought it.
From my first lesson with Jeff (who I fell madly in crush with, but he was 22 and I was 14,) learning Foggy Mountain Breakdown by memory from beginning to end, I fell in love with it. It was absolutely addictive.”
I also asked how she chose the musicians to accompany her on this CD.
It wasn’t real hard. I knew I wanted Dale Ann from the beginning. She sang harmony on my first solo project, The Long Road, on Vanguard. I feel she and I blend very well, and there is no better harmony singer, let’s face it. Steve Gulley was the perfect compliment to her and my voice. He is just the best. Dale Ann gave me the idea to use him, and I will always be grateful to her for that. He was a joy to work with.
Nancy Gardner, my co-producer and dear friend is just one of my favorite singers (as well as people), and we sang together for 7 years with Wild Rose. She was amazing in how she blended, as well (plus playing some dynamite tambourine on AppleJack!). Marty Raybon is someone I’d always wanted to record with him, so that came quite easy, and Wanda Vick Burchfield, my oldtime Wild Rose partner was just the best to work with in selecting Aubrey and Andy. They are two of the best, and I wanted them on there, so we split it up and had them both.
Wanda is an exceptional dobro player, as well as fiddler (and everything else that has strings), and so she was my first choice. It was also important to me that she play fiddle on Wagon Master and Nancy sing on it since they had both been original members of his female band, the Right Combination, back in the 80’s.
Wanda cried when she came in and heard the song for the first time to play on it. That tore me up. Her haunting, country fiddle is perfectly what I heard for the song. Her husband, Mark Burchfield, is a wonderfully tasteful bassist, and he was a great final pick to bring the team together to make this album.
Among the tracks on Benefit of Doubt are Hold Whatcha Got from Jimmy Martin and Tennessee Hound Dog from The Osborne Brothers. I asked Pam if they had been a big influence on her music.
“Yes, a tremendous influence – especially the Osbornes. I saw them at a lot of festivals during my teenage years, and absolutely loved the albums that we had at the house growing up. There is just nobody else who sounds like them, whose harmonies are so full and moving. Their arrangements and song choices were just genius to me.
I hope they can only feel complimented that I recorded several of their songs (Listening to the Rain was on my first solo project, The Long Road, as a duet with Carl Jackson).”
We’ll finish up our interview with Pam tomorrow, including a couple more song samples and her thoughts about the rest of the songs on Benefit of Doubt.