Banjo groupies and worrying wives

Wives of male professional bluegrass musicians may from time to time harbor fears about “bluegrass groupies” out on the road. I’m here to put those fears to rest once and for all. This wouldn’t really be necessary if any of these wives simply went to a bluegrass event to personally observe how few of these groupies actually exist.

There are those who have attended an event or two, but still remain unconvinced, thinking perhaps that what they’ve seen wasn’t typical, as if they just happened to have hit a groupie off-day (perhaps that new national groupie holiday we’ve been hearing about). So, for those who may still have some concerns, I hope the following will ease your mind.

Yes, there are groupies in bluegrass music; let’s not whitewash the matter at all. These groupies, however, are very different from the ones you imagine or may have seen hanging around by the backstage security at the heavy metal concert.

You see, a typical heavy metal groupie is a young supermodel (aspiring, or presently employed), wearing clothes that required a total of about 7 square inches of translucent material, accented by boots with 6-inch spike heels (should it be necessary to kick her way past security guards). Her primary goal is to lure Mr. Heavy Metal—we’ll call him “Tommy Thrashtone”—away from his wife (also a supermodel), and bear children with him, which they will give names like “Africa” and “Pinball.” The last time someone fitting this description showed up at a bluegrass event, she was quickly escorted away, not because anyone was offended by her appearance, but merely because it was assumed she was lost.

I think it’s safe to say that until David Lee Roth does a bluegrass album, oh wait…

The bluegrass groupie is of an entirely different species: the profile of your typical bluegrass band hanger-on is a male 55-70 who is mainly interested in getting you to help him through page 3 of some tablature of Wheel Hoss he downloaded off the internet. Once he has your attention, it’s his hope that you’ll engage him in a discussion about pick brand, fret width, the best gauge for a G-string (not the kind used by the groupie in the previous paragraph), and the endangered rosewood controversy. Perhaps some wives have reason to be bothered by this because it has the potential to absorb a lot of their husbands’ time, but no divorce is likely to result from the interaction, and love-children are definitely not a worry unless their capos decide to mate.

Banjo groupies are a variation of the above, and though I’m not personally experienced with them, I’ve observed and attempted to understand what to me is a foreign language. The banjo player in my band (Ned Luberecki for the last 10 years) is often surrounded by a group of guys who say things like, “My RB-4 is sounding a little tubby. I’ve heard that if you boil the tone ring in a mixture of Jack Daniels and Cheerwine for 30 minutes, you can get it closer to Earl’s sound in ’53. Or would I also need to tweak the phlange?”

Note: I made up that last part, because I’d always wanted to say “tweak the phlange.”

Then there are those who go beyond the status of mere groupie. I refer now to “stalkers,” who some view as just groupies with more initiative and less fear of the law. Here again, the bluegrass version of the stalker contrasts sharply with the familiar pop music variety. Witness the following exchange at Tommy Thrashtone’s rambling Malibu estate between Tommy and his wife Adriessa: “Tommy, would you tell those little models to get off our front lawn? They’ve been there for over a week, and they’re way too cheaply dressed!” Tommy, yelling half-heartedly out the front door: “Will you girls, like, leave or something? Unless, you really need to be there.”

Meanwhile at our bluegrass musician’s less rambling estate in Goodlettsville, TN: His wife, losing patience, says: “Honey, will you just give that guy 45 minutes of your time or else get a restraining order? He said he just needs the B part of Wheel Hoss and he swears he’ll move on with his life.” Nothing to fear there at all, really, but a little time commitment from the stalkee.

I hope this has calmed some fears and perhaps averted some unnecessary domestic strife. There is of course the other side to this story: the husband worried about the female bluegrass road musician. This is a little different situation, which I may call on a guest columnist to tackle at a future date. Right now, though, there’s a forlorn looking guy standing outside my back door with an expensive-looking guitar in his hands. My wife says I need to let him in.

  • Walker Copley

    Oh no! I’m a 55 year old banjo player who’s asked several pros how they do this or that. Tough to find out at this stage in life that I’m a groupie.

    I hope this doesn’t cause you any trouble, but I was at a show for a popular bluegrass band. I got there early so I could get right at the stage so I could be right in front of the banjo player. It was a standing venue. (Crap, I do fit the profile.) A little bit into the show two cute young girls worked their way up to the stage right next to me. They were very excited to be there, of course I was annoyed because they were interfering with me hearing every note the banjo player picked. (looking worse for me isn’t it?) Suddenly, I glanced over and this gal had her shirt above her neck. Imagine my dilemma, a perfect view of one of the best banjo players in the world 4 feet in front of me and a semi naked girl beside me. I was really annoyed then because I had to move, since I am a happily married man, and I want to stay that way.

    To the bands credit, they were looking everywhere but right in front of them.

  • Great article, Chris. “Tweak the phlange” sounds straight out of a Monty Python skit.

  • Brent Sterling

    Great article Chris, but here is a true bluegrass Stalker…you notice them hanging back from your CD table till everyone is gone. Maybe they want to talk guitars, you think. They amble over and ask…
    “Do you know Chris Jones?”
    “I’ve met him once.”
    “Will he be here today?”
    “I don’t think so.”
    Then…
    they amble off looking disappointed.

  • Dennis Jones

    “Tweak The Phlange”…ain’t that a Douglas dobro tune?

  • Chris Gray

    In the tradition of Dave Barry, Tweak the Phlange would also make a great band name.

    Funny piece, Chris, but try not to sound bitter.

    Actually, this is a tribute both to bluegrass fans and the spirit of amateurism in the community. It’s participatory music. And hats off to the professionals like you who give the fans time before or after shows and provide workshops and instructional material.

    In the meantime, try more sequins and fringe and hip gyrations.

  • Pingback: Rosetta Tharpe Honored; Della Mae Plans Webcast of CD Release Party; Stream New Miranda Lambert Song - Engine 145()