Bill Harrell & The Virginians photos from the late 1970s

Many bluegrass lovers know Akira Otsuka as a brilliant mandolinist, something he has pursued from the time he was a young man in Japan, through his later life here in the United States. Fewer know that he is also a talented photographer whose images from his early days here in the 1970s are being archived online.

He has agreed to share some of those with our readers, starting with this gallery shot during a recording session at Track Recorders in Silver Spring, Maryland. It shows Bill Harrell & The Virginians in the studio for Dick Freeland and Rebel Records, engineered by Ronnie Freeland. The band included Bill on guitar and lead vocal, Darrel Sanders on banjo, Larry Stephenson on mandolin, Carl Nelson on fiddle, Ed Ferris on bass, and Mike Auldridge on reso-guitar.

Darrel and Larry are the only ones still with us from that session, which was released as I Can Hear Virginia Calling Me on Rebel Records in 1980.

We reached out to Larry Stephenson who shared a few memories from that day.

“I recall that time fairly well. It was in November of 1978. The thing I remember the most about that session was that I wasn’t a member of the band yet. I was playing with Leon Morris at the time, and Bill had just put The Virginians back together. I had seen him play a show with just four pieces, and I had gone up and told him that if I could ever help him out on mandolin, I would love to have a try at it.

He put me off several times before finally hiring me in January of ’79, but he did hire me for that session. I remember that in addition to Mike Auldridge from Seldom Scene being there, Phil Rosenthal was there as well since we were cutting his song, Something In The Wind is Calling Me.

I was just 22 years old and getting to record with guys like Ed Ferris, Mike Auldridge, and Bill Harrell was a pure joy.”

Thanks Larry, and Akira for the memories!

We will share some of Otsuka’s other images as the spring and summer roll along.

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.