Blue Yodel #44 – Ask Mr. Blue Grass Smarty Pants

This week’s trivia master is Peter “Pete Wernick” Wernick, who as Dr. Banjo makes house calls from his Niwot, CO home.

Originally from New York City, Pete began his professional career in 1971 by winning the title America’s Top Chef while playing with Country Cooking (the world’s first bi-banjo band—with Tony Trischka).

In 1976, Pete moved to Niwot, began collecting DNA from first generation bluegrass artists, and after many attempts, successfully cloned the perfect bluegrass singer, whom he called “Tim O’Brien.” He then bought the rights to the name Hot Rize from Martha White for $6 million, a record price for a band name that stood until the Gibson Brothers settled with the Gibson Company for $6.5 million in 1998.

Hot Rize shared a bus for many years with a western band, Red Knuckles & the Trailblazers, which featured a steel player named Waldo Otto who bore an uncanny resemblance to Pete. So much so that Pete and Waldo finally appeared together on stage at the 2009 IBMA Awards Show to dispel any rumors that they were in fact the same person.

Pete started the first banjo camp in 1980, was past president of the IBMA, and has promoted professionalism in bluegrass instruction and performance for well over 30 years.

He’s come up with six trivia (but not trivial) questions that cover his and Hot Rize’s career:


You Can’t Make This Stuff Up

  1. What two mainstay California groups did Pete play with in 1969 while living in Berkeley?
  2. What’s Pete’s PhD in, and from what school?
  3. What is the connection between Nondi Leonard and Joan Wernick (members of bands of Pete’s)?
  4. Along with Pete, who were the first musicians Steve Martin ever assembled to perform, for a NY City concert and the David Letterman show in 2005?
  5. What was the one stipulation from the Martha White Flour company in 1978 when requested by the band to use the name Hot Rize?
  6. What warhorse bus model was Hot Rize’s home on the road for most of the 1980s?



The first person to comment below with the correct answers to all six questions will win a signed CD of their choice from Pete’s extensive catalog—all recordings of which are still in print!

And if you can answer one extra trivia question from Mr. Blue Grass Smarty Pants, that person will win a standing ovation and personalized postcard from Mr. BGSP:

Who appeared onstage as Waldo Otto at the 2009 IBMA Awards Show along with Pete Wernick when both Hot Rize and the Trailblazers were seen together? Extra-extra credit for naming the other faux Trailblazers.


You Can Make This Stuff Up

Disclaimer: Mr. BGSP accepts questions of a factual nature as well as questions relating to advice for the bluegrass lifestyle. Although he tries his best, Mr. BGSP does not guarantee accurate answers or positive results. If your bluegrass jams last more than four hours, please contact a doctor.


Dear Mr. Blue Grass Smarty Pants,

Neither the Republican nor Democratic conventions mentioned bluegrass once. How am I supposed to know who to vote for?

—Undecided in Urbana

Dear Undecided in Urbana,

As neither candidate has expressed a position on what is or isn’t bluegrass, we are once again left to endorse Dr. Ralph Stanley, who when I’ve interviewed him in the past about his many runs for president, has said, “Who are you again?”

It really comes down to whether you think you’re a better player than you were four years ago. My gut feeling is that bluegrass fans are about equally divided between the two major parties, but fully united on the proposition that Danny Paisley kicks butt.

—Mr. Blue Grass Smarty Pants


Dear Mr. Blue Grass Smarty Pants,

The Steve Martin Prize has been great for the banjo, but what about the other bluegrass instruments? I think we need to find a star to help promote each of the other instruments. Do you know of any entertainment icons who play bluegrass bass and who would be willing to honor someone, maybe me, with $50,000?

—Jealous in Jasper

Dear Jealous in Jasper,

I called Mr. Martin and he is lining up a few of his famous friends to cover the other instruments. It took some strong-arming, but it looks like it will be Justin Timberlake on mandolin, Jon Hamm on guitar, Kristen Wiig on fiddle, Ricky Gervais on dobro, and Jack Black on bass. Each has guaranteed they will contribute $50K a year to honoring someone in bluegrass.

Actually, a few insiders in bluegrass have been receiving $50K checks from Mr. Martin for years. This began in the early 80s as part of an agreement between IBMA and Mr. Martin to fund bluegrass over the next thirty years. Please pass this rumor on to ten of your Facebook friends.

—Mr. Blue Grass Smarty Pants


Dear Mr. Blue Grass Smarty Pants,

What wine goes well with I Don’t Want Your Ramblin’ Letters?

—Single in Cincinnati

Dear Single in Cincinnati,

Let me suggest a ’68 Robert Mondavi Cabernet. Or did you mean whine?

—Mr. Blue Grass Smarty Pants


Until next time, Keep your Smarty Pants On!

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About the Author

Chris Stuart

Chris Stuart is a writer and songwriter living in San Diego. He was the 2008 recipient of the IBMA Print Media Person of the Year award, co-writer of the 2009 IBMA Song of the Year, and past winner of the Merlefest Chris Austin Songwriting contest in bluegrass and gospel categories. You can follow him on Twitter @cvstuart, on Facebook, and at On Tuesdays you can find him having fish tacos at Roberto’s in Del Mar.