Byron Berline storms back

Jammin' With Byron - Byron BerlineCelebrated fiddler Byron Berline has been more visible of late with his violin shop than he has as a touring and recording artist. But that is about to change.

A pair of new projects are expected this year that will warm the hearts of fiddlers and lovers of fiddle music worldwide.

First up is a new album, Jammin’ With Byron, which is expected in the next few months. A total of 22 tunes are included, putting Berline together in the studio with some crack musicians like his former Country Gazette partner Alan Munde, and banjo legends Bill Emerson and Jens Kruger. Among the titles are Leather Britches, Cotton Patch Rag, Denver Bell, Cattle in the Caine, Twinkle Little Star, Charmaine, Walking in my Sleep, Hamilton Co. Breakdown, Amazing Grace (performed on a mandocello), plus several original tunes.

Byron has also recently completed an autobiography, Diary Of A Fiddler, collaborating with writer Jane Frost.

As much as I look forward to hearing his new record, the book is what has really piqued my interest. Berline has had a long and noteworthy career in bluegrass, from the time he was introduced to a national audience by The Dillards in a brilliant instrumental album, Pickin’ and Fiddlin’ in 1965. That was followed by a stint with Bill Monroe in 1966-67, which included his recording the now-standard fiddle classic, Gold Rush, as a Blue Grass Boy. That tune is credited to Monroe, but speculation has been rampant for years that Byron had actually authored or co-authored it himself.

Byron’s musical career followed him having won multiple fiddle championships, and having played football at the University of Oklahoma, where he obtained a degree in physical education. After college he moved west to Los Angeles, where he met up with The Dillards. It was in California that Country Gazette was born, where Alan Munde landed after service with Jimmy Martin.

Berline remained in southern California, performing with a number of groups (Sundance, Berline, Crary and Hickman, Dillard & Clark) before heading home to Oklahoma and his Doublestop Fiddle Shop in 1995. In addition to several albums with these bands, his instrumental projects are gems, every one. Dad’s Favorites, now out of print, was a particular favorite of mine, with a near-definitive cut of Ragtime Annie – with all three parts.

Having had the chance to hear him relate stories of his time on the road, I expect that Diary Of A Fiddler will be a very entertaining read. Can’t wait.

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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.

  • robbif

    By pure luck, I ran into Byron at Ft. Polk, La., in 1969 and discovered we were both stationed there.
    I’ve kept in touch with him ever since. Thanks to him, I’ve had some great bluegrass experiences.
    While at Ft Polk, I got to meet some more greats in Baton Rouge. The story in Bluegrass Unlimited is at http://frobbi.org/bujun2010/index.html
    and more photos are at http://frobbi.org/slides/La1969
    In 1970, two days after I returned from Vietnam, Byron met me and I rode with him to Las Vegas to hang out
    with Dillard and the Expedition. The story is in the April 2012 issue of Bluegrass Unlimited. The photos are at http://frobbi.org/slides/lv1970
    In 1973 I flew to the Culpeper festival in my buddy’s Cessna and we were met at the airport by the Country Gazette. The photos are at http://frobbi.org/slides/culpeper1973
    One of my most treasured recordings is from that festival -a parking lot picking with an amazing collection of stars http://frobbi.org/culpeper.html
    In 2010, at my request, Byron came to do a workshop and concert for the Hudson Valley Bluegrass Association. It was great to see him again. The concert video is at http://frobbi.org/goldrush
    I can’t wait to read the book.

  • Neil Rosenberg

    It’s good to know Byron has a new album on the way, and I’m really looking forward to reading his book. I met Byron when he was with Monroe, and we played together a few times back in the late 60s.

    I’d heard the rumors about “The Gold Rush” so when I was working on The Music of Bill Monroe (U. of IL Press, 2007) I asked him about them. Byron’s comments are on p. 158. He told me, in part “no I did not write the entire tune, but I did help” . . . “I came up with the third part at the end of the tune.”