Charlie Haden returns to the fold

Charlie Haden - Rambling BoyCharlie Haden is a name that serious jazz fans will recognize, but for folks in the bluegrass an acoustic world, it may not be familiar. With his star-studded new release, Rambling Boy, out this week, you might expect him to gain some new fans in our sphere too.

Haden is a bass player known for his work with Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane, Keith Jarrett and Pat Metheny – as well as recordings with his own groups and under his name. His music has often been on the leading edge of experimental jazz forms, and his personal politics have infiltrated much of his recorded work.

Despite his hefty jazz credentials, Haden’s first musical experiences involved performing as a child with his parents and uncles as The Haden Family in the 1940s. He started joining the family on the radio when he was just two years old, billed as Little Cowboy Charlie, and continued with the group until he was 15 years old, when a bout with polio damaged his vocal chords.

Charlie continued playing bass, and after attending music school in Los Angeles for a short time, hooked up with some of the hottest west coast jazz players of the day, leading to his stint with Coleman, a move that cemented his standing as a musician.

Now, nearly 70 years since he debuted on the radio, Haden new release hearkens back to his earliest roots, singing the old songs with his family. Rambling Boy, from Charlie Haden, Family & Friends, has him singing with his daughters instead of his parents, along with some big names from all over the music world.

There are 19 tracks on the new project, on which Haden plays bass and sings with daughters, triplets Petra, Rachel and Tanya. Jerry Douglas, Sam Bush, Bryan Sutton, Russ Barenberg and Stuart Duncan anchor the old time and bluegrass rhythm section, with guest vocalists Ricky Skaggs, Dan Tyminski, Vince Gill, Bruce Hornsby, Roseanne Cash and Elvis Costello featured as well.

Jazz guitar master Pat Metheny also guests on several tracks.

Rachel’s husband, actor Jack Black, also offers a spirited vocal rendition of Old Joe Clark with Béla Fleck on banjo. Other tracks include Jimmy Martin favorites 20/20 Vision sung by Hornsby, and Ocean Of Diamonds by Tyminski. Roseanne Cash offers a version of Wildwood Flower and Costello sings Hank Williams’ You Win Again.

The Haden girls contribute on the balance of the tracks, mostly traditional songs like Single Girl, Married Girl, Down By The Salley Gardens and He’s Gone Away.

Audio and video samples from Rambling Boy can be found online.

Haden sat for an interview recently with Terry Gross on NPR’s Fresh Air about this new project, and you can listen to the piece at

Here’s a brief YouTube clip of the Haden Family in the studio.

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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.