Having a Coffee with ……………. Donald Teplyske

Having A Coffee With… is a fun series in which we ask bluegrass music personalities, some famous, some not so well known, about some of their interests as well as about the music that they love. Donald Teplyske is a freelance roots and bluegrass music writer with reviews appearing regularly at The Lonesome Road Review and Country Standard Time, which also hosts Fervor Coulee Bluegrass, a roots music blog with additional reviews online.

What would you like to drink?

Depends on what time it is…O, Saturday morning- definitely coffee with Bailey’s, thanks.

Do you want anything to eat as well?

Kind of you to offer; I wouldn’t mind a nibble. Not picky – as long as it’s crumbly and sweet – one of those butterscotch, peanut butter, and marshmallow squares would be a treat. No, the big one there.

What’s your favorite food?

Richard, food is a joy. Pressed to make a single choice – my mother-in-law’s cabbage rolls. They are tiny, hand rolled little pieces of a dream – meatless, buttery rolls of rice and cabbage, no tomato sauce. They are absolutely beautiful and perfect. Love them!

And what would you have to drink with that?

I am partial to a bottle of Innis & Gunn, a Scottish oak-aged beer that has a very distinctive flavor. There is a range of varieties, but I prefer the Original. It brings out a bit of the Monarch of the Glen in me – my mom has Scottish roots, so it may come natural.

What’s the nicest meal that you have ever had?

Just one? A couple summers ago, my wife and I took a trip to Italy. We formed a friendship with another couple on the tour, and one evening in Sorrento we went to dinner to a nondescript, little restaurant. I don’t remember what exactly I had – I know it included a variety of fresh seafood – but the entertainment included a mandolin player serenading us with traditional Italina tunes, more than a little wine, and great stories and laughter. Which, when it comes down to it, is all that matters.

Let’s talk bluegrass…..

Where/when did you first hear bluegrass music?

I’ve reflected on this quite a bit, Richard, and I’ve come to the conclusion that I am not really sure. I know I heard bluegrass when I borrowed albums from the Edmonton Public Library while attending the University of Alberta. But, the only album I distinctly remember hearing was Marty Stuart’s Busy Bee Cafe, which isn’t a bluegrass album although it did introduce me to Doc Watson.

The first bluegrass album I remember purchasing was the two-disc set David Grisman put out called Home Is Where the Heart Is. That collection sent me on a trip from which I still haven’t recovered: it is fairly traditional in approach, of course, but the recordings were – at the time – fresh and contemporary. I’m pretty sure this was the first time heard Del McCoury. It opened the bluegrass word for me.

The first time I heard bluegrass live was at a big country music festival. I don’t know if I had heard the music before, but I must have since I took the time to capture their show. One of the mid-afternoon slots (i.e. when most of the attendees were still recovering from the night before) featured an area band that – I quickly found out – were instrumental in promoting and advancing bluegrass music in Alberta, Jerusalem Ridge. They, quite literally, changed my life because they opened the door to bluegrass. Come to think of it, I purchased their compilation album that day, so…I’m guessing Looking Back was possibly the first bluegrass album I bought.

Anyway, that afternoon, they performed the Randall Hylton song 32 Acres, which I hadn’t previously encountered. I remembering thinking, “This is what I’ve been looking for!” At the time, I had no idea ‘what’ or ‘where’ Jerusalem Ridge was…but, I soon learned!

Which bluegrass songs do you have a particular liking for?

Give me a pitiful song like Echo Mountain or Down in the Willow Garden and I’m happy. I love the songs of Hazel Dickens; for me, bluegrass songs don’t get better than A Few Old Memories, West Virginia, My Home, You’ll Get No More of Me, and Old Calloused Hands. I think it is a shame that Hazel wasn’t elevated to the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Hall of Fame prior to her death. She always impressed me when I saw her in concert, right to the end, and I think her songs capture the ‘people’ of bluegrass like few others do.

I love Pete Goble’s songs, too. Of course, Bill Monroe: Heavy Traffic Ahead – I could listen to that for a day straight.

What’s your favorite bluegrass project of all time, and why?

Call Meryl Streep for me, would you? Just one? If I could listen to only one album I guess I would choose James Reams & the Barnstormers Troubled Times for several reasons.

First, and most importantly, I think it is a terrific album – it has drive, something I always appreciate. Superb songs. It was the first album of James’ I encountered, and as such, is memorable as he has become a great long distance bluegrass friend.

Secondly, until her death, I regularly corresponded with James’ partner Tina Aridas, and I truly appreciated her critical, insightful viewpoints on music and, most importantly for me, writing. Whenever I listen to Troubled Times, I can’t help but recall our many and varied e-mails on all matter of topics.

Thirdly, the songs that James and Tina wrote for this album – The Hills of My County and Eye of the Storm, as well as James’ title track – are some of my favorites – while I’ve never lived the things they write about, I can feel those experiences through their songs.

Finally, the album contains a Robby Fulks song (Cold Statesville Ground) which is just too cool.

My answer tomorrow may be different. That is one of the many things I love about loving music – there is always something new to discover.

continued on page 2…

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About the Author

Richard Thompson

Richard F. Thompson is a long-standing free-lance writer specialising in bluegrass music topics. A two-time Editor of British Bluegrass News, he has been seriously interested in bluegrass music since about 1970. As well as contributing to that magazine, he has, in the past 30 plus years, had articles published by Country Music World, International Country Music News, Country Music People, Bluegrass Unlimited, MoonShiner (the Japanese bluegrass music journal) and Bluegrass Europe. He wrote the annotated series I'm On My Way Back To Old Kentucky, a daily memorial to Bill Monroe that culminated with an acknowledgement of what would have been his 100th birthday, on September 13, 2011.