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.
Doyle Lawson probably doesn’t need any introduction. Nevertheless, let’s recap.
Lawson is from Ford Town, near Kingsport, Sullivan County, Tennessee. He grew up listening to the Grand Ol’ Opry, becoming inspired by Bill Monroe.
His father was in an a cappella gospel group called the Clinch River Quartet.
The younger Lawson became interested in playing the mandolin around the age of 11. Self-taught on the instrument, he soon progressed to learning to play the guitar and banjo as well.
In 1963, at the age of 18 he went to Nashville, Tennessee, to play the banjo for Jimmy Martin and the Sunny Mountain Boys, with whom he stayed for about three years.
For most of the late 1960s Lawson worked in Lexington, Kentucky, where he was a member of J.D. Crowe’s Kentucky Mountain Boys (later the New South). For about six months during 1969 he went back to play the mandolin and sing tenor with Jimmy Martin.
In September 1971 Lawson joined the Country Gentlemen and remained part of the band for almost eight years.
In April 1979 he formed his own band, Doyle Lawson and Foxfire, a named that he quickly changed to Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver. He continues to lead that band earning great critical and popular acclaim.
What would you like to drink?
“I like my coffee black. I also drink it cut, half caffeine and half regular.”
Do you want anything to eat as well?
“At home I usually have a bowl of dry Cheerios with it. On the road, I sometimes will stop for breakfast.”
What’s your favorite food?
“I enjoy a lot of different foods. American cuisine, Mexican, Chinese, Japanese, Greek, Italian, and more.”
And what would you have to drink with that?
“If I’m having Italian I usually enjoy a glass of Merlot with dinner. With the other meals, usually ice tea, coffee or hot tea.”
What’s the nicest meal that you have ever had?
“I truly cannot answer that. In my 50 years of professional music and traveling, I have had some of the best and worst meals one could imagine!”
Let’s talk bluegrass….. Where/when did you first hear bluegrass music?
“Listening to WSM’s Grand Ole Opry where I heard Bill Monroe and his Blue Grass Boys when I was about five years old. Of course it wasn’t called bluegrass then as it was considered to be country music.”
Which of your own songs do you have a particular liking for?
“It would be hard to pick a favorite because I pick the songs that earn their place on the CD. That is to say, they have to measure up to the rest of songs that are included for a balanced project.”
What about a song written by someone else?
“I have writers I turn to because they write songs that grab my heart strings. The list of writers and songs is too large for me to expound on.
Each recording that I do, I try and make better and somewhat different than the previous.”
Which particular album do you like best and why?
“That would be a very difficult question to answer. As you know, I grew up with the first generation of artists and I still listen and enjoy them. The recordings were often made in makeshift studios and sometimes suffered in quality. But one could still hear the heartfelt performance cutting its way through. There are lots of newer artists making good recordings and I’m happy to say, in much better facilities. I do want to say that I am extremely pleased with the quality of the CDs that DL&Q is releasing these days. Roads Well Traveled is very personal to me and I’ve had so many comments on how this album affects others personally in one way or another.”
You play a mandolin …. …
“At present, I play Gibson mandolins. I currently play the F-5 Korina model that Gibson presented to me following my induction into the IBMA Bluegrass Hall Of Fame. There is also a Lawson model Gibson and I still play one of them, as well as a Gibson Victorian model. In the past, I played mandolins built by luthier John Paganoni. He built the first one for me in January of 1973 and I still have it along with two others. So as far as a favorite, I really don’t have one. My only requirement is that they sound and play to my expectations.”
What’s your favorite bluegrass memory?
“Performing at The Grand Ole Opry for the first time in the very early days of my career. That was a long time dream of mine, to one day be onstage at the Ryman Auditorium, then home to the Opry. But again , there are so many great memories that we could never talk about in this short span of time. You’d need several pots of coffee to get through that list!”
How do you keep fit and healthy when you spend so much time on the road?
“I stay active and walk as much as I can. Many times, I’ll take the steps instead of elevators. The guys and I will sometimes play catch with our gloves and a baseball, or toss a football for a while. It helps keep your body flexible.”
Are you a sports fan? Who do you follow?
“Well, I love baseball and football and enjoy going to a big league stadium game. I also love the game of golf and play at every opportunity. I’m most certainly no threat to Tiger Woods and keep in perspective that music is my professional and golf my hobby.”
What hobbies do you have?
“I like old cars. I sold a 1946 Ford Deluxe Coupe not long ago and at some point in time will buy something else. Old B western movies (Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Hopalong Cassidy and many others from that era are among my favorites). I have a small collection of Roy Rogers memorabilia and had the good fortune to meet Roy and have my picture taken with him when his museum was in Victorville, California.”
What is the last movie film that you watched?
“Suzanne and I went to see the new version of The Lone Ranger. It was quite different from the television series. But I did enjoy it for what it was.
What is your favorite film and why?
“The mini-series Lonesome Dove starring Robert Duvall and Tommy Lee Jones. The characters played by Duvall and Jones were captivating. And the story held one’s attention. When asked what his favorite movie role was, Mr. Duvall himself said that it was ‘Gus in Lonesome Dove.’ ”
What is your favorite film TV show?
The Andy Griffith Show, a television series based around Andy’s hometown, Mount Airy, North Carolina. It also starred Don Knotts and Ronny Howard. In the early days The Dillard’s were featured numerous times as The Darlin’ Boys, and Andy would pick with them. Even though the show has been in re-runs for many years, it’s still a very, very popular show.”
What would you be doing if you weren’t involved in bluegrass music?
“It’s hard to imagine me doing anything but music, although in the early days I worked at various jobs to supplement my income. Most of us had to in those days. When I was a youngster my dad told me that if you didn’t mind hard work, you would never starve. I was reared to work hard, and if the music had not have worked out, I would have found something to do that would have been enjoyable.”
Lawson’s recording career began in 1968 when he played mandolin on a session fronted by Red Allen, with J.D. Crowe and the Kentucky Mountain Boys, for King Bluegrass Records, who released two singles produced from the four-song output. Two other sessions with J.D. Crowe produced two Lemco LPs.
Lawson’s session work with the Country Gentlemen is remembered for his arrangement of several of their Gospel recordings.
In August 1976 Lawson recorded a dozen mandolin instrumentals for his Tennessee Dream LP (County 766).
As leader of Quicksilver he has recorded and released almost 40 albums, including 22 for Sugar Hill Records, with others for the Brentwood, Koch, Crossroads, Rounder, Horizon and Mountain Home labels.
Recently, he re-united with J.D. Crowe and Paul Williams to release two CDs.
Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver has earned several IBMA, SPBGMA and Inspirational Country Music Association (ICM) awards.
He is a member of the International Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame.
Doyle Lawson lives in Bristol, Tennessee.
Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver’s In Session album (Mountain Home Music Company) is to be released on January 20, 2015.