John Starling on Bluegrass Country

One of the advantages of living to a ripe old age is the perspective you gain over your many years. If you keep your eyes and ears open, you become something of an expert in what has happened around you during your life. And so it is for John Starling, who will reach the age of 71 this Saturday. WAMU’s Bluegrass Country will memorialize the event by airing a 3 hour interview conducted late last year by Katy Daley and Lee Michael Demsey. The show air on Sunday (3/27) from 3:00-6:00 p.m. (EDT) during the Bluegrass Master Class segment. For me, as a young student of bluegrass in the 1970s, John Starling was the Seldom Scene. Others might argue that no, it was John Duffy’s soaring tenor, or Ben Eldridge’s “missing link” banjo style. Still others may point to Mike Auldridge’s then revolutionary resonator guitar, or Tom Gray’s bass solos. To my mind, though, it was Starling’s distinctive baritone, his passionate turn of a phrase, and his unerring ear for appropriate songs that made the band stand out. Seldom Scene is still a going concern – with Eldridge the lone founding member on board – a testament to the power of the concept and their ability to entertain. But I always miss John when I hear them live. Katy shared a couple of clips from their in-depth interview with Starling, along with a few comments about Sunday’s program.

“Lee Michael and I did the interview with John Starling covering his musical career, talking about his playing music with Ben Eldridge at the University of Virginia, and then the formation of the Seldom Scene. We also discussed his work with Emmylou Harris, Linda Ronstadt, Dolly Parton, Lowell George, Paul Craft, Ricky Skaggs and many, many others.”

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WAMU’s Bluegrass Country can be heard online across the globe at, and in the Washington, DC area on HD Radio WAMU-88.5-Channel2 and on 105.5FM. Here’s a nice memory of Starling with the Scene on one of his most requested songs in a return, sit-in performance following his departure in 1978.

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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.