Lamar Grier passes

Lamar Grier, banjo player with Bill Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys and the Strange Creek Singers, among other notable names, passed away on Tuesday December 10, 2019. He was 81 years of age.  

Born on April 15, 1938, Philip Lamar Grier Jr was a native of Washington DC. He was a talented Scruggs style banjo picker. 

As a teenager he participated in local jam sessions and played in various banjo contests at places like New River Ranch, the country music park near Rising Sun, Maryland. 

Grier played with Mike Seeger and Tracy Schwartz prior to their time as part of the New Lost City Ramblers and Strange Creek Singers. Later he was a member of the Melody Mountain Boys with Jack Tottle.  

During the latter part of 196,4 Grier played on the debut album by Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerrard; Who’s That Knocking and Other Bluegrass Country Music (Verve/Folkways FVS-9005), following that a year later with participation in their New York session for Folkways; Won’t You Come And Sing For Me? (FTS-31034). 

In the summer of 1965 Grier, after an encounter with Peter Rowan, whom he had met at a picking party, played informally with Blue Grass Boys before filling in for the recently departed Don Lineberger, and later during Carlton Haney’s first Fincastle bluegrass festival in September. 

His stint with Bill Monroe lasted until July 1967. During that time, he was part of one of the most celebrated Blue Grass Boy line-ups, working with Peter Rowan, Richard Greene, and James Monroe. He participated in five recording sessions, playing on 10 tracks – including When My Blue Moon Turns to Gold Again, Turkey in The Straw, Dusty Miller, Midnight on The Stormy Deep, Blue Night, and That’s All Right – on Monroe’s June 1967 release Blue Grass Time (Decca). Four other cuts were issued at different times. 

Sometimes he was called upon to sing baritone during Monroe’s personal appearances, although not so on any recordings.

Grier was part of Monroe’s first overseas tour in May 1966; playing nine dates in England, including London’s Royal Albert Hall, and one in Wales. 

Other long-haul adventures took the band to Montreal, Canada, and to the US West Coast. 

On this ‘live’ 1967 recording of Toy Heart with Roland White and Red Allen, Grier demonstrates his abilities with breaks, fills and back-up ….

A 1994 Richard Greene CD compilation release, The Greene Fiddler (Sierra SXCD 6005) includes two instrumentals, Grey Eagle and Soldier’s Joy, that feature Grier, along with Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys of the 1965-1967 years.   

After leaving Monroe he became a member of the Strange Creek Singers, a quintet that played a mixture of bluegrass and old-time musical styles, both traditional and contemporary. The group travelled infrequently but did make an extensive tour of the West Coast and a European trip. They made just one LP; the self-titled Strange Creek Singers (Arhoolie 4004).  

In the early 1970s Grier became a member of Buzz Busby’s band and recorded a few albums with him and with Leon Morris. 

Subsequently he played and recorded again with Hazel & Alice; for their Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerrard LP (Rounder 0054).  

Grier helped with the recording of a Hazel Dickens’ song They’ll Never Keep Us Down for the Barbara Kopple documentary move Harlan County, USA. 

In 1978 Peter Rowan and fiddle-ace Tex Logan formed a band called the Green Grass Gringos, with Grier, Barry Mitterhoff (mandolin), and Roger Mason (bass). Two songs recorded with Grier in April 1978 at the Zaz Studios, San Antonio, Texas, are included on Rowan’s first Flying Fish LP; Peter Rowan (FF 071). 

During the early 1980s Grier joined Tom Knowles’ Appalachian Reign, playing regular nights at local bars including Bethesda’s Red Fox – the DC area hottest bluegrass nightclub of the 1970s – and Shaky’s Pizza Parlor in Rockville, as well as at concerts, festivals across the mid-Atlantic region. 

As his interest in bluegrass music waned, Grier stopped playing the banjo in 1984 and retired from his day job with the US Government in 1998. 

R.I.P. Lamar Grier 

Recorded May 15, 1967, at the University of California, Santa Barbara, California, Bill Monroe urges Grier to slow the tempo …. Crossing the Cumberlands 


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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.