Lions, tigers, and… bluegrass impersonators!

Chris JonesRecently we discussed bluegrass urban legends, but it has since come to my attention that we have a lot bigger things to worry about, and no, I’m not talking about the worrisome deflation of banjo strap prices due to cheap imported straps flooding the market. We now have to guard ourselves against actual bluegrass scams.

You may have read about the man in Fayetteville, Arkansas, who was taken in by an alleged con artist who was posing as Alison Krauss. She supposedly managed to touch him for about $40,000 before she was arrested.

It’s a sad story, really, which caused me to both laugh “OL,” and then feel immediately guilty for doing so (a guilty out-loud laugh, by the way is abbreviated as GLOL, if you want to work that into your repertoire).

But seriously, what gave someone the idea to do that? Especially someone, it should be pointed out, that looks nothing like Alison Krauss? Wouldn’t you at least be a little worried that someone was going to look at a picture of the real Alison for comparison, or that someone might make you take out a fiddle and start singing Oh Atlanta for their friends?

If I were looking to pull some kind of scam like that, I’d opt to impersonate a famous writer instead, someone like Stephen King, for example (as it turns out, the woman in the Alison Krauss incident looked as much like Stephen King as she did Alison, so that might have been a safer option for her too). People rarely know what writers look like, or at best they’ve only seen a postage stamp-sized picture of them taken 30 years ago. Plus, people almost never ask famous writers to come into their living rooms and write something for them. Even if they did, you could always sit down, type “The” and then say with a sigh that you just didn’t feel inspired at the moment.

For Alison, I guess, it’s just another positive measure of her success. How many artists connected with the bluegrass genre have someone bother to impersonate them in order to bilk innocent people out of their hard-earned cash? True, I did impersonate Charlie Sizemore once, but that was part of a hastily-conceived practical joke and was not intended to defraud anyone. But I’m afraid this is the future we’ll be facing if the music continues to succeed and grow. People stealing your kidneys in the middle of the night in hotel rooms is nothing; wait till a man claiming to be Larry Stephenson maxes out all the credit cards of a divorced homemaker in Utah.

Until now, all we’d had to concern ourselves with were stories like the one about the four guys who made the rounds of some Ohio bluegrass festivals claiming to be Larry Sparks and the Lonesome Ramblers, and getting in free. Someday we’ll be longing for those simpler times.

It was suggested by a friend of mine, in connection to the Alison Krauss scam, that I try something similar by posing as Randy Travis, to which I replied, “Have you been following Randy in the news lately?”

I have had the Randy Travis comparison following me for some time now, however, so the suggestion was not a surprise. I think I’ve heard “Has anyone ever told you you look like a (insert adjective here: younger, older, taller, shorter, poorer, or fully-clothed) Randy Travis?” after almost every show since Randy burst on the scene around 1985. For a while it got so out of hand that I grew a mustache, hoping that might make it stop. The very first time I performed on stage with the new facial hair, a guy came up to me and said “You know something? Shave that mustache off and you’d look just like Randy Travis.” I gave up and just accepted it. Besides, I do still like the song Diggin’ Up Bones.

Prior to the Randy era, I was told that I look like Charlie Sizemore, leading to the practical joke mentioned above. After getting to know Charlie, I confessed this story, and we had a laugh. Just to find out if the circle was unbroken, I asked him if people had ever told him that he looks like Randy Travis, and he acknowledged that they had.

In any case, I don’t plan to exploit people’s opinions about my appearance to run any scams on vulnerable widows or foreign country music promoters. I’m sure Charlie Sizemore feels the same way.

Honestly, the Randy Travis comparisons through the years have made me feel some empathy for him in his recent troubles. Given Randy’s situation, it might make more sense for him to pull this stunt in reverse: He could claim that he’s been hiding out in Norway, and that the guy whose mug shot you saw all over the internet was in fact someone pretending to be him. Now that I think it over, maybe that isn’t such a good idea. I don’t think Charlie likes it either.