MABC honors six new Pioneers of Missouri Bluegrass Music

2019 Pioneers of Missouri Bluegrass: Frank Ray, Alma Curtner (for Herman Beck), 
Andy Bressler, Alvin Bressler, Ken Seaman, Cecil Tinnon (for Paul Tinnon)

On Friday, January 4, six first generation Missouri musicians were awarded plaques proclaiming them as Pioneers of Missouri Bluegrass Music. The event took place at the  37th Annual MABC Winter Bluegrass Festival in Eureka, MO, out on every year by the Missouri Area Bluegrass Committee. MABC is the nation’s oldest bluegrass music association still in existence.

The recipients of the prestigious award were Andy & Alvin Bressler, Ken Seaman, Frank Ray, Herman Beck, and Paul Tinnon.

Ken Seaman is widely known for his Colorado bluegrass band, The Bluegrass Patriots, but was raised in Shannon County, MO. His father, Carl, created the Current River Opry in 1966, which hosted an array of local talent and brought acts such as Jimmy Martin, Flatt & Scruggs, Benny Martin, and The Country Gentlemen’s first show west of the Mississippi. Kenny was among the first Scruggs style banjo players in the Ozarks, following closely behind Doug Dillard. Ken started his first bluegrass festival on the banks of the Current River after a visit to Bean Blossom in 1969. No matter where he went, Ken still called the Ozarks home. Since the retirement of The Bluegrass Patriots, Ken concentrates on his annual Mid-Winter Bluegrass Festival in Denver.

The Bressler Brothers, Andy and Alvin, joined The Current River Opry in 1966, hailing from Shannon County, MO as well. A saying has developed over the years, “There’s something in the water of Shannon County that breeds musicians.” Eldest Brother Andy plays guitar in the thumb pick style and sings lead, while Alvin plays upright bass and sing a true crisp and clean tenor line. They have been featured on many albums through the years, and gained a gracious amount of fame from The Cumberland Highlander Show tapings from Bill Monroe’s Homeplace in Rosine, KY. With over 60 years of Missouri bluegrass music under their belts, The Bressler Brothers were a shoo-in for this award.

Frank Ray has carried on Cedar Hill, based out of Hillsboro, MO for over 50 years. Another hailing from the Ozarks, he is known for carrying his home in his shirt pocket, right next to his heart. Starting as The Ramblin’ Bluegrass Boys in the 1960’s, Frank Ray and Uncle Rich Orchard brought one of the liveliest bluegrass shows to the stage in the Midwest. Twins fiddles were a staple. Recording for numerous labels over the years, the band Cedar Hill slowly formed into what is today, with Frank Ray remaining as the constant. His style is pure Ozark mandolin, and his high tenor voice will shake the hair out of your ears. He is still actively touring with Cedar Hill and has most recently been informed of his SPBGMA Hall Of Greats honor to be awarded at this year’s convention in Nashville, TN.

Cecil Tinnon accepted the Pioneer Award for his father, Paul Tinnon, who had passed many years ago. Paul Tinnon was a fiddle player with influence from Thayne Bradford all the way to Alison Krauss. His son spoke of his encouraging ways to younger musicians through out his entire life. One of Paul’s longest fiddle tenures was with Don Brown and The Ozark Mountain Trio. His smiling face and fiddle music has left a lasting expression on countless Missouri musicians.

Herman Beck was posthumously award as well, with his widow, Alma Curtner accepting on his behalf. Herman was a vital part of the most popular version on Don Brown & The Ozark Mountain Trio. From 1967-1974, The Ozark Mountain Trio worked the Midwestern festival circuit. During this time, the band recorded some of the most memorable music Don Brown was ever a part of, with Herman Beck on the banjo for these recordings. Not only did he bring a unique banjo style to the band, his high tenor vocals were unmistakable. The Ozark Mountain Trio sound was completed with Herman Beck. Four harmonies with one below the lead and two above created this signature sound, and Herman was on the very top!

A reunion of Jim Orchard, Ken Seaman, and The Bressler Brothers marked a special moment, as well. The men gathered after more than 25 years to play songs from their ultra rare 33rpm Longing For The Ozarks, cut in 1976 on Rimrock Records. Andy joked quite a bit saying, “here’s a song from our latest record.” Joining then on mandolins were Roy Lee Bond and C.J. Lewandowski. The night also included The Po’ Ramblin’ Boys closing out the show.

Many years, many smiles, and many memories shared in Eureka, MO as The Missouri Area Bluegrass Committee, The Missouri Bluegrass Preservation Association and Missouri bluegrass fans honored some of their heroes and pioneers.

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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.