Tony Rice’s Manzanita album was a life-changer for young bluegrass musicians when it hit in 1979, not unlike the J.D. Crowe & The New South record four years earlier. In many ways, those two projects set the tone for contemporary bluegrass for decades to come, presaging The Bluegrass Album Band and the many other groups that took up that banner of complex rhythms applied to traditional bluegrass music.
I well remember where I was the first time I heard Manzanita. The band I was with at the time was in Richmond, VA that weekend, and after our first night at a local club, we ventured downtown to check things out the next morning. After finding somewhere to eat, we discovered a small record store, and there it was… the new Tony Rice record. Of course we snapped it up and hurried back to where we were staying, and had it on the turntable in no time.
If you could have watched from a ceiling view, you would have seen five young pickers completely absorbed by the music coming from the speakers, studying every note with rapt attention, in a mixture of awe and disbelief. Here was the sound we all were after, being made by some of our heroes, some of them only a few years our seniors.
Of course that experience was to be repeated many times over the years, but anyone who remembers the first time you heard this particular record is likely to remember it well. And this is still true for those new to the scene, or reaching back to study such defining elements of today’s music.
One such is Tristan Scroggins, a young mandolin artist and teacher in Nashville who decided to use some of his unexpected free time this summer to learn and transcribe all of the mandolin solos from Manzanita. These include breaks by Sam Bush, Ricky Skaggs, and David Grisman on some truly classic cuts like Blue Railroad Train, Little Sadie, Blackberry Blossom, Old Train, and several others.
After learning them for himself, Tristan has compiled them into a digital e-book, which he is offering to other pickers through his Patreon account. Anyone who makes a $20 contribution through Patreon is entitled to download all the transcriptions. There is no obligation to become a recurring contributor or monthly supporter, though those who do receive access to all the other mandolin instructional videos on the site, as well as music shared only with Patreon subscribers.
Here is a brief video Scroggins made of him playing through the Sam Bush solo on Old Train.
Anyone studying the mandolin owes themselves the opportunity to learn this music and spend a few minutes in the mind of some of our great players. And if you aren’t already familiar with Manzanita, that is something you should remedy right away.
Hat’s off to Tristan Scroggins for making these solos available.