RIP Mike Auldridge

mike_audridgeThe word “legend” gets tossed around pretty casually these days, but it does apply to Mike Auldridge, who died of cancer Saturday morning, one day short of his 74th birthday.

Mike was a founding member of the Seldom Scene, a band that expanded the reach and style of bluegrass music and is still going strong 42 years later. But more importantly, he was a revolutionary with the resophonic guitar, clearing the way for, and mentoring, Rob Ickes, Jerry Douglas and other top players.

scene2“The music industry lost a GIANT,” said former bandmate Lou Reid, who still performs with the Scene. “Mike was an innovator, a class act and one of the funniest people I have ever met. Anytime I saw him, we immediately went back to where we left off in the old Scene days. No one made me laugh harder than Mike. I will miss him so much.”

The Scene’s Dudley Connell noted that Mike “had the unique ability to place a metal bar on metal strings and strike them with metal picks and produce a pure and beautiful tone. It would seem an impossible task, but Mike accomplished this feat for over 40 years.”

Mike’s work with the Scene was a centerpiece of his accomplishment, but there was much, much more. He delivered nine solo albums, toured and recorded with Darren Beachley and Legends of the Potomac and was a first-call picker for Lyle Lovett, Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt, among many others.

He could have done much more, but decided against a move to Nashville in the early 1970s and stayed in the Washington, DC, area. He never looked back on what might have been. “Who knows?” he told The Washington Post with his trademark humor a few years ago. “Had we moved to Nashville, I might have wound up playing steel guitar in a band and dying in a plane crash.” There was some irony in that statement, too. Mike hated to fly.

Mike started to play at 13, influenced by Josh Graves. He won a Grammy, played in a band that is in the International Bluegrass Music Association’s hall of fame, received a lifetime achievement award from IBMA and was honored earlier this year with a National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts.

beardNone of that went to Mike’s head. He was one of the most humble, down-to-earth men you could hope to meet – in any walk of life.

“I’ve never run across another musician who garners as much respect as Mike,” said Rob Ickes of Blue Highway. “I’ve met a lot of people who remember where they were when they first heard that guy play.”

Rob counts himself in that number. He was 13 years old, coming back from his first bluegrass festival, when his brother popped Mike’s first recording into the car stereo.

“I said, ‘What is that?’ My brother told me, and that night, I started playing as soon as I got home. It set me on a path. I said, ‘Whatever this is, I like it.’” For days, Rob fell asleep to the sounds of Mike’s record, and he hit the play button again as soon as he woke up.

mike_obJust before he moved into hospice care, Mike wrapped up an all-Dobro album with Rob and Jerry Douglas. That’s one I can’t wait to hear. Three masters, with Mike serving as the bridge from Josh Graves, who was his mentor, to Rob and Jerry. It’ll be out in 2013.

It’s easy, at a time like this, to be sad. But Mike, who always smiled,  wouldn’t want it that way. A year ago, discussing his long illness, he told Rob: “I could go tomorrow, but I have no regrets. I’ve been able to play music my whole life.”

And, fortunately, we’ve been able to listen. Today, I’ll remember Mike Auldridge by playing some classic Seldom Scene tunes, being wowed by his oh-so-smooth picking and singing along with equally smooth baritone harmonies.

And Monday night, I’ll ring in the New Year listening to the Seldom Scene at the Birchmere Music Hall in suburban D.C. Somewhere, I think, Mike Auldridge will be smiling.

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About the Author

David Morris

David Morris, an award-winning songwriter and journalist, has written for Bluegrass Today since its inception. He joined its predecessor, The Bluegrass Blog, in 2010. His 40-year career in journalism included more than 13 years with The Associated Press, a stint as chief White House correspondent for Bloomberg News, and several top editing jobs in Washington, D.C. He is a life member of IBMA and the DC Bluegrass Union. He and co-writers won the bluegrass category in the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest at MerleFest in 2015.

  • Wes

    Mike Auldridge changed my listening ear forever. He was an essential secret ingredient in the original Seldom Scene’s recipe and brought the dobro to life for me. It saddens me to know that he can only play in our hearts, memories, and recordings from now on.

    I believe that John hartford said it best in his song, “Tear Down the Grand Ole Opry.” “Another good thing has done gone on, done gone on.”!/search?q=john+hartford+tear+down+the+grand+ole+opry

  • Randy Critenden

    I have been listening to Mike since 1975. He is the reason I first picked up a Dobro and I consider him the greatest player there ever was. My prized possession is my Beard Mike Auldridge model resonator guitar, especially knowing that Mike played it personally before I ever got it. RIP, my friend.

  • Lynwood Lunsford

    A true stylist and gentleman. The music world is a little less beautiful tonight. RIP Mike.

  • A true pioneer in the field of this music as well as others, Mike will be sorely missed. Thoughts and prayers to his family and friends.

  • Joe Stephens

    With the departures of Earl, Doc, and now Mike, we have lost the three most important practitioners of their respective instruments in bluegrass history in the same year.

    RIP Mike

  • Dick Beckley

    Bluegrass has lost one of the most talented people ever to play the music we love, and also a true gentleman. I first met Mike about 45 years ago while he was playing for Cliff Waldron, and have been in awe of him and his trademark sound ever since. No one ever made the dobro sound like Mike did. I spent many a night in the Red Fox, Birchmere and other bluegrass haunts in the DC area, mostly to listen to Mike with whoever he was playing with, mostly, the Seldom Scene. I really got to know Mike well in the past 10 years, when he played with my good friend, Tim Finch and the Good Deale Bluegrass Band, and another lifelong friend, Darren Beachley and the Legends of the Potomac. I’m truly sorry I did not know him better a lot sooner because he was a real treat to be around and talk with. He and I also shared a love for old cars and spent some time , both on the e-mail and in person discussing the merits of a lot of mutual favorites. My heart is sad tonight, but I know that Mike is now pain free and surely making some great music in a much better place than here. Rest in peace, my friend and I hope to see you someday in that better place.
    Dick Beckley, President, Seven Mountains Bluegrass Association

  • Mike grew up down the street from us. I knew him since I was about 9 or 10 years old. He was in his early 20’s when we were seeing him a few times a week. He was always Friendly and Smiling not like other guys his age.
    I remember he would always say something funny.
    I remember he could draw really fast too.
    I remember him wanting to teach My Best friend and I to play the Guitar.
    But we played Army instead. I regret that. I wouldn’t suck as a Guitar player now if I started then. He Married My Best Friend Sister. Thats why he always saw him dressed nice. Im Glad to have known him. Im glad to have a whole bunch of his music. Im glad he helped me learn to play “Man of Constant Sorrow” We lost a great one last night, Mike was the Man of Constant Cool.
    My deepest condolences to Elise and Laura and Family.

  • We lost one of the great ones this week. Mike Auldridge has been inspiring me since the ’70’s with his ground breaking work on the dobro and lap steel as well as harmony that is so perfect and so tight and so integral to the Seldom Scene’s vocal mix that made them one of the most influential bands in bluegrass. There are a lot of great dobro players performing today, but all it took was one line or one phrase from his hands to identify it as Mike’s. His contribution to music will be a gift that keeps on giving, and his music will last forever.

    I’ll miss him. I’ve met him on a number of occasions, and have found him to be classy, friendly, and giving of himself. It was Mike who took the time during a break at a Chesapeake show to invite the two ten-year-olds up to the stage and give of his time, talking to them about and demonstrating his instruments. My son will always remember his time with ‘his legendship’ that night. Beyond his gifts as a musician, he was a great human being.

  • Joan

    Thank you for such a beautiful review! As Mike’s niece I grew up with him and his brother Dave playing at our family get-togethers. I remember when he bought his first pedal steel, how he smiled as he said the difference between men and boys is the price of their toys! He is a gentle soul, God bless him forever.

  • Ken Cartwright

    Mike made a difference in the world of music and my life. He will be missed. To his family, my deepest sympathy.

  • Tito Porfiri

    I had the pleasure of being one of Mike’s students. Although I never evan held a Dobro or a guitar for that matter, his teaching ability made it very easy to learn. He will be greatly missed as one of the true masters of the Dobro and of bluegrass music. My sympathy to his family.

  • jeff russell

    I remember seeing Mike for the first time in 1977 @ the Lake Norman Music Hall in NC (SRO) Made the dobro seem so easy with all the melodic sounds you can imagine. My son first met Mike @SPIBGMA or IBMA I can’t remember. But he was asking Mike for Tips and and how he did something on a certain song. Mike, eyes grew big and a big smile came across his face, and he told him “Son I did that before you were even born. Lynn told him yeah but my dad brought me up listening to the Seldom Scene. The true gentleman he was Mike shook his head and showed Lynn what it was. A true Legend, Gentleman, and Great Musician. Lynn actually has one of Mikle’s signature models. RIP Mike Auldridge, I am sure you and John and Charlie are picking together again. A great inspiration to me and many others (The Grass Strings) We will miss you and your smiling face forever.

  • Greg Treadway

    My first exposure to Mike Auldridge was acquiring a copy of The Seldom Scene’s album, “Act Four,” twenty-seven years ago. (My, has it really been that long?!) Not only did I come to love his dobro playing, but I felt he did equally well on pedal steel guitar on a couple of the cuts. In fact, I would say my all-time favorite steel work of Mike’s is probably “If I Had Left It Up To You,” from the “After Midnight” album. He will certainly be missed, but his sounds will forever live on!

  • JB Hittle

    Thanks Dave for this piece. I was a champion of Mike Auldridge and the Scene from the first time I heard them. And much later it was a hoot to be able to share a bill with them at Gettysburg and to spend some time meeting and hanging with Mike and the other guys backstage. But what really opened my ears was Mike’s subsequent work with Chesapeake, which explored new avenues and new possibilities in acoustic music. Like my other champion of the Dobro Stacy Phillips, Mike Auldridge was never content to be defined by a single genre. Both Mike and Stacy, independent of each other, mastered and performed country, folk, bluegrass, jazz and Hawaiian music. Mike was certainly at the top of his field as a resonator guitar artist, but knowing him, I think he would be very happy to be defined, simply, as a musician’s musician. Now, unbelievably, he is gone and we may not see the likes of him again. But he left us a treasury of great music to cherish forever.

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