Roland White releases Kentucky Colonels tribute CD

Today, with the release of the album A Tribute to the Kentucky Colonels, living legend, mandolin player and singer Roland White celebrates a trailblazing period of his storied career with new recordings of songs and tunes that, as a member of the Kentucky Colonels, he helped make classic a half century ago. 

The iconic Kentucky Colonels were much revered, particularly on the west coast where they were based, their influence far exceeding their short tenure as an active band (1957 to 1966). 

The White Brothers—Roland (mandolin), Eric Jr. (double bass and banjo) and Clarence (acoustic guitar) – first got together playing music professionally in 1954, having formed a country trio called Three Little Country Boys. Occasionally they were augmented by their sister Joanne (playing bass). 

Early on in their career, they won a talent contest on radio station KXLA in Pasadena, California, and, in September 1954, Carl “Squeakin’ Deacon” Moore brought the boys to the attention of the TV producers of the County Barn Dance Jubilee. Roland White says, “they appeared for 2 1/2 to 3 months, weekly, but they quit because the traffic was often bad, making the commute take a couple of hours.”

The Country Boys had a couple of singles released, one by Sundown and one on the Republic label. 

During that same year banjo player Billy Ray Lathum joined the band and, prompted by Merle Travis, they changed the group name to The Kentucky Colonels.

In 1959 they began playing regularly at the Ash Grove, one of the most prestigious folk clubs in Los Angeles. Fiddler Scott Stoneman was added, and Eric White was replaced by Roger Bush on bass. LeRoy Mack (McNees) also joined the group, playing Dobro.

Among their several exceptional albums are the essential Appalachian Swing! (originally 12 superb instrumentals on an LP released in May 1964 on the World Pacific label); Kentucky Colonels, featuring Roland and Clarence White (United Artists); Long Journey Home (notable for its exceptional flat-picking guitar playing by the phenomenal Clarence White; recordings from July 1964 at Newport Folk Festival, Newport, Rhode Island, with Doc Watson (Vanguard VCD 77004, released in 1991).  

Any of their live albums are worth consideration. 

In 1973 they reunited for a European tour, with Herb Pedersen, initially, and then Alan Munde playing banjo. The reunion of was brought to an untimely end due to Clarence White’s tragic death on July 15, 1973. He was just 29 years old. 

The New Kentucky Colonels, as they were dubbed for the reunion tour, have excellent live albums with Live in Sweden 1973 (released by Roland White Music in 2016) contains all 26 songs/tunes, performed over two days by Roland, Clarence and Eric, with Munde at the Mosebacke Club, Stockholm, Sweden in May 1973. The brothers were in that natural groove that stemmed from growing up playing and singing together; for Roland it was the best music that he and Clarence ever played.

Famed guitar stylist Clarence White was inducted into the International Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame in 2016 and brother Roland was inducted in 2017. 

A Tribute to the Kentucky Colonels is a collection of hand-picked favorites, 12 in all, that comprise an ultimate tribute to a ground-breaking era in the bluegrass music genre. 

For one of the co-producers, Ty Gilpin, responsible for artist relations at Mountain Home Music Company, the project was one of very significant personal importance. 

“I met Roland at the Chris Jones CD release party at the Station Inn 2017. He asked if I wanted to help him put out an album via Mountain Home. He didn’t know who I was but, I knew that if I had a chance to work with one of my all-time heroes, I would. I thought of the idea of doing something that would be a tribute to his musical legacy a couple weeks later, as I was thinking of how I can best promote the new album. Then I asked Jon Weisberger to get involved and help me find some of the best young players that understood Roland’s legacy, and the legacy of the Colonels. It was an idea that I thought would bring wider attention to his important career.”

Weisberger takes up the story …. 

“Ty approached me about co-producing a special project with Roland in the spring of 2017, before his induction into the IBMA Hall of Fame was announced. He and I had already worked together quite a bit in connection with Chris Jones & the Night Drivers, and he knew that I’d been a member of the Roland White Band for a long time. We talked back and forth about it over the summer, then brought Roland and his wife, business partner and Roland White Band guitarist Diane Bouska – she’s been an integral part of every project he’s been involved in for at least as long as I’ve been playing with them – into the picture. We started to really bear down on it after the IBMA’s World of Bluegrass, and moved into high gear at the beginning of this year.

Ty took the lead in gathering musicians for the sessions we did at Mountain Home’s studio in Arden, North Carolina, and I focused on recruitment for the sessions we did in Nashville, including for what was the very first, in April; we thought it would be good to start off with some familiar musicians and in a familiar venue—Ben Surratt’s Rec Room studio, where the last Roland White Band album had been recorded.  

In thinking about who to invite, the general premise was to reflect Roland’s strong interest in young musicians; he has always been very encouraging, and excited to hear new folks and their individual voices as players and singers. I also thought it was important to draw from different corners of the industry—to include folks who work in more traditional settings, and those who were bringing bluegrass and related sounds to less traditional audiences.  And I thought it would be most interesting—both for Roland and for listeners—to bring together new and perhaps unexpected combinations of musicians.  One of the results of that, by the way, was that some of these great players, like Russ Carson (Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder) and Billy Strings, or Kristin Scott Benson and Jon Stickley, met for literally the first time in the studio. There was a lot of mutual admiration and appreciation going on at these sessions!

I’m fortunate to know a lot of musicians, so reaching out with invitations was easy. Scheduling, on the other hand, was hard—between studio and engineer availability; these artists’ busy schedules; and Roland’s own commitments, it took a lot of work to get done, and there were a number of fine musicians who wanted very much to be a part of the project, but whom we just weren’t able to line up calendars with. This was certainly true from my end, and I know it was from Ty’s end, too; western North Carolina—and, of course, the Mountain Home roster—are full of great musicians.”

In addition to Weisberger (who played bass on the Nashville tracks and provided harmony vocals to two songs) and Roland White (mandolin and vocals) more stellar musicians – Darin and Brooke Aldridge; Kristin Scott Benson; Aaron Bibelhauser; Russ Carson; Gina Clowes; Jeremy Darrow; Nick Dauphinais; Jeremy Garrett; David Grier; Brittany Haas; Josh Haddix; Justin Hiltner; Lindsay Lou; Kimber Ludiker; Patrick McAvinue; Drew Matulich; Darren Nicholson; Lyndsay Pruett; Jon Stickley; Billy Strings and Molly Tuttle –  are featured on this loving tribute to White himself and the legacy of the Kentucky Colonels. 

Weisberger continues .. 

“As co-producer, I worked with Ty, Roland, and Diane to select material that reflected the heritage of the Kentucky Colonels, and then Ty and I matched the selections to the different ensembles.  

I also took on the typical producer’s role in the studio, working with our great engineers during the recording and mixing sessions—and got in a little playing time, too—while Ty focused more on the less visible, but indispensable ‘back office’ jobs of wrangling paperwork, documenting the recording with photos and video, and then shepherding the project through all the work needed to turn recorded tracks into a complete album. It was truly a team effort.”

Roland White and Friends: A Tribute to the Kentucky Colonels is released today, October 26, 2018, on the Mountain Home Music label (MH 17242).

Full track listing … 

If You’re Ever Gonna Love Me; Nine Pound Hammer; I Am a Pilgrim; Little White Washed Chimney; Listen to the Mockingbird; Clinch Mountain Backstep; Roll in my Sweet Baby’s Arms; Soldier’s Joy/Ragtime Annie; Why You Been Gone So Long; Alabama Jubilee; I Might Take You Back and Farewell Blues. 

Recording took place at Crossroads Studios, Arden, North Carolina, with Scott Barnett at the controls, at TJ Tunes, Nashville, Tennessee, with Thomm Jutz – on two tracks he was assisted by Andy Kern – and at The Rec Room, Nashville, with Ben Surratt. 

Mixing and mastering was by Van Atkins at Crossroads Studios.  

Yesterday (October 25, 2018) there was a release party at Nashville’s famous Station Inn, where Roland White, Diane Bouska and Jon Weisberger were joined by a few of the many fine musicians who are on the album, including David Grier, Justin Hiltner, and Nick Dauphinais. 

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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.