Ronnie Freeland passes

Ronnie FreelandRonnie Freeland, noted bluegrass recording engineer, passed away on July 20 following complications from brain cancer. He was 55 years old.

Born May 30, 1959, Ronald (RB) Freeland was the son of Dick Freeland, who owned and ran Rebel Records in the 1960s and ’70s before selling the company to Dave Freeman. He developed cancer around 2000, and was treated successfully at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore. Two years ago the cancer returned, and chemo and radiation therapy were unable to stop it.

His good friend Akira Otsuka described Freeland as having been “one of the best bluegrass recording engineers.”

“Ronnie grew up listening to bluegrass because of his father, and he got interested in recording while in high school. He used to watch Roy Homer recording Country Gentlemen and Ralph Stanley in Clinton, MD and then George Massenburg recording Seldom Scene at ITI Studio in Baltimore and at Track Studio in Silver Spring, MD.

Ronnie Freeland and Ed Eastridge in the original Big Mo truck, circa 1989Eventually he worked at Track Studio, Big Mo Sound in Kensington, MD and then his own Burnthill Studio in Clarksburg, MD. He had worked with Seldom Scene, Ralph Stanley (Saturday Night, Sunday Morning – Grammy nomination), Country Gentlemen, Hazel Dickens, Eddie Adcock and the IInd Generation, Jimmy Arnold, Southbound (Lou Reid and Jim Haley), Bruce Molsky, Magpie (folk duo), Nils Lofgren (Springsteen’s E Street Band), Kenny Smith, Longview, Tony Trischka (Double Banjo Bluegrass Spectacular was produced by Tony, Bela Fleck and Ronnie and received IBMA Recorded Event of the Year, Instrumental of the Year and Grammy nomination), O.A.R. (Grammy award winning alternative rock band) and many others.”

Akira also shared this email from the Freeland family:

“This past Sunday, July 20th, we received news that made our world stop and come crumbling down. Ronald (RB) Freeland is no longer suffering, fighting doctors, or the illness; he has passed from his life here. Although we will all miss his one of a kind personality, sense of humor, and his loving heart, we have to make peace with the fact that he is in a better place, and will no longer have any medical worries or worldly troubles. We each lost a very special person, whether it was a Son, Father, Husband, Uncle, Brother, or a Friend. Ronnie will live on in our memories and in his music.

A memorial service will be held in his honor on Saturday, August 9th beginning at 1:00 p.m. at Cedarbrook Community Church – 23700 Stringtown Rd, Clarksburg, MD 20871.”

Anyone attending the memorial is invited to bring whatever photos they may have of Ronnie, and be prepared to share stories and memories.

The family also asks that, in lieu of flowers, donations in his name be made to:

The Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center
Fund for Johns Hopkins Medicine
750 E. Pratt Street, Suite 1700
Baltimore, MD 21202

R.I.P. Ronnie Freeland.


UPDATE 8/4 – Dudley Connell reminded us that Ronnie also engineered and co-produced the very last album that The Johnson Mountain Boys recorded, Blue Diamond. This was also tracked at Big Mo’s. He was also the engineer for a series of albums under the direction of Butch Robins that were released on Hay Holler.

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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.