Updated 6/16, 7:00 a.m.
The recent history of bluegrass music has seen the occasion of a number of “part time” bands, made up of members of other full time touring acts. Perhaps the most prominent was The Bluegrass Album Band, featuring Tony Rice, Doyle Lawson, JD Crowe, Bobby Hicks and Todd Phillips, whose CDs still are top sellers, and whose few short tours were something of a bluegrass sensation. Longview made, and continues to make their mark in this realm, with James King, Dudley Connell, Don Rigsby, Marshall Wilborn, Joe Mullins and Glenn Duncan – though current membership has changed considerably for their 2006 dates.
White House was a Nashville-area outfit that produced a CD and performed a few shows with David Parmley, Missy Raines, Charlie Cushman, Larry Stephenson and Jason Carter, and The Dreadful Snakes and The Sidemen were Nashville favorites at The Station Inn.
A new group in the VA/MD area sure to generate a similar sort of buzz is Seneca Rocks! Band members include Dudley Connell, Marshall Wilborn, Sally Love, David McLaughlin and Tom Adams. Students of 1970s era bluegrass will recognize that the four gentlemen in the group were all part of The Johnson Mountain Boys, a dynamic and engaging band that developed a large and loyal following for their brand of traditional “old school” bluegrass.
Each has remained active in bluegrass since JMB disbanded. Dudley now plays guitar and sings with Seldom Scene, Marshall is in frequent demand as a free-lance and session bass man, and has worked for quite some time with his wife, Lynn Morris. David has been most active as a recording engineer and producer, and has released an instructional DVD for mandolin.
The lone member of Seneca Rocks with no Johnson Mountain connection is Sally Love, who has been a fixture on the DC bluegrass circuit for some time, winning an award from the Washington Area Music Association in 2003 for best bluegrass vocalist.
Banjo picker Tom Adams, who also performed with The Lynn Morris Band, Blue Highway and Dale Ann Bradley after being a Johnson Mountain Boy, is returning to more regular playing after a frustrating bout with hand problems. He was diagnosed with focal dystonia a few years ago, a nervous system syndrome that caused him to have problems with his picking accuracy, and prompted him to leave Dale Ann’s group.
Tom reports that he is making great progress on that front, and welcomes the chance to strap on the banjo once again with Seneca Rocks!
“Getting together with these guys helped put the banjo back in my hands. It’s therapy and really good music all at the same time. I’m so very thankful to get to do this.”
Recording for the band’s CD has just begun, and Dudley told us that they haven’t even chosen all of the material yet, and there is no solid target date for completion or release. The choice of songs reflects a wide variety of stylistic influences, something that has been a trademark of Dudley Connell projects since the JMB days. They plan to record a Hoagy Carmichael song (Rocking Chair), one from bluesman Blind Willie Johnson (In My Time Of Dying), a Johnny Cash number (Give My Love to Rose) and Flatt & Scrugg’s Steamboat Whistle Blues. He also indicated that they will recut a Seldom Scene song, Easy Ride From Good Times To The Blues (by Herb Pedersen), which was recorded before Dudley joined the Scene, and House Where Were Wed from The Blue Sky Boys.
You can find a schedule on their web site and see whether one of their rare live shows might be in your part of the world. They also expect to have audio samples up online as the recording progresses.
UPDATE 6/15, 1:45 p.m.: Dudley shared some further thoughts about how the Johnson Mountain Boys influence affects the sound of the new band.
“With four members of the JMB reuniting into the new band, Seneca Rocks, it is almost inevitable that there will be elements of the old band’s sound. The new sound perhaps also reflects the fact that 20 years after the JMB started, time and experience has changed and colored the way we approach music. We are not trying to recreate music that we have already done, but rather use what we have learned from working together to create something unique. In addition, I would describe the material as being a little broader and drawn from a wider variety of sources than the JMB group.
Sally’s singing and playing do introduce a softer element to the overall sound but you might be surprised how sassy her singing can be. Sally is a very expressive singer and sings whatever is required of a given song. That being said, she approaches some material with barely a whisper and busts you in the mouth when that is what is required.”
UPDATE 6/16, 7:00 a.m.: Tom Adams also took the opportunity to express his thoughts about the Johnson Mountain Boys and Seneca Rocks!.
“My thoughts on the band are related directly to the fact that I’m playing with 2 fingers. I’m not thinking anything about sounding or not sounding like the JMB. This is a band that is very sensitive to the fact that I can play on slow songs and on some that venture into the medium tempo range (as songs go in the bluegrass genre). I’m sure there will be comparison with the JMB, as weighing new experiences against old ones is how people naturally catalog information in their brains. I see the band’s sound as an intersection of opportunity and circumstance, and the five of us simply enjoy making music together.”