Terry Baucom, at long last

Terry Baucom… Bauc… the Duke of Drive, the Grand Poobah of bluegrass banjo, the honorary Mayor of the key of B.

He’s known by many names, but never as solo artist until last week’s release of his debut album, In A Groove. It does seem a bit odd that such a highly celebrated bluegrass musician, with such a rich history in the music this past 30 years, could be just now getting around to his first solo record.

But Baucom has always been one for doing things his own way.

Though he was a fixture on the fiddle contest and convention circuit during his teens in the VA/NC region, Terry first came to national prominence as a member of Boone Creek in 1977. The group also featured Ricky Skaggs, Jerry Douglas, Wes Golding and Steve Bryant, and their driving, modern sound was a precursor of what was to become the style throughout the ’80s.

When Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver hit the scene in 1979, there was Baucom on banjo. He left after a few years with this seminal group, only to reappear in 1991 at the founding of another bluegrass institution, IIIrd Tyme Out. Three years later, he and Lou Reid started Carolina, another group still running the roads playing bluegrass music.

Tony Rice and Terry Baucom on stage with Mountain Heart in Morganton, NC on May 29, 2009 - photo by Cindy BaucomIn short, Baucom has been there at the genesis of many a bluegrass venture. An ongoing fascination for trying new things has kept him from long stints with any one band, though he did return to Quicksilver for a memorable run in the aughts. He was in on the ground floor when Blue Ridge was formed, and served as a sideman for Dale An Bradley an Kenny & Amanda Smith. Terry does shows on occasion with Tony Rice and Mountain Heart, and is the #1 go to guy for fill-in banjo work across the bluegrass biz.

So why does such a certain future hall-of-famer wait so long to take the plunge? In an interview earlier this week, Terry discussed how he and his award-winning broadcaster wife Cindy set about to make it happen.

“Well, its seems like over the years, being in different bands, we would record at least one project a year and stay really busy touring. Cindy and I had seriously talked about doing a project since I left Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver in March of ’07. We started planning it, and then I worked the rest of that year with Kenny & Amanda Smith.

I started getting a lot of calls for banjo clinics and workshops, and my teaching schedule was picking up too. We continued planning it, while we were looking for a good time to start.

Knowing the people we knew we wanted to participate, we had to find a time of year that they could all likely work it into their schedules. So in November of this past year we finally got it off the ground.”

After so many years working as a sideman, I wondered whether it was a tough transition to be the head honcho for this project.

“Not at all. I enjoyed it so much.

Cindy and I produced it together and I loved having her in the studio everyday as the tracks went down. I have enjoyed recording with every band I ever been a part of, but it was extremely fun being in charge of every element of this recording…from the planning stages to the final product.

We knew we wanted Wes Easter as the engineer. I have worked with him a lot and he makes it really comfortable for you to do your best job. He plays banjo, too, so he can offer suggestions and helps in just so many ways.”

Terry had a number of stellar vocalists come in to sing, but put together a core band of pickers to serve as the rhythm section. That really helped give In A Groove a real band feel, and provided a level of consistency across the various tracks.

“I have always loved the bass playing of Barry Bales. He is so solid. And on guitar, Wyatt Rice has tremendous rhythm and he’s so much fun to play with. There is none better on mandolin than Adam Steffey. I wanted Jason Carter on fiddle because he can just fit any song with any style it might require.

Working with all those guys, it was easy to get in a groove…and that is what ultimately lead to the title track.

Terry offers a new banjo instrumental which serves as the title track, but the rest of the 12 tracks are “singing songs.”

“As far as vocalists go, I chose some guys I had worked with before and some I have become great friends with that I highly admire. I thought it would be great to put vocalists together who had never recorded together…like Jamie Dailey and Lou Reid, and Ronnie Bowman with John Cowan…Don Rigsby and Buddy Melton.

Russell Moore had told us that Cowan was his favorite tenor singer, so we got Russell to sing tenor with Cowan and it came out sounding incredible.

We also got some folks who have sung together alot. The Gibson Brothers have that duet harmony singing down to a science and I love it. They nailed the Buck Owens classic, Open Up Your Heart. It was also special to get Doyle, Lou and Jimmy into the studio with me to record an original Quicksilver version of My Eyes Shall Be on Canaan’s Land.

Another big treat for Cindy and me was singing with Paul Williams on one of his great songs from Sunny Mountain Boy days, Stepping Stones. Chris Stapleton and Ronnie Bowman sent us a demo of a new song they had written, Good Time Mountain Man, and as soon as we heard it we knew we wanted to record the song, but it had to be the two of them singing it. And Adam Steffey’s voice was just right for The Sentence.

Every one on here is a great friend, PLUS so extremely talented. I appreciated all of them for being so willing to participate.”

In A Groove: [http://traffic.libsyn.com/thegrasscast/in_a_groove.mp3]

My Eyes Shall Be on Canaan’s Land: [http://traffic.libsyn.com/thegrasscast/canaans_land.mp3]

Good Time Mountain Man: [http://traffic.libsyn.com/thegrasscast/good_time_mountain.mp3]

Each track is strong, with Baucom perfectly supporting the singer with his understated banjo. Many new players don’t catch his virtuosity, as the banjo parts are not technically advanced or complicated. But the sheer brilliance of Baucom is the unrivaled tone he achieves, the stunning constancy of his timing, and the insistence that his banjo adds to any ensemble.

Face it… he’s the Duke of Drive!

Look for In A Groove in iTunes, and wherever bluegrass recordings are sold.

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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.