The Country Pickers say farewell

Originally formed as a duo in 1960, The Country Pickers are a legendary band from Basel, Switzerland. They have played extensively all over Switzerland and, during the 1980s and 1990s, in some neighboring countries, winning an award for best acoustic band in 1993. 

Having temporarily ceased activities in February 2022, they will play their final show – a sell-out – on Sunday, March 12, 2023, at the Kulturhotel Guggenheim Liestal (near Basel). 

Apart from a break from March 29, 1996, when the ‘old group played their final show, to November 28, 2010, when the ‘new’ band had its first performance, The Country Pickers has been entertaining audiences for about six decades.

Their busiest periods were during the late 1980s and early 1990s, and after their return to the road in 2010, when they had an ever-increasing number of shows in clubs and at bluegrass festivals.

All the current members of The Country Pickers – the only band worldwide where each of them comes from a different Swiss canton, except for one (Hermann Merath, who is from southern Germany) – have many years of bluegrass music experience, going back to the 1970s. 

They provide a varied and fun show. 

The Country Pickers – Endless Highway, a Roger Rasnake song that they recorded in 2013.   

Guggenheim, Liestal, Switzerland, December 7, 2014. 

Individually, they are …. 

  • Röbi Brunner (Dobro and vocals)
  • Paolo ‘Colonel Pablo’ Dettwiler, who joined the Country Pickers in since 1983 at the age of 17 on the electric bass, before switching to mandolin, guitar and vocals. 
  • Hanspeter ‘Casey’ Gasser (bass), originally a member from 1987 to 1996 and now back with the group.
  • Tom Lochbrunner (guitar, autoharp and vocals)
  • Hermann Merath (banjo, guitar and vocals), a member from 1992 to 1996 and a returnee in 2011. 

Dettwiler sent this message …..  

“A bit more than 60 years after the foundation of the band in Basel, Switzerland, The Country Pickers say farewell to the stage.

The band in its original line-up existed from 1962 to 1996 when they decided to dissolve. After the founders’ deaths (Bill Bohn died in 2008, Pete Gisin in 2010), the banjo picker’s (Hank Dettwiler, who died in 2021) son, Paolo Dettwiler, decided to revive the formation with a focus on the sound in The Country Gentlemen and Seldom Scene vein. Joined by earlier members Casey Gasser on bass and Hermann Merath on banjo, they include Swiss bluegrass legends Tom Lochbrunner on guitar and Robert Brunner on Dobro.

The new version of The Country Pickers has enjoyed a successful string of shows from 2010 to 2023, getting to all festivals in Switzerland, as well as performing in Germany, the Netherlands, France, and Poland. 

Even before the pandemic it became clear that due to the retirement from their jobs of three of the five band members, and geographical constraints (made worse by sharply increased traffic on the Swiss motorways), the band would have to slow down considerably. Seeing a picture of the seemingly undead Rolling Stones, some health issues, and the demand (impossible to meet) to rehearse weekly to keep up with younger bands – but especially the fact that the band has played in all places they wanted to. To know when to quit while things are still going well, is a good way, at least for The Country Pickers.

Highlights included a tour of Germany and the Netherlands in 2014, performing at the first Polish bluegrass festival in Gdansk in 2015, playing at every issue of the SwissGrass Night, organized by the local bluegrass association (Bluegrass in Basel), and maybe our favourite memory is the appearance at the 15th International Bühler Bluegrass Festival in Bühl, Germany in 2017.

Future plans of the various members include performing heavily with other bands, having more time to join one of the many jam sessions now in existence in Switzerland, and looking out for new opportunities.

Thank you for your interest in The Country Pickers. Farewell to you all.

Here is a pictorial history (with music) ……..  

The original Country Pickers – In Memoriam

  • Bill Bohn (June 30, 1930 – December 16, 2008)
  • Peter Gisin (August 8, 1934 – September 20, 2010)
  • Ruedi “Hank” Dettwiler(-Gloor) (February 5, 1945 – February 2, 2021) 

The Country Pickers Discography

  • Happy Days (Thunder Tree TTR 8610, 1986)
  • East To West (Thunder Tree TTR 9010, 1990)
  • CP Special (Thunder Tree TTR 1311, 2013)

All are Swiss releases.  

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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.