The Legend of Larry Gillis

A very thankful trend this past few years has been the notable increase in feature length and short form films being made about bluegrass music. It may be a factor of the wider availability of digital recording and editing gear, or the greater number of distribution portals for independent films.

Or perhaps the impact of bluegrass is finally breaking through into the mainstream. In any event, we salute and celebrate the trend!

The latest we have discovered is a project from Curtis Leslie Reiser, a producer in Santa Cruz, CA. He is in the midst of filming for The Legend Of Larry Gillis, an intimate look at one of bluegrass music’s rare gems.

Gillis is a banjo player and singer from the Georgia swamp country whose music harkens back to the more primitive mountain style associated with Ralph Stanley and The Stanley Brothers. Like Ralph and Carter, Larry has lived the life he sings about, a rural life where you do for yourself and people look out for one another.

Curtis says that is what attracted him to the idea of Gillis as the subject for a film. The two first met at the Lake Havisu festival in Arizona. Reiser’s wife was good friends with Ella Naiman, who plays fiddle with Larry’s band, and she invited them all back to the bus.

“When I first heard his music, there was something so real to me about his singing and banjo playing. The band seemed to have the biggest sound in bluegrass.

Back on the bus, we got to talking, and I knew pretty quick that I wanted to make a movie with him.

We talked about it back and forth on the phone, and then I just came out to Georgia with my gear for a week, thinking I would shoot some test footage. Larry took me around to his garden, catching snakes, and everything else he does. Each night we went out to the swamp and shot footage. He talked about everything… his music, his life, building a house with his own hands… everything.

When I showed him the rough footage, he loved it. So most of the film will be Larry talking about his life.”

Here’s a rough cut trailer.
Curtis plans another trip to Georgia in October for Gillis’ Swampgrass festival, where he will capture additional footage for the film.

Current plans are forThe Legend Of Larry Gillis  to see a January 2013 release, with initial limited screenings and festival showings. We hope to have more details later this Fall.

Also in the works is an audio recording Reiser has planned with a sometime Clinch Mountain Boy.

“I’m getting ready to make a record with Danny Lee Davis, who played bass with Ralph Stanley a lot when Jack Cook was sick. He’s made one other record, but I wanted him to do an album of his original music. He’s a great singer with a true old time sound.

My goal is to preserve this music, and these authentic folks who play it – the real stuff.”

That’s two we’ll be looking forward to seeing and hearing.

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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.