The School of Bluegrass with Doyle Lawson… a prank on Little Roy

My banjo picking friend of lots of years has a two subject inquiry, and what I consider a huge compliment…

Howdy Doyle! I’d like to share something with you that you may not be aware of: Jimmy Martin once told me that you are one of the most successful band leaders in bluegrass because you had the knowledge and ability to play all the instruments and sing all the parts. And because of that, you were able to teach your band members exactly what you wanted them to play and sing. He admired you for that… but he thought you were going to kill yourself because you rehearsed so much! lol!

So, with that as a backdrop, talk about your bass playing ability. I doubt many people realize that you played electric bass on a number of the Country Gentlemen recordings you did! And let me end with this… House of the Rising Sun has got to be the most grooving example of how electric bass should be played in bluegrass that I have ever heard! I’ve always said the bass is THE lead instrument in bluegrass……and you certainly proved it on that recording!

Thanks for all that you have done for bluegrass!

Lynwood Lunsford

As you well know, Lynwood, I had known Jimmy Martin from the time I was 14 and he was 31, and one thing I learned quickly about Jimmy was his observance of people and the work ethic they did or didn’t have. While I may not have been aware of just how much he appreciated my efforts, I did know that he did. And having been blessed with the ability to explain to the people who were in my band throughout the years was a unmeasurable gift, but let’s not forget or underplay the fact that the reason I hired them was because I knew they could do what I was hearing in my head regarding the music.

And I truthfully say to you that I believe that I had some of the best in the almost 43 years as a band leader. And yes, the early rehearsals were brutal but productive. More than a few of them were 12 to 18 hours per day, usually 6 days a week. And many times Jimmy, Lou, Bauc, and I would sing in the van most of the way to the gig .

When the “Gentlemen” signed with Vanguard Records based in New York City we went to their studio at 23rd & 8th Ave to record the first one. Along with Waller, Emerson, Yates, and me was Mike Auldridge and Ricky Skaggs. As I recall, we started on Monday and finished the 12th song at around 2:00 p.m. on Thursday. So we head home to Virginia, and the following week our manager/agent Len Holsclaw calls me and asks if I would be willing to go back and over-dub the electric bass. It was not our call to do that but they felt it needed to be done, I guess for the commercial appeal. And that is only guessing on my part.

Now I had played some acoustic bass in the past when I was working for Jimmy in ’63. In his band at the time was Lois Johnson and Kirk Hansard. Lois played bass and Kirk played the snare drum. But they both sang country music as well, and Jimmy gave them a featured spot in the show just as he did Paul Williams. So a lot of the time I would play the acoustic bass and Paul would play the electric guitar backing Lois and Kirk. I also played some acoustic and electric bass when I was working with J.D. Crowe in Kentucky. J.D.’s bass player, Bobby Slone, would play fiddle tunes, and I would play bass if and when needed.

Now back to the Vanguard session… It just so happened that Len had an electric bass, and I did some wood shedding, and we catch a train to New York City and I sat in the control room and laid down the bass tracks listening to the playback and not using headphones. We’ve come a long way in recording technology. Vanguard also brought in a session drummer named Al Rogers and he put the snare drum using brushes on as soon as I finished the bass. That was the most bass playing that I ever did but the job called for it and I tried to do it justice.

That’s my recollection Lynwood!

Hi Doyle! As you know I performed with Little Roy & Lizzy for a few years right up until the pandemic hit in 2020. Do you have any recollections of Little Roy pulling pranks at any of the shows you performed years ago where you were all on the same bill?

Thanks again for your many years of schooling band members to do their best. You’ve had a stellar career!

Terry Poirier

Hey Terry, thanks for getting aboard with a question, and a good one it is!

Little Roy would do anything he could think of to entertain the crowd with his craziness, but one particular night they were onstage and Bill Yates and I were watching from the wings. Little Roy would run back and forth to the backstage area changing to whatever instrument he needed for the song. So he runs back, put his banjo down, picks up the autoharp and runs back onstage. Well a lightbulb came on for Bill and me and we grabbed the banjo, took the resonator off and stuck a towel inside, then put the resonator back on.

And here comes Roy, puts down the autoharp, grabs his banjo and goes tearing back out onstage and plucks his banjo which is almost inaudible because of the towel inside the resonator. The look on his face while yelling repeatedly, “TURN IT UP , TURN IT UP,” was priceless because the “shoe was on the other foot that night!”

He knew he’d been pranked when he saw Bill and me laughing in the wings. And just like all those many years ago, he’s still giving folks 100% each time he takes the stage.

Hi Doyle. Great to read about your experiences, and I admire your achievements and respect the hard work it takes. I have a question about Heaven’s Joy Awaits. When you recorded that album, did you sing it straight unaccompanied, or did you use a rhythm guitar track? I never thought about that until I read an account of a Ralph Stanley a cappella session where he used a guitar track. Another detail I remember was a discussion about how to pronounce certain words.

Thanks for your music!

Robert Bulkley

Thanks for joining us Robert Bulkley. Heaven’s Joy Awaits was a recording I wanted to do for sometime before recording it. I grew up listening to my dad singing lead in a quartet that sang a cappella, and would sit, watch, and listen when they would practice and work out new songs. All of the members had learned to read shape notes and went strictly by the way it was written. After I began to record songs that I had learned from them, dad would scold me for not singing it in the key that it had been written in, and I would arrange certain things to fit what I wanted to do. A brief history there!

When we recorded Heaven’s Joy Awaits I did not use a guitar strum for the key or pitch reference. I had (and still have) dad’s pitch pipe that he’d used for many years and would sound the key or hum at the beginning of the song. That was the only time I would use it because, while rehearsing, we would do the whole song and never stop to check our pitch. In those days, I would record a lot of the rehearsals so we would listen back to the song, and if it drifted away from the key we would do it again until we felt comfortable singing a cappella. But from the earliest days of DL&Q we had concentrated on pitch awareness. So far as pronouncing words alike, that is an important factor in vocal blend.

Hi Doyle, I’ve always loved your tune Misty Morning, and the arrangement as recorded by the Bluegrass Album Band. Can you talk about how you came to write the tune and the subsequent recording session for that tune on BGAB Vol 6?


John D.

You asked about the instrumental I wrote called Misty Morning… At the time I was living out in the country near Bristol and it was getting to be the fall of the year. It was early morning and the mist was starting to rise from the morning sun. I was looking out the window and was struck by how beautiful the day was beginning. I picked up my fiddle and began to play a little melody that turned into a full fledged instrumental.

Several years later when the Tony Rice again assembled the BGAB for one last recording, he thought that it should an instrumental recording. In the process of deciding (while we were already in the studio) what we’d record, I mentioned two that I had written that might work well with the many that had already been recorded by various groups over the years. We ran through a quick arrangement and the results were Misty Morning and The North Waltz. Let me add that I wrote the melody for North Country Waltz as Waltz for Edale. We were performing at the Edale, England festival and I had it written but not named. I wanted to play it there, so that’s why I had the initial name. Back in the states I sort of figured no one would relate to that name, hence the rename.

Well the old calluses on my fingers say it’s time to turn out the lights and end the party !

Until next time…


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About the Author

Doyle Lawson

Doyle Lawson, a legend in bluegrass music, has recently retired after 42 years of full time touring with his band, Quicksilver. But he's not done yet! Doyle will remain active in the music business, just as he has done since joining Jimmy Martin in 1963. Lawson also had important stints with J.D. Crowe and The Country Gentlemen before launching Quicksilver in 1980.