The School of Bluegrass with Doyle Lawson – why didn’t you stay long with Jimmy Martin?

Hi folks. It appears that I didn’t wash out after the first series of answers, so he we go with this week’s recollections.

Hey Doyle, Jack Lawrence here. In your early days with the Gents I seem to remember you playing an A-50 converted to an A-5 with a long neck. I worked with C.E. Ward from 1969-1971 when I left to join the New Deal Stringband and then the Bluegrass Alliance. While with Ward we converted several A-50s. Just curious if it’s possible that the one you had is one that I worked on years ago. I also remember an ill-fated trip to DC I made with the Alliance complete with a broken down bus and cancelled gigs. We showed up at The Shamrock and you guys let us play a set to kind of promote what was left of our gigs. Wow to think that I’m old enough to have played The Shamrock……

My long time friend Jack Lawrence, it’s good to hear from you as it’s been awhile since we crossed paths on the music road.

When I stepped into the role as Mando/Tenor man with the Country Gentlemen I didn’t own a mandolin, and a fellow who was in a band called The Grass Menagerie had a 1950 A-50 Gibson with a neck conversion by CE Ward. This was in September 1971 so it could very well be one that you worked on. I don’t know how long Clayton Hamrick had it before I purchased it for a whopping $500.00, but shortly afterward we did a noon day concert at Lafayette Park in DC just across from the White House and the mandolin didn’t have a case with it, so I put it in a shopping bag with the headstock poking out of the bag. Charlie Waller saw me step out of the vehicle and doubled over laughing, then grabbed his camera and took a photo of a proud owner of a Gibson mandolin proudly displayed in a shopping bag. Hope to see down the road somewhere my friend.

Doyle, you mentioned Len Holsclaw as a manager/agent for the Country Gentlemen. Through all the years of DLQ did you have managers, or did you manage yourselves? Did you do the booking, or did one or more book you? The term “manager” seems to give a Col. Parker to Elvis feel. I seem to think you, yourself, “managed” your career. Can you comment on if any other major bluegrass groups were “managed?” Louise Scruggs comes to mind.

Dave Elkington

In reality, Dave, there weren’t too many managers in bluegrass in those days. There were booking agents and agencies that some of the artist used. It was, for the most part, the artist managing themselves.

The week following my joining the Gentlemen, Len Holsclaw came on board in the role of mgr/agent, and he was also a detective for the Arlington, VA Police department. Being the new guy in the group I was not familiar enough with their mode of operation to comment much regarding his coming aboard, but I think they had been talking with him prior to my coming to work with them.

When I left them in ’79 I did the booking, etc, and continued to keep it in-house for 23 years. I then went to the Monterey Agency with Bobby Cudd doing my booking, and was with him for a few years. Eventually I hired Josh Trivett as a mgr/agent, and he grew that into what is now Moonstruck Management. After that I brought it back in-house with my sister-in-law, Mary McClellan, doing the booking. It stayed that way until I came off the road.

I guess it all depends on the artist and whether or not they fill the need for a manager. As in pretty much everything, there’s pros and cons to it. And yes, you can say with certainty that Louise Scruggs managed Earl and Sons mighty good.

Doyle, I’m glad you’re taking over the helm of what Sonny did so well over the years. I look forward to every issue.

My question is about playing banjo with Jimmy Martin. This didn’t last long, but why not? And I’m recalling what Alan Munde experienced with Jimmy Martin teaching Alan how to play Jimmy’s music for two years. Did you have a similar experience with Jimmy Martin?

Barry Willis

Let me clarify something, Barry. The biggest reason that I learned to play the banjo was in hopes of maybe getting a job with either Jimmy or Mr Bill. I loved Jimmy Martin’s music, and met him during Christmas Holidays in 1958. The combination of Jimmy, Paul Williams, and J.D. Crowe was like a well oiled machine. So I began to try and pick as much like J.D. as possible. The problem was that there was no one in the immediate area to show me anything. So I learned from a few records, some radio, and in essence was playing from the head and not the heart.

February 3, 1963 found me at a Trailways Bus station in Nashville auditioning for the job at 3:30 or 4:00 in the morning. Jimmy was quite the taskmaster in those days and he was on a pretty good roll career wise, and looking back, I was ill prepared for the job. In addition to band rehearsals I practiced every day for at least 8 hours with a record player, listening to his music, but it was really tough going being the only rookie in the midst of seasoned pros, and the pressure of trying to meet his expectations was most difficult. Bottom line is that I was able to develop as a banjo picker much faster once I had left the band and had time to figure out what he’d been trying to tell me in terms of his music.

If I could turn back time would I do it all over again? Absolutely !


I moved from Iowa to Texas in the summer of 1982. I was thrilled to learn that Kerrville, TX had its own Bluegrass Festival. You and others such as Mac Wiseman, Hot Rize, and Buck White were on the bill that year. It was the first time (of many) that I saw you and the band perform. I believe you also helped judge the mandolin contest. Any memories of Rod Kennedy’s Kerrville, TX festival? Thanks.

Jeff Scofield

The first time that I played the Kerrville festival as I recall was Labor Day weekend 1974. I was playing the banjo until we could find another one, and Ricky Skaggs was playing mandolin and fiddle. Jerry Douglas was also with us at that time. I do remember the ’82 festival and yes, I was a judge of the mandolin contest along with Buck White, David Grisman, and Red Rector (I think). I believe that a Luke Thompson mandolin was the prize.

Rod Kennedy had a passion for music and introduced a lot of bluegrass acts to that part of Texas.  A great guy to work for!

Well my calluses must be a little soft even though I use multiple fingers so I guess I’ll put this edition to rest. 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.