Track Premiere: The Old Rugged Cross from Jason Keiser

West coast flatpicker Jason Keiser is announcing a new album of solo guitar pieces with a debut single tomorrow, his arrangement of the gospel standard, The Old Rugged Cross.

Growing up in California, Keiser took up an interest in both bluegrass and jazz guitar, and split his college time between West Valley Community College in Saratoga, CA, where he studied jazz, and the Bluegrass, Old Time & Roots Music Studies program at ETSU. There he had Wyatt Rice as a guitar teacher and Adam Steffey for mandolin. He graduated in 2018, and ever since has focused on more experimental bluegrass guitar, a la Tony Rice and the music of David Grisman.

His upcoming album, Grassology, will feature a mixture of traditional fiddle tunes, along with a few of his own compositions, and some classics from the SpaceGrass and Dawg Music catalog.

To introduce the album, and feature the single, Jason has a video of the recording session for Old Rugged Cross. Guitar fanciers will note that he is playing an Ovation Legend Model 1117-1 guitar, the same style that Tony Rice used on his Backwaters album.

He tells us that this particular instrument is quite dear to him.

“This specific Ovation is very special to me, as it was previously owned by my mentor, Wyatt Rice, who sold it to me.”

He tracked the guitar in a similar way to what Tony and Wyatt have done, with a Telefunken ELA M 260 small diaphragm cardiod tube condenser microphone, and a Royer R-121 ribbon mic.

Jason also explained why he chose to include this song.

The Old Rugged Cross is one of my very favorite gospel tunes, and is a piece I always go back to in my repertoire. I was first introduced to it by my former ETSU professor and Band Instructor, Brandon Green, while studying at ETSU. The piece impacted me a ton, especially with regards to the melody and beautiful harmony.

Many years later, I heard a rendition that Dailey & Vincent did from their album, Singing from the Heart, all a cappella. I was inspired to take what they did, add my own spin, and arrange it all for solo guitar. During that time, I was also listening to a lot of John Carlini’s music, another dear mentor of mine. His arranging techniques for solo guitar and his playing have impacted me a ton, as well as his arranging during his tenure as musical director with the DGQ. Some of those arranging techniques definitely influenced this piece.

What you hear on this new rendition includes the different a cappella lines from Dailey & Vincent’s recording, as well as newly added harmonies and bass movement to evoke different moods and colors, and my own spin as well. I hope you enjoy this new version of a seminal gospel classic!”

Green also shared his praise for this cut.

“Wonderful! This cut of The Old Rugged Cross captures the reverent hymn-like feel that I would imagine the writer, George Bennard, would have intended. Jason adds his own tasteful elements to it without compromising its original integrity. 

Beautiful guitar tone as well!

Have a listen as you watch the track go down in the studio.

The Old Rugged Cross from Jason Keiser will be available on Friday, October 6, from popular download and streaming services online. If you would like to support the artist directly, it is releasing tomorrow on Bandcamp for Bandcamp Friday.

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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.