The School of Bluegrass with Doyle Lawson
Welcome to the first segment of The School of Bluegrass with Doyle Lawson.
I am honored to be asked to do this and will answer to the best of my ability and recollection all of the questions you may have. I also want you to know that I enjoyed the Ask Sonny Anything series very much, and it was done as only Sonny Osborne could do it. He was a dear friend and one of the music’s icons, and even after he retired he was still a force whose presence was felt mightily!
So here we go with question #1…
Harold Benfield asked me to comment on my almost being a member of the Osborne Brothers band.
I was still with the Country Gentlemen and was getting a bit restless and thinking in the back of my mind that I might step away and do something else. It had nothing to do with personalities because I loved working with Charlie Waller and Bill Yates. Sonny had called me some time before and the time just wasn’t right. A year or so passes and I had decided to do something else, and I get another call from Sonny.
Now I had been an Osborne Brothers fan since the great RCA recordings with Jimmy Martin, and when I heard their MGM recording of Once More on a juke box in Kingsport, TN, I spent the rest of my money (20 cents) playing that song a nickel at a time. Fast forwarding to early 1979, the thought of me being asked to sing with Bob and Sonny was pretty overwhelming but, by the time of his second call I had decided to step out on faith and see what I could do from the ground floor up.
Sonny and I talked not long ago about what might have been, but then he put the thing to rest with his comment and I quote, “But just look at what bluegrass would have missed!”
Well it worked out pretty good and I had almost 43 years of trying to see what I could do.
Sean McCormick, yes we lost some mighty good banjo players in a short period of time and, yes, I had the good fortune to pick with J.D. Crowe and Bill Emerson and it was a blast!
A couple of memories I’ll share. I was working with J.D. in Lexington, and we had given up the Holiday Inn gig and had been doing festivals, etc, but in the winter things were slow and he booked us in a club on Winchester Rd as I recall. The name of the club I don’t recall but I do remember this. J.D. was always hesitant about getting someone on stage if he had never heard them, but the first night of the three night stand the crowd kept hollering, “get Chester up,” “let Chester sing.” On and on, so finally Crowe says to call him up to the stage.
This tall lanky fellow comes up and says, “thank ye very much, here’s one I wrote myself, kick it off J.D.!” The look on J.D.’s face was priceless and he steps up with his mighty banjo and plays the steel guitar intro to The Lovesick Blues and it fit perfectly .
I was with the Country Gentlemen and early into my becoming a member we had played a show in Boston, and was heading to Lancaster, PA for the next night at the Shindig in the Barn series that Bobby Montgomery was doing at the time. We traveled in a 1948 Greyhound bus, and this was in the early days of bluegrass bus traveling. There were four private rooms for the band, and in the wee hours of morning I awoke to the bus rocking and sound of feet scrambling back and forth in the hallway. Our manager/agent, Len Holsclaw, was making the trip with us and here’s the conversation I heard:
(Len) Hey Emerson, what’s in the world’s going on?
(Emerson calmly replies) Nothing to worry about Len, the bus is on fire!
One of the bus battery cables had gotten a bare spot on it, and got against metal and sparked, thus setting some grease on fire which was quickly put out by Bill Yates.
Travis, I’m glad you have enjoyed Rock My Soul all these many years, and I’ve always said that it was that recording that in my opinion allowed DL&Q to continue the journey.
I know there were a lot of raised eyebrows when I did a Gospel LP as the second recording. In truth I was watching and listening to the fans’ reaction to what we were doing, and it proved me right. Did I know that for certain? NO!
Over the span of my career I have performed in many different venues but here’s a couple that stand out in memory. The Grand Ole Opry for sure, because as a youngster we would listen to the Opr’y and I would dream of one day getting to go see the Stars at the Opr’y. The other was doing the Democratic Congressional Dinner fundraiser with Senator Robert Byrd, and watching him rap the microphone with his fiddle bow and telling them he wasn’t fiddling for them to converse to, but to listen!
The truth is that no matter the venue, if the people who attended enjoyed what we did, I left happy that my mission to entertain was fulfilled.
Charles Cornett, my friend of many years whose parents Bob and Jean Cornett founded the Festival of the Bluegrass in Lexington, KY, wants to know about my bold and daring decisions in the course of my career .
When I first heard Bill Monroe on the Opr’y I was probably five or six years old at the most, and the music he played grabbed me and has never turned loose. My mother told me who he was and that he played the mandolin and could sing really high. I told her then that I was going to do that when I grew up. I never changed my mind .
As I stated earlier, I have always tried to pay attention to the fans and their reaction to the music. I put a lot of faith in what we refer to as ‘gut reaction.’ Something you feel inside you that leads you to follow through with whatever you’re wanting to accomplish. I would rather say I tried than to say I wish I tried to do that. I’ve been told more than a few times that “it will never work, they won’t buy (like) that so don’t waste your time!”
My mother told me early on that I could do or be anything I wanted with will power and determination. My dad taught me to do everything to the very best of my ability, or don’t do it at all. What they told me has served me well.
Now Charles in terms of DAY JOBS in the early days, we all had them because it was necessary to supplement our income from music (usually eight to fifteen dollars per night in the bars), but we were always musicians first and doing what was needed to be a musician. Trust me I had many of them, but the worst in my memory was selling vacuum cleaners for a half day because I knew within an hour of my feeble attempt, that it was NOT MY calling! And I don’t know of any perfect part time job that accommodates the need to travel if one is in a band on the march upward.
Ok folks, this is a wrap for this one and I hope you enjoy my comments. It’s been fun even though my typing is still the H&P (hunt & peck) system. I do it with my left hand and alternate fingers so as to help keep my calluses tough.
If you would like to have your question answered by Doyle,
just post it below in the comments, or send it to us directly by email.