Ernest Hemingway famously declared: “All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn. It’s the best book we’ve had.”
For me, all American music comes from one band founded by Roger McGuinn called the Byrds. It’s the best band we’ve had. Yesterday McGuinn turned 77. Long may he run.
Chris Hillman was the Byrds’ original bassist. He had become a California bluegrass star fronting his own band on mandolin at the time McGuinn asked him if he could play bass for the band he was forming. As Johnny Rogan has it in his history of the Byrds, Hillman didn’t play bass, but he said he did and he quickly made good on his statement.
Following Hillman’s career through its twists and turns brought me to country music via the Byrds’ Sweetheart of the Rodeo and Hillman’s post-Byrds’ turns with the Flying Burrito Brothers, with the Desert Rose Band, and with his buddy Herb Pedersen. There on lead guitar in the Desert Rose Band we found John Jorgenson, as in the blistering work he contributed to “The Price I Pay” (video below).
Chris brought his acoustic version of the Desert Rose Band with Jorgenson, Herb Pedersen, and Bill Bryson to the Dakota for two nights a few years back. Bill Bryson has since died. I made it to both of the DRB shows at the Dakota. The first night’s show was a little ragged, almost like a rehearsal for the second show the next night. The next night they were perfect. Hearing them that night before an intensely appreciative crowd was a peak experience.
John Jorgenson, it turns out, is a virtuoso. He plays all kinds of music on guitar (see here). John has a gypsy jazz band, for example, with which hometown favorite Connie Evingson fell in love. Connie asked the band to back her on her All The Cats Join In compact disc. John brought the band to the Dakota to celebrate the release of the CD in 2014. I was there when they performed “In My Solitude,” captured in the video below.
This past Thursday John brought his four-piece bluegrass band to the Dakota. In this aggregation the great Herb Pedersen plays banjo, Darin Aldridge plays guitar, Jorgenson moves over to mandolin, and Mark Fain plays bass. We sat right in front of Aldridge. He is a gifted and lyrical guitarist.
Jorgenson has just come off a six-month tour playing for Elton John. He mentioned that the bluegrass band hadn’t played together in the interim, but no rust showed on the
heavy metal, bluegrass style. Among the highlights of Thursday’s show was the Guy Clark/Jon Randall number “Die Tryin’.” Randall was the guitarist in John’s bluegrass band when they recorded the video below.
Herb Pedersen is an awesome songwriter and musician. He must appear, credited or otherwise, on more than a thousand recordings. I interviewed him on his way to town with Chris Hillman in 2014 and asked him what he would pick out as the highlights of his incredible career. He mentioned that he had worked with Lester Flatt in 1967. What did he do with Flatt? All he did was fill in on banjo for Earl Scruggs. No problem! Herb is a musician’s musician.
In the video below the band performs Herb’s classic “Wait a Minute.” The song gives us the life of a traveling musician, much as do Paul Simon’s “Homeward Bound” and John Gorka’s “The Gypsy Life.” I love this song.
Jon Randall co-wrote “Whiskey Lullaby” with Bill Anderson. It’s a picture from life.
The Eagles introduced many of us to “Midnight Flyer,” but it goes back to the Osborne Brothers. It was written by Paul Craft. Ending on a high note — no pun intended, but this is bluegrass, after all — John and band closed their set with it on Thursday.
UPDATE: Before you seek to instruct me on sources of American music other than the Byrds, please see “Musical notes.”