Spoke to Roland White one nite last wknd. Roland is one of the four or five best Bluegrass mandolin players on the tour and a terrific singer. Following a family tragedy in 1973 he took a hiatus from bandleading to sing and play guitar with Bill Monroe. You can’t get better credentials for love or money. The tragedy, as you probably already know, was the death of his guitarist brother, Clarence.
Anyway, I was sorting out some old quarter-inch tapes I had and found one that said “Southern Mountain Boys” on the edge label. I looked inside (I hadn’t for about 40 years) and found a contents list in my handwriting and a note that said the tape was made by Roland and, as it turned out, a pickup band he put together when he was serving as a medic at an army base in Germany in 1962.
I shot Roland, who lives in Nashville, an email and he called back in what must have been the time it took his computer terminal to go boink. We talked for quite awhile, something we decided we prob. hadn’t done since Clarence’s funeral in 1973, and then only distractedly and not really into chatting.
Anyway, Roland was very interested in the tape, was really surprised that it even existed. But as we talked, and I read down a set list or two to him, he began to remember quite a bit about the guys who made it, and how they had all come together under his nurturing tutelage in Europe at the height of the Cold War. The band is far better than it had a right to be, what with its non-professional, potluck personnel and all. And the singing is unabashedly the real deal. It’s rumored that Roland carries around a little sack of fairy Bluegrass dust wherever he is, and that year he was in Germany.
I didn’t make a recording of the tape for myself, as I am a lazy lout. But if you’re interested, get in touch with Roland at his website, http://www.rolandwhite.com/, which is worth a visit by all mandolin enthusiasts, Bluegrass personnel and fans.
Do that and you will find: a serious site for mandolin students; info on The Roland White Band’s latest CD, Jelly on my Tofu, a mellow killer on Copper Creek Records; an homage to Clarence in the form of an instruction manual with CD’s for learning how to play just like him in two days (three tops); and a few samples of some of the finest mandolin playing anywhere on the planet from Naples to Nashville.
Roland’s style of playing may be less driving than, say, Bill Monroe’s, Jesse McReynolds’ or Scott Hambly’s, but his note choice and lyrical fluidity, his ability to find the most natural sounding notes on a difficult instrument, is without equal. He gives you a reason to take up the mandolin, if you already haven’t.
In fact, that’s much of what his site is about—mandolin instruction. I don’t want to overstate it, but lessons from Roland will give you insights into Bluegrass from the very cockpit. Can you think of anyone else teaching mandolin these days who played with Bill Monroe?
Speaking of things you can’t get anywhere else, here’s a fragment of “Just a Used-to-be” from a gig the Country Boys did at the Ash Grove sometime in the middle ‘Sixties. If you would like to have the whole thing—and be advised: it contains one of the most spectacular instrumental breaks Clarence ever took in that venerable venue—leave a comment and your email address and I’ll send you the whole tune.
Meanwhile, go treat yourself to what Bluegrass sounds like these days and get the CD. Get two (I get a quarter of a cent for every unit Roland sells via Power Pickers of the ’60’s).