Scott Hambly: More Than a Colonel of Talent
Power-Pickers, sad to say, for me at least, seems to have gone the way of so many blogs: oblivion through starvation. This will be my first post since, I think, December, and that’s too bad, because there seems to be a spark of interest within a small, sweet group of musicians calling themselves the Pleasantville Circle of Friends. I speak specifically about, and today, to, Charlie Barone, a singer/guitarist who seems to know something about some of the people I’ve written about, e.g., Doc Watson, Ry Cooder & Bill Monroe, among others. So, for you, Charlie Barone, I will try to start this site up again. I make no promises.
First, tho, a word in my defense. Actually, a reiteration: I’ve been trying to play in public for the first time in forty years, hence my identification with PCOF, the group I mentioned. For me, playing music with and/or in front of people, including this version of Windy and Warm with Country Al from a performance at the PCOF open mic nite a couple Saturdays ago, will always trump writing about it. But today I will make a small exception, because of the interest you, Charlie, have in the Kentucky Colonels, nee the Country Boys, nee the Three Little Country Boys, the ’50’s and ’60’s LA Bluegrass Band that spawned Clarence and Roland White.
I have no quaint story about them today, just a tip of the hat to a very old friend who made some memorable music with them while bandleader Roland White was in the service: mandolin monster Scott Hambly. I’ve spoken to him a couple times over the last couple of days, and I know he’s having some health problems, from which I’m quite certain he will recover. He is one tough picker.
In the meantime, listening to one of his performances from the ’60’s, hearing his voice, reminds me of the contribution to Bluegrass he has made over the last fifty-plus years in the idiom, which included a stint with the Colonels–I think while they were still the Country Boys, tho I’ll have to look it up. Besides superb picking, he brought a full, rich tenor voice that cut thru the Bluegrass clutter of the time and stamped him, and any group he played with, as unusual in an era of self-conscious high-lonesome, ala Ralph Stanley.
(I will to try to make a sample of his singing and playing available to you, if I can get back into the tech-saddle I need to be in to do that sort of thing, because I want you to hear something about his performances I’d completely I’d completely forgotten about after a half-century: he did them at the same time.
I’m talking about playing and singing simultaneously. I’m talking about playing a near-perfect Jessie MacReynolds accompaniment while he sang solo at the mike. Without a net. Both of those things take highly-focused concentration, and to do them together is unique in my experience. Now, my experience is not comprehensive, but I can’t remember seeing anyone do MacReynolds and sing at the same time. And even if I did, I wouldn’t marvel any the less at Scott doing it, probably having never seen it done, himself. Even after all this time, I can’t stop myself from being suspicious, tho overdubbing was impossible, given the technology of the time.)
I came to know Scott very well, having met in the folk scene in Berekely in 1962 and joining him and banjo player Greg Lasser in a Bluegrass trio, the Ridgerunners. We played many gigs together in the bistro and school auditoriums of the time, and he taught me more about playing a flat-top dreadnought than anyone else in my life. He developed an instrumental styole that I think is called cross-picking today, decades before anyone else was doing it. I used it myself, and got big kudos whenever I did.
This was going on in the earliest days of the ’60’s music revolution, much of which was going on in Berkeley, tho Scott stayed with his first, and only, real love, Bluegrass. He came to UCLA in the mid-’60’s, where he studied, and, I think, got a doctorate, in American Folklore and Folkmusic.
That wasn’t an instantly marketable credential to have and he eventually moved back to Berkeley, where he kept playing ‘Grass with old friends from an even earlier band he had, the Redwood Canyon Ramblers. I mention them because he tells me a video-maker in Brooklyn is doing a documentary on them, and he wanted to know about some old recordings and/or photos I might have had. That’s what put us back in contact with each other last week, tho’ we’ve been in touch with each other, even picked together, over the last dozen or so years.
I will get a Website for this documentary and/or the Redwood Canyon Ramblers, and publish it here. The RCR was one of the very first college-student Bluegrass Band in the Country, 1958, I think, and this documentary should be really interesting. I know that you will learn a lot about Scott, since he was the glue that held the group together for quite some time, while keeping his own protean skills honed and ready for use at any time. The Colonels were not the only band he played with down thru the years, just the one that might be of most interest to you, Charlie.
Anyway, now you know a little something about the Kentucky Colonels that you and most other Bluegrass aficionados probably didn’t: they had a life, a vital one, when brother Roland was away, and it was largely made that way because of the picking and singing of Scott Hambly.
(I don’t consider this a finished post. I’m actually afraid to look at it. I just wanted to get something on the Web before Power-Pickers dies from neglect).