My daddy was a bluegrass fan, so I got to go to festivals in the 1960s & 70s., and we had bluegrass records. One record set that we had at the house was the 70 song 4 lp Rebel set, (REB1473-76), released about 1965. There were 4 Buzz Busby songs on the set: 'Lost,' 'Me and The Juke Box, 'That Guy's Gotta Go,' and 'Whose Red Wagon.' also on the set were Red Allen & Frank Wakefield dong 'Little Birdie' and 'Musician's Waltz' (in 4/4), & Frank Wakefield 's 'Rondo.' There were several songs featuring John Duffy & Smiley Hobbs on mandolin as well. Of these, my favorite style was Buzz's. Daddy told me that he used to see Buzz & Pete Pike at the Pine Tavern in DC.
I finally got to meet Buzz in 1980 when he was playing at the Friendly Inn, near Baltimore. When I found out that he was still alive and pickin', I couldn't wait to get there, only to be disappointed to find find out that he was playing electric guitar. I asked Buzz if he still played mandolin and he said he would get it out of the car and bring it in for the next set. He asked me if I played and I indicated that I did. He brought the mandolin in, handed it to me and let me play the last set with him, so I never did get to hear him play mandolin that night, except for a few minutes by himself at the end of the night.
A couple of years later, Buzz started working with Tom Knowles in his band, Appalachian Reign at Shakey's Pizza in Rockville, MD. Joe Meadows & Lamar Grier were in the band too. After the show every Saturday, those guys were still itching to pick, so they would go out in the back parking lot and jam. Some of the pickers that attended the show, including me, would join them. That's where and when I got to know Buzz.
In about 1986, I was filling in for Dean Stoneman at Larry's Place in Mechanicsville in Southern Maryland. Buzz and Lucky Saylor came in, expecting Dean and were disappointed, I suppose, to find me taking his place. They sat at a table abutting the stage and every time I took a mandolin break, Buzz laughed with that cackling laugh that can be heard on some of his records. On our break, I sat at their table and asked Buzz why he was laughing at my mandolin breaks. He said, "Well - I just thought what you were attempting to do was humorous. Why don't you come by my place and I'll show you the right way to do it."
The next week, Bryan Deere and I went to Buzz's Place. I went to Buzz's at least once a week for the next ten tears, either by myself of with other musicians, to try to learn some of his stuff.
I met Frank Wakefield the night of John Duffey's viewing in 1996. I had scheduled a big picking party that night and there were folks coming from all over, so I couldn't go pay my respects to John. But Frank Wakefield was there and some of the mourners came to my party afterwards and brought Frank with them. For some reason, we hit it off and picked for several hours. I told him that I ran a record label and would like to record him. I had no idea that it even registered with him, so I was very surprised when he called and asked when we were going to do the record. The record didn't actually happen until about two years later, but he came down from New York state a couple of times to do workshops and a couple of shows between our first meeting and the first recording.
Frank Wakefield really showed me the right way to play the mandolin. He knows every Bill Monroe song and instrumental note-for-note. After a few lessons, I was able to get a little of what Monroe did, including the correct hand position and fingering, which made it a whole lot easier. I’m still working on the Wakefield style, which is beautiful, elegant and difficult to play.
All bluegrass mandolin players have been inspired by Bill Monroe, who really started this thing that has taken over so many of our lives.
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