—– What were your favorite bands in high school and how do you rank them today? I was into The Allman Brothers, Grateful Dead, David Bromberg, Poco. New Riders of the Purple Sage in high school, but when I would listen to The Allmans I would say “Who is this Robert Johnson?”, and look him up. I was heading towards roots music as a teenager. When The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band released “Will The Circle Be Unbroken?” it had a major impact on me and my friends. That is how we discovered Doc Watson, Vassar Clements, and Merle Travis. Doc became my sign post to all that followed. He had such great taste and style. From blues, bluegrass, swing, Doc had it all. Then Garcia, Grisman and Vassar released Old and in the Way, which also led us towards Bluegrass. New York radio had great non-commercial radio that featured bluegrass, Irish, jazz and blues. That was my education.
—– You started out as a drummer – what’s your first recollection of the mandolin and when/how/why did you pick it up? I started playing mandolin because there was one in my house. My Dad played violin and mandolin (all by ear). Mandolin seemed like a good idea because everyone played guitar.
I played drums from 4th grade through high school.
—– What do playing drums and playing Mando have in common for you? I think it helps inform my mandolin playing because mando is percussive and plays on 2 and 4 in bluegrass.
—– Did you take Mando lessons or are you self-taught? I taught myself mandolin at first, but eventually studied with Barry Mitterhoff. (Skyline, Hot Tuna). I still study and take lessons from various people via skype.
—– I assume there are go-to guys that Mandolin players hopes to emulate – who were they for you initially and who are you in to today? To discuss influences, any bluegrass mandolin player must mention Bill Monroe. I love Sam Bush, David Grisman, Doyle Lawson, Ricky Skaggs, Jethro Burns and the list goes on. Although I am sure I am influenced by many people, I don’t think I emulate anyone because mostly I learn from other instruments, like guitar (Django) fiddle and even piano or horns. I have recently become obsessed with the music of Django Reinhardt sometimes called Gypsy Jazz. I released a CD called Mandology and lead a band of the same name.
—– What is your Mando of choice and how did you settle on that as your ‘ace’ of choice? I play an instrument made for me by the great builder A. Lawrence Smart. It is modeled after an F-5 Gibson.
—– How did Blue Plate Special come together and how would you describe the bands dynamics on stage, and off? Blue Plate Special started in 2001 after Tom Wise (Bass) and I were playing together for a bit. After kicking around a few band configurations, Tom’s wife Jay Friedman began playing fiddle and man can she sing! (Who Knew?) The three of us started learning some tunes and we all began to write. We added some musicians who have come and gone. Fortunately, about 7 or 8 years ago, we hooked up with some amazing young musicians James Hempfling (guitar) and Dan Whitener (banjo).
At this point we are all best friends.
—— Do you guys feel you part of the Nu-Grass movement or are you more traditional? I wouldn’t say Blue Plate Special is a traditional bluegrass band. Bluegrass is an ever evolving and growing genre with some bands keeping it really traditional and others taking liberties. This has been true now for decades. I feel like we do what feels right, what the song tells us to do. Sometimes that means keeping it traditional, sometimes not. We play swing, blues and some rock covers. What ever feels like fun and sounds good. What characterizes our band I think, are the arraignments. I really don’t like to cover a tune without making it our own. We work very hard to find a sound for each song often with three part harmony.
—— How does the writing process work in BPS? When someone comes in with an original song idea, we arrange very carefully. It is really fun to see a song evolve in that fashion. When I write a tune, I sometimes hear the music almost fully formed. Maybe with a word or two or a concept. The lyrics usually follow.
—– Blue Plate Special are to perform at the CMAs in the ‘honorable mention; Bluegrass” category, what tune do you guys do, what do you wear, and how would the choreography work? If we were to perform at the CMAs we would dress up in our finest clothes(I would have to go shopping) and try to smile a lot.