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The Magnetic Adrian Dolan of The Bills

adrian-dolan

Adrian Dolan

Adrian Dolan is a multi-instrumentalist and composer perhaps best known for his work with the award-winning roots ensemble The Bills over the past 13 years. His skills as an accordionist, violinist, fiddler and pianist have landed him on stage with some of the best in the business, and along with a passion for composing, educating and leading a new generation of folk music into the 21st century.

Classically trained on piano, violin, and viola, Adrian began composing at a young age, and performing professionally in his mid teens. After taking up fiddling  he was soon putting his piano skills to use as an accompanist, culminating with guest performances with the Victoria Symphony, and summer festival stages around the province.

the-bills-ii

After Adrian joined The Bills at age 17, the band became one of the foremost touring groups playing over 160 shows annually in Canada, the U.S., the UK, and Europe. Their 2002 and 2004 releases both garnered JUNO Award nominations, Western Canadian Music Awards, and received worldwide airplay. Music videos for two songs from “Let Em Run” have been featured on CMT Canada. They’ve played for countless radio broadcasts, including CBC (This Morning, Q, Canada Live), Radio-Canada, BBC Scotland, Radio Sweden, NPR, and Woodsongs Old-Time Radio Hour. The Bills continue to tour in support of their latest release “Trail of Tales” (2016).

For the past 10 years Adrian has been honing his creative and technical prowess in the studio as a producer and engineer, working with an eclectic array of artists over the years spanning the folk and Bluegrass realms, into country, garage rock, storytelling, jazz, and comedy. Adrian’s skills as an arranger have been sought out in many projects to expand the sonic landscapes to include live string sections. As a multi-instrumentalist he has been frequently called upon for session work in Vancouver, Victoria, and beyond

Currently, Adrian maintains a busy schedule of performing, arranging, producing, sound engineering, and teaching. He frequently travels to instruct at traditional music workshops across Canada, and has also served as Musical Director for the BC Fiddle Orchestra. Adrian currently performs with Ruth Moody (The Wailin’ Jennys), and has also toured and recorded with a wide array of artists including BCCMA winner Ridley Bent, The Arrogant Worms, Irish legends The Chieftains, Barney Bentall, Old Man Luedecke, Raffi, and Cape Breton’s Rankin Sisters. He recently was hired by Musical Director Bill Henderson to perform viola in the band for the world premiere production of Bruce Ruddell’s “Beyond Eden” which ran for 49 performances in Vancouver and Calgary as part of the Cultural Olympiad in 2010.

Adrian has served as concertmaster for Bach on the Rock Chamber Orchestra, and the Sooke Phiharmonic Chamber players under the direction of Norman Nelson, as well as performing on both viola and violin with the Victoria Chamber Orchestra and the Victoria Civic Orchestra.

the-bills

The Bills

http://www.adriandolan.com


Out of Houston’s Heat, Emerges the Very Cool Band, Buxton

Buxton

Buxton Photo by Jacob Blickenstaff of Mother Jones Americana Music Awards, Nashville, 2016

By Christa T. for Accordion Americana In Houston, Texas, the weather is frequently hot and the tamales are even hotter. But,  those who choose to live in such a climate don’t shrink from heat, they just find cool ways to compensate for it.  One of the coolest bands to arise from steamy Houston is Buxton. Originating from LaPorte, Texas, the Americana band is comprised of Sergio Trevino on guitar and vocals, Jason Willis on guitar, mandolin and pedal steel, Chris Wise on bass, Justin Terrell on drums and the recent addition of Austin Sepulvado on guitar and piano accordion.

It’s the accordion that gives Buxton its distinctive Alt-Country/ Folk sound that draws the listener in. An accordion has a way of doing that, if one knows their way around the instrument. It’s evident that Austin Sepulvado adds the elements of sweetness and yearning that perfectly counters and complements the vocals of Sergio Trevino. The vocal talents of Trevino along with his wistful resemblance to an iconic  era of Texas music, compelled the Houston Chronicle to award Trevino Best Male Vocalist and to award the band, Buxton, Best Folk/Americana band.

“Half A Native” is the latest offering for the band, Buxton, their first album since “Nothing Here Seems Strange“(2012). Previous works have been “Feathers 7” (2009), “A Family Light” (2008) and their first album, “Red Follows Red” (2005). “We take from a lot of different genres and present it in a way that I think is most honest for us”, Trevino says. “Half A Native is music for the search for home, the long journey to find somewhere, something or someone that makes everything fall into place.” After finding great success as a regional band, “Half A Native” was recorded in Los Angeles, a departure for Buxton, this time. It was both a business and creative decision to record the album on the West Coast and also to work with Producer Thom Monahan (Peter, Bjorn & John, Devndra Banhart and Vetiver).

As an Indie band, Buxton is seeking new musical directions, deliberately and subtly reinventing itself. “Half a Native” confirms that with each album, their true artistic identity is revealed more and more, making them one of the most interesting Americana bands to emerge in recent times.

buxton-iv

Buxton

Contact: buxtonband@gmail.com


Nashville’s Game Changer: The Influential Pee Wee King

 

 

Pee Wee King

Pee Wee King

By Christa T. for Accordion Americana The late Country Music Scholar, Charles K. Wolfe wrote of Pee Wee King, “Pee Wee never picked cotton, never hopped a freight train, never worked as a song plugger in Nashville…unlike so many of his fellow members of the Country Music Hall of Fame, Pee Wee King was not known as a guitar player or even as a singer. His instrument was an ungainly one, the accordion, and he played it so well that he inspired dozens of country bands to add it to their acts in the 1940s and 1950s….he was also a bandleader par excellence whose work often pushed the envelope of older country music. He was a gifted songwriter….a creative promoter, a finder of new talent, an explorer of new media, and, best of all, a consummate professional. In his heyday, Pee Wee King took Country music uptown and didn’t ask whether or not it was ready to go.”

Pee Wee King was then, what we now refer to as a ‘Game Changer’. But even though King is credited as being one of the key people to formulate the sound and look of Modern Country music, even co-writing Nashville’s own state song, ” The Tennessee Waltz“, he and his instrument are still considered to be outsiders by Country music insiders.. His effort to “mainstream” Country music caused great resentment and is still a primary reason why Nashville is resistant to, and even disdainful of the accordion as a viable instrument in Country music.

Born in Abrams, Wisconsin, February 18, 1914, King grew up there and was known under his given name, Frank Kuczynski. He performed as an accordionist and as a fiddler with his father’s band from the time he was fifteen years old. Shortly after, taking the name of King while still in high school, he formed Frankie King and The King’s Jesters in 1930. Within three years, King had his own radio program in Milwaukee and he and his band performed at the local Badger State Barn Dance. It was there that he was discovered by the legendary Gene Autry, an emerging cowboy singer. Autry bestowed the honorary title, ‘Pee Wee’ on King, for his small stature. King and Autry, lifelong friends from then on, moved to Louisville, Kentucky where King backed up Autry on radio before “The Singing Cowboy” left for Hollywood to become a film star.

When Autry departed, King decided to stick with radio, stay in Louisville and remain as a member of Frankie More’s Log Cabin Boys. He already had a business relationship with Autry’s manager, and also was interested in the manager’s step-daughter, a singer on the Louisville radio station. So, in the middle of America’s Great Depression, Pee Wee King acquired both his wife, Lydia Frank, and as his manager, J. L. Frank. He would eventually legally change his surname to King.

Pee Wee and Lydia King

In 1937, Pee Wee King formed The Golden West Cowboys and shortly after was asked to join the Grand Ole’ Opry on Nashville’s WSN radio. The ambitious King immediately seized the opportunity to move away from the Opry’s strict mandate to use only stringed instruments. He brought in musical instruments never before heard at the Opry, such as the accordion, an amplified electric guitar, horns and the pedal steel guitar. In addition, Pee Wee King did not make many friends at the Opry when he refused to change his band’s sound when asked to do so, or when, along with Bob Wills, he insisted on using drums on stage.

This new style of music was loud and lively, danceable and entertaining, and very much influenced by the Big Band sound that was popular all over the world in the 1930’s and 1940’s. This gave it new energy, a new sound and brought Country music into the mid- twentieth century. Perhaps, because he didn’t come from that exclusive community of musicians and songwriters that grew up in the hills and the ‘hollers’ of the South, King saw what was known then as “Hillbilly” music, in a broader geographic context. He recognized the new “Country” music as being the music that included the entire nation, from east coast to west coast, and not just the music from the Southeastern part of the United States.  In his vision, the Country music genre shifted and stretched to include Texas, Arizona and Southern California, and with this, it acquired a new “western” sensibility. Singers and songwriters from those areas must have taken note, like Marty Robbins, Roy Orbison and Buck Owens and many others and may have felt a sense of inclusion and opportunity in the new Country and Western sound.

Because King saw himself as an entertainer, when America went to war in 1941, he envisioned that Country music should be a part of the war effort and entertainment scene of mainstream America. He knew that to accomplish this, Country music needed a bigger sound and a bolder image. King had a love for flashy, professional showmanship. He outfitted his band with fancy, custom made suits. This new take on Country music became enormously popular all over America and eventually became associated with Nashville.  But, at first, such flamboyance was met with resentment in Nashville and there was a strong outcry against King by music traditionalists. King also “changed the game” when he insisted that his band members be required to read music. They were also among the first musicians in Nashville to join the musicians union.  He wanted his band, not only to appear professional, but actually be the best musicians in the music business.

The new sound of Country music spoke to wartime America.  People needed opportunities to go out and dance, have a good time and for a few short hours, forget that the war was asking for big changes and great sacrifices from them.  Country music was American music, and an expression of the new pride and nationalism that the entire country was experiencing.  Music served to unify everyone during wartime and to underscore that we were one nation in the fight against tyranny.  This new “Western” side of Country music, in its own way, placed American music, defiantly and  squarely in the face of fascism and ideologies of “the East”, looming large in Europe and Japan. The Country and Western sound had nothing to do with any European immigrant tradition, and the piano accordion, for the first time, was front and center. It was the soldiers during the war that brought the new sound of Country music to where they were stationed. This opened up the world to Country music and laid the groundwork for its influence on pop music.

Pee Wee King V

In spite of controversy, Pee Wee King remained with the Opry for ten years, quite a long time in show business years.  During that decade many performers passed through the training ground of The Golden West Cowboys on their way to fame and fortune. They included singers Eddy Arnold, Cowboy Copas, Milton Estes, Tommy Sosebee, and singer/yodeler Becky Barfield. Pee Wee King and The Golden West Cowboys recorded and toured as Minnie Pearl‘s backing band over 1941-1942, as well as for Ernest Tubb. They also entertained the troops during the War with the Camel Caravan Tours, crisscrossing the country.

Pee Wee King IV

In 1946 as the war ended, King composed “The Tennessee Waltz” along with Redd Stewart, vocalist for The Golden West Cowboys,. It was inspired by Bill Monroe‘s composition of “The Kentucky Waltz“, now a standard in Bluegrass music. “The Tennessee Waltz” became an enormous hit, not only for King, but for Patti Page, becoming one of the biggest cross-over hits, of all time. It went on to become a Country music standard and, later on, the state song of Tennessee.

Pee Wee and his family moved from Nashville to Louisville in 1948 when an opportunity surfaced for Pee Wee to work on WAVE radio and television. He explained years later, “The main reason (for moving) was that I wanted television.” The conservative Opry management saw no real future in TV and, again, their view was at odds with King’s vision. But Pee Wee King saw great commercial success as a pioneer in the new medium of television, with regional and national television shows, not only from Louisville, but Cincinnati, Cleveland and Chicago. King won multiple Cash Box and Billboard awards for his television shows and had a six year run on ABC Television with “The Pee Wee King Show“. Just as King had foreseen, television had become an indespensible method of packaging and promoting talent and hit songs in all genres of music in just a few short years.

Pee Wee King III

King and “The King”

Pee Wee King continued to perform and record throughout the 1950’s, reuniting with Minnie Pearl until 1963. In 1965, the state of Tennessee adopted “The Tennessee Waltz” as the official state song. Pee Wee was always interested in the history of the music he had helped redefine, and served on the board of directors for the Country Music Hall of Fame and also served as Director for The Country Music Foundation.

Pee Wee King appeared in four movies, always as a band leader, “Gold Mine in the Sky” with Gene Autry, “Flame in the West” with Johnny Mack Brown, “Riding the Outlaw Trail” and “The Rough, Tough West” with Charles Starrett. He also released his own movie production, “Country-Western Hoedown” in 1967. About disbanding The Golden West Cowboys in 1969,  King said, “I wanted to find what I thought was the top of my career. When I believed I had found it, I stopped striving and searching and enjoyed it.”

In 1970, Pee Wee King was inducted into the Nashville Songwriter’s Hall of Fame. He composed or co-wrote more than 400 songs, including some of the most popular songs in American music including the enormously successful “The Tennessee Waltz“, “Slow Poke“, “Silver and Gold“, “Changing Partners“, “Bonaparte’s Retreat“, “You Belong to Me“, “Walk By the River“, “Busybody” and “Bimbo” among many others.

In October 1971 Kentucky Governor Louis B. Nunn declared an official Pee Wee King Day in the state.

In 1974, Pee Wee King was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. His recording career included more than twenty albums, 157 singles with eleven of them becoming chart hits. “Slow Poke” reached the top of both the pop and country charts and held that position for three months. It became not only King’s biggest hit, but his biggest crossover hit.  Pee Wee performed and recorded hundreds of sides, from fiddle tunes to pop ballads.

In 1996 Pee Wee King worked with writer Wade Hall to produce his authorized autobiography, “Hell Bent for Music (University of Kentucky Press). It was a first person account about his life and career, narrated by King.

Before his death, a boxed set of King’s RCA work was released by Bear Family and a collection of his 1950’s radio transcriptions was released by Bloodshot Records (Pee Wee King’s Country Hoedown)

Pee Wee King died on Tuesday, March 7, 2000 at age 86 while recuperating after suffering a massive heart attack the week before. He was survived by his wife and their four children. Pee Wee and Lydia King were married for sixty-four years. Mrs. King passed away in 2011.

Pee Wee King was fearless, creative, ambitious and successful.   He thought big and accomplished great things for his family, for the music industry, for Nashville, and for American music. Pee Wee had a vision from a very young age and never hesitated to trust it and to follow it, through out his life.  He fought hard for what he believed in, and withstood an incredible amount of criticism for it. Though I never met him, I believe that his life was the stuff of which movies are made. AND, he was an accordion player…..


List of Bands that Feature the Accordion

Punk’s 10 Best Accordion Players: A Tribute to accordion Rockers
Wednesday, December 19, 2012 at 12:18 PM (PST) by connor_maoil

The sound of the accordion is, in my opinion, one of the best, weirdest, and most unique additions to the punk genre. For most it’s easy to see the instrument as nothing more than a novelty but the truth is there are a lot of very talented musicians whose squeezebox skills can’t be overlooked as a gimmick. As an aspiring punk rock accordionist myself, I wanted to spotlight some of the best in the field.

Check out the list here.

10. (Honorary mention): Eugene Hutz (Gogol Bordello)

Things might have ended up differently for the gypsy troubadour Eugene Hutz if he stuck with his attempt at learning the accordion. In a video interview, Hutz jokes about the difficulties he had trying to learn the instrument:

“Learning the accordion was just impossible. Have you ever tried an accordion? It’s insane. It’s f*cking nuts man, it’s like, to play accordion you must have your brain wired differently. I worship people who can play accordion. I tried for 2 years and ended up withminor scoliosis and, anxiety problem. And that’s when I picked up [guitar].

9. Eric Melvin (NOFX)

While the accordion is rarely up front in the ranks of NOFX, founding guitarist Eric Melvin busts out his giant squeezebox to time to time to please the crowds. Wailing minor waltzes about sleepless nights, Melvin really puts a lot of character into the instrument

I, Melvin

8. Katie McConnell (The Mahones)

I’ve gotta admit that I’ve had a crush on this punk for a long time. McConnell really does a great job of bringing the punk style and hardcore energy to the accordion. Her style of playing seems to draw a good deal of inspiration from The Pogues (above). Seeing any performance by her with The Mahones is an awesome experience that I highly recommend to any lover of celtic punk. Watch for them in your town!

“A Great Night On The Lash” (from “The Black Irish,” 2011, True North Records)

7. Marc Orrell (Dropkick Murphys, 2000-2008)

He’s the one who brought you Shipping Up To Boston. Enough said?

6. Tim Brennan (Dropkick Murphys, 2003-present)

The current recording and touring multi-instrumentalist Tim Brennan has continued to make the accordion a more part of the band’s staple sound.

The Hardest Mile (off 2011′s Going Out In Style)

5. James Fearnley (The Pogues)

One of the pioneers of the punk accordion, James Fearnley, the original and current member of The Pogues, was originally a guitar player. According to Fearnley’s memoir, “Here Comes Everybody: The Story Of The Pogues,” founding banjo member Jem Finer, desperately seeking an accordion for his new band, showed up at Fearnley’s flat with an accordion in a laundry bag and persuaded him to try and learn the instrument.

“Turkish Song Of The Damned“ (from “If I Should Fall From Grace Of God,” 1988, Island Records)

4. Seamus O’Flanahan (The Dreadnoughts)

I’ll just let Seamus speak for himself. (Off “Polka’s Not Dead”, 2010)

3. Matt Hensley (Flogging Molly)

Hensley, a former skateboarder, picked up accordion from guitar like so many others on this list. In addition to skillfully adding to the work of Flogging Molly with his accordion, Hensley is also frequently featured on the concertina and more traditional Irish diatonic button accordion. That’s the kind of thing that tends to really impress the geeky accordion junkies.

“Tomorrow Comes A Day Too Soon” (from “Within A Mile Of Home,” 2004, SideOneDummy)

2. Yuri Lemeshev (Gogol Bordello)

Although not a founding member of the New York gypsy punk band, Yuri Lemeshev has been a vital part of the band for over a decade. Hailing from Russia, Lemeshev has to be one of the most technically skilled members of the scene. And not only can he knock down tunes masterfully, he can also move around and have a good ol’ punk time on stage while doing it.

“Supertheory Of Supereverything” (from “Super Taranta!”, 2007, SidOneDummy)

1. Franz Nicolay (World/Inferno Friendship Society)

In addition to that moustache, Franz Nicolay brings in the background of a converted rock piano player (most notably in The Hold Steady) and has spread the use of the accordion all over the genre. Nicolay probably has the most impressive resume of them all; in addition to being a former longtime member of the punk circus collective World/Inferno Friendship Society and his own collective Anti-Social Music, Nicolay has recorded and toured with the likes of Against Me!, Leftover Crack, The Dresden Dolls, The Loved Ones, and Mischief Brew. Check out a complete list of his recording and producer credits over here.

“Your Younger Man” (from “Red Eyed Soul,” 2006)

Had enough yet? If not, check out some up-and-coming bands featuring the accordion.

The First Chairs (ska)

Roughneck Riot (celtic punk)

Larry And His Flask (cow punk)

The Real Mckenzies (celtic punk)

Mad Caddies (ska/swing punk)

The Mighty Regis (celtic punk)

Crash Nomada (gypsy punk)

Joey Briggs (solo from The Briggs)

Ramshackle Glory (folk punk)

Feudalism (folk punk)

Lucero (cow punk)

This is a list of articles describing popular music acts that incorporate the accordion.

Band or musician Accordionist Style
Agalloch  ? Folk metal, doom metal, black metal, neofolk, post-rock
Arcade Fire Régine Chassagne
Richard Reed Parry[1]
Indie rock
The Band Garth Hudson Americana
Beirut Perrin Cloutier Combines elements of Eastern European and folk sounds
Calexico Martin Wenk Rock
Counting Crows Charlie Gillingham Rock
The Decemberists Jenny Conlee Folk rock
Deep Forest Michel Sanchez Combines electronic beats with world music
Del Amitri Andy Alston Rock
Detektivbyrån Anders Flanders Combination of electronica, folk and French pop
DeVotchKa Tom Hagerman Indie rock
The Dropkick Murphys Tim Brennan Celtic punk
The E Street Band Danny Federici
Charles Giordano
Rock
Equilibrium  ? Viking metal, folk metal, symphonic black metal
Finntroll  ? Folk metal, black metal, humppa
Flogging Molly Matt Hensley[2] Celtic punk
Folkearth  ? Viking metal, folk metal, black metal
Gogol Bordello Yuri Lemeshev Gypsy punk
Gotan Project Nini Flores Tango, Electronic
Great Big Sea Bob Hallett Traditional Newfoundland folk and rock
Green Day Tré Cool Punk rock
The Hooters Rob Hyman Rock
Jason Webley Self Combination of traditional music, romani music, punk
John Mellencamp  ? Rock. Has included the accordion in most of his music since 1987’s The Lonesome Jubilee.
Julieta Venegas Self Latin pop
Jump, Little Children Matthew Bivins Combines Irish influences with an alternative rock sound
Katzenjammer  ? Pop
Korpiklaani Juho Kauppinen Folk metal
Lemon Demon Neil Cicierega Indie rock
Mägo de Oz Sergio Cisneros Folk metal, folk rock
MewithoutYou Aaron Weiss Alternative Rock
Moonsorrow Henri Sorvali Folk metal
Motion Trio (Accordion Trio) Collaborations with other artists (such as Bobby McFerrin and Michał Urbaniak)
The Pogues James Fearnley Irish punk, pub music
Skyforger  ? Folk metal, black metal
Silvestre Dangond Juancho De la Espriella Vallentos, Modern and very popular Colombian music
Sound Horizon Revo Combination of many genres, ranging from heavy metal to classical
Stolen Babies Dominique Lenore Persi Avant-garde metal
Styx Dennis DeYoung Hard rock, progressive rock
Svartsot Hans-Jørgen Martinus Hansen Folk metal, Viking metal
That Handsome Devil Jeremy Page and Andy Bauer Alternative rock, alternative hip hop
They Might Be Giants John Linnell Alternative rock
Tiger Lillies Martyn Jacques Brechtian and gypsy cabaret
Tom Waits  ? Jazz, rock, blues, folk, experimental
Tosca Tango Orchestra Glover Gil Nuevo tango, classical music
Turisas Janne Mäkinen Folk metal, Viking metal
The Twilight Sad Andy MacFarlane Scottish folk rock, indie rock
Vitas Vitas (studio), ? (live) Eclectic Russian pop
“Weird Al” Yankovic Self Parody music
Windir Valfar Folk metal, Viking metal, black metal
The World/Inferno Friendship Society Franz Nicolay[3] Cabaret punk

Jeff Taylor, Nashville’s “Go To” Accordionist

Jeff Taylor

Jeff Taylor

Professional accordionist and multi-instrumentalist, Jeff Taylor, grew up in Batavia, New York, and began playing accordion and keyboards in his dad’s band when he was 10. He studied classical piano at the Eastman School of Music and was leader of a small jazz/rock group when he was in the Air Force in Ohio. He has lived in Nashville since 1990. Taylor counts among his performing highlights his two years as bandleader at the Ryman auditorium for the musical production Always, Patsy Cline, hundreds of shows as bandleader at Opryland theme park and on the General Jackson showboat, The Skaggs Family Christmas Tour, and many appearances on the Grand Ole Opry, backing numerous artists. He has recorded with Elvis Costello, Paul Simon, Harry Connick Jr., Keith and Kristyn Getty, Amy Grant, George Strait, The Chieftains, Martina McBride, Buddy Greene, Vince Gill and Ricky Skaggs. He was a featured artist on the Ricky Skagg’s and Kentucky Thunder Instrumentals CD that won a  Grammy in 2007 for Best Bluegrass Album. Besides excelling on accordion and piano, he also shines on the concertina, penny whistle, mandolin and bouzouki.

Jeff Taylor performs as a member of The Time Jumpers, along with Vince Gill and also some of the best musicians in Nashville. The Time Jumpers are an award winning Western Swing band from Nashville, Tennessee, with two awards from the Association of Western Artists, one from the Western Music Association and two Grammy nominations! This group of Nashville’s studio elite has evolved from casual jam sessions at the Grand Ole Opry to performing on the main stage, and becoming THE Monday night destination in Nashville,.

Their individual recording and performing credits cover virtually the entire history of country music, ranging from Slim Whitman to Carrie Underwood, and their members have recorded extensively with artists in other genres as well, from Barbra Streisand to Megadeth. The Time Jumpers appear, regularily, at The Station Inn,  Nashville, Tennessee.

Jeff Taylor, performs on the accordion, along with the great Vince Gill and The Time Jumpers

Jeff Taylor, Accordionist, with the late Dawn Sears at the Station Inn

 
  

Wilene “Sally Ann” Forrester, First Woman in Bluegrass

Sally-Ann-Forrester

Wilene “Sally Ann” Forrester

By Christa T. for Accordion Americana She was born, Wilene Russell, in 1922. Her family called her Goldie Sue. Her classmates called her Billie. She performed as Sally Ann Forrester. Was the confusion created by having too many names the reason why Wilene Forrester is slow to be recognized as the “First Woman in Bluegrass”?

All humor aside, in 1943, Wilene was hired as an accordionist by Bill Monroe just as he coined the name for the music they played, called “Bluegrass”. She was compensated and performed as one of the Bluegrass Boys.  As Ginger Rogers said of dance partner, Fred Astaire, Wilene did everything “The Boys” did, only “in high heels”.  She was good enough to work as a musician with the band, tour and record with them. In 1945, Wilene, as an accordionist and as one of Bill Monroe and The Blue Grass Boys, recorded eight great Bluegrass classics, “Rocky Road Blues”, “Kentucky Waltz”, “True Life Blues”, “Nobody Loves Me”, “Goodbye, Old Pal”, “Footprints in the Snow”, “Blue Grass Special”, and “Come Back to me in my Dreams”.

Was the lack of recognition based on the fact that she was a proficient accordionist, and not perceived as a ‘real’ Bluegrass musician? Did she lack the ‘chops’, the right ‘creds’, a good enough reputation, or not invest enough years of her life as a musician to be accepted? Is the Bluegrass establishment reluctant to acknowledge her contribution because she was from the Southwest, and not from the Southeastern side of the U.S.? Did she fail to show, at any time during her professional career, that her work ethic did not measure up to, or even exceed those of her fellow, male musicians? If these are seen as issues, they were not then, or when Wilene worked for years, before World War II, as an entertainer at barn dances, tent shows and on radio programs. Having studied voice, she sang beautifully, and often. As a teenaged professional entertainer,  she moved easily between piano, guitar, and fiddle. By the time she met Bill Monroe, Wilene Forrester was a seasoned, capable and confident multi- instrumentalist and was very, very good.

But, if it was the post war determination to regroup and rebuild America that led Wilene to abruptly say goodbye to her dream, we will never know. She left the group, and along with husband, Howdy Forrester, started a family.  She worked for the rest of her life as a civil servant, performing occasionally.  Wilene Forrester passed away in Nashville from Alzheimer’s in 1999.

Even today, like many women artists and performers, Wilene is not given credit for her work, and not seen as standing alone,’glowing like a beacon in the night’. Instead, women have been presented as being only a mere reflection of light cast by men, who are promoted as the authentic sources of creative energy. Women have to prove that they are worthy of any acknowledgement by their associations with certain men. Critics are quick to discredit  and second guess a woman’s accomplishments, qualifying and redefining how men actually made their accomplishments possible. Because men also have others through out their lives, helping them along the way, it’s clear that women are held to a different standard than men by having always to explain themselves and justify their accomplishments.  Yes, if it hadn’t been for the loving Grandfather that taught her how to play the fiddle she likely wouldn’t have learned. Or, if not for Howdy Forrester, who recognized her talent and personality and wanted her by his side, as a musician and as a wife for 47 years, she may not have been there to take the next step (or maybe she could have and also would have remained in the music business awhile longer).

Bill Monroe also saw and utilized those attributes along with Wilene’s growing experience and professionalism, enlisting, “Sally Ann” (Monroe coined her name, as well) to perform with them from 1943 through 1946. He clearly saw her value and benefited from her talent and personality. It’s not an issue of whether she was paid, but rather that she has been made to seem that she was not really there, and simply “holding a place” for someone more valuable until he could return. We see her in photos and hear her on recordings, and because she was neither invisible nor silent, that should be enough to establish her presence in the band. What we are really lacking is her version of her own story. Wilene “Sally Ann” Forrester, either did not seize the opportunity to speak about herself, or any of her experiences, or was not offered an opportunity to do so. This is a sad loss for all musicians and for those interested in Bluegrass music.

The music industry should recognize and validate that, just as Bill Monroe and his Blue Grass “Boys” are given credit for “working through coming up with their sound”, Wilene was there, working through it, alongside them. It is her sound, too. Just as they own a part of that contribution, she owns a part of it, too. This is the legacy of Wilene Russell “Sally Ann” Forrester. She must be given credit, and not forgotten as “The First Woman in Bluegrass”.

Bill Monroe and his Bluegrass Boys II

Wilene “Sally Ann” Forrester with Bill Munro and his Bluegrass Boys 1946

Many thanks to Murphy Hicks Henry as my resource, for her insightful book about Wilene and other great women in Bluegrass: “Pretty Good for a Girl, Women in Bluegrass” (University of Illinois Press)and for her interviews on YouTube and in print.

 


Ben Lovett of Mumford and Sons

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Ben Lovett

By Christa T. for Accordion Americana Born in Cardiff, Wales in 1986, Ben Lovett met Marcus Mumford while they were students at Kings College in London.   Along with Englishmen, Ted Dwane and Winston Marshall, they magically came together in 2007, to form Mumford and Sons, a name more evocative of an old time blacksmith or haberdashery, rather than a band.

Mumford and Sons

Mumford and Sons

Mumford and Sons debuted with an EP in 2008, Love Your Ground. Their first full length studio album, Sigh No More, was released in 2010.  While promoting their album in the U.S. in 2011, they credit their introduction to American Roots music to Emmy Lou Harris and began writing songs for their second studio album. These songs would eventually become part of their next album released in 2012, Babel. Also in 2011, Mumford and Sons toured the U.S. with the Old Crowe Medicine Show and Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros on the inaugural Railroad Revival Tour. This tour was inspired by the Festival Express tour across Canada in 1970 that featured Janis Joplin, Buddy Guy, The Grateful Dead and The Band.

Winning awards since 2010, notably the Grammy for Best Album in 2012, for Babel, the British band has distinguished itself by becoming known as an Americana band, although none of the members were born or raised, American.  This has offended some, and inspired others. Is it possible for someone who has not participated in the American Experience to incorporate the values and vision of America and to reinterpret it, and sell it back to us? To understand that they have done this, one must understand something about the Americana genre and how it is different.  Americana is not a preservationist genre of music. It recognizes that Americans have a deep past, always migrating from somewhere else, bringing along with them, their experiences and melding them together with each new beginning. Like a language, Americana music is ever growing, moving and reinventing itself. Music, no matter how exclusive and rarified, has little meaning in the social context, if no one relates to it or cares about it. America listened to Mumford and Sons and it seemed to recognize that they were special. In turn, Mumford and Sons has become a highly visible and influential band in American music. The presence of the piano accordion in this band, more than any other event to date, has meant an exciting resurgence in interest in the instrument in the US.

Since co-founding Mumford and Sons, Ben Lovett has evolved as a multi-instrumentalist, producer, as well as founding a record company and a live music promotion team in the UK, Communion. Lovett produced Ellie Goulding’s critically acclaimed album Lights in 2010, as well as a self titled album for Simon Felice, formerly of the Felice Brother’s, in 2011.