For The Love of Bluegrass

Today I shredded out some harmonies on Muskoka Bound, which I wrote after a good dose of listening to the work of Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerrard. Muskoka Bound is about various people being trapped in their cars on Highway 400, headed north, each with a “bullet in their soul”.

“Hang that sorrow by the evergreen / Heartache and the campfire / Too many big wheels in between.” – Muskoka Bound

A challenging song to sing. Years of singing pop and rock have created some emotive habits that aren’t really part of this new approach. There’s a lovely forelorn plaintive quality to the work of Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerrard. And in my blood, there are a lot of Casey Kasem Top 40 hits of which I would prefer to rid myself at this point.I didn’t know that just as we were starting a band that has its roots in, well, roots, Hazel Dickens had passed away. A little about her:

Hazel Jane Dickens (June 1, 1935 – April 22, 2011) was an American bluegrass singer, songwriter, double bassist and guitarist. Her music was characterized not only by her high, lonesome singing style, but also by her provocative pro-union, feminist songs. Cultural blogger John Pietaro noted that “Dickens didn’t just sing the anthems of labor, she lived them and her place on many a picket line, staring down gunfire and goon squads, embedded her into the cause.” The New York Times extolled her as “a clarion-voiced advocate for coal miners and working people and a pioneer among women in bluegrass music”. Hazel Dickens died at age 75. Extolling that “music saves mountains”, fans and supporters of Dicken’s activism announced a special memorial, Tribute to West Virginia Music Legend Hazel Dickens at the Charleston, West Virginia Cultural Center on June 5, 2011, four days after what would have been her 76th birthday.

Now, Trent Severn isn’t a bluegrass band, but we certainly have the love and respect for old tyme and modern bluegrass. And I love the vocal stylings of the female pioners in bluegrass. I also have always loved the banjo. When Dayna bought her banjo in Fort St. John a few months back, I knew that would be a match made in heaven. Anyone who has seen Dayna Manning play guitar know she can knock the socks off the fastest pickers in the north. Wait till we are in our 70’s. 

Around the same time Hazel Dickens passed away, Chris Pandolfi wrote The Bluegrass Manifesto. It is worth a read, for bluegrass enthusiasts, and music lovers in general.



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