They sure love their bluegrass in Virginia! I lived in Alexandria for five years, and during that time I was exposed lots of great bluegrass music via a weekly local Sunday morning radio show. As is still the case now, the best venue to go see live bluegrass music was at the Birchmere in Alexandria, Virginia. And from the late ‘60s through the late ‘80s, The Seldom Scene played there every Thursday night to mostly sold out audiences with guest like Emmylou Harris, Linda Ronstadt, John Prine, Lowell George and Vince Gill sitting in.
I was saddened to hear of the loss of Mike Auldridge, one of the greatest dobro players in all of bluegrass music, who died this past Saturday. Auldridge was a founding member of The Seldom Scene. The classic lineup of the Scene formed in Bethesda, Maryland in 1971 and included Auldridge on dobro and vocals, John Starling on lead vocals and guitar, John Duffey (originally of Country Gentlemen) on mandolin, Ben Eldridge on banjo and Tom Gray (also of Country Gentlemen) on bass.
When they formed, it was decided that the group would be a non-touring band who performed once a week, first at the Red Fox Inn in Bethesda, MD (for the first 6 years), and then at The Birchmere in Alexandria. Each member of the group kept their day jobs as well – Starling was a doctor, Duffey repaired musical instruments, Auldridge was a graphic artist, Eldridge a mathematician and Gray made maps for “National Geographic.”
While their album “Live At The Cellar Door” (1974) is the best representation of what it was like to attend a gig by the original lineup, this essential lineup of musicians also recorded a clutch of great studio albums including the classic “Act I,” “Act II” & “Act III” albums (1972-3), “Old Train” (1973) and “The New Seldom Scene Album” (1976). While the Scene performed their fair share of the classic bluegrass repertoire, their appeal was more to college educated urban types due to their penchant of amply mixing songs by James Taylor, Steve Goodman, Bobby Darin, Eric Clapton and Bob Dylan into their mix.
By the time I first caught them at The Birchmere in the early 1980s; Starling had left the group and was replaced by the equally talented singer Phil Rosenthal. This was the only lineup of the group that I had the pleasure to experience on several occasions. The level of musicianship in this group was astoundingly high, and in John Duffy, the group had an amicable performer with a larger-than-life personality who was responsible for most the group’s between song patter. Duffy passed away in 1996 after suffering a heart attack. The group still performs regularly today with a lineup helmed by original member Ben Eldridge.
This past year, Mike Auldridge was a recipient of the National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellowship and completed a trio album with fellow Dobro players Jerry Douglas and Rob Ickes. Today’s Song Of The Day was recorded at The Lisner Auditorium in Washington DC on March 1, 1973.