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March 6, 2008


Muleskinner was the first and perhaps the only true bluegrass supergroup. They counted as their members David Grisman (mandolin), Richard Greene (fiddle), Bill Keith (banjo), Peter Rowan (vocals, rhythm guitar), and the late, great Clarence White (lead guitar). Each member was the best in the genre on their particular instrument. They had played with such luminaries as Bill Monroe, the Jim Kweskin Jug Band, the Even Dozen Jug Band, SeaTrain, Earth Opera, and The Byrds. They have all become bandleaders since then, headlining major festivals, with the exception of Clarence, who died before his impact was fully appreciated.

They were all masters of traditional bluegrass and they were all the leading innovators and pioneers of a progressive bluegrass that incorporated jazz, country rock, and classical into the driving rhythm and tight harmonies of the traditional music. This album was sort of a way of announcing to the world, "so there's this new thing..." but unfortunately it was ignored by the people of the 70s, who were too busy being blown away by the distortion and ear-crushing volume of British rock stars to notice that something really interesting was happening.

But something really interesting was happening, and you can hear it on such tunes as David Grisman's "Opus 57 in G minor". This is one of the most powerful, frightening, and beautiful tunes I have ever heard. This album set the stage for all the progressive bluegrass (or newgrass) that followed, including the Dawg music of David Grisman which would finally awaken people to this new interesting kind of music some years down the road. But they weren't just young kids who wanted to do something modern. They all had mastered the traditions of bluegrass (Keith, Greene, and Rowan having played with Bill Monroe), and they used these traditions as a foundation upon which to expand.

The group was actually formed for a TV show that was going to launch bluegrass into the spotlight. They were "supposed to be the opening act for Bill Monroe that night, at Hollywood's KCET studios, but the Boss' bus broke down near Stockton, and they never arrived. The sextet had played together in various combinations, so they whipped up a longer set list and rehearsed a couple of hours and did the gig."* The TV show was successful so they made an album, which wasn't particularly successful. I don't think they ever did any touring; they just went back to their own bands and continued making great, innovative music. 5 months after the show, Clarence White was killed by a drunk driver, while loading equipment into a truck.

This album is dedicated to Clarence.

Muleskinner - A Potpourri of Bluegrass Jam (originally just titled Muleskinner)
Year: 1974
the above musicians with John Kahn, bass; and John Guerin, drums

get it here.
mr (vinyl, cleaned) | mp3 192+kbps vbr | with cover | 58mb

and here is the soundtrack to the TV show that started it all:
Muleskinner - Muleskinner Live
Year: 1973
the above musicians with Stuart Schulman, bass

get it here.
nmr | mp3 128 kbps | with cover | 36mb

and you can get the video of Muleskinner Live here.


Anonymous said...

Being British and of the 70s let me assure you that Muleskinner was one a favourite album of the time amongst my circle.

rowgatien said...

Greetings! Thanks for this post, I can't get enough of Clarence's subtle hands.