If you’ve read this blog in the past you know that in many instances the biggest part of my musical listening is the picking! Yes I love good lyrics, but I also love the instruments whether it’s a harmonica, organ, guitar, banjo, fiddle or dobro put them in the hands of a master and I’m all ears!
On Saturday one of the all-time great dobro players passed away. Mike Auldridge lost has battle against cancer and died at the age of 73. Mike is right up there among the greatest players of all-time right along side of Josh Graves, Jerry Douglas and Rob Ickes. Mike didn’t start playing music full-time until he was around 40, when the Washington Star-News closed its doors. He co-founded the Seldom Scene in 1971 and through the years he has been an in demand session musician playing with the likes of Bill Monroe, Linda Ronstadt, Emmylou Harris, Ricky Skaggs, Doc Watson, Ralph Stanley, and many more.
Over the last few years he has worked with Eric Brace and Peter Cooper and recorded a great album titled The Master Sessions with Peter, Eric and pedal steel guitar legend Lloyd Green. What a thrill it must have been for Eric and Peter to record with their idols. Last night on Facebook Peter Cooper posted a letter he sent to Mike after Mike received the National Heritage Fellowship Award
I met you in the late 1980s when I was a young pup, a high schooler hopped up on a few beers the Birchmere shouldn’t legally have sold me. I tugged your arm and told you I couldn’t understand why people were talking about Jerry Douglas, because you were the greatest dobro player in the world. You looked at me sternly, and said, “You need to LISTEN to Jerry Douglas.”
That was the first of many lessons you taught me: Musicians aren’t sports teams, there’s no score to keep, and no one has to arm-wrestle about good, better and best. Since then, I’ve taken care not to place my heroes in some kind of hypothetical and unnecessary competition. Free from that competition, we can all go in search of our own unique voice, and if we find it then the world can hear something it hasn’t heard before.
Your voice is elegant, nuanced, lustrous. It’s somehow silvered and technicolored, at once. And it changed things, as yours was the first modern dobro voice. Your melodic and melancholy work with Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt brought the instrument into the popular conversation, and it appealed to ears that might have (unfortunately, of course) turned deaf to Uncle Josh’s old-school, joyful clatter. Your playing was crucial in the dobro’s rise from acoustic afterthought to popular ubiquity. That instrument ought to kiss your ass every day!
As a kid watching the Seldom Scene, I sat and stared up at you on so many Birchmere nights. I remember the way the stage lights shone off your resonator, and I remember the creases in your jeans. Most of all, I remember music that seemed heavy enough to press down on my chest, and music that was light enough to uplift. I remember some really bad John Duffey jokes, too, but that’s neither here nor there. I thought nothing could compete with those Seldom Scene experiences of my youth, but there’s where I was wrong again: I felt the same powerful emotions when I was able to go in the studio with you and your friend Lloyd Green. Witnessing two slide masters playing off each other was, for me and everyone else who was there, profound, beautiful and indelible.
Your National Heritage Fellowship Award is so deserved. I love it when the good guy – the right guy – wins. Oh, and I’ve been listening to Jerry Douglas. And he’s fantastic. And when I tell him that, he says, “You need to LISTEN to Mike Auldridge.”
I’m so glad for who you are, for what you’ve done, and for how those things are interconnected.
I saw this when I was at work at Target last and thought it was great and asked Peter’s permission to reprint it here, which he kindly gave, then when I came home I read this wonderful piece by Eric Brace Mike Auldridge: A Dobro master’s resonant work Boy I wish I could write as well as these guys!
I have to confess, I have not been a huge fan of Mike’s through the years certainly nowhere near the level of Peter or Eric, but I tell you based on what they’ve written and what I’ve heard on The Master Sessions, I’m gonna LISTEN to Mike Auldridge! And I can’t wait for the release of the album Mike did with Jerry Douglas and Rob Ickes!
Here’s Mike Auldridge with Eric and Peter – as they perform “Wait A Minute” from The Master Sessions – oh what a sweet sounding dobro – it will be missed!