Wednesday, April 06, 2005
A conversation with . . .
50 years of banjo picking and still loving it
Bluegrass star J.D. Crowe began playing music professionally in the mid-1950s and went on to influence generations of players with his band The New South.
He has been honored with Grammy and International Bluegrass Music Association awards, and was named the IBMA's 2004 banjo player of the year.
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Though he plays a less frantic touring schedule than he used to, the Lexington, Ky., native has been around every bluegrass block and continues to be a driving force. Crowe recently took a few minutes to talk about gigging, recording, the old days and the future. He performs at 7 p.m. Saturday with special guests Heather Berry and Virginia Carolina in the Auburn High School auditorium in Riner.
Do you enjoy these smaller gigs?
J.D. Crowe: I enjoy them as much as the big ones.
You’ve played some big ones. Do you have a favorite kind of gig?
JDC: Actually my favorite kind of gigs are indoors, the big 800 to 1,500-seat auditoriums. That’s about my favorite type of gig.
Is it the sound quality?
JDC: The sound quality and the comfort. I also like the outdoor gigs — they break up the monotony. . . . They’re also hotter than blazes in the summertime.
That can add a lot of complications, too, when it’s 95 degrees out there and all the instruments are going out of tune. What are you doing these days besides music?
JDC: Not really anything. That’s the only thing I do — that’s my main thing.
How often are you touring around?
JDC: Just weekends. I work about 50 days a year — that’s all I want to work.
Sounds like plenty right there.
JDC: Yeah, it gets to be pretty hectic sometimes.
I know you’ve had your touring days, that’s for sure.
JDC: Oh yeah, 150 days a year. I don’t want no more of that.
Musically, what do you do most of these days?
JDC: Right now we got a new CD that we just finished that will hopefully be out here this summer. . . . We’ve been working on that for probably about two years now.
Do you like the studio thing, or is it a drag for you?
JDC: It’s OK. . . . I’m not as gung-ho about it as I used to be.
Can become a task at times.
JDC: Yeah it does. Really one of my worst pet peeves is going in the studio and recording. I like the live stuff, in front of a crowd.
Yeah, that’s where the energy is, and also you don’t have to play the same part 5,000 times in a row either.
JDC: That’s true.
What are your plans for the future? Do you have any?
JDC: Not really, just to do what we’re doing now. And that’s playing some gigs and enjoying it.
What do you enjoy most about it? I almost want to ask you, “What’s it like being J.D. Crowe?”
JDC: Like anything else. It’s a job. . . . Music has really been my mainstay, and probably always will be.
And it’s pretty much been there your whole life for you. I know in your teens you were pretty much already hitting it.
JDC: Yeah, I started very early.
What got you into music anyway?
JDC: Well ’cause I’ve always liked music. My family always liked it. We listened to the Grand Ole Opry every Saturday night growing up. . . . I guess I got started when I first heard Flatt and Scruggs. . . . And I went and seen ’em, and that’s what got me started with the banjo, was watching Earl Scruggs.
And then it was pretty much just on from there.
JDC: I told my dad, I said “I’d like to try to do that, I think I could do that.” That instrument just fascinated me, ’cause I’d never seen anybody play . . . the banjo like that style. It was totally new back then. It was a different sound, and it wasn’t everybody doing it. So . . . when I was about 13 . . . it started from there and I just kept on going.
And it’s been a while.
JDC: Professionally about 50 years.
What do you enjoy most about it? Or is that just a vague question? It’s love of music, right?
JDC: The worst part of playing is getting to the gig and getting back home. That’s the hard part. Traveling anymore, it’s not as fun as it used to be. It wears you down quick. But I enjoy playing, I enjoy getting on stage, and really being around all the other performers.
So after all these years, when you get through everything else, being on stage is still a good time for you.
JDC: Yeah. That’s the best part of it.