We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.
Having recently returned to re-immerse myself in Washington’s acoustic-music scene after nine years in Nashville and San Diego, I was gratified to read the well-written, respectful yet unflinching cover story on Buzz Busby (“End Note,” 12/8). While learning the bluegrass ropes in the mid-’70s through the ’80s, I had opportunities to see Buzz at his best and worst. I recall him embarrassingly drunk at a festival; yet when I had the honor of playing banjo with the Bayou Boys on a Maryland Public Television biography of Buzz’s brother Wayne, Buzz was sharp and funny, and his mandolin playing was right on the money. I hope Buzz will receive his due accolades while he’s still around to enjoy them.
The inclusion of Bob Perilla and Big Hillbilly Bluegrass’ steady Wednesday-night gig at Madam’s Organ was a great tie-in to Buzz’s legacy. It’s truly an amazing scene! People who think bluegrass music is all about the banjo-playing kid in Deliverance or a bunch of overalls-clad farmers singing through their noses should check out the diverse, hip, international crowd dancing and singing along as the band lays down its solid, driving brand of progressive bluegrass. (By the way, some of the most fun I’ve ever had is jamming with overalls-clad farmers singing through their noses, but that’s a different subculture of bluegrass.)
A couple of quibbling points: (1) Although Roy Clark is known to TV audiences for playing banjo on Hee Haw, he’s not a bluegrass musician, but a great guitarist and country singer who also plays some banjo. (2) Bill Emerson played banjo, not guitar, for BuzzCharlie Waller was the guitaristwhen Buzz had the horrific car wreck described in the beginning of the story. Emerson called John Duffey to fill in on mandolin, and the trio soon became the Country Gentlemen. When Emerson left the band shortly after its formation, Eddie Adcock, who had been in the accident with Buzz, stepped into the banjo spot. Adcock’s unique style blew people’s minds with its blend of standard bluegrass with pedal-steel licks and rockabilly guitar influences. (Adcock deserves as much credit as bandmate Duffey for initially “push[ing] the limits of the bluegrass form, giving it a dynamic range that few had thought possible.” After Duffey, and then Adcock, left the Country Gentlemen, Duffey formed the Seldom Scene and Adcock formed the IInd Generation. Both groups continued to expand the bluegrass idiom, but Adcock’s music was too far out for the time, and Duffey’s band became the most popular bluegrass band of the ’70s.) (3) Ricky Skaggs’ name was misspelled.