Bluegrass All-Stars Celebrate Legendary Musician John Duffey | Shore Fire Media

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16 May, 2018Print

Bluegrass All-Stars Celebrate Legendary Musician John Duffey

Bluegrass All-Stars Celebrate Legendary Musician John Duffey

'Epilogue: A Tribute to John Duffey,' out June 22 on Smithsonian Folkways Recordings

'Epilogue: A Tribute to John Duffey' offers heartfelt testimony to the enduring art of late musician John Duffey, who is often referred to as "the father of modern bluegrass." Duffey was a leader of two prominent groups, The Country Gentlemen and The Seldom Scene, a mentor, powerful performer, and a great showman besides.

John Duffey helped extend Folkways founder Moses Asch's mission to "document the people's music" by pushing the frontiers of bluegrass and inspiring many others in the process. Now in 2018, during Folkways Records' 70th anniversary, 'Epilogue' serves as a celebration and honoring of Duffey's influence on the genre he helped to shape.

'Epilogue: A Tribute to John Duffey' was produced by Akira Otsuka and Ronnie Freeland, who assembled a rare all-star bluegrass cast of musicians to reinterpret songs that helped make Duffey one of the greatest players in the genre. 'Epilogue' brings together Country Gentlemen- and Seldom Scene-related members, plus many more, 53 in total, including David Grisman, Nils Lofgren, Bela Fleck, and Amanda and Kenny Smith. 

Listen to a 4-song sampler.

With his mastery of the mandolin, dobro and guitar, and blessed with a startling four-octave singing voice, John Duffey helped to transform bluegrass from a regional Appalachian music to a diverse and vibrant international sound. In the early 1960s, it even piqued the ears of a young Otsuka, who was learning to play the mandolin in Japan. He idolized Duffey and taught himself to play his hero's instrumental passages note for note. Duffey eventually heard and produced Otsuka's band, Bluegrass 45, an experience that led to a lifelong friendship.

Although Duffey grew up in a musical family, he didn't pick up an instrument until he was 17. Influenced by the likes of Bill Monroe, Frank Wakefield and the Stanley Brothers, he mastered the mandolin and guitar. In 1957, when a car accident sidelined several members of the D.C.-based bluegrass band Buzz Busby and the Bayou Boys, Duffey joined with banjo player Bill Emerson and singer/guitarist Charlie Waller to form a new group. Citing how many bluegrass outfits used the word "boys" in their names, Duffey proposed, "We're gentlemen," and with that, the new band became The Country Gentlemen. For the next decade, The Country Gentlemen toured steadily and issued a series of enthusiastically received albums on Folkways Records. Eventually, Duffey tired of life on the road and quit the band to focus on instrument repairs in Arlington, Virginia. 

His retirement did not last long, however; two years later, he started taking part in basement jam sessions led by banjo player Ben Eldridge. After several of these sessions with guitarist John Starling, dobro player Mike Auldridge and former Country Gentlemen bassist Tom Gray, a new band took shape: The Seldom Scene. The band's progressive blend of traditional bluegrass instrumentation with country, jazz and rock-oriented material became extremely popular in the ?70s and ?80s. Unfortunately, an untimely heart attack took John's life in December 1996 on the eve of a tour.

Few musicians have had quite as profound an impact on the bluegrass world as Duffey, and for both new listeners and fans already familiar with his work, 'Epilogue: A Tribute to John Duffey' serves as a fitting testimony to his career.

"Sad and Lonesome Day," first recorded by The Carter Family, became one of The Country Gentlemen's best-loved numbers. On 'Epilogue,' complementing Jerry Douglas' soulful dobro playing are Duffey's Country Gentlemen bandmates, Eddie Adcock and producer Otsuka, channeling Duffey's wild lines on the late musician's own Gibson F-12 mandolin.


Duffey covered the plaintive ballad "If That's the Way You Feel" with both The Country Gentlemen and The Seldom Scene, and on this album, Amanda and Kenny Smith are joined by two illustrious pickers, E Street Band member Nils Lofgren on dobro and Adam Steffey on mandolin. The results are luminous and transporting.

The Country Gentlemen reimagined Bob Dylan's stately ballad "Girl from the North Country" as a medium-tempo bluegrass affair. Otsuka's rendering stays true to the Gentlemen's lighthearted approach.

Duffey's original composition "Christmas Time Back Home" has been a favorite of the holiday season, and 'Epilogue' features a new recording of the track including members of The Country Gentlemen, The Seldom Scene, and 29 other singers spreading good cheer.

During his 40-year career, John Duffey's distinctive playing and singing, along with his eclectic creativity, broadened the horizons of bluegrass and raised the standards of the genre. 'Epilogue: A Tribute to John Duffey' is a loving and joyous celebration of his immeasurable contributions to bluegrass.

'Epilogue: A Tribute to John Duffey' Track List: 

1. Sad and Lonesome Day

2. If That's the Way You Feel

3. If I Were a Carpenter

4. Lonesome River

5. Sunrise

6. Going to the Races

7. Some Old Day

8. Girl From the North Country

9. He Was a Friend of Mine

10. Poor Ellen Smith

11. Reason For Being

12. Ain't Gonna Work Tomorrow

13. Chim-Chim-Cher-Ee

14. Cold Wind a Blowin'

15. Christmas Time Back Home

16. Bringing Mary Home

17. First Tear

Musicians featured: Eddie & Martha Adcock, Mike Auldridge, Alan Bartram, Wayne Benson, Ronnie Bowman, Sam Bush, Dudley Connell, John Cowan, Jerry Douglas, Jonathan Edwards, Ben Eldridge, Bill Emerson, Shelton Feazell, Bela Fleck, Jimmy Gaudreau, Tom Gray, David Grier, David Grisman, Steve Gulley, Ron Inscore, James King, Tim Kruzic, Jack Lawrence, Nils Lofgren, Marc MacGlashan, Bruce Molsky, Jason Moore, Tim O'Brien, Akira Otsuka, David Parmley, Todd Phillips, Lou Reid, Tony Rice, Wyatt Rice, Don Rigsby, Beth & Phil Rosenthal, Mark Schatz, Sammy Shelor, Rickie Simpkins, Ronnie Simpkins, Amanda & Kenny Smith, John Starling, Adam Steffey, Ron Stewart, Chris Stifel, Ron Thomason, Fred Travers, Randy Waller, Rick Watson, Dede Wyland


Going into its 70th year, Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, the "National Museum of Sound," makes available close to 60,000 tracks in physical and digital format as the nonprofit record label of the Smithsonian, with a reach of 80 million people per year. A division of the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, the non-profit label is dedicated to supporting cultural diversity and increased understanding among people through the documentation, preservation, production and dissemination of sound. Its mission is the legacy of Moses Asch, who founded Folkways Records in 1948 to document "people's music" from around the world. For more information about Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, visit

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