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The Seldom Scene

Original lineup of The Seldom Scene in 1973: John Duffey, Mike Auldridge, Tom Gray, Ben Eldridge, John Starling
Background information
Origin Bethesda, Maryland, United States
Genres Bluegrass, country, Progressive bluegrass
Years active 1971 - present
Labels Rebel Records, Sugar Hill Records
Associated acts Chesapeake, Country Gentlemen
Members
Ben Eldridge
Lou Reid
Fred Travers
Ronnie Simpkins
Dudley Connell
Former members
John Starling
John Duffey
Mike Auldridge
Tom Gray
Phil Rosenthal
T. Michael Coleman
Moondi Klein

The Seldom Scene is an American bluegrass band formed in 1971 in Bethesda, Maryland.

Contents

Early history

The band formed out of the weekly jam sessions in the basement of banjo player Ben Eldridge. These sessions included John Starling on guitar and lead vocals, Mike Auldridge on Dobro and baritone vocals, and Tom Gray on bass. Then came mandolinist John Duffey, who had quit the Country Gentlemen two years before due to disillusionnment with the music business. Duffey was invited to the jam sessions, hit it off with John Starling, and decided to give music another try at the time when Auldridge arranged for the group to play as a performing band.[1]

Members background

Duffey proposed some rules that the others agreed to, including playing only one night a week at local clubs, doing occasional concerts and festivals on weekends, making records, and keeping their day jobs. Duffey repaired musical instruments, Eldridge was a mathematician, Starling a physician, Auldridge a graphic artist, and Gray a cartographer with National Geographic. The Scene's first home was the Red Fox Inn in Bethesda, Maryland, where they spent six years before starting weekly performances at The Birchmere Music Hall in Alexandria, Virginia.

Rise to popularity

Bluegrass reached a second peak in popularity in the early 1970s, and the progressive bluegrass style played by The Seldom Scene was particularly popular. Duffey's stratospheric tenor anchored the group, but the vocal blend of Duffey/Starling/Auldridge set a new standard that attracted new audiences to what had been a niche music. Their weekly shows included bluegrass versions of country music, rock, and even classical pop. The band's popularity soon forced them to play more than once a week--but they continued to maintain their image as being seldom seen, and on several of their early album covers were photographed with the stage lights on only their feet, or with their backs to the camera.

Though the Scene remained a non-touring band, they were prolific recorders, producing seven albums in their first five years of existence, including two live albums (among the first live bluegrass albums). But the band's philosophy of not touring and maintaining their day jobs eventually caused some changes in membership.

The classic Seldom Scene lineup Starling-Duffey-Eldridge-Gray-Auldridge recorded probably the best material of the group - the first six studio albums.

Departure of John Starling

In 1978, John Starling left the group to focus on his medical career (he is a pediatrician), and was replaced by singer and songwriter Phil Rosenthal, whose song "Muddy Water" had been recorded by the Scene on two earlier albums. Starling and Rosenthal shared their lead vocals on the groups sixth studio album, Baptizing (recorded in 1978). Around the same time, the group switched record labels from Rebel Records to Sugar Hill.

Rosenthal as a lead signer

The band recorded several more albums in the 1980s and firmly established themselves as one of the most influential bluegrass bands. The line-up of Rosenthal-Duffey-Gray-Auldridge-Eldridge, might be called as "second classic", as they recorded five albums of a very comparable quality and popularity to the ones with the founding members, including John Starling. Rosenthal proved to be as good lead signer as Starling and his baryton voice contrasted well with Duffey's high tenor extravaganzas. He also wrote typically two to three songs on each of the album and also added acoustic guitar solos to the group. [2]

More changes in lineup

In 1986, Phil Rosenthal and Tom Gray both left the band to focus on other pursuits, and were replaced by Lou Reid and T. Michael Coleman, respectively. Coleman proved to be very controversial, as many purists objected to his use of an electric bass in what is an acoustic genre, but the albums produced by the band after Coleman's arrival maintained the traditional appeal of any of the Scene's earlier albums.

Reid left the band in 1993, and Duffey convinced former member John Starling to return to the band for the next year. During that year the Scene recorded the album "Like We Used To Be," but Starling did not wish to stay with the band long term. He was replaced in 1994 by lead singer Moondi Klein.

Throughout these changes, John Duffey remained the group's spiritual center and greatest influence, and his initial ideas about keeping a light touring schedule and staying close to home continued to prevail. Though there had been disagreements about this philosophy before, it wasn't until after Starling left for the second time that it cost the band a majority of its members at once. During 1995 and 1996, Klein and Coleman, along with original member Mike Auldridge, left the group to form a new band called Chesapeake. This new band became a full-time project for its members, and for a time the Scene stopped recording.

Duffey and Ben Eldridge, the two remaining original members, recruited resophonic guitar player Fred Travers, bassist Ronnie Simpkins, and guitarist and singer Dudley Connell to join the band, and the reconstituted group recorded an album in 1996 and continued live appearances.

John Duffey's death

For 25 years The Seldom Scene remained extremely popular in bluegrass circles even with the near-constant personnel changes. But the band was dealt what seemed a crushing blow in late 1996, when founder and leader John Duffey suffered a fatal heart attack. Duffey had been widely regarded as one of the most powerful and entertaining stage performers in bluegrass, and there was no one who could replace him.

Seldom Scene without Duffey

Nonetheless, the band was simply too popular to disappear for good. Banjoist Ben Eldridge, the sole remaining original member and a significant force in banjo music in his own right, assumed leadership of the band. Former guitarist Lou Reid rejoined the band on mandolin. Initially the new Scene concentrated on live performances, but in 2000 the group recorded a new album, "Scene it All." The Seldom Scene continues to tour, and remains on the Sugar Hill label for future recordings.

Seldom Scene today

Seldom Scene continues to excel in the bluegrass scene and recently received critical acclaim for their work. Their latest CD, "Scenechronized", recorded in 2007, has been nominated for a Grammy award.[3]

In July 2008 Seldom Scene performed at a White House dinner honoring the 2008 U.S. Olympic team as well as previous U.S. Olympians. Seldom Scene also played the National Folk Festival (USA) July 11-13, 2008 representing bluegrass music.

The band currently consists of Dudley Connell (guitar/lead vocals), Ben Eldridge (banjo), Lou Reid (mandolin/tenor vocals), Fred Travers (dobro/lead vocals), and Ronnie Simpkins (bass/baritone vocals). Ben Eldridge's son, Chris, also frequently performs with the group.

Discography

Recorded under Rebel Records

Recorded under Sugar Hill Records

Band lineups

The Seldom Scene lineups
1971 – 1977
1977 – 1978
1978 – 1986
1986 – 1993
1993 – 1994
1994 - 1995
1995 - 1996
  • Dudley Connell - guitar, vocals
  • Ronnie Simpkins - bass
  • John Duffey - mandolin, vocals
  • Fred Travers - Dobro, vocals
  • Ben Eldridge - banjo, guitar
1995 - 1996
  • Dudley Connell - guitar, vocals
  • Ronnie Simpkins - bass
  • Lou Reid - mandolin, guitar, vocals
  • Fred Travers - Dobro, vocals
  • Ben Eldridge - banjo, guitar

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Seldom Scene timeline

References

External links

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