It was in the late 1960s when I heard about a reunion of guitar phemenomenon Clarence White, then with the Byrds and his old group the Kentucky Colonels at the Ash Grove. I’d seen them all there, back in in 1962 and beyond, when my group The Scragg Family began playing there, and I lost no time in wending my way down the 101 from Santa Barbara to Hollywood and 8162 Melrose Blvd. for the show. There was a mob of people there, most of whom I knew, who wouldn’t dream of missing a night like this! We weren’t dissappointed.
We were going to be treated to some rather mcabre sights and sounds during this show. The Colobels, starting with Clarence’s brother Roland White and all the rest of them, were dressed in the familiar red blazers and black string ties and trowsers which compristed their standard uniform. Clarence, on the other hand, wore a Nudie country-cut three piece suit fashioned from baby blue colored leather. His hair, in contrast to the rest of the band, was long, dark, and below shoulder length. They sounded great, obviously happy to be playing together again. Clarence was making his guitar sing, each solo developing in intensity as the everning wore on. This is the way I prefer to remember the Colonels on up until modern times. Those guys were friends of mine, always a source of inspiration.
Now, banjoist Bob Black has added book authoring to his talents! And he’s done a fine job. His new work, “Roland White – Mandolin Man” has recently been released by the University of Illinois Press.
It was such a pleasure to see this work about an old friend from early Southern California bluegrass days. I first met Roland ca. 1963 when my group The Scragg Family played the Hollywood music club, The Ash Grove. Roland, his brother Clarence, Billy Ray Lathum, Roger Bush, The Kentucky Colonels had recently formed and were wowing the crowds there with hard-driving bluegrass.
Bluegrass, a vigorous new musical style developed by Kentuckian Bill Monroe beginning in 1938, had reached across the country by the mid 1950s, and was becoming firmly established in California by 1960. Roland’s story, along with that of his two brothers Eric and Clarence White, forms a strong thread running through Southern California’s rich music environment.
Mandolin Man, with its empathies in California, makes this an especially fascinating glimpse into the happenings in our Golden State. To us bluegrass “oldies”, it’s a series of flashbacks to an earlier time, of clubs and musicians we grew up with, detailing adventures that many have shared in and still love hearing about. For younger readers, it’s a detailed update on essential bluegrass and country music history. Mr. Black has devoted some considerable time to research, and I for one, am grateful for his hard work. By following Roland’s career through his work with his brothers, The Country Boys, to The Kentucky Colonels. playing for bluegrass greats Bill Monroe, Lester Flatt, to more recent times with Country Gazette, The Nashville Bluegrass Band, and his own group The Roland White Band, one can trace now only Roland’s development as a musician, but also the evolution and spread of the entire bluegrass genre.
This work is highly recommended to anyone with an interest in bluegrass, especially it’s strong branch on the West Coast.