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									B-10                                                                                  Bluegrass Breakdown                                                                                April 007


Pam "Belle Monroe" Brandon:
Interview with San Francisco bluegrass artist from "back east"
By Chuck Poling                          sold my wedding dress and bought         are the only musicians who will get     long notes while going red in the       Cactus Bob’s camp late on night
    Belle Monroe and Her Brew-           a motorcycle with the money. I           off stage after a grueling set and go   face, something my mother didn’t        on the Campelot “stage” when a
glass Boys have been a mainstay of       think there’s a song in there some-      ”Dude, let’s go pick!” It’s the only    appreciate, but which prepared me       familiar voice joined me in harmo-
the San Francisco bluegrass scene        where. (I’m working on it, Pam.)         music genre I can think of that         well for singing Little Maggie. Oth-    ny on the choruses. I looked over
for about ten years now. Fronted                                                  spans generations and continues to      erwise, my first love was the piano,    my shoulder, startled to find Tim
by Pam Brandon on guitar and             I know your parents played folk          grow because older generations are      which I began playing at age 5, fol-    O’Brien right next to me, lurking
vocals, the band has maintained a        and bluegrass music, so it has           nurturing young children to play        lowed by the flute, then the banjo!     in the dark. In between choruses
steady lineup over the last five years   always been a part of your life.         and thrive in amongst their elders.                                             he drank whiskey with Brewglass
with Tom Drohan on bass, Ted Sil-        Did you ever go through a period         It’s kind of a social phenomenon        Who do you consider major in-           Boy Jordan Klein and ate all our
verman on mandolin and vocals,           of thinking it couldn’t be cool if       really. Somebody must be doing a        fluences?                               leftovers.
Jordan Klein on banjo and vocals,        your parents did it? Did you re-         PhD thesis on it somewhere.                 Most of my major influences
Rick Hendricks on dobro and vo-          discover the music at a later age                                                have been vocalists, including my       What brand/model was your first
cals, and Diana Greenberg (the           or were you always into it?              What do you like about the Bay          mom, Jean Brandon, who is a fan-        guitar? What are you playing
prettiest Brewglass Boy) on fiddle.          My parents were the coolest          Area bluegrass scene?                   tastic bluegrass vocalist. Peggy Lee,   now?
Belle and the Boys made all their        people I knew growing up, and                The Bay Area scene is a very        Ella Fitzgerald, Anita O’Day and            I grew up playing my mom’s
San Francisco pals proud this past       I hung out with them a lot more          supportive bunch of people, people      Sandy Denny have found their way        Martin D35 and borrowed her
summer when they placed third at         than any of my friends did with          who play together, refer each oth-      into my vocal style over the years,     “beach guitar” when I went off to
the prestigious Rockygrass Festival      their parents. We’d go to the jazz       ers bands for gigs, and throw great     rather than bluegrass vocalists real-   college. The first guitar I owned
Band Competition.                        club every Thursday night, the folk      picking parties...er, I mean festi-     ly. Richard Thompson and Martin         was a 1989 Santa Cruz Koa D
    They are well known for their        club every Friday night, a bluegrass     vals! There’s some great fun venues     Simpson, both Brits, fed my early       that I bought in 1990 from a guy
versatility, equally adept at work-      pick on Mondays, Irish sessions at       for playing, such as Amnesia (go        guitar work. Now I’m learning to        who’d had it custom made then
ing a crowd into a frenzy with a         the pub, etc. Our house contained        Shawn!) and Café DuNord (get            play the fiddle. When it comes          had it out, brand spanking new,
put-the-pedal-to-the-metal-tempo         so many instruments it would have        ‘em Guy!) here in SF, McGrath’s         to the fiddle you can’t beat Stu-       on a guitar stand when the Loma
breakdown, getting it to sing along      been impossible not to                                                                        art Duncan and Stuff       Prieta earthquake hit. A small hole
with a bluegrassed version of a Bea-     grow up a musician, and                                                                       Smith. Boy would I         was punctured in the top, but he
tles tune, or stunning them with a       musicians were always                                                                         like to see those two      never could live with the repair, so
slow, soulful ballad from the Duch-      coming to stay from                                                                           going head to head.        I bought it relatively cheaply. I still
ess of Bluegrass herself, Belle Mon-     out of town. We were a                                                                        That would be inter-       play it at home, but my Martin
roe. Of the many talented female         seven banjo household.                                                                        esting.                    D41 is my main axe for gigging.
vocalists in the Bay Area, she is no-    My father was a pothol-
table for the command she has over       er (spelunker) and on                                                                         You’ve been to a lot       How long have the Brewglass
her voice, easily moving from the        the Cave Rescue, and                                                                          of festivals and have      Boys been together?
kitten’s purr to a full-throated field   the police would come                                                                         jammed with a lot              The band began in 1995 as a
holler, and the range of emotion         once a year to check on                                                                       of notable pickers.        backing band for my parents when
with which she colors her subjects.      my father’s explosives                                                                        What are some of           they came over, and we carried on
Belle is also known for her com-         license but never the                                                                         your favorite blue-        after they left. Various people have
manding stage presence – everyone        banjos. I started play-                                                                       grass moments?             cycled through in the early years,
knows when Belle is on stage and         ing bluegrass bass with                                                                               Oh, man, there     including founding member Chazz
who’s in charge.                         my parents in a family                                                                        have been many…my          Casey on dobro and Craig Fletcher
    So who is Belle Monroe and           band when I was 16,                                                                           first gig on bass with     on banjo (Alhambra Valley Band,
just what is her story?                  right when my friends                                                                         the Peter Rowan Trio       Whiskey Brothers), but this partic-
    Folks, meet Pam Brandon. She’s       were actively avoiding                                                                        was a high point. We       ular lineup has been together about
from back east. Way east. All the        theirs. They thought I                                                                        kicked off the first       5 years.
way from merry old England, that         was mad.                                                                                      notes of Free Mexican
green and pleasant land. By now                                                                                                        Airforce and I though,     Are you all going back to Rocky-
it shouldn’t be too surprising that      How much of a blue-                                                                           holey moley, is this       grass this year?
bluegrass has worldwide appeal           grass scene is there in                                                                       really     happening?!         Everyone except Tom and Rick
and has devoted followers in the         the UK?                                       Pam Brandon circa 1968                          However, most of my        will go this year, because we all
United Kingdom, as well as dozens            There’s a small blue-                                                                     notable random picker      go to the Academy to soak up the
of other countries. But it’s always      grass scene in the UK,                                                                        moments have oc-           wisdom of the best players in the
                                                                                  in Alameda (Peter’s the man!),
fascinating to hear stories of how       and a few decent festivals, like                                                 curred at Rockygrass or IBMA sim-       business. The band won’t be there
                                                                                  the Sweetwater (thanks Larry!)
folks from other nations came to         Edale and Didmartin. Festivals in                                                ply because both places are overrun     this year to play though. I would’ve
                                                                                  and Iron Springs Pub in Fairfax
love bluegrass.                          England tend to be damp, muddy                                                   with notable pickers. I have sung       liked another crack at that band
                                                                                  (yay Mike and Anne!). Seriously
    I recently had a little chat with    affairs, with lots of pub picking.                                               swing with the Kruger Bothers in        contest, but we’re focusing on a
                                                                                  though, without great supportive
Pam about, among other things,           Very different to the festival experi-                                           camp at cocktail hour and hung          trip to IBMA instead.
                                                                                  venues, where would the bands
how she got into bluegrass, how          ence here. The rain makes for mis-                                               on for dear life playing bass with
                                                                                  and the scene be?
she emigrated to the States, and         erable BBQing. I think it’s hard for                                             the Stringdusters, Tim Stafford,        What else is ahead for you and
how explosives are used in cave          touring bluegrass bands to play in                                               Jim Van Cleve and Frankie Nagle         the Boys?
                                                                                  Who are some of your favorite
rescue. As we say in the newspaper       the UK. It’s relatively remote, hard                                             in Barefoot Kenny’s camp. I once            The Rockygrass competition
                                                                                  bluegrass artists of the past or
business, she makes good copy.           to get a work permit, and every-                                                 sat in Casey Driessen’s kitchen         last year resulted in some hard work
                                                                                  present?
                                         body smokes in pubs.                                                             and played for hours with Casey,        that re-energized us and provided
                                                                                      I had “Ragged But Right” by
Where are you from?                                                                                                       Noam Pikelny and David Grier,           some momentum that continues
                                                                                  the Greenbriar Boys when grow-
    I am from a walled Roman city        What do you love about bluegrass                                                 which was one of those “pinch me”       to this day. We are writing and
                                                                                  ing up. I wore that LP out. I
called Chester, in the North West        and why do you think it has such                                                 moments. At one of my very first        working on new tunes and plan to
                                                                                  think there are some really great
of England near Liverpool.               an enduring popularity?                                                          Rockygrass Academys I sang a duet       record in March. It will be a live
                                                                                  young bands out right now that I
                                             I love the sheer joy and adrena-                                             with Chris Thile around the camp        concert recording that we will do
                                                                                  have on heavy rotation on the old
When did you move to the U.S?            line that comes from the musicians,                                              table in the wee hours, only to be      at the Icehouse Recording Studio
                                                                                  mp3 player, such as the Infamous
Why?                                     the harmonies, the wonderfully                                                   stopped short by his then fiancée,      in San Rafael. The studio was built
                                                                                  Stringdusters, King Wilkie and the
   I was an exchange student at          breathtaking improvisational virtu-                                              who was in high school and had          by the guy that built the Abbey
                                                                                  Steep Canyon Rangers. Also, I love
Penn State University in my junior       osity that bluegrass demands at any                                              to get to bed. On the last night        Road studio the Beatles recorded
                                                                                  the Del McCoury Band and, for
year of college (84/85) and moved        speed. It’s an incredibly supportive                                             of IBMA a couple of years ago I         in, and to the same specs. We’re
                                                                                  something a bit different, the Kru-
here permanently in 1986. The            music scene where the audience is                                                sat on the arm of a couch in the        really looking forward to that. An
                                                                                  ger Brothers. The Dick Smith and
student year was for adventure, but      as much into playing it as listen-                                               Grey Fox hospitality suite singing      invited audience of about 20 peo-
                                                                                  Mike O’Reilly Band from the East
the permanent move was for love.         ing to it. The songs are fundamen-                                               in a jam at 5 AM, looking down          ple will participate, and we really
                                                                                  Coast write awesome songs.
I married an American. He was a          tally simple yet as complex as any                                               on this small perm-headed woman         want to capture the essence of our
musician, a bass player who had me       given player wants to make them,                                                 singing on the couch next to me. I      band in our element as a live act.
                                                                                  What was your first instrument
loading equipment into the van on        but the structure of the music al-                                               sat there for about an hour before      We aim to go to IMBA in Octo-
                                                                                  and when did you begin playing?
our wedding night. Hmmm. Di-             lows for jamming, which I’ve come                                                she finally moved and I realized I’d    ber and hopefully will secure some
                                                                                      My first instrument was my
vorce wasn’t too far off. I ditched      to believe is a form of drug. I met                                              been singing with Hazel Dickens.        showcase slots there with the new
                                                                                  voice, which was very loud even
the husband but kept the country.        an A&R man in Nashville at BMI                                                   I’ve had some good moments at           CD and take Nashville by storm,
                                                                                  as a baby. I could also scream very
When my divorce was made final I         who said that bluegrass musicians                                                Strawberry too. I was singing at        and fly the San Francisco bluegrass
April 007                                                                               Bluegrass Breakdown                                                                                           B-11


Pam "Belle      Bill Evans String Summit: the
Monroe" Brandon best of California generations
flag high! After that we’ll probably
secure a record deal, go on the road
                                            2008! Rumor has it I can be seen
                                            in action on an episode of Extreme
                                                                                     In April Concert showcases
in a too-small van, have intra-band         Engineering, but I’m not telling.
affairs, drink too much bourbon
and break up.                               Do your work and our music               By Kathy McFarland                        play with a group that plays just         and American music programs at
                                            worlds ever intersect?                       Have you heard the Bill Evans         one or two instrumentals per set. I       Las Positas College in Livermore.
You haven’t had any turnover in                 Every once in a great while, yes.    String Summit yet? If not, this           realized we could structure a show             “Cindy has been a tremendous-
the band in a long time. What’s             This happened big time in 1994           month will provide a great oppor-         just like I could with a singing band     ly positive force in every ensemble
your secret of success?                     when I played in the opening night       tunity to hear some of the best mu-       - mixing the moods and hopefully          that I’ve ever worked with her in.
    Nobody else will play with us.          concert at the Escondido Center          sicians California has to offer with      taking the audience to different          Her musical knowledge elevates
No, that’s not true. Really, I think        for the Arts, an 1800-seat concert       concerts scheduled for April 19th         places with this music. This isn’t a      the role of the bass in the band.
it’s that we all play with other            hall I had designed as lead structur-    through 22nd in Visalia and in the        jam band - it sounds like bluegrass       She still drives the group but her
bands too, so we never get sick of          al engineer. You can bet there were      greater San Francisco Bay Area.           and you’ll come away feeling just         lines are so melodic and flowing -
each other. It’s like an open mar-          a lot of jokes about the stage-house     Here are the show details:                as entertained and moved, at least I      and she solos!” says Bill. “She’s the
riage that works. We don’t play too         not collapsing during my perfor-                                                   hope, as hearing a band with great        heartbeat of the ensemble.”
often, and really enjoy it when we          mance. To illustrate this, somebody      Thursday, April 19: Mill Valley,          singing. The feeling with this band            Banjo player Bill Evans is a Vir-
do. I think that’s it. It certainly isn’t   dropped a stuffed teddy bear from        CA: With Keystone Crossing, The           comes out in the playing!” says           ginia native, known for his work
the money.                                  the fly gallery, 30 feet up, which       Sweetwater, 153 Throckmorton              Bill.                                     in the 1980’s with the progressive
                                            landed on the stage next to me in        Ave., 8:30 p.m. For further info,             It’s hard to imagine a more com-      band Cloud Valley (with mul-
                                            between songs. In the words of my        visit www.carltone.com.                   patible group of musicians. Tristan       tiple IBMA award winning bassist
                                            Sovereign, I was not amused.                                                       Clarridge, on fiddle and cello, is the    Missy Raines) and in the 1990’s
                                                                                     Friday, April 20: Visalia, CA: Col-       current Grand National Champion           with the ultra-traditionalists Dry
                                            What other kind of music do you          lege of the Sequoias, COS Theater,        Fiddler as well as having won many        Branch Fire Squad. Bill has now
                                            play and what do you like about          7:30 p.m. For further info, phone         other regional and national cham-         lived in California for a total of
                                            it?                                      510-559-8879.                             pionships. His older sister Tashina       fourteen years. His first stint in the
                                                 I play a fair amount of jazz and                                              has also won numerous national            state came in the 1980’s and early
                                            swing, mainly as a vocalist. I sing      Saturday, April 21: San Francisco,        and regional contests. “These guys        1990’s as a graduate student in eth-
                                            with Lost Weekend western swing          CA: Noe Valley Music Series, Noe          are really the most remarkable            nomusicology at UC Berkeley. In
                                            band, which is an honor as those         Valley Ministry, 1021 Sanchez St.,        things about this band. When they         1997, Bill returned to California
                                            guys are such great players. I sang      8:15 p.m., Tickets are $16 in ad-         performed together at last year’s         with his family. At that time, he
                                            for about 10 years in a successful       vance / $18 at the door. For addi-        CBA Music Camp concert, they              thought he would finally earn his
                                            swing band, the Chazz Cats, as           tional info, phone 415-454-5238.          got an immediate and spontaneous          doctorate and enter the university
                                            well as other miscellaneous jazz/        For further info visit www.noeval-        standing ovation from an audience         teaching job market but soon the
                                            swing projects such as the New           leymusicseries.com.                       of 500. Their communication is            PhD quest was laid aside and he
                                            Bing Thing, the D’Lilah Monroe                                                     telepathic - it’s more than double        had turned his full-time attention
                                            Trio, Mal Sharpe’s Big Money in          April 22: Felton, CA: Bill Evans          fiddling - although you’ll hear a lot     to a musical career.
                                            Jazz and the Groove Welds (a blues       String Summit (Scott Nygaard,             of this too!” says Bill.                       These days, Bill has created a
            Pam Brandon                     band with Brewglass boy Tom              Tashina Clarridge, Michael Witch-             In the Bill Evans String Sum-         successful career from private teach-
                                            Drohan). I love the jazz and swing       er, Cindy Browne, Tristan Clar-           mit, Tashina and Tristan’s fiddles        ing as well as leading workshops all
                                            stuff for the room it gives me vocal-    ridge), Don Quixote's Internation-        weave in and out of the band’s mu-        across the country and performing
I know you play guitar, bass, fid-          ly in texture and dynamics and the       al Music Hall, located 10 minutes         sical textures, soaring in solos and      not only with the String Summit
dle and piano. Do you have any              melodic opportunities that a more        from Santa Cruz, 6275 Highway 9           jaw dropping harmony duets and            but also with Jody Stecher in a duo
hidden talents you haven’t dis-             complex chord structure affords.         in downtown Felton. Tickets and           sometimes laying down thick tex-          concert they call “The Secret Life
played yet?                                 I love the rhythmic feel of it too.      reservations, phone 831-603-2294          tures of sound for the rest of the        of Banjos” and in the new bluegrass
   Aside from the aforementioned            Swing that’s right in the pocket is      or visit www.donquixotesmusic.            band to solo over.                        band Rustler’s Moon, featuring
piano and flute playing, I make             like nothing else. There’s the oppor-    com. Show begins at 8 p.m.                    Guitarist Scott Nygaard is one        Kathy Kallick, Tom Bekeny and
very good cocktails.                        tunity to be very feminine and sexy          “This is a dream band for me,”        the top flat-picking guitar players       Cindy Browne.
                                            with this style of music, something      says banjo player Bill Evans. “I’ve       in the world. After playing with               Bill’s 1995 Rounder CD “Na-
You have an interesting day job.            that bluegrass doesn’t really afford.    been interested in quite some time        Laurie Lewis in the 1990’s, Scott         tive and Fine,” featuring Stuart
Tell me about it.                           Singing harmonies in bluegrass is a      in putting together a band featuring      worked as editor at Acoustic Gui-         Duncan, Mike Compton and Da-
   Oh Chuck, you’re not go-                 great feeling, but sometimes sing-       some of the best of this incredible       tar magazine for many years. Com-         vid Grier, earned an Honorable
ing to blow my cover, are you? I            ing bluegrass can feel like yelling at   new generation of acoustic players        ing back to performing full-time in       Mention for instrumental album
am a geek. A structural engineer            someone for a couple of hours as         that are based here in California.”       2006, Scott is currently touring as       of the year from the Association
by training, but these days spend           it’s kinda raw, as opposed to mak-       Bill is referring to Nashville-based      guitarist with the Anonymous 4,           for Independent Music. Bill’s 2001
most of my time project manag-              ing love to them with your voice.        dobro player Mike Witcher and             a world famous female a capella           CD “Bill Evans Plays Banjo,” fea-
ing large construction projects.            And, who doesn’t want a little vocal     the amazing Berkeley-based fid-           group known for its performances          turing John Reischman and Rob
The new California Academy Of               lovin’?                                  dlers Tashina and Tristan Clarridge.      of medieval and Renaissance music.        Ickes, landed on many “Best of ”
Sciences building in Golden Gate                                                     Rounding out the band is San              He also performs with the Webster         lists for that year, including The
Park is my baby. I hope all the BB          www.brewglassboys.com                    Francisco guitarist Scott Nygaard,        Sisters and, along with Tristan, in       Chicago Tribune’s.
readers go visit it when it opens in        www.pambrandon.info                      known for his work with Darol             Darol Anger’s Republic of Strings.             Bill has released three instruc-
                                                                                     Anger’s Republic of Strings and the           “Scott is the most lyrical gui-       tional DVDs for AcuTab Publica-
                                                                                     Webster Sisters and Dublin bass           tar player I’ve ever worked with,”        tions, and they are the company’s
                                                                                     player Cindy Browne, a long time          says Bill. “His solos are always very     best sellers. This winter, Bill has
                                                                                     collaborator with Bill in the bands       imaginative and we’re even starting       been writing “Banjo for Dummies”
                                                                                     Due West and, currently, Rustler’s        to play a few of his tunes, which         for Wiley Publishing, the ubiqui-
                                                                                     Moon with Kathy Kallick.                  is a real treat for me. It’s also great   tous yellow and black book folks.
                                                                                         The all-instrumental format is        to work with someone who has so           Bill has taught at six CBA Music
                                                                                     unusual for a bluegrass band, but         many musical influences - his ears        Camps and directs his own annual
                                                                                     Bill felt he was ready to take this       are way big! He can interpret a           camp with banjo legend Sonny Os-
                                                                                     step forward in his career. “I looked     tune using an incredibly expanded         borne.
                                                                                     at the tunes that I’ve written over       vocabulary of sound,” says Bill.               Bill has performed annually
                                                                                     the last thirty years and there’s a           Bass player Cindy Browne is           for the last several years at Hardly
                                                                                     variety of moods and influences in        known for her work with Wake              Strictly Bluegrass in San Francisco
                                                                                     this body of music, but I’d like to       The Dead, the innovative group            and continues to perform widely
                                                                                     think that it all relates easily to the   that combines Irish music with the        through California as well as na-
                                                                                     larger bluegrass tradition,” says Bill.   music of the Grateful Dead. She’s         tionally at coffeehouses, clubs and
                                                                                     “The idea of playing an all-instru-       also worked with some of the great        concert series. For more informa-
                                                                                     mental show allows this band to           names in jazz and in popular en-          tion on Bill and the Bill Evans
                                                                                     perform some moodier pieces, like         tertainment - folks like Bob Hope,        String Summit, visit www.native-
 Pam Brandon, Tom Drohan, Ted Silverman, Rick Hendricks, Jordan                      ‘Midnight in Rosine’ or ‘Scotland         Lionel Hampton and even Phyllis           andfine.com.
  Klein, Diana Greenberg are Belle Monroe and the Brewglass Boys                     Yard,’ that wouldn’t be possible to       Diller. She currently directs the jazz

								
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