Barenberg, Douglas & Meyer
Russ Barenberg has long been a distinctive and important voice in acoustic instrumental music, both as a guitarist and as a composer. In a world saturated with lick-oriented guitarists, his playing stands out as melodically inspired and meaningfully focused. Russ's flair for melody is also strongly evident in his compositions, many of which are singable and memorable, often with an uncanny sense of inevitability or "rightness." WhiIe clear and direct, Russ's music is broadly resonant, revealing a contemporary world only accessible by way of a deeply felt understanding of traditional music.
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Russ made his recording debut in 1970 with bluegrass trailblazers, Country Cooking. Since then he has collaborated with the finest and most innovative acoustic musicians in the country in a process of continual evolution and discovery. Russ has produced and arranged three critically acclaimed albums of his own music for Rounder Records, the most recent of which is Moving Pictures. He is in great demand as a session guitarist, contributing to projects ranging from commercial artists such as Randy Travis, to the traditional fiddle and dance music of Fiddle Fever, to the cutting edge, acousto-pop productions of Jerry Douglas and Mark O'Connor. Russ's playing can be heard on the recent PBS documentary series, "The Civil War", where his sensitive touch contributes greatly to the effectiveness of that highly praised soundtrack.
In addition to his recording work, Russ has written three guitar instruction books and is the featured instructor on several best-selling series of lessons put out by Homespun Tapes. He is an excellent writer whose credits include a regularly featured column in Guitar Extra magazine, program notes for the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival, and assorted album liner notes and magazine articles. Russ has performed, led workshops, and appeared on radio and television throughout the United States as well as in Europe, the British Isles, and the Middle East. He currently lives in Nashville and performs regularly in a trio with dobro player, Jerry Douglas, and bassist, Edgar Meyer.
Country music fans have been turning on their radios and enjoying the music of Jerry Douglas for years and chances are most of them don't even know it. As Nashville's dobro-player-on-call Douglas has lent his singular instrumental wizardry to the work of Randy Travis, Ricky Skaggs, Reba McEntire, Foster and Lloyd, Rosanne Cash and countless others, in the process raising the dobro-consciousness of all who encounter his music.
Douglas grew up in Northeast Ohio's Steel Valley, listening with one ear to his dad's bluegrass band practicing in the living room, and with the other to the Beatles and the Byrds on his bedroom radio. It's that mingling of deep bluegrass roots and pop sensibility that keeps Douglas' trademark lightning licks so fresh and close to the bone. "I used to just play bluegrass," says Douglas, "And there are things about bluegrass music that I'll always keep a kind of raucous rhythm and the element of surprise, but my move to Nashville reopened my mind to all kinds of music."
At the tender age of eight (no wonder his latest solo record is titled Plant Early) Douglas got a chance to see two living legends of the dobro first hand. His dad took him to a Flatt and Scruggs concert featuring Uncle Josh Graves and Oswald Kirby, and it was love at first sight. "Josh Graves was my main influence," Douglas says, "But what drew me to the dobro in the first place was the texture of the sound, plus it's such a cool looking thing it's got soul!" With his converted Silvertone guitar serving as a makeshift dobro, the young Douglas spent the next several years digesting the work of the bluegrass masters until, in 1973 at age eighteen, he hit the festival circuit (with a real dobro) as a member of the now legendary Country Gentlemen.
Working day to day in various bands with fellow "students" like J.D. Crowe, Ricky Skaggs, Tony Rice and David Grisman, Douglas (soon to be known as "Flux" for his fluid style and seemingly impossible facility on the dobro) began to ingest the jazz influences that would move his playing farther and farther away from bluegrass and into what became known as "newgrass". "Grisman turned us on to a lot of the jazz stuff," Douglas explains, "Django, Grappelli, and Venuti initially, and later Coltrane, Chick Corea and Miles Davis." The budding virtuoso was soon accepting myriad "best of" awards, capped off with a Grammy in 1983 for Best Country Instrumental Performance.
But is was through the music of The Whites, with whom he joined forces in 1979, that mainstream country audiences first encountered the Douglas dobro sound. Serving as their main soloist and road manager, he got a strong taste (for better or for worse) of the peculiar marriage that is full-time band membership. "I miss being in a band for a lot of the same reasons that I loved being in The Whites - the camaraderie and tightening up of arrangements," Douglas says, "But I don't miss the waiting on other people and all the traveling."
These days Douglas spends an incredible amount of hands-on time with dobro, whether he's complementing the work of other artists as one of Music City's most sought-after session men, or working on one of his acclaimed solo albums (five so far). But unlike his band-member colleagues, he's usually home for supper. "I was playing with Ricky Skaggs in a band called Boone Creek," he recalls, "And Ricky told me he was quitting to go play with Emmylou (Harris) so he wouldn't have to travel for the rest of his life." Douglas shakes his head and laughs. "Now he's beatin' the road and I'm right here at home."
Lots of folks have come to count on the distinctive blend of tradition and innovation that can be heard in the singing, tumbling tone of his dobro, and even as Jerry Douglas looks toward the future and sharpens his own musical vision, he has no intention of letting them or himself down. "I started off in bluegrass, and all I can say is it must be a great vehicle to go from," Douglas says, "Because to me the really cool thing in music and in life has always been to see what happens next to be surprised."
At the age of 31, Edgar Meyer has established himself not only as one of the top instrumentalists of his generation, but also as an innovative and often-performed composer.
Starting at age five with the instruction of his father, and continuing later with Stuart Sankey, Meyer was the winner of numerous competitions, including the 1981 Zimmerman-Mingus competition, which was the first international bass competition held in the U.S. In 1985, Meyer became the first regular bass player for the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival and to date has written six works for the festival. He has also performed at the Aspen, Caramoor, and Marlboro festivals and has been presented in recital in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and San Francisco. Both Meyer's compositions and his collaborations exhibit a wide range of styles, with collaborations ranging all the way from the Guarneri quartet to James Taylor.
Meyer is also the first bass player to be featured as a bowed soloist on mainstream radio in multiple #1 hits, including Kathy Mattea's "Where've You Been," which won the CMA, ACM, and Grammy awards for country song of the year in 1990. Other artists Meyer has recorded with include Garth Brooks, Bruce Cockburn, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Hank Williams, Jr., T-Bone Burnett, Reba McIntyre, the Indigo Girls, Travis Tritt, and The Chieftains.
Meyer is a member of the progressive bluegrass band Strength in Numbers whose members include Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas, Bela Fleck, and Mark O'Connor. He also performs regularly in a trio with Russ Barenberg and Jerry Douglas. In 1991, Meyer was featured in both the Wall Street Journal and "CBS Sunday Morning."
Upcoming writing projects include a bass quintet that Meyer will write and perform with the Emerson Quartet, and a bass concerto that he will write and perform with Edo de Waart and the Minnesota Orchestra. Upcoming recording projects include a Trout quintet for Deutsche Grammophon and a Prokofiev quintet for Delos. Also in 1992, Twyla Tharp will premiere in several cities a new work choreographed to Meyer's music. Meyer's most recent release, Work in Progress, is available on the MCA Master Series.
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