Bluegrass memories

An old college friend named Neil Rosenberg just sent me a copy of his new book, Bluegrass Generation, and I settled into it happily. Along the way, it presents some moments in my life that I don't get to recall often, specifically a period in the early sixties when I was playing bass in a band called The Pigeon Hill Boys. If you don't know much about bluegrass, it's like country music, except way better. Maybe you could consider it a cross between country music and bebop. Unless you're Irish, in which case it sounds like Irish music.

Neil Rosenberg, the book's author, was a scholar who came to Bloomington from back east, and was the instigator who drew a number os us into it. I came, of course, from a jazz background, like many in Bloomington, as the book explains. t inexplicably gravitated into the picking world. We played for our meager following at coffee houses and folk festivals around Indiana and  beyond, and I enjoyed all of it. 

I especially enjoyed a festival concert in Ann Arbor, Michigan, an all-day event which concluded with a gala set featuring all the featured acts. We followed a folksinger whose name was misspelled on the poster as "Bob Dillon." Yes, it was that guy. It didn't destroy his career, apparently.

My only memory from that day is that during a lengthy break, I walked down the street in Ann Arbor and found a jazz club where an afternoon jam session was going on. I went in to check out the scene. After a bit, I stopped by the bandstand, and uncharacteristically asked if I could sit in.

I was dressed in my full bluegrass mufti, including cowboy hat, checked shirt and jeans, and I enjoyed the predictable look of horror on the musicians' faces at the thought of an apparent hillbilly buffoon sharing their hip space, but they were good sports about it, and didn't bar me from the premises. I felt their palpable relief when they determined that I could play somewhat credibly in their genre. This was many years before Charlie Haden made it perfectly okay for jazz players to diversify into bluegrass. I told Mr. Haden that story a few years ago, and thanked him for blazing the trail.

In his book, Neil recounts tales of his work with Bill Monroe, who is regarded as the father of bluegrass. Neil is also the author of a book called The Music of Bill Monroe (Music in American Life). The Pigeon Hill Boys played at Monroe's Jamboree venue in Bean Blossom, Indiana a few times. It's in the book. It's all in the book.

This photo (below) of the Pigeon Hill Boys rehearsing amid blue grass and green leaves in Bloomington a very long time ago is also in the book. Left to right, the troublemakers were Neil Rosenberg, Charlie Leinenweber, an unidentified Touroid, Bob Patterson and Jim Neawedde.

3 comments

  • Charles Leinenweber

    Charles Leinenweber Irvine, CA

    Whoa, Tom, That is Neil Rosenberg on banjo,not Dave Mercer. (Picture taken by me).

    Whoa, Tom, That is Neil Rosenberg on banjo,not Dave Mercer. (Picture taken by me).

  • Charles Leienweber

    Charles Leienweber Irvine CA

    Now a correction on me: Obviously, I didn't take the pic since I'm in it. But it was on my camera, so I wound up with the negatives.

    Now a correction on me: Obviously, I didn't take the pic since I'm in it. But it was on my camera, so I wound up with the negatives.

  • Tom Hensley

    Tom Hensley

    Fixed. He did look a bit like Dave Mercer, though.

    Fixed. He did look a bit like Dave Mercer, though.

Add comment