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Dr. John Starling slides back into action

By C. Eric Banister, March 2007

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The seeds for this reunion were planted in 2005 at a benefit concert for Eddie Adcock in Washington D.C. "I knew they (Auldridge and Gray) were going to be there, and I called Ben, and he came, and Larry Stephenson was there," Starling recalls. "We just went up there, Larry sang tenor and the other four of us were original members of Seldom Scene, just went up and did a show. We worked it up backstage, and next thing you know, we had so much fun, we decided to do another couple of shows."

With encouragement from Massenburg and an attentive audience base, Starling, Auldridge and Gray decided to go into the studio and record a few songs to see how things went. "We liked it and decided to come back to Washington and put together a group that would go out and play it and decided to take a couple of Beltway bandits, Jimmy Gaudreau and Richie Simpkins, who also live in the Washington area and went back and finished the album with that group," he says.

Gaudreau and Simpkins had crossed paths with the other members for years. "Both of them have played with Tony Rice for a number of years. Of course Jimmy replaced John Duffey in the Country Gentlemen. Rickie...I first met him when he was playing with the Virginia Squires and Mark Newton."

When it came time to pick songs, the group dynamic was fully in play with each member having input into songs ranging from the beginnings of country music to more modern tunes written by friends.

"'Waitin' for a Train,' that's just sort of where it all began. I've always been fond of Jimmie Rodgers things and turns out Mike Auldridge's uncle, Ellsworth Cozzens, actually played on the original track with Jimmie Rodgers," he says.

Another nod to country's roots is their take on Hank William's "Never Take Her Love From Me." "That was just one I wanted to make a Dobro tour de force, and I think we succeeded in that," Starling says. "That's one of the reasons we're calling it 'Slidin' Home.' There's a number of metaphors in that title, but not the least of which is the fact that, at least to my ears, some of the best slide guitar playing I've ever heard Mike do. It was just so much fun to hear that again."

Two of the albums tracks are songs from peers, which have meant a great deal to Starling. The first is the Little Feat song "Willin'." "It was the first song I heard when I got back from Vietnam; I went down to Union Street in San Francisco in January 1970 and happened to see a young guy and young girl singing 'Willin''' at a club down there. I went up to them afterward and found out some rock band in L.A. had done it, which was Little Feat, but I didn't know that at the time," he says.

"Over time and a series of circumstances, I met Lowell, and we became real good friends. I've always loved that song I just didn't think the world needed another version of it, but Mike Auldridge talked me into doing it. Maybe so he could play lap steel using Lowell's old amp because literally he did."

"I think my favorite song on there is the Gram Parsons song," he says of "In My Hour Of Darkness." "Emmylou Harris called me, oh, this was a number of years ago, maybe five or six years ago, we took a little trip up to New England and did a benefit concert for a college up there where Gram Parsons' old dorm counselor when he was a freshman at Harvard was, I think, a dean there."

"We worked this song up in the hotel room before we went over to play the show, and I just couldn't get it off my mind. It was just about the time we lost John Duffey, and I was trying to figure out something to write or some way to let people know how much we missed him, some sort of elegy, and I never could come up with it."

First time I heard this, I just went a little bit nuts, I thought it was great. Gram Parsons lost three close friends, actually two close friends in a year and was about to lose another one, and he wrote this song. The first verse, as I understand, is about Brandon de Wilde who was the young boy in 'Shane,' and he was a friend of Gram's in L.A. and died in an automobile accident outside of Denver. The second verse is about Clarence White, who played with The Byrds. The third verse nobody knows, and that's probably better. It's just a beautiful song."

Besides singing on that song, Harris will be taking John Starling and Carolina Star out for a few shows. And as is a mantra of sorts for Starling, it's about having fun. "She plays some venues now that sort of calls for an acoustic group, sort of bluegrass, a little bit like the Nash Ramblers, and we're playing some shows with her. We may do Telluride with her and go back out play San Francisco and one or two others this year in addition to the stuff we're going to play, so we're having fun."

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