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Doyle Lawson digs a little deeper

By John Lupton, May 2005

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The best example of this on "Dig" is a grassed-up version of the '50s-era Jim Reeves classic "Four Walls."

"Certainly, Jim Reeves gave it the immaculate version in 1957, which is said to have pioneered in the Nashville Sound. I'd heard a few people sing that other than Jim, but nobody had ever done a trio, and I was looking for something that would have harmonies, and the song was from the mid- to late-'50s. I wanted to give it what I call that little harder-edged '50s bluegrass sound, and that's kind of what we came up with."

Lawson and band are perennial IBMA award nominees for Entertainer of the Year (though longtime friend and colleague Del McCoury seems to have a lock on it in recent years), and it's interesting to note that after IIIrd Tyme Out, a band with direct Quicksilver roots won Vocal Group of the Year from 1994 through 2000, Lawson and Quicksilver have claimed the award the last four years, almost as if to remind the youngsters that the master is still to be reckoned with.

And, former protégés like IIIrd Tyme Out's Russell Moore and Mountain Heart's Steve Gulley readily acknowledge that the schooling they received from Lawson was pivotal in their own careers. For his own part, Lawson recognizes and relishes the fruits of his teachings.

"I do see the guys who have come through here and gone on to establish other bands or be in other groups, I see that discipline that I passed along, I see that in those groups that have been able to rise to the top. There's a certain discipline about them, and easily I can recognize that."

Apart from the personal satisfaction of watching his own musical progeny go out and flourish on their own, he keenly feels that part of the debt he owes to the music and to those who taught him is to simply pass the wisdom on in his turn.

"I have had the good fortune my entire professional career to work with some of the elite professional musicians, starting with Jimmy Martin, of course, when I was a young man, when I was 18 years old, and in my early twenties, I wound up in Kentucky working in the same group with J. D. Crowe, who had worked for Jimmy, so I guess my Jimmy Martin education just kind of continued going after I had left Jimmy because Crowe and I, we were in the same school. We came from the same school of music, you know."

Lawson's reputation was further enhanced during his tenure in the post-John Duffey Country Gentlemen, but as a large a presence as Duffey was, the character of the Gents always revolved around another of Lawson's heroes and mentors.

"Then, I went over with the Country Gentlemen and the great Charlie Waller, the legendary voice of was there that I really started to mature as an entertainer."

"They had this entertainment part of them...all four of us, we all had these little routines and skits that we worked up, but it was entertaining. So all those years, 16 years prior to me putting my own group together, I collected all this experience and things that I thought would be of use, I kept inside me, I tucked it away for future reference, so to speak."

"You know, the music doesn't stop with Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver, and it won't stop with IIIrd Tyme Out or Mountain Heart or any of the new groups. It must go on, and it must grow. So one way it will help it to grow is to pass along some of the wisdom you've acquired, and to share some of that with the younger people, so the music can not only grow, but stay in step with today's times."

Martin currently is locked in a struggle with cancer, and Lawson was deeply saddened by Waller's passing last August, but understands that time and the music must march on even as we bid farewell to those who have shown - or, in the case of bluegrass, actually built the road ahead.

"We all have our heroes. We all have our mentors who influenced us, and you can probably see a little bit of who we were influenced by in our music, which I think is good. But, you don't want to be a carbon copy...I came along, and I took a lot of things that I had been influenced by over the years, but another dimension of my music that was probably not as evident as in some of the other guys is the gospel influence that I had and the gospel music in general."

"I grew up with gospel music, and my father having sung in an a cappella gospel quartet pretty near all my life, and he was still singing when I left home, and I was heavily influenced with that. I took a lot of material I'd heard him sing, put music to it and made it bluegrass."

"As the page turns...when it's time for J.D. and Larry (Sparks) and myself, and Del McCoury and guys like that to step down, then you'll turn the page and have guys like IIIrd Tyme Out and Mountain Heart and people like that, and I think it's just a page, a chapter in the Big Book of Bluegrass."

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