By Larry Stephens
Roland White has been a fixture in bluegrass music for more than five decades. He formed the Kentucky Colonels in the late ’50s but the band began making bluegrass waves in the early ’60s and is still a widely recognized name among the bluegrass faithful.
Bluegrass musicians struggled in the ’60s, in part sharing the fate of sister country music as the music world rocked-and-rolled with Elvis. During this time bluegrassers became allied with the folk music movement and the Colonels were no exception, including a well received appearance at the Newport Folk Festival in July 1963. As the Colonels fell on hard times, Roland joined the Bluegrass Boys playing guitar and then Flatt & Scruggs as their mandolin player. He decided to reunite with his brother, Clarence, in 1973 to form the New Kentucky Colonels but then Clarence was killed when struck by an auto. Roland then joined Country Gazette for thirteen years and, in 1989, replaced Mike Compton with the Nashville Bluegrass Band. He left NBB in 1999 (with Compton coming back) but still performs with them on occasion and stays busy with his own projects.
In 1976 Roland’s solo project, I Wasn’t Born to Rock’n Roll, was issued by Ridge Runner Records. He was backed by Country Gazette bandmates Alan Munde on banjo, Kenny Wertz on guitar, Roger Bush on bass and Dave Ferguson on fiddle. This was a group of accomplished musicians and they add a tight, polished backdrop to Roland’s vocals.
The Wikipedia entry for Alan Munde includes an interesting and telling sentence (emphasis added): “Munde joined the legendary bluegrass musician Jimmy Martin in 1969. He played with Martin as one of the Sunny Mountain Boys from October 1969 to October 1971, and in the meantime earned his living by working as a school teacher in Nashville.”
This record featured traditional tunes. Included is the old Carter Family gem, “The Storms Are On The Ocean” and “The Prisoner’s Song,” first made immensely popular by Vernon Dalhart in the ’20’s and recorded by countless artists since.
White has always been interested in a variety of genre. “I Saw Your Face In The Moon” has been recorded by a number of bluegrass artists, including Mac Wiseman, but has more of a swing/pop sound than bluegrass, while “If I Should Wander Back Tonight” is pure bluegrass, perhaps learned from his days with Flatt & Scruggs. Roland included a bluegrass marathon that leaves you wondering when he found time to breathe, including “Love Please Come Home,” “Nine Pound Hammer,” “Shackles and Chains,” “Live and Let Live,” “Doin’ My Time, ” and “Sittin’ On Top of the World.”
“Same Old Blues Again” was done by Country Gazette (as were all of these songs) but isn’t a current staple of bluegrass bands. “Kansas City Railroad Blues” has been played by many musicians through the years, including Chubby Wise. With the exception of a never before released “Powder Creek” (written by Roland and Clarence), these are mostly tunes you’ll recognize.
While the LP didn’t break new ground back in 1976, today it offers us a chance to hear again Country Gazette (for this is that band, just with Roland White front and center). It’s great bluegrass from one of the second generation pioneers.