By Larry Stephens
Yet another retrospective Rebel digital re-release is Cliff Waldron’s Traveling Light, dating back to 1971. You can see the original LP at Bill’s Blog.
Waldron, a West Virginia native, moved to the DC area in 1962 and became an important part of the Washington-area bluegrass movement that included the Country Gentlemen. These groups helped keep bluegrass alive during a time that rock-‘n’-roll was the monster about to push country, bluegrass and folk aside to oblivion. His partnership with Bill Emerson was important but Waldron continued on after Emerson’s departure, eventually releasing twelve albums for Rebel before retiring from music in 1974. He, like so many others in the music business, needed to find a job that paid better and offered more stability for his family.
He came back to bluegrass in 1996 and released a couple of albums. Unforunately, he had some health issue a couple of years ago and has again retired. Fans can email him at CliffWaldron@earthlink.net or send cards and letters to 321 Hinsons Ford Road, Amissville, VA 20106.
This release featured some well-known names in bluegrass, though they were a bit less famous in 1971. Waldron is on guitar and vocals. Mike Auldridge (Seldom Scene) was on Dobro, the late Dave Auldridge on mandolin (a rhythm player, not playing lead parts), the late Jack Auldridge on snare drum. Ben Eldridge (Seldom Scene) played banjo, Ed Ferris (Country Gentlemen) was on bass and Bill Poffinberger played fiddle. This was a great lineup of musicians and makes for good listening. (Mike Auldridge tells me that Dave and Jack were his brothers, three boys from a family of seven boys and two girls. Jack was primarily a jazz drummer but took the pictures on several of Mike’s recordings.)
Mike Auldridge kicks off “Rock Bottom” and illustrates why he is known as one of the best Dobro players in the business. This is a rocking instrumental, though the mix on Eldridge’s banjo is a bit strange, sounding like he was standing distant from the microphone as he played. Eldridge is right up front on the classic “Bill Cheetham”. It’s too bad they cut it so short – only Eldridge and Poffinberger taking breaks. Considering the time this was made, an era when a number of bluegrass bands edged closer to a country sound, and the bands home ground of Washington, where bluegrass music was edgy and often escaped the boundaries established by Bill Monroe’s music, the use of a snare isn’t surprising. You can hear it very plainly on “Rock Bottom” even though Auldridge stayed in the background.
This album has its share of instrumentals with “Red Apple Rag” rounding out the list. It’s another lively tune but by this time you begin to notice the missing mandolin on the breaks.
Waldron is a passable singer and the harmonies are good. It’s easy to see the country influence on this record. “The Sunny Side of My Life” and “Silver Wings” are both Merle Haggard songs. Waldron goes flat on a few notes in the latter but I prefer that to the pitch corrected attempts at perfection sometimes heard today. You’re hearing the band, not some computer enhanced clone of the band. “Ice Covered Birches” was written by Carl Hoffman, known as the “Father of Alaska Bluegrass” who was seriously injured in 2010. “Falling Leaves,” written by the late Grandpa Jones has become a standard in bluegrass.
Kris Kristofferson penned “Help Me Make It Through The Night” and they do a good bluegrass version of it here, but I’ve always felt this song has to be done as a sensuous ballad, the way Sammi Smith did it the same year as this LP was released. “Close the Door Lightly As You Go” (Eric Andersen) works well in a bluegrass setting while having some overtones of the folk music movement so popular at the time. “Then I’ll Miss You” sounds like a Glen Campbell song but it was written by Bobby Bond and was on the B side of a George Hamilton IV 45.
You have to take this release in context, looking back forty years, part of the DC scene when bluegrass was heavily influenced by country music. It features great musicians and good songs. It’s good to have it available again.