Bringing together 11 legends of bluegrass mandolin for live duet recordings with one of bluegrass music’s rising stars, Mandolin Duets: Volume One marks a milestone in the preservation and appreciation of the instrument’s key innovators.
Conceived and produced by mandolinist Casey Campbell, whose bluegrass legacy is so deep he took his first steps in Bill Monroe’s dressing room backstage at the Grand Ole Opry, the CD features Campbell playing duos on rare and unusual tunes from the song catalogs of mandolin legends David Grisman, Bobby Osborne, Sam Bush, Ronnie McCoury, Roland White, Mike Compton, Jesse McReynolds, Andy Statman, Buck White, Ricky Skaggs, and Tim O’Brien.
“I’m a big nerd when it comes to doing research, and once I decided to do (this project), I started buying old records and magazines and digging into the history of these great players. I wanted to learn more about their history and lineage, so I spent just as much time researching these guys as I did recording the project,” explains Campbell, who currently records and tours with guitar superstar Bryan Sutton.
“I didn’t want to do, you know, Dixie Hoedown with Jesse McReynolds because that’s the tune everyone thinks of him as playing. I had some older tunes in mind for each guest, but I also reached out to see if they had written tunes (new or old) that never got recorded. I wanted the material to be a collaborative effort.”
As a result, Campbell was able to inspire the biggest names in bluegrass mandolin to join him at an intimate Nashville-area studio for a series of live recording sessions. Campbell left the mics on and recorded not just the music, but conversations about where the tunes had come from and what inspired each artist.
“I didn’t want to take advantage of my connections, I wanted to prove myself to these guys. To show them that I knew their music and what they’ve done. The record is a lesson in style, like Bryan Sutton’s guitar duet album Not Too Far From The Tree or David Grisman’s classic Bluegrass Mandolin Extravaganza project. That was really important to me,” he says. “It was all about getting to play one-on- one with my heroes while showcasing their style and the stamp they have made on the bluegrass mandolin world.”
Historic gems abound, including Sam Bush, who owns the iconic red Gibson mandolin used extensively by the late jazz mandolin genius Jethro Burns, playing a never-before recorded tune Jethro wrote in Bush’s honor, Sam’s Bush. Jesse McReynolds, who made his mark by popularizing the cross-picking technique in bluegrass mandolin, renders a new tune done in the style of bluegrass founder Bill Monroe.
Researching the project and delving so deeply into so many historic recordings also left a deep imprint on the young mandolinist who created the project. “I’m learning those catalogs, like learning some simpler cross-picking by Jesse or Buck White’s swingin’ solos. For my own playing, it taught me the lesson that you can emulate someone until it becomes a novelty until the cool factor wears out. That’s a trap you can easily fall in to. So I would rather focus on taking what I’ve learned and making that into an amalgam in my own playing.”