Dudley Connell Talks About the Bluegrass ‘Scene’

The Seldom Scene

​Dudley Connell is not only a great musician who has been playing for close to 45 years, but he's also a local who knows all about the history of bluegrass in the Washington area and just appreciates good, timeless music in general.  We got to talk with him about The Seldom Scene's upcoming performance at Charm City Bluegrass Festival and all about how music brings people together.

Karin McLaughlin: So DC Music Review is doing a preview for Charm City Bluegrass Festival, which is happening at the end of the month up in Baltimore and being that you're a local Rockville guy and have been in the area for quite a while, I wanted to go over not only ​your involvement in Seldom Scene, but also your knowledge and expertise the in D.C. area music as a whole. So we're going to talk a little bit about all of the things involved. First ​up, I know that you didn't join, Seldom Scene until later on, but they were formed back in 1971 in the Bethesda, area and a lot of people, surprisingly, over the years have​ lost the knowledge that DC is quite a historically bluegrass city. 

Dudley Connell: Oh yeah, and I would agree with that. I think it's changed somewhat over the years. Right after World War II, there was a huge influx of migrants from the Appalachian regions of the United States, into DC and Baltimore, Baltimore, especially.  Now as people do when they change locations, they brought their culture and their music and their food with them.  They typically moved into the communities where they felt comfortable. So you would have these pockets​ and it's not that different from from Little Italy​.  The folks from Appalachian, we're basically doing the same thing, they migrated into communities where they were the most comfortable with people that have similar backgrounds and they brought their music, fortunately for DC and Baltimore, with them. ​ A lot of the music was in the inner cities and nightclubs and ​honky tonks and ballrooms and things like that, so​ there was a place to go here and also play bluegrass and traditional c​ountry music, and there was a lot of support for the music​.  

Literally the area exploded​ in both those cities, Baltimore and Washington. So you get the people that were just coming out of the army and maybe they were hearing the music for the first time.  ​You got people from Florida, New York, California, all over really and they were stationed in the Bal​timore-Washington area and they went, 'Wow, this is pretty good music!'   ​

I would also also say that​ WAMU ​out of American University had an awful lot to do with expanding the music.  You have Ray Davis and Baltimore who operated his radio show for many, many years before he moved to Why have you out of Johnny's used car lot in Baltimore, they had a he had a second floor studio over the car lot so the music had a solid ​base right from the very start in DC in particular.  It was at one time, the capital of bluegrass music in the nation, even though it came from different places.  ​

The Seldom Scene performs at The Birchmere (Image Courtesy of The Seldom Scene)
The Seldom Scene performs at The Birchmere (Image Courtesy of The Seldom Scene)

KM: Exactly. ​ Seldom Scene is also credited with a lot of the progressive bluegrass movement, which, over the years has   taken more of a forefront in the music scene as far as getting younger people involved and then transitioning from progressive bluegrass into the jam grass era that we're seeing​ become a lot​ more popular. ​ Seldom Scene was also really the first bluegrass band ​that was more recognizable ​​that started covering other genres of music as bluegrass songs, which we see so much today. 

I'm sure I'm not the only one that can say that's what first drew me in to bluegrass - I heard a cover of Pink Floyd by ​Greensky Bluegrass and I already loved the original, I just didn't know I also loved it done that way.​  Talking about how that not only helped the development of a new age of bluegrass and a new style, but also how it draws in people from different genres and different fans of different music.  How ​is the crossing of genres seen from your side of things?

DC:  Well, you know, I also often heard​ that​ same thing that you're just ​talking about, ​that Seldom Scene ​is one of the early progressive bands and ​I would argue the point slightly.  ​I think it was more of a cosmopolitan way of playing bluegrass.   I read a quote one time ​where John Duffey, who was one of the founders of the band​, said that it's hard for him to relate to being born in a little cabin home on the hill, when he was from Bethesda, Maryland. ​ ​​There's obviously nothing wrong with that but it's easier for him to relate to certain songs more than others as far as in the bluegrass or country or rock and roll or any kind of genre.  The fact that The Scene came along in the 1970's when people had a pretty open mind to music being drawn from various genres, I think that only helped.

It's funny, my wife Sally and I were just talking about this the other day.  We were​ listening to a Joni Mitchell record​, and we were thinking like that.  Can you imagine a woman ​in her early 20's not only writing songs like that, but attracting thousands of kids to that type of music. Those songs had depth, and they had meaning and they ​were written by a young person who was writing with a very old soul. ​ I think the Seldom Scene were fortunate to come along in a span of time, when people were were open to​ music ​like that thanks to people like Bob Dylan ​​and Emmylou Harris and a handful of other people. That ​made it cool. ​

"​Those songs had depth, and they had meaning and they ​were written by a young person who was writing with a very old soul. ​ I think The Seldom Scene were fortunate to come along in a span of time, when people were were open to​ music ​like that."

​I'm in my 60's now, so maybe I'm being nostalgic, but I don't think that I am, when I say that​ kids from my era had very, very broad​ tastes and I think that a lot of the young people that are coming coming in now, ​from the jam band genre, are coming in with that same sort of attitude that we used to see at the Grateful Dead shows.  You know, ​Jerry Garcia was a bluegrass musician. ​The Grateful Dead, initially, were a folk revival band, as were Loving Spoonful and a lot of ​bands in that genre. ​ It's not ​the biggest step really is to go from ​the Grateful Dead to Seldom Scene. ​

John once said, "Play every lick you know and see", which meant basically, play everything you can think of.  The Grateful Dead had a little bit of that and the jam bands absolutely ​have that ​​going on for fans.  They also have the youth and they have the energy and the power and I think it's drawing a whole new  audience. ​Bluegrass, it's interesting, has had its ebbs and flows and got a big jolt in the arm of the Bluegrass festivals, which started back in 1965-1966.  That took ​the music of the out ​school houses and little school ​auditoriums ​and the bar rooms of Washington and Baltimore and Dayton and ​Detroit and places like that. ​  It took people to the​ open fields, where they could go sit outside in the sunshine and hear the birds chirping and l​isten to the music being played​. 

You also have the bluegrass sound that gets used in movies and introduces people to that sound.  Look at ​Warren Beatty ​when he had the leading role in Bonnie and Clyde.  He not only chose "Foggy Mountain Breakdown" the Flat and Scruggs classic instrumental, he chose ​the 1947 version of that song for all the​ chase scenes.  Deliverance and the dueling banjos, ​Allison Krauss and the whole ​O Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack really, all th​ose things exposed a lot of new people to the music.​

KM: Agreed.  Especially O Brother Where Art Thou ​-a lot of people didn't realize that it was real music, they thought it was just made for the movie. ​

​DC: Right.  That movie was produced by or rather the music was was brought in by T Bone Burnett, who was basically a rock musician, but he had very, very deep musical roots and he knew the real stuff. ​

KM: Talking about ​the mixing of and blurring the lines​ of music genres and covering other music genres as bluegrass. ​ It's interesting that we also touched on​ the younger crowd, it's funny, I mean, me personally, I grew up listening to Motown and 70's rock from my parents.  I stole my dad's vinyl collection so I'm very familiar with all this old music, ​ older music, rather and it's funny to see the younger people at these shows who, for example, when a band covers a song that maybe they don't know, and they think it's theirs, and they think it's new material, or they don't understand where it came from or what it is. 

I think it goes both ways where it's opening​ music fans of certain genres to other genres, as well as vice versa.  You've ​got people that ​hear a band cover an older song and they think, "Oh, what was that song?" and they go and find out it's by such and such from the seventies and then they check out the rest of their music and find that they really like it. ​  It's like mixing and matching and introducing one music fan to another.

DC: I c​ould not agree with you more. That's why, although we don't play jam band type music, I still have to feel that if somebody comes out to see String Cheese Incident or somebody like that and the Seldom Scene are on the same show bill - yes, most of them are there to see String Cheese but some of them might hang around are hear us and say, "Wow, that's interesting, I like that!"  ​

​KM: It's interesting that you bring up String Cheese Incident because I know you guys have played ​Delfest before and String Cheese is playing there this year, so even more relevent!  ​I think you're exactly right though, where there's going to be a certain crowd that's coming only to see​ String ​Cheese Friday night, but they're going to be there Friday and maybe they're staying Saturday and Sunday​ and they're going to get exposed to all these other great bands that are going to be there and there's definitely gonna be some cross-pollination there and I'm really happy about that.

​DC: I think​ you're right ​about that.

KM:  Ok, let's circle back - you guys are putting out an album this summer come June 7, I think is when it's supposed to be coming out called ​Changes, which has a lot of a lot of songs on it. You just released the the single "Everybody's Talking" - how did you guys decide what songs to cover and put on that album?

DC: Well, I'll tell you what, I would love to take credi​t for them​ (laughs) but I can't.   I have this long association of 40 plus year association with one of the founders of Rounder ​Records, his name is Ken Irwin.  He and Marian Leighton Levy and Bill Nawlin started that label and they were a bunch of young hippie kids who​ were very idealistic and ​wanted to put up the music that they thought was important and that nobody else was releasing ​except on reissues and things like that. ​  I was fortunate enough to be able to record for them for years and years​, so when the Scene ​felt we needed to put out a record, I approached Ken and he came up with the idea of a themed record.​  Initially, I sort of, I wouldn't say that my ego got in the way, but The Seldom Scene always brought in all their own material and we sit around, we pick songs and then we would go out and record them.  Ken ​wanted to do a record with a theme and the theme was to take some of the best songwriters of the 1960's and to record them in the Seldom Scene style. ​ Like I said, initially I kind of balked at the idea but the more I thought about it, the more I thought, 'Hmm, that's pretty interesting.'

So I asked Ken to start sending me some some material like that​ he thought would be good for us to do​, that he thought would​ fit our style. ​The more stuff that he s​ent, which ended up being over 70 songs, then the hard part was picking what we didn't want to do. ​  We picked the stuff that we thought they would fit us the best and then we start arranging them and tried to make them, staying true to ​the lyrics and the melody of the song, but adding our own stamp, that became that ​the challenge.​  What a wonderful challenge it was and I'm very very proud of this record because it's something​ different for the Bluegrass world and it's something different for the Seldom Scene.​  I'm just really​ tickled with this and who we covered and what we picked. 

The Seldom Scene - Changes

Changes is The Seldom Scene's first new album since 2014.

KM: We said earlier that you joined the band a little later on and you're familiar with lots of changes that the band's gone through, as far as many aspects, but you did get to play some with​ John (Duffy) who unfortunately had an untimely death, he died of a heart attack, but you got to play with him for a little bit. ​  A lot of ​folks refer to him as the so called spiritual leader of the group - I want to touch on that and how the dynamic has changed and if there's someone that's stepped into that role now.

​DC: Well, let's talk about your first point, John as a spiritual  leader. I think John set a precedent​ with that group that no other bluegrass bands were really doing.  John came across, at least sometimes on stage, as being a little arrogant, a little macho, had a little swagger in his stagger, you know.  ​Offstage, he was actually ​a very gentle soul and a mild-mannered, almost shy person.  His stage personality was way bigger than the man himself and I just​ I loved the ​guy to death​.  I would have to say that all the years I've played music, which is approaching about 45 years now, is that ​was probably the best year of my musical life, the ones I shared with him.  I had never been around anybody like that and he sort of​ mentored me. ​

The second part of your question is no, no one has taken his place and I don't think that anyone ever will. I believe that, that ​he was a true original. ​  One of the things ​we have taken from​ John,​ and every single person has taken this, is that the band still has this, sort of, playful attitude about performance. ​ We take our music very, very seriously, it's not a joke, but when we're on stage, we don't take ourselves very seriously.  If we make mistakes, we make mistakes, it's okay.  It's okay ​to laugh. If we forget words, it's fine. It's okay to drop a chord here and there​ or to hit a bad note.  It's supposed to be about trying to involve the audience into the overall performance, where there ceases to be quite such a line between the audience and the performer. ​ It's more like, 'Okay, let's have fun, we're all in this together!'  ​

*​​This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity 

Performance Details

Performance Details

Performance

Details


The Seldom Scene is scheduled to perform at Charm City Bluegrass on Saturday, April 27 between 2:15 and 3:15 PM.


Friday, April 26  and

Saturday, April 27


Druid Hill Park

Baltimore, MD 21211

(Google Maps Link)


$32 - $182 -

  • Single-Day
  • Two-Day
  • VIP Passes Available

Please check link below


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The following articles and interviews are part of our 2019 Charm City Bluegrass coverage.

About the author
Karin McLaughlin

Karin McLaughlin

Karin has been a live music junkie all her life, however is a fairly new fan in the world of jam bands and bluegrass. She grew up on hip hop, classic soul, motown and classic rock but has found a new home in the festival world and that is what, in part, had brought her to DC Music Review. Karin produces and hosts a weekly radio show in the area called Karin's Calendar, where she talks all about 'Where to be in the DMV'. She is very excited to be starting down a semi-new road with us and hopes to use her interview skills and write ups of shows to contribute even more to DC Music Review.


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