home listen reviews a-z

MULESKINNER LIVE: The Video (Sierra) • Muleskinner

This is a gem, commemorating the period when the notions of hippie virtuosos and hillbilly music were coming together, and also the days when country, bluegrass, and rock were coming together, in the early 70s. The landmark album (they were called albums, then) that the group Muleskinner cut seems now to be out of print and perhaps only available as a pricey import. (I do have a cassette somewhere, I'll try to turn it up for the diehards who write in requesting a bump.)

But here is a live acoustic version of that historic ensemble, featuring the late Clarence White of The Byrds fame, one of the greatest and most important bluegrass and country rock guitarists ever. Clarence and Gene Parsons together invented the ingenious "stringbender" for electric guitars (now made by Fender--for acoustics, too--and, in an alternate design, by Joe Glaser Guitars in Nashville) that was a big part of his trademark sound, and he was its first prodigy. Clarence was also a tremendous acoustic flatpicker, as evidenced in the classic recordings with his brother Roland White and The Kentucky Colonels.

But everybody in the band hit the top of the class. Bassist Stuart Schulman is also a fiddler, and one thing I know is that he plays with Bill Staines. (Tell us more, and we'll add it to this review!) Richard Greene on fiddle, David Grisman on mandolin, Bill Keith on banjo, Peter Rowan on guitar and vocals--every single one of them became household names in the genre and beyond, and major contributors to modern music as a whole. (Clarence White, tragically, was killed in a car accident at the age of 29, just five months after this show was taped.)

This was supposed to be the opening act for Bill Monroe that night, at Hollywood's KCET studios, but the Boss' bus broke down near Stockton, and they never arrived. The sextet had played together in various combinations, so they whipped up a longer set list and rehearsed a couple of hours and did the gig. They came to be called Muleskinner, and this is the event that led to that group's coalescence.

To the many thousands of us who adored his playing, it's worth twice the money just to have a video of Clarence White playing a flat top Martin like falling off a log, and singing harmony with Peter Rowan. Some of the tunes will be familiar, from traditional sources or the catalogs of the individual artists: "New Camptown Races," "Dark Hollow," "Land of the Navajo," "Blackberry Blossom," "Knockin On Your Door," "Opus 57 In G Minor," "Red Rocking Chair," "The Dead March," and "Orange Blossom Special."

Muleskinner Live is an expertly done, very affordable piece of modern bluegrass history. Enthusiastically recommended. Buy it here. • FG

return to covers

soundtrack CD available here

richardgreene.net       peter-rowan.com

david grisman's site (dawgnet.com)      

bill keith's site (beaconbanjo.com)

a profile of clarence white (byrdwatcher)

puremusic home