A Potpourri of a Bluegrass Jam
Muleskinner, which is as close as modern bluegrass has gotten to a super group, featured in its ranks mandolinist David Grisman, banjo picker Bill Keith, vocalist and guitarist Peter Rowan, fiddler Richard Greene and bassist John Kahn, along with the Paganini of country guitar, Clarence White. Although this group was around for only a brief time, they, much like the Grisman/Jerry Garcia-led “Old And In The Way,” converted many a listener (such as a young Alison Krauss) into bluegrass fanatics. And it’s easy to see why. Rowan, who had served for a time as a member of Bill Monroe’s Bluegrass Boys (the bluegrass equivalent of Marine Corps basic training), brought his high lonesome voice, Grisman his free-wheeling 8 string style that would grow, over time, into “Dawg Music” and Clarence, well, Clarence did what he always did – redefined the limits of guitar every time he played. Running through a selection of standards – Monroe’s “Roanoke” and “Footprints in the Snow,” “Dark Hollow” and the chestnut “Whitehouse Blues” (updated to include references to Nixon and LBJ, instead of McKinley; this was the late ’60s, after all) – the interplay between musical souls is a wonder to behold. And on “Muleskinner Blues,” with White’s frantic yet assured Telecaster leading the way, they elevate folk music to near virtuosity.
Although all of the players went on to further musical adventures (sadly, not much more was heard from Clarence White, who was killed by a drunk driver not long after Muleskinner), the music captured here shows stellar players creating bluegrass magic, long before O Brother made such a thing cool. These guys were so cool, they smoked.