Scroll down for Bluegrass Unlimited review and liner notes by Roland White and Herb Pedersen.
Liner notes by Mary Katherine Aldin
Rarely has there been a bluegrass “find” like these recordings. A never-before-heard concert tape of The New Kentucky Colonels (Roland, Eric and Clarence White and their good friend Herb Pedersen), recorded during a 1973 tour of Holland and then stored away for nearly four decades, these tracks sound as fresh and vital today as they did when they were originally recorded.
The three brothers, Roland (b. 1938), Eric Jr. (1942-2012), and Clarence (1944-1973), moved with their parents from their native Maine to Southern California in the early 1950s and started playing as a family band with their father, Eric. Sr., and their sister Joanne. Eventually the three boys formed a group, won a talent show as the Three Little Country Boys, and soon, joined by bassist Roger Bush, banjo player Billy Ray Lathum and later dobro player LeRoy “Mack” MacNees, became well known in the Los Angeles area as The Kentucky Colonels. They made several appearances on the Andy Griffith Show, recorded an album for World Pacific Records, played at the 1964 Newport Folk Festival, and performed frequently at Los Angeles’ prestigious Ash Grove. However, with the advent of the electrified, jangling sounds of the British Invasion, work for a full time bluegrass band was getting harder and harder to find, and in 1965 they disbanded.
Clarence, a brilliant guitarist, had already started doing outside work as an in-demand session musician in the recording studios of L.A.; this led, in 1968, to an invitation to join the folk-rock band The Byrds, with whom he toured and recorded. Roland, keeping closer to his bluegrass roots, played guitar for Bill Monroe and His Bluegrass Boys and mandolin for Lester Flatt and the Nashville Grass, and would later go on to perform for many years with Country Gazette and The Nashville Bluegrass Band before forming his current group, the Roland White Band.
However, in January of 1973 Clarence had just finished his five-year stint as lead guitarist for The Byrds, and was more than ready for a return to his earlier acoustic roots. He called Roland and proposed that they put together a bluegrass band to do a tour of a few cities in Europe. Roland was still playing with Lester Flatt at the time, but was eager to reunite musically with his brother. Their longtime Kentucky Colonels banjo player, Billy Ray Lathum, was unavailable, so Clarence recommended Herb Pedersen for the tour; their Colonels bassist Roger Bush had gone on the road with Country Gazette, so middle brother Eric Jr. was glad to rejoin them.
The repertoire here will be familiar to longtime Kentucky Colonels fans; it’s largely straight-ahead bluegrass, with selections drawn from the Bill Monroe/Flatt & Scruggs/Stanley Brothers/Osborne Brothers songbooks, along with a few more contemporary songs Clarence brought to the group (Tom Paxton’s plaintive “Last Thing On My Mind” was one) and several bluegrass instrumentals. Clarence and Roland had had most of this material in their back pockets since their Country Boys and Kentucky Colonels days, and Herb, already a bluegrass veteran after working in Northern California with The Pine Valley Boys and Vern & Ray, was familiar with most of it too. The performances are splendid, harking back to the Kentucky Colonels’ glory days, with the added bonus of many years of stage and studio experience; their vocals are perfectly attuned to each other, and Herb’s powerhouse banjo, Roland’s mandolin and Clarence’s guitar steer the tracks. Clarence, of course, was one of the most inventive guitarists ever to grace a stage, and having his too-slim recorded legacy increased by these sixteen cuts is a terrific bonus. By the way, there’s nothing wrong with your CD player; the final number, “Rawhide,” really is curtailed; apparently the tape ran out!
The tour started in Holland in May of 1973, where these songs were recorded; after a few dates there, Herb Pedersen had to leave to fulfill a longstanding commitment to meet Johnny Rivers in Paris and go on tour with him, so banjo wizard Alan Munde of the Country Gazette flew over and completed the tour, which included several dates in England, Wales and Sweden, with the White brothers. They returned to the States to play the Indian Springs, MD bluegrass festival, and club dates in California. Within a few short weeks Clarence was dead, killed on July 15th by a drunk driver while he and Roland were loading their equipment into their car after a gig in Palmdale, CA. So this album contains some of the final recordings ever made of the three White brothers, playing bluegrass music together as they had done for most of their lives.
Mary Katherine Aldin
Los Angeles, California
Liner notes by Herb Pedersen:
It was in May of 1973 when I was asked to play a musical part of the “New Kentucky Colonels” tour going to Holland and Sweden. I had seen Clarence and Roland many times when they performed in the state of California as the Kentucky Colonels with Roger Bush and Billy Ray Lathum, and knew pretty well the tunes we would be performing in Europe. It was a thrill for me to be asked to be a part of these already legendary young bluegrass players. Jim Dickson, a record producer from Los Angeles, called me and asked if I would consider their offer. I didn’t hesitate to say “yes”. Roland, Clarence and Eric had been a big part of the country music scene in L.A. for a long time already, playing various t.v. shows and folk clubs with their family members and as the “Country Boys” also featuring Leroy McNees. They were also the first bluegrass band on the celebrated “Andy Griffith Show” back in the 60s. As young as they were, I’ll never forget the talent they had back then. To be a small part of their musical history was a blessing for me and a wonderful introduction into the world of real bluegrass music.
Los Angeles, California
Liner notes by Roland White:
After working one year and two months as rhythm guitar player with Bill Monroe and His Blue Grass Boys and almost four years as mandolin player in Lester Flatt's Nashville Grass, in January of 1973 I got a phone call from my brother Clarence. He said the folk-rock group The Byrds had disbanded. He had a record deal for an album with Warner Brothers. But he wanted to play more acoustic music. His manager/agent Eddie Ticknor needed a bluegrass band for a tour of Europe--would I be interested in getting our Kentucky Colonels group together again? Of course I would! But who should we call on to fill out the band? Roger Bush was in a new band, The Country Gazette. Billy Ray Latham had been playing mostly rhythm guitar in another band. What about our brother Eric to play bass? Yes, he was ready and eager! Byrds' record producer Jim Dickson suggested that we call on Herb Pedersen to play banjo, and we had our band.
We arrived in Amsterdam about noon, and were surprised to be picked up in a late 1960s Oldsmobile. Ted and his wife Nikki Boddy were our hosts and the driver was Mr. Ted Boddy himself. The Boddy family included two teenage boys, and two girls. We stayed at their beautiful old Dutch hotel, The Weichmann on Prisengracht, and across the street was a canal. We arrived at the hotel and were shown to our rooms. I ran some hot, hot water over my face and went down the winding stairs. They had a snack lunch waiting for us. They served cheeses like we'd never had. The bread was from a local bakery, baked fresh every day, and white wine. I recall that I went up to my room after visiting with the Boddys. I just crashed. The next morning there was a knock on my door. On a tray at the door was the best, strongest coffee I'd ever had and it was so good. On the tray a note read, "breakfast is on when you're ready." I bathed and went down the stairs, and had the best breakfast. More cheese, an assortment of delicious breads, jellies, eggs and that great coffee. I recall we went over a set list mid-day. We stayed at the hotel the whole week and a half, and traveled to different towns/small cities each day. The first show we did was in their little nightclub "Boddy's Inn", within walking distance, about two blocks away. Folks walked everywhere, or rode bicycles, the old and the young.
We played the concert on this recording at Het Turfschip (a large concert hall) in Breda. The sound was being adjusted during the first couple of songs but overall it sounds great; I think you’ll agree! To play with my brothers again, to me was exciting, a dream come true. We had played music together since the 1950s. When we got together again it was like taking an old clock out of the attic and winding it up and tick, tick, tick, it still runs perfectly! Clarence's flatpicking was fast, accurate, clear, and ballads soulful. He could raise the hairs on my whole body, as he did to anyone who heard him. His playing has influenced all flatpickers since he began being heard, and will for generations to come. Eric's bass playing is just exceptionally great. Listen to his bass lines here. He liked playing around with rhythms, and so did Clarence. Clarence would look over at him with a grin as they played off each other. Then there is Herb Pedersen with his hard driving banjo and fabulous vocals. He blended like another brother. Because of his command of the high vocal range we were able to do some great trio arrangements—Is This My Destiny especially stands out. I’m listening to it now and I’ve got goose bumps.
Review by David McCarty
Reprinted with permission of Bluegrass Unlimited Magazine from the Nov. 2013 issue.
NEW KENTUCKY COLONELS, LIVE IN HOLLAND 1973
Roland White Music RW0001
Clarence White’s tragic death at the hands of a drunk driver forty years ago did not just tear apart his lifelong musical connection with his brothers Roland and Eric and their landmark bluegrass band, the Kentucky Colonels. Like the premature deaths of Django Reinhardt, Charlie Christian, Wes Montgomery, Jimi Hendrix, and more, it terminated a brilliant guitarist’s career that still left an influence lasting generations. If only Clarence and those other greats had lived to fulfill their full musical destinies.
Yet, from time to time, rare and previously undiscovered recordings do surface, and we’re given the rare opportunity to hear new material from long-gone artists. In the case of Live In Holland 1973, this new release of the New Kentucky Colonels was recorded literally a few months before Clarence’s passing, and it shows him at the absolute peak of his musicianship.
After years of inventing country-rock guitar on his B-Bender Telecaster with The Byrds, Clarence had just returned to bluegrass to tour with Roland and Eric. Unlike the other release from their European tour recorded in Sweden that featured Alan Munde on banjo, here the brothers play with Herb Pedersen, who adds another layer of brilliant harmony singing to the classic White brothers’ close harmony style.
The result is sheer brilliance. The band sounds exceptionally tight and professional, moving from intros to song kick-offs with consummate professionalism. The interplay between Herb, Clarence, and Roland feels like they’ve toured and performed live together for years. This is not a pickup group; it’s a finely tuned, well-rehearsed band. Musically, Roland demonstrates maybe the finest mandolin playing he’s ever recorded, matching his brother note for note in creative expression and speed. Pedersen isn’t the banjo player Alan Munde is, but his contributions are typically rock solid and highly musical.
Then there’s Clarence, in my opinion the most innovative and creative guitarist of his generation on both acoustic and electric. His standby tunes such as “Soldier’s Joy” are here, but with even more speed and creativity, and he tears down tunes like “Mocking Banjo,” “Rawhide,” and “Black Mountain Rag” with a clarity and intensity never heard before. For those of us still deciphering his brilliant phrasing, uncanny sense of timing, and quicksilver right-hand work, there’s a feast of new material to delve into here.
Mention also must be made of the wonderful sound quality. The mics pick up each instrument and voice to create a wide, deep soundfield, and every note, chord, and backup lick is recorded clearly and in high fidelity. Put this CD on a really good audio system and it’s a wonderful listening experience. Every fan of the Kentucky Colonels needs this CD, and for those yet to discover one of bluegrass music’s greatest bands of all time, here’s a superb place to start. Highest recommendation. (Roland White Music, 224 Bermuda Dr., Nashville, TN 37214, www.rolandwhite.com.)DJM