Scene and Heard

By Stephen Pitalo

 

Mandolin and guitar player Lou Reid remembers distinctly when he joined the legendary band The Seldom Scene, since he has been both the “new guy” and is now the longest tenured member.

 

“It feels really different being the oldest band member,” Reid admitted. “It is also different because I was the guitar player and lead singer with the original guys when I first joined the band in 1986, except for John Starling.”

The Seldom Scene, formed in 1971 in Bethesda Maryland, has been playing longer than nearly any bluegrass band on the scene today. Embracing a more progressive sound and gaining many an expert player through the decades, the band incorporates country, rock and even pop music stylings into their recordings and shows.

Lou Reid’s exposure to early bluegrass and Americana influenced his music journey.

 

“My dad played banjo, guitar, fiddle, autoharp and harmonica,” Reid said. “He would take me to see Flatt and Scruggs when I was about 10 or 11. I thought that was fascinating, to see the group live and working the stage. Then, about that same time, I met a guy named Jeff Hooker and we played a little bit together, but I was still in the learning stage. Then, in high school, I met some friends that became my first bandmates. Myron Nunn, Jimmy Haley, Jeff Hooker and myself became known in the Southeast as the Bluegrass Buddies. We won numerous awards.”

For 25 years, The Seldom Scene remained popular in bluegrass circles even with the near-constant personnel changes, but then Duffey and Eldridge were suddenly the two remaining original members, at which point they recruited reso-guitar player Fred Travers, bassist Ronnie Simpkins, and guitarist and singer Dudley Connell to join the band. This reconstituted group recorded an album in 1996 and continued live appearances. Tragically, the band was dealt what seemed a crushing blow late that same year, when band leader and founder John Duffey suffered a fatal heart attack. Nonetheless, the band was simply too popular to disappear for good. Banjoist Ben Eldridge, the sole remaining original member and a significant force in banjo music in his own right, assumed leadership of the band. At this point, Reid rejoined the band on mandolin. Eldridge retired from the band in 2016.

 

The Seldom Scene’s current lineup features Connell on guitar, Reid on mandolin and finger-style guitar, Simpkins on bass, Travers on reso-guitar, and Ron Stewart on banjo and fiddle. Having just signed a deal with Rounder Records, this veteran band can look forward to success in the ever-expanding digital world of bluegrass. A new project is set to be recorded, starting early in 2018, to be the first with new member Stewart. As of now, The Seldom Scene has recorded 22 albums during its history.

 

Reid also enjoys Seldom Scene because it transcends the genre, in his opinion.

“I like the Seldom Scene because we are not just a bluegrass band. Instrument-wise, yes, but we don’t approach music in just a bluegrass direction. We like blues, rock, folk, country and gospel music that we pull some of our material from. I also approach the music with a similar attitude as the Scene with my own group, Lou Reid & Carolina. But I feel that I do more bluegrass-y songs with my own band.”

 

When asked which Seldom Scene tune is his favorite to play live, Lou Reid has an immediate and definitive response.

 

“With no hesitation, I would say ‘Wait A Minute’!” said Reid.

 

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