Jack Mazur’s personal history of bluegrass

Jack MazurBack in the early 60’s, in Pensacola, Florida (southern Alabama) my mother would turn the t.v. on and make me watch the so and so country hour. I think it was around 6:00 p.m.. I was forced to watch Jim and Jesse, Bill Monroe, Grandpa Jones and so much cornpone it made me sick! At ten years of age I thought I was some “modern” individual and, frankly, this music, and my being forced to watch it, embarrassed me. I wanted the Beatles and the ‘Mersey Beat’. As our family disintegrated I moved about with relatives but was becoming consumed with rock music. In 1965, at age twelve, I discovered the Byrds. This was “it” for me. To this day I love that Rickenbacker electric twelve string. Then I was a teenager and I discovered Cream and the Electric Prunes and Moby Grape. Thought I was really cool.

Joined the Navy in ‘71 and for sure I thought I would be a casualty.

Didn’t happen. I did meet a few fellows who had guitars and would play old time bluegrass on the ship while out at sea. I didn’t care for it much at first but a seed was planted. After the Navy I travelled to Northwest Connecticut to attend community college. I remember a sort of psychedelic existence (though those days were gone by) and got to hear the New Holy Modal Rounders (Easy Rider Soundtrack), the Dead (whom I hated), Brewer and Shipley and the Flying Burrito Brothers. I had already experienced the Byrds’, “Sweetheart of the Rodeo“, with its huge Gram Parsons influence. One day I heard “Old and in the Way.” Geez, Jerry could play this (later learning he started out with a bluegrass band)? Now I’ve worn out 3 LPs of “Old and in the Way” and I’ve become a sort of Gram Parsons expert (his influence on the Rolling Stones and Keith Richards, a friend, led to Honky Tonk Women, Dead Flowers and their ‘country era’).

If you have ever listened to the Flying Burrito Brothers’, Double Live Album you will have heard their nod to Bluegrass. Later Gram would team up with Emilylou Harris for some very famous sessions that included several new bluegrass standards. Emmylou’s first album had several Parson’s songs included. Later with the Nash Ramblers she continued the thread.

In my second attempt at university life I attended Southern Connecticut State University. I had become a John Prine fan. The dj on the Wednesday night bluegrass show at WPKN, Bridgeport played in a bluegrass band in a bar where I met him. As president of the Veteran’s Association I hired him for a gig at the college. I got the last beer keg license in Connecticut University history for this show in 1984. His name was Chris Teskey and he was the emcee at Winterhawk for the first several years (he emceed around the clock).

Well, he got my bluegrass jones going. He invited me to Winterhawk in 1984 and gave me a free pass. I went and it was love at first site and sound. Incidentally that steep hill to the right of the stage had NO ONE on it. It wasn’t very crowded but I had tons of fun. Haven’t missed one since.

Now, with my limited abilities, I get to sing with Caroline (R and R Volunteer Coordinator) and we usually sing Gram Parson’s “Sin City.” I’m hoping to learn more Parson’s songs and hopefully sing with Caroline. She’s such a great singer and with luck she’ll put up with me.

What got me out of rock music? Hearing “Hotel California” 100 times in the same week! Too bad. The Eagles’ concept album, “Duelin’ Daltons” was one of the best recordings ever made in my book. That was in part because of the participation of Bernie Leadon’s banjo work. Nowadays I look back on the Byrds’ experiments, Gram Parsons, John Prine (Paradise), Jerry, and the early work of Hot Rize and Seldom Scene (rest in peace, John Duffy) as the people who have most influenced my life and personal love of Bluegrass music. Hope I wasn’t too maudlin. Would be interested in others’ views and histories of same.

– Jack Mazur