The Seldom SceneThe Seldom Scene is an American bluegrass band that formed in 1971 in Bethesda, Maryland.
Early historyThe Seldom Scene was established in 1971, and they would practice in Ben Eldridge's basement. These practice sessions included John Starling on guitar and lead vocals, Mike Auldridge on Dobro and baritone vocals, and former Country Gentlemen member Tom Gray on bass. The mandolinist John Duffey, who had also performed with the Country Gentlemen, was invited to jam sessions at the time when Mike Auldridge arranged for the group to play as a performing band. Another member of the Country Gentlemen, Charlie Waller, is responsible for the band's name. Expressing his doubt that this new band could succeed, Waller reportedly asked Duffey, “What are you going to call yourselves, the seldom seen?” The band had weekly performances at clubs and performed regularly at the Red Fox Inn, a music club in Bethesda Maryland. The band switched over to the Birchmere music hall in Alexandria, Virginia which resulted in a residency.
Members' backgroundEach of the band members had a job during the week; Duffey repaired musical instruments, Eldridge was a mathematician, Starling a physician, Auldridge a graphic artist, and Gray a cartographer with National Geographic. They agreed to play one night a week at local clubs, perform occasionally at concerts and festivals on weekends, and make records. After playing for six weeks at a small Washington, D.C., club called the Rabbit's Foot, the group found a home at the Red Fox Inn in Bethesda, Maryland. They performed at that venue Friday nights from January 1972 through September 1977 before starting weekly performances at The Birchmere Music Hall in Alexandria, Virginia.
Rise to popularityThe progressive bluegrass style played by The Seldom Scene had become increasingly popular during the 1970s, especially Duffey's high tenor and the vocal blend of Duffey/Starling/Auldridge. Their weekly shows included bluegrass versions of country music, rock, and even classical pop. The band's popularity soon forced them to play more than once a week —but they continued to maintain their image as being seldom seen, and on several of their early album covers were photographed with the stage lights on only their feet, or with their backs to the camera. Though the Scene remained a non-touring band, they were prolific recorders, producing seven albums in their first five years of existence, including one live album (among the first live bluegrass albums).
Departure of John StarlingIn 1978, John Starling left the group to focus on his medical career, and was replaced by singer and songwriter Phil Rosenthal, whose song "Muddy Water" had been recorded by the Scene on two earlier albums. Starling and Rosenthal shared their lead vocals on the group's sixth studio album, Baptizing (recorded in 1978). Around the same time, the group switched record labels from Rebel to Sugar Hill. Starling recorded a solo album for Sugar Hill in 1980 called "Long Time Gone" and another in 1982 called "Waitin' On A Southern Train," on both of which Mike Auldridge played.
Rosenthal as a lead singerThe lineup of Rosenthal-Duffey-Gray-Auldridge-Eldridge, might be called as "second classic", as they recorded five albums of a very comparable quality and popularity to the ones with the founding members, including John Starling. Rosenthal proved to be as good lead singer as Starling and his baritone voice contrasted well with Duffey's high tenor extravaganzas. He also wrote typically two to three songs on each of the albums and also added acoustic guitar solos to the group.
More changes in lineupIn 1986, Phil Rosenthal and Tom Gray both left the band to focus on other pursuits, and were replaced by Lou Reid and T. Michael Coleman, respectively. Coleman proved to be very controversial, as many purists objected to his use of an electric bass in what is nominally an acoustic genre, but the albums produced by the band after Coleman's arrival maintained the traditional appeal of any of the Scene's earlier albums.
Reid left the band in 1993, and Duffey convinced former member John Starling to return to the band for the next year. During that year the Scene recorded the album Like We Used to Be, but Starling did not wish to stay with the band long term. He was replaced in 1994 by lead singer Moondi Klein.
Throughout these changes, band leader John Duffey's original plan of keeping a light touring schedule and staying close to home continued to prevail. During 1995 and 1996, Klein and Coleman, along with original member Mike Auldridge, wanting to be part of a full-time project, left the Seldom Scene to form a new band called Chesapeake. For a time the Scene stopped recording.
Duffey and Eldridge, the two remaining original members, recruited resophonic guitar player Fred Travers, bassist Ronnie Simpkins, and guitarist and singer Dudley Connell to join the band, and the reconstituted group recorded an album in 1996 and continued live appearances.
John Duffey's deathFor 25 years The Seldom Scene remained popular in bluegrass circles even with the near-constant personnel changes. But the band was dealt what seemed a crushing blow in late 1996, when band leader and founder John Duffey suffered a fatal heart attack.
Seldom Scene without Duffey
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. Former guitarist Lou Reid rejoined the band on mandolin. Initially the new Scene concentrated on live performances, but in 2000 the group recorded a new album, Scene It All. The Seldom Scene continues to tour, and has recorded for the Sugar Hill Records and Smithsonian Folkways labels.
Seldom Scene todaySeldom Scene continues to excel in the bluegrass scene and recently received critical acclaim for their work. Scenechronized, recorded in 2007, was nominated for a Grammy Award.
In July 2008 Seldom Scene performed at a White House dinner honoring the 2008 U.S. Olympic team as well as previous U.S. Olympians. Seldom Scene also played the National Folk Festival July 11–13, 2008 representing bluegrass music.
On April 22, 2014, the longtime pillars of the bluegrass world returned with Long Time... Seldom Scene, via Smithsonian Folkways. The collection features fresh interpretations of 16 oft-requested tunes and is the band's first studio album since the GRAMMY-nominated album Scenechronized in 2007. In 2015, "Long Time...Seldom Scene" and "Mean Mother Blues" won awards in the "Bluegrass" Album and Song categories at The 14th Annual Independent Music Awards.
In January, 2016, Ben Eldridge retired after 44 continuous years with the band. He was replaced by Rickie Simpkins.
In 2017, Ron Stewart joined the Seldom Scene, replacing Rickie Simpkins.
In 2019, Rounder Records announced a new Seldom Scene album, Changes, featuring songs by some of the great songwriters of the 1960s and early '70s. The album is due out June 7.
The band currently consists of Dudley Connell (guitar/lead vocals), Ron Stewart (banjo/fiddle/guitar), Lou Reid (mandolin/tenor vocals), Fred Travers (dobro/lead vocals), and Ronnie Simpkins (bass/baritone vocals). Ben Eldridge's son, Chris, also frequently performs with the group.
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