Having seen The Stockwell Brothers play many times, we certainly had them in mind for a Local Musician's Spotlight feature. They've been a staple of the live local music scene for decades.
This coming Saturday, November 21, they will be opening for bluegrass masters Ned Luberecki and Stephen Mougin at the New England Youth Theatre at 100 Flat Street in Brattleboro at 8 p.m. We felt it was a great time to put the brothers in the Spotlight.
Tickets for the concert are $15 or $13 for students and seniors. For reservations and more information call 254-9276.
Now, here are some questons for the brothers, and their answers are in italics.
How did you guys start playing together? Was music part of how you were raised? Can you give me a history of the group?
Our parents were bluegrass fans, and our dad played guitar, mandolin and harmonica. Early on, we'd hear him and a handful of local guitar, banjo, mandolin and fiddle players at parties and other gatherings in our hometown of Putney.
With those experiences and 78 and 33 1/3 rpm records to go on, Bruce started playing banjo at age 11, and younger brother, Barry, soon joined in on guitar. In 1969, we went from living room picking sessions with dad to playing out with our first band, The Green Mountain Boys, a bluegrass quartet which included our cousins, Doug and Tim Harlow.
While in college in Connecticut, Bruce and Barry formed Old Dog, a band with mandolinist, Phil Rosenthal, which recorded two Flying Fish albums with Seldom Scene dobroist, Mike Auldridge, in the late '70s. During the '80s, the brothers collaborated with an array of musicians fluent in other musical styles, as The Stockwell Brothers Band gradually changed from a newgrass, to a folk rock, to a world beat band featuring Bruce on electric guitar and multi-insrumentalist, Derrik Jordan.
By the early '90s, youngest brother, Alan, who had been travelling with the band as the soundman, joined Bruce and Barry, as the three brothers returned to their newgrass/folk roots as trio, recording a CD, Stobro, in 1992. Since then, The Stockwell Brothers have performed throughout the US, and in Canada and Europe.
How did playing in Europe happen?
Barry, who books the band, started by calling a few Germany, Switzerland and England venues listed in the back of several music trade magazines. Through their association with Seldom Scene, Bruce and Barry were somewhat known in European bluegrass circles, and as each phone call led to a handful more, the trip mushroomed into a six-week, 11-country tour. It was an invaluable experience, which led to our Stobro CD being re-released on Holland's Strictly Country label.
What are the highlights of your career that you look back on with the most satisfaction?
As teenagers, we had the good fortune to be booked by Putney Folk as an opening act for some great artists, including Bruce's hero, banjo legend Earl Scruggs. Over the years, we've shared bills with artists from Bill Monroe to Mary-Chapin Carpenter to Asleep At The Wheel, at some venerable concert halls.
The European tour, as well as an extended West Coast tour and tours with singer/songwriter, Jonathan Edwards, also stand out. Bruce has won a bunch of banjo contests over the years, most notably, the 2005 Merlefest competition in Wilkesboro, NC. Then there are the albums - our labor of love snapshots of where we've been musically.
What were your early influences?
We all listened to Flatt and Scruggs, the Osborne Brothers, Bill Monroe and the Stanley Brothers, while Barry focused equally on a few singer/songwriters of the time - Gordon Lightfoot, Jim Croce and Merle Haggard.
What instruments do you play?
In concert, Bruce plays five-string banjo, Barry plays guitar and Alan switches between bass and mandolin. We all play a variety of stringed instruments around the house. Barry sings lead, and Bruce and Alan add the harmonies.
Do you write and compose your own songs?
Bruce is the songwriter in the band - our second CD, Leave My Dreams Alone, is largely his material. At this point, he's writing instrumental banjo pieces, while Barry brings in most of the new material from a variety of mostly non-bluegrass sources.
Have you been involved in other groups or performing on your own?
Bruce and his wife Kelly, an acoustic bassist, occasionally perform with North by Northeast, a Connecticut based group of New England bluegrass vets. We've done studio work with lots of artists, from Jonathan Edwards to Bela Fleck.
What local musicians do you enjoy?
Kelly and Bruce enjoy jamming with area bluegrass players almost every week. As Twilight Music, Barry gets to book some incredibly talented local musicians at Hooker-Dunham Theater & Gallery, Greenhoe Theatre, New England Youth Theatre and the annual Twilight on the Tavern Lawn concert series in Putney. To name a few - fiddler Lissa Schneckenburger, bagpiper Dan Houghton, singer/songwriters Derrik Jordan , Lisa McCormick and Clayton Sabine, and bands like Nightingale, Housetop, Simba and Planet Zydeco.
Who are your influences now? What new music are you listening to?
As a banjo teacher, Bruce has had a chance to work with some of his biggest influences - Bill Keith, Tony Trischka and Alan Munde to name just three - and they continue to inspire him. And there's a whole new generation of amazing players in bluegrass - Rutland's own Dan Tyminski is a great example. Inspired by songs and voices, Barry listens mostly to contemporary folk - new material from old favorites like Jonathan Edwards and Cheryl Wheeler to the younger generation of singer/songwriters like Anais Mitchell and Kris Delmhorst.
What advice would you give to up and coming musicians in the area?
As a music teacher, Bruce's best advice is simply get out and play with other people - through music stores, jams, festivals, concerts. Find others with similar interests and abilities and join in. There's no better or faster way to find out how it all works.