Earth Opera Biography

Formed in Boston, New England, USA, in 1967, Earth Opera revolved around Peter Rowan (4 July 1942, Boston, Massachusetts, USA; vocals, guitar) and David Grisman (b. 1945, Hackensack, New Jersey, USA; mandocello, mandolin). Both were veterans of the bluegrass and old-time circuit; Rowan with Bill Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys and the Mother State Bay Entertainers, and Grisman as leader of the New York Ramblers and a member of the Even Dozen Jug Band. The two musicians worked as a duo, performing Rowan’s original songs, before adding John Nagy (bass) and Bill Stevenson (keyboards, vibes). Earth Opera was produced by fellow folk music associate Peter Siegel, who shared an unerring empathy with the material. Rowan’s lyrical, highly visual compositions were enhanced by his unusual, expressive tenor, particularly on the graphic ‘Death By Fire’ and ‘The Child Bride’. Elsewhere the material reflected the questioning rootlessness prevalent in the immediate post-1967 era. Drummer Paul Dillon was then added to the line-up, but Bill Stevenson left the group prior to recording a second album.

Although worthy, The Great American Eagle Tragedy featured a roughshod horn section which altered the tone of several songs, with only one track, ‘Mad Lydia’s Waltz’, retaining the delicacy of the previous set. The collection was marked by its uncompromising title-track, a lengthy impassioned attack on the Vietnam War. A compulsive example of the genre, replete with images of terror and madness, this accomplished piece overshadowed much of the remaining content, although Rowan’s talent was equally obvious on ‘Home To You’ and ‘Sanctuary From The Law’. The former contained the memorably quirky lyric, ‘It’s tired and I’m getting late’. Earth Opera broke up soon after the set was issued. Rowan later joined Seatrain, before enjoying a successful solo career, while Grisman became a leading figure in traditional music circles.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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