The Seldom Scene Biography

Formed in late 1971, as a Washington, DC, USA-based semi-professional newgrass bluegrass band. A fellow musician, most probably Charlie Waller of the Country Gentlemen, was responsible for the name, when he suggested that since the members had to fit their musical appearances around their daily employment, they would be seldom seen playing in the area. The founder members were John Duffey (4 March 1934, Washington, DC, USA, d. 10 December 1996, Arlington, Virginia, USA; mandolin, guitar, vocals) and Tom Gray (b. 1 February 1941, Chicago, Illinois, USA; string bass, guitar, mandolin, vocals), who had both previously played with Waller in the Country Gentlemen, Mike Auldridge (b. 30 December 1938, Washington DC, USA; dobro, vocals), Ben Eldridge (banjo, guitar, vocals) and John Starling (b. 26 March 1940, Durham, North Carolina, USA; guitar, lead vocals). All had daily work outside the music industry, although Duffey actually repaired musical instruments through an Arlington, Virginia music store. Gray worked for the National Geographic magazine as a cartographer, Eldridge was a mathematician, while Starling was a US Army surgeon, then working at a local hospital. Auldridge, now one of country music’s finest dobro players, having played on countless recordings as a session musician, as well as recording solo albums, was working as a commercial artist. (Auldridge’s uncle, Ellsworth T. Cozens, a talented multi-instrumentalist, had played steel guitar, mandolin and banjo on Jimmie Rodgers’ recordings in 1928.)

Seldom Scene first played a residency at the Red Fox Inn, Bethesda, in January 1972. This soon led to festival and concert appearances and by 1974, their fine harmonies and musicianship had seen them achieve a popularity almost equal to that of the long-established Country Gentlemen. They recorded a series of albums for Rebel in 1972, before moving to Sugar Hill Records in 1980. There were no personnel changes until 1977, when Phil Rosenthal, who had already written material for the band, including their popular ‘Willie Boy’ and ‘Muddy Water’, replaced Starling (Starling, an exceptional bluegrass vocalist and songwriter, subsequently become a popular artist in his own right, recording several very successful albums for Sugar Hill). In 1986, Rosenthal (who also recorded solo albums) left and was replaced by Lou Reid (fiddle, guitar, dobro, mandolin, lead vocals), who had previously worked with Ricky Skaggs and Doyle Lawson. Tom Gray finally left the group soon afterwards, his place being taken by T. Michael Coleman, who had played previously with Doc Watson. This change also saw an instrumental variation, since Coleman played an electric bass guitar instead of the acoustic stand up bass that Gray had always used.

The band played a special concert, on 10 November 1986, at Washington’s John F. Kennedy Center For The Performing Arts, to commemorate their 15 years in the music business, which was recorded as a double album and included several guest appearances by artists such as Emmylou Harris, Linda Ronstadt, Starling, Jonathan Edwards and Waller. The album even contained a liner note from President Ronald Reagan. Five years later, all the eight artists who had been members over the years played together to record another live album, this time at Birchmere, to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Seldom Scene’s formation. Auldridge, Klein and Coleman left in 1995 to form Chesapeake, and were replaced by Dudley Connell (ex-Johnson Mountain Boys), Ronnie Simpkins and Fred Travers. Duffey died of a heart attack in December 1996 prior to the release of a new album. Eldridge elected to continue the band without his fellow founding member, and recorded 2000’s Scene It All with Connell, Simpkins, Travers and the returning Reid.

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

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