The Seldom Scene’s new Long Time … Seldom Scene reenergizes more than a dozen modern classics. High watermarks spotlight the bluegrass aces covering both country (Gram Parsons’ “Hickory Wind”) and folk (John Prine’s “Paradise”).
“These songs are just timeless,” says guitarist-vocalist Dudley Connell. “They’re part of people’s lives and ours included. This is a collection of songs that are important to us, but there’s no real link. A good song is a good song.”
CMT Edge: Describe how the new album took shape.
Connell: We sell CDs and other merchandise at our shows, and more and more, we kept getting people coming up to us asking us for our versions of these classic songs. Then Smithsonian Folkways approached us about doing that kind of record. We thought it’d be really appropriate to bring in some of the old band members who are alive and well and singing and playing good and actually in the neighborhood. [Former members Tom Gray and John Starling also appear on the album.]
Why rerecord “With Body and Soul”?
We wanted to feature John Starling on the record, and he brought that back to the band. We’d recorded it before on one of the very early Seldom Scene records, but he reinterpreted the song. I think it’s really dark and mysterious, and I really like it. It might be one of my favorite tracks on the record.
Describe working with Emmylou Harris on “With Body and Soul” and “Hickory Wind.”
Oh, my gosh. What a gentle spirit she is. I had met her a couple of times over the years because John Starling and her go way back. He produced those Trio records with Emmylou and Dolly Parton and Linda Ronstadt. He has a real connection with her, but I had never spent any time with her to speak of.
We do “Hickory Wind” all the time, and when we recorded, we left a spot for her to sing on it. Her interpretation was completely different than [bluegrass singer] Lou Reid’s and totally different than Gram Parsons’ version, too. It was just a marvel to watch her work in the studio. She’s so creative and it just seems so natural for her.
“Hickory Wind” really is timeless.
Yeah, it’s so lonely and sad. Gram was kind of in the room when we cut that thing, for sure. Every time we perform it, I really start to feel melancholy, but I mean that in a good way. I like a sad song. (laughs)
Yet your website credits your longevity partly on a “sheer sense of fun.”
It’s funny. We’ve never been a band that’s gotten on a bus and gone on tour for weeks and months on end. We’re the weekend warrior types. I mean, half the band still holds day jobs. So when we go out to play, it really is fun. We look forward to playing with each other. There’s a playful spirit about this band, and there always has been.
Another way to put it: We take the music seriously, but we don’t take each other that seriously, and we don’t take ourselves too seriously. It’s unusual. I’ve never seen anything like it. We’re lucky.
Has the weekend warrior thing always been your goal?
Yeah. I think [the late multi-instrumentalist] John Duffey said at one point, “We just got together and played for fun, and we were just standing around minding our own business and we got famous.” That’s his quote, not mine, but I think there’s some truth to that.
You guys especially work well on the Bob Dylan song, “It’s All Over Now Baby Blue.”
Lou Reid sings that. I think he captures that tune really well. The lyrics are kind of cryptic, but a friend of mine told me one time that his feeling was that was Bob Dylan’s swan song to the folk music world. He was heralded as being the king of the protest and leader of a generation, and I don’t think he ever viewed himself that way. I think that song deals with some of those feelings. I don’t know. I’m making this up, but that’s the way I feel about it.
You’ve said Carter Stanley is a big influence. Explain.
My parents always had a couple of Stanley Brothers records around the house, and he always hit the same nerve in me that people like Hank Williams could hit. As I got into my teen years, I listened to the same things as everybody else — Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, all those kind of people.
There’s something about Carter Stanley’s voice, though. He really told a story. I didn’t really listen to him sing as much as I listened to him tell a story. That’s a real gift. Not everybody can do that.
Did your parents encourage you into music?
Yeah, they really did. My parents both played music, and they pushed me along. I think, in some ways, I’ve lived the life my father wanted to live. He would have loved to be a professional musician, but he was an electrician all his life. He loved music and always encouraged me to play. I was lucky. I got to make a career out of it.
What’s most challenging about playing bluegrass guitar?
(laughs) You’ve got to feel it. I’ve been fortunate because I’ve played with great rhythm sections, and I think that’s really helped me out. If you’re trying to learn how to play bluegrass guitar, my advice would be to play with people who are better than you are and who can pull you along.