Interviews

Spotlight on Buddy Merriam & Back Roads

Who are the members of your band?
Buddy Merriam & Back Roads:
Buddy Merriam-mandolin
Kathy DeVine-guitar & vocals
Carlos Cordero-bass & vocals
Jack Gabis-lead guitar & vocals
Banjo TBA

The Mandolin Experience:
Buddy Merriam-mandolin
Greg Butler- 2nd mandolin
Carlos Cordero-bass & vocals
Jack Gabis-lead guitar & vocals



Would you share bios of your band members?

Buddy Merriam - Mandolin/MC/Band Leader
Born on October 7, 1952 in Hartford, Connecticut, he formed Buddy Merriam and Back Roads in 1980 out of his love and respect for traditional Bluegrass music. He became close friends with the Father of Bluegrass music, Bill Monroe,  and got to know and eventually perform with him. Buddy brought Back Roads down to the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville to perform a few times, which is no minor accomplishment for a New York area mandolin player! They've also performed at the Grand Opening of the Bluegrass Museum and Hall of Fame and Country Music's Fan Fair in Nashville, TN.

Buddy appears in CMT's "Bluegrass Sound - The Bluegrass Journey" documentary, PBS TV’s “Jubilee,” as well as, “Farming the Future,” the soundtracks of "Bobs Rolling Reefer," “The Iowa State Fair,” and “The Bradstock Movie” performing his tune “Spirit of Rosine.

Buddy has six CD's released on Lily Pad Records and a book of thirty original mandolin tunes (Back Roads Mandolin) newly released in 2011 with TAB. He has hosted the weekly Blue Grass Time radio show on WUSB 90.1 FM in Stony Brook, NY for nineteen years. Buddy’s 2010 Release, Buddy Merriam-Back Roads Mandolin features fourteen of his original mandolin tunes; bluegrass, waltzes, gypsy jazz, and some contemporary interpretations of his very original style. He has composed hundreds of instrumentals which are, presently, being transcribed and recorded. Buddy is proud that the year 2012 marks his 32nd year heading his band. Buddy plays a Monteleone Grand Artist and Gilchrist mandolins with D'Addario EXP 74/EXP 75 strings.

Kathy DeVine -The Sound Beach Songbird: guitar, lead & harmony vocals
Born and raised a native of Coram, LI, New York, Kathy's mother Pat Bonhote was a singer/ guitar player in a Long Island based Country/Western band back in the 1950's and 60's. Kathy was only six years old when Pat died tragically in an auto accident but her voice and the sounds of the music remained with Kathy all her life.

She came upon Buddy Merriam & Back Roads in 2001 and was taken by the sound and energy of the music, picked up her guitar and pressed on, learning all she could about the history and players of the music. The band brought her on board in 2006 and 2007, appearing as a special guest on Buddy's CD, "Live at the Vail-Leavitt Music Hall" and now Kathy has taken a place once again in this season's lineup. She is strongly influenced by Buddy's original tunes, Bill Monroe, Red Allen, Gloria Belle, Delia Belle, Mac Wiseman, and Hazel Dickens.

Carlos Cordero - Double Bass/vocals/harmony
Growing up in a musical family in Massapequa Park, LI, NY, Carlos has always been surrounded by all styles of music. Being involved, over the years, in the Long Island music scene has proved invaluable. After settling on both the electric bass & double bass in his teens, Carlos has played in many diverse acts such as The Danny Langdon Band, Randy & The Rainbows, The Prowlers & Double Dose.

After taking some time away from music, Carlos answered a Craigslist ad for a bluegrass bass player for a local jam a year ago. Little did he know what direction it would take him. Having no experience in bluegrass he showed up at the jam to try his hand at this, to him, new style of music (ironically, it was on Sept. 13, 2010, Bill Monroe’s birthday!) By the end of the night he was hooked on the music itself, the sheer musicianship and, above all, the camaraderie of the musicians had a huge impact.

With the help and tutelage of the East Meadow musicians & members of the Bluegrass Club of Long Island, Carlos immersed himself in the music and the history of bluegrass, absorbing anything that he could use to develop a voice in the style. Listening and learning from the music of Bill Monroe, Flatt & Scruggs to modern day bands such as Union Station, Infamous Stringdusters and The Boxcars and drawing upon the influences of such players as Mike Bubb, Marshall Wilborn, Missy Raines, Barry Bales, and “Cousin” Jake Tullock, Carlos looks to hold the foundation firm for Buddy & the band going into the future. Carlos has also taken up the banjo to relax, much to the chagrin of his wife, dog & cat. The singing was all Buddy’s idea.

Jack Gabis - Lead guitar, vocals, harmony
Jack was born in Brooklyn, NY. A self-taught musician with a strong family influence; his father played the ukulele, his mother played the piano and his four brothers all sing and play music. You may catch Jack with them in the Long Island music scene as The Gabis Brothers Band.

Growing up, his musical influences were The Beatles, The Byrds, Irish and American folk music. It’s plain to hear by his lead playing that he was mentored by the sounds of Clarence White and James Taylor.

Jack plays a Takamine Model EF-340 (yes, the no-longer manufactured "Martin look-alike" model from the 70’s) and used D’Addario EXP 13’s, tuners and accessories. Jack joined up with Buddy last summer on a tip from a music colleague and is Buddy ever pleased to have a lead player with such style and taste as Jack! We are glad to have him on board in this season’s lineup. 
What brought you together?
My love of traditional bluegrass and my desire make a living playing mandolin. The optimist in me! Keeping the band going, moving forward and I’m always looking for new talent that moves into the area, you never know when someone is going to re-locate, retire or quit.

How long have you been playing together?
I started Back Roads in 1980 with my former wife & partner. I started The Mandolin Experience in 2011. Many great musicians have passed through my band that have learned traditional bluegrass/Monroe style whom I am very proud of including Andy & Pat Falco, Pete Kelly, Chris Pandolfi, David Long, Dave Dick, Richard Torstrick and Steve Lutke and friends Josh Williams, & Cody Kilby.

What are your band’s musical influences?
First generation bluegrass artists like Bill Monroe, Jimmy Martin, Reno & Smiley, Stanley Brothers and mandolin players like Jethro Burns, Dave Apollon, Red Rector, Curly Lambert & Tiny Moore.

What is your band’s style/genre?
BM & BR has a traditional sound grounded in the Monroe style sound, although we do not, specifically, perform traditional/public domain songs. Half the show is built around my original mandolin music and songs requested from my six Lily Pad records (CD’s!). With each new line up we bring in new numbers to keep the show fresh, being a non-singing bluegrass band leader (trying to be a success in this business!) I find singers I admire and let them sing what they feel. This seems to work as opposed to me dictating to them what I want them to sing. They feel that it better this way.

The Mandolin Experience performs my original mandolin music with double mandolins in harmony. Half are my bluegrass tunes and the other is consciously moving away from the bluegrass sounds with influences of swing/gypsy jazz, classical & rock (as rockin’ as this almost 60 year old mandolin player can get.) Greg Butler, my mando partner and I have very different styles that balance each other off nicely with my more traditional approach and Greg’s more modern progressive take on the music.

Harmony's Waltz

Circle of Chiefs

Baldassari


Do you have a philosophy about your music?
The first advice Bill Monroe ever gave me back in 1976 at the first Berkshire Mountains Bluegrass Festival was "Get good tone, keep good time and make every note count”- don’t take it too far out from the melody of the tune you’re playing. I play straight from the heart to the folks I’m playing to and with. Writing music and being creative is very important to me and I make time every day for it.

What is a goal that drives your band?
Respect for our friends and fans that come out and pay their hard earned money to see us perform. It’s important to put on a good show that works all the emotions, get them whooping it up, a few laughs, tears in their eyes and keep them coming back for more!

How did you choose the name for your band?
In 1980 the guys wanted to play Doug Tuchman’s South St. Seaport Contest (I hate contests!) and we needed a name, no one could think of anything and it seemed to fit my philosophy in life about taking it slow, feet on the ground, focusing on what is important in life.…. kind of the opposite of the “NY life style.”


What is your favorite venue/festival to play?
The Grand Ole Opry and the Joe Val Bluegrass Festival. The Village Arts Centre in Kilworth Ireland is always a sold out show and great audience.

The first McLain Family Festival in Renfro Valley, KY in the late 1970’s was a little case of culture shock for this liberal, long haired NY mandolin player. Also, a little bar in Bally Bay, Ireland that we play at on every tour over there. We were hanging out there after the show and the authorities came around. Lights went out and all got completely silent because if they found it still open it would have been bad. They sure did like to drink in this establishment!

Do you have an anecdote or interesting experience as a band that you would like to share?
The thing many people want to know about is my first meeting with Bill Monroe at the first Berkshire Mountains Bluegrass Festival in 1976. After meeting him, a wicked storm blew in and I was struck by lightning in my neck (I had a peace cross on.) My heart stopped beating two times and the lightning blew out my eardrums causing complete hearing loss that took six weeks to return. I guess that opened the door to my friendship with Bill.

The first couple of times we got together we talked about his farming the old time way with horses and mules (I had a huge vegetable garden & chickens.) As I started playing with the Sykes Boys, Bill and I would be appearing at the same festivals and he began mentoring me, one- on-one, and no one worked harder to learn his music than I did. I think he felt the effort and sincerity I had to play it right and he could not do enough to help and encourage me. I hope he’d be proud of where I’ve taken my music.

On another occasion, I went down to the Virginia Beach Bluegrass Festival with my guitar player at the time, Bryan Spradlin, and family who were from around there. His son Bryan Jr. was looking forward to me introducing him to my friend/mentor, Bill Monroe, who would have been tickled to hear him play some good Monroe style on his mandolin. Six months earlier, I had performed my tune “Monroe Special” with Bill & the Bluegrass Boys at the Turning Point and had the tune in my new Mandolin Book “Back Roads Mandolin” (recently released as Back Roads Mandolin Vol.1, now including TAB and some cool photos). As we would kid back and forth, I asked Bill, “Can you play this number?” He got all stiff seeming to grow to 15 feet tall and staring me right in the eye said, “I wrote this number!” I didn’t know what to reply and it seemed like forever till he said, “I wrote this number 50 years ago!” The crowd moved in closer and I could feel them thinking, “Who is this Yankee longhaired liberal who is stealing Mr. Monroe’s music?” Finally he said “Bluegrass Special!

Bill did not read music and I could tell he was staring at “Buddy Merriam Music BMI” at the bottom of the page. I thought I was off the hook and replied, “Sure, Bill, I know that one, it’s one of your great early tunes, this is the one I wrote for you.  We played it at the Turning Point, remember?” Nothing…. Finally, a couple women asked if they could have their picture made with him and I decided it was best to leave. I did not say goodbye to him and only on the ride home did I realize that he had had a “senior moment” and saw his “Bluegrass Special” when reading my title. My tune is nothing like his “Bluegrass Special,” hard core Monroe style for sure, but the only thing borrowed was the “Special” in the title. It was meant as a tribute to my friend and major influence in my life.

Driving home I hoped this would not be my last visit with Mr. Bill and happily it was not. The next time I saw him he stuck out his hand and with a grin tried to pull me off balance with the handshake as always (I saw it coming by now) and asked over and over, “When are you coming to Nashville?” He asked me to come out and do a guest slot with the band-just like old times and that incident never came up again.

Bill always told me if there was anything he could ever do for me to just call and ask, and he truly meant it. I’m so blessed to have had all the experiences, one on one playing, lessons in mandolin playing, and band leading.  I still think of him daily and feel his presence. We met at the first Berkshire Mountains’ Festival in1976, and later that day I was struck by lightning right in front of the stage! Since that fateful day my path has been clear-to play bluegrass mandolin and “Learn to play it right!”

What is your latest CD? Why/How did that project come about?
I had been threatening for years to produce an all-original mandolin CD and released Back Roads Mandolin in 2010. The band had been playing these tunes for years and the time was right. I had 10 tunes completed and the studio’s hard drive crashed (always back up your work on external hard drive folks!) We had to start over. It gave us another season of playing the tunes and I believe the project came out even better the second time around.

Do you have a website/YouTube channel/facebook page/Twitter account?
I do not “tweet” and am like Fred Flintstone in front of a ‘puter. The website is www.BuddyMerriam.com and there are plenty of videos on YouTube (thanks to pal, Jerry Oland.) There is a facebook page - Buddy Merriam Music.
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