Dave Gandin of Gardiner/New Paltz is leading the HVBA/Marist Center for Lifetime Studies – (courses for enrolled retirees) lecture series, “Evolution of Bluegrass,” this spring at the Samuel FB Morse home, Locust Grove in Poughkeepsie. A Vassar grad, Dave has roots in the Hudson Valley, where he is a popular bass fiddle and lead guitar player in area bluegrass bands and jams.
Dave grew up in Huntington, Long Island, and was fooling around with rock ‘n’ roll and the Grateful Dead when a friend took him to the Bottom Line to see Doc Watson and Jack Lawrence. He was immediately hooked. That same year a girlfriend’s musical dad in North Carolina gave him a Jim & Jesse cassette and said, “Learn this”. Later that same summer, he hitchhiked from Oregon to the Telluride Bluegrass Festival.
Next thing you know, Dave found himself living in NC, Richmond VA and Washington DC, where he studied the law at American University. A Richmond friend told him a local school had a bass fiddle for sale. She bought it and insisted that Dave buy it from her! He says he didn’t even know how good a bluegrass bass it was – it turned out to be the prized old King brand.
Subsequent exposure to bluegrass led Dave as far as Thomas Point Beach, Maine, where he grew convinced that bluegrass people, whether casual jammers or stage acts, had a command of their instruments that he wasn’t hearing amongst the Deadheads. He became more of a Del-head at the Winterhawk festival.
Having earned his law degree by now, Dave returned home to work in the legal world in NYC. He found the local bluegrass scene to be at a very high level, with “real talent”. Dave says he never got calls to play guitar, but lots of requests to play his King bass fiddle! He illustrates with the old bass players’ joke:
“A kid went to bass lessons and the teacher said this first month we’ll only work on the E string… in the second month he said now we’ll work only on the A string…third month the kid didn’t show up for the lesson so the teacher called him and said, “Where are you?” and the kid said, “I’m playing gigs!”.
While playing with a honky tonk band, Dave met bluegrassers Andy Cartoun, Pete Elegant, Greg Garing and Country Man Dan Henderson, whom he began to jam and perform with. His Allagash River canoe buddy in Maine had already introduced Dave to the Thomas Point Beach festival. When Andy Cartoun heard this, he said, “We’re always there anyway, come pick with us!” So Dave moved into the jam circle and the network of Eddie & Jackie Greenwood, the Frakers, Tex Orlomoski, Dave Shaw, Bob Mavian, Andy Cartoun, Pete Elegant, Bruce & Kelly Stockwell, Phil Zimmerman, Al & Aleta Murphy, Nick Novia, Joe DeLillo, Tony Watt and yours truly. Dave says that for years TPB was his annual multi-day schooling in traditional bluegrass, with non-stop and often all-night jamming. He learned a lot of tunes there, and perfected them on bass fiddle and guitar.
At TPB, Dave met mandolin phenom, Ben Fraker, and learned that they lived literally around the corner from each other in Brooklyn. So of course they started woodshedding at Dave’s place, which led Dave into the Bill Monroe mandolin repertoire. Dave also got very busy playing bass with a bunch of NYC bands.
When he and his wife Patti were expecting their second child (now four children), they decided to look for greener pastures, cleaner air and more space than their Brooklyn apartment afforded them. At first they rented in Highland, then bought a home in Gardiner, no doubt a nicer place for a growing family. Dave continued his legal career in Poughkeepsie, where he clerked for a NY Supreme Court Justice.
After moving to the Hudson Valley, Dave deepened what had been an incidental acquaintance with Lynn Lipton via her daughter, Jody, who lived in NYC. Eventually Lynn recruited Dave to bring his instrumental skills, network of picking/singing friends and love for the traditional side of bluegrass to the HVBA/Marist spring lecture series. Dave is really looking forward to a good “semester,” which will close with a faculty concert for the students and HVBA members.
Dave’s favorite bluegrass leans heavily to the traditional side: Del McCoury, Larry Sparks, Flatt & Scruggs, Reno & Smiley (especially Reno’s lead guitar), Stanley Brothers, Ralph Stanley, JD Crowe, etc. It’s not surprising that all these classic bands have featured strong guitar work. But Dave says he also likes the progressive stuff (all the traditionalists say this to be nice!).
Dave’s preference is bass fiddle, as he feels he can carry his weight and “offer more” to a jam or band on bass. He can play very hot, but he prefers to keep it more down to earth. Once a hot shot bass player was laying down some old George Shuffler bass licks and asked Dave what he thought about ‘em. Dave replied, “I don’t think the bass should distract too much from the rest of the band.” Ha! He says lead guitar is fun but it’s REALLY difficult to project lead guitar picking with power in a jam or concert. Guitar breaks without massive talent and real power can “bring down” a good jam, Dave says. He’d actually rather not be “known” as a guitar man for this reason.
Dave will soon be better known around the Hudson Valley as a “professor” of bluegrass!