Bluegrass Music Folk Music Musicians

Phil Leadbetter/Paddy Moloney RIP

Last week just after I posted my blog, I learned of the deaths of two great musicians. This week, I will briefly cover the lives and influential presence of dobroist Phil Leadbetter and The Chieftains’ leader, Paddy Moloney.

Phil Leadbetter was a true traditionalist when it came to the dobro. He kept his feet firmly in bluegrass while others took it to other genres. He began playing the dobro at age 12, and soon after graduating high school worked with country legend Grandpa Jones. He spent his longest tenure with J.D. Crowe and the New South, often serving as booking agent as well, from 1990-2001. He helped form a number of superstar bluegrass bands, including Wildfire, Flashback and Grasstowne.

In 2011, Phil was diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma. He was part of trials that tested the drug Opdivo for his type of cancer, and became a five-time survivor. He returned to performing part-time in 2013, working with Dale Ann Bradley as well as his own band, Phil Leadbetter and the All-Stars of Bluegrass. Unfortunately, his health kept deteriorating, and there were a number of benefit concerts and funding pages. Phil passed away October 14 from COVID-19 complications working against his already poor health. He was 59 years old.

While Phil’s work can be heard on the aforementioned bands, as well as work with The Whites and Vern Godsin, if you want to hear probably his best work on the dobro, seek out his 2005 solo album Slide Effects on Pinecastle Records. The cut “California Cottonfields” was a Number 1 hit for two months on the bluegrass charts, and the disc won the Instrumental Album of the Year award that year at the IBMA World of Bluegrass show. He was a three-time Dobro Player of the Year winner, and both Gibson and Recording King released signature resonator guitars in the past few years.

Phil will definitely be missed in the bluegrass community. I had the chance to meet up with him after a Grasstowne show, and he was one of the most humble people you would ever get a chance to meet. Hopefully, there are a number of young dobro players out there listening to his fine work.

My first true experience in watching The Chieftains was when the band appeared on a special St. Patrick’s Day showing of Saturday Night Live back in 1979. By then, the band was just starting to get some notoriety in the US, after much success in Ireland and the UK. This was not the usual musical fare of SNL, and I was blown away. The sound was magical, moving, hitting at your heart strings. And in the middle of this ensemble sitting, playing the uillean bagpipes and with a big grin, was Paddy Moloney. One could tell after just a few seconds of watching that he was the leader, and that his direction was similar to a classical music conductor, but not as obvious. He knew where to guide the music, and everyone in the band trusted his instinct.

Paddy formed The Chieftains in 1962, but the band did not become full-time professionals until the early 1970s. They built up a large following in Ireland and Europe, but it was the band’s work on the Stanley Kubrick film Barry Lyndon in 1975. From there, it was international success. They have performed with dozens of other famous musicians and singers, have held concerts for Pope John Paul II and a number of other dignitaries, and in 1983 were invited to perform at the Great Wall of China, the first non-Chinese artist to do so.

Paddy was born in Dublin in 1938. He first picked up the tin whistle at age six, then the uillean pipes at age eight. In 1962 he invited local musicians Sean Potts and Michael Tubridy to his house for a jam session, and The Chieftains was born. The band signed with a local label Claddagh Records, and Paddy served as leader, composer, and arranger for the band’s music. His endless work to promote the band made it an international success. If any big-time producer or film director needed Irish or Celtic music, they would call on The Chieftains.

I cannot begin to list the different artists that the band has worked with. Almost everyone from Luciano Pavarotti and John Williams to Mick Jagger and Paul McCartney. While The Chieftains had never had a huge hit in the US, it did score minor hits with Van Morrison and The Coors in the UK. They also performed on the soundtracks for the films Gangs of New York and Bravehart. Paddy was a major reason that The Chieftains have such a huge following. His business head knew that it was important for the band to work with different people to get the best exposure, but his musical heart knew not to sell out. The sound of the band stayed pure and close to its roots, so that other performers gladly adapted to the band’s sound.

Paddy recorded 44 albums with The Chieftains, and there is not a bad one among them (although I can honestly say that I have not heard all of them, but trust me). If you were to pick only one, you might try to locate The Best of The Chieftains from 1992, which contains selections from the band’s 7th, 8th, and 9th albums. The 1993 disc The Celtic Harp is hauntingly beautiful. To hear how well the band worked with American artists, get a copy of Down the Old Plank Road: The Nashville Sessions from 2002.

I only got to see The Chieftains once live. It was during a tour promoting Down the Old Plank Road with Allison Moorer as a guest. The sound of the band live cannot be described with words. One could close his/her eyes and be transported into a different world. If Ireland had a sound, it would be The Chieftains.

Paddy passed away at age 83 on October 12, and is now buried in Glendalough, Ireland. He was the last original member of the band. There will never be another band like The Chieftains, and definitely never be another beautiful man such as Paddy Moloney.

Chew on it and comment.

Coronavirus Musical Instruments Musicians

Creativity, and Ignorance

A few days ago, I was interviewing fiddler Tom Morley for an upcoming article. We got onto the topic of what he and other musicians that he knows are doing to keep the sanity during all of these pandemic lockdowns. He told me about a creative idea that his friend’s daughter thought of that consisted of purchasing a few small plastic greenhouses, pushing them together, and with one musician in each house, the band was able to perform together and hear each other while still keeping social distance.

The more that I watch the video, the more that I am amazed at the creativity some people have shown during these strange times. Yes, music can be performed alone, but the idea of two or more musicians creating music together is part of human nature’s bonding. The Coronavirus tries so hard to dishearten people by separating us, but we as humans are smarter than that.

As I still look for a job, I have been trying to keep my sanity by doing some lutherie work. Actually, more repairs are being done on guitar amplifiers than on actual instruments, but it is all good, right? One thing that I have noticed in my search for repairable beginner stringed instruments is that people think that the damaged guitars, basses, mandolins and such are really buried treasures. Sure, a 1959 Fender Stratocaster that has structural and wiring concerns can still fetch over $1,000 because of its pedigree, but there is no reason that an acoustic guitar with a brand name of Magnum, Lotus, Rogue, or no name whatsoever should demand a high price.

I scan Craigslist ads as well as check eBay and other sources, and I am puzzled when I see a 30-year-old Magnum acoustic guitar that has seen better days with a price tag of $100.00! Seriously, a guitar like this did not sell for much more than that when it was new, probably has loads of nicks and scratches, even a crack or two, and the neck is most likely bowing like a hill. One thing that shows like “American Pickers” and “Antiques Roadshow” have done is get people to think that all of the junk they have in their garage is worth something. If I am going to spend 60 or 70 dollars on an acoustic guitar, I would rather go through a company like Glarry, where the guitar is new and has some type of warranty or guarantee with the manufacturer/distributor.

Advice: If you have one of these old acoustic guitars that you bought for your kid decades ago and he never took an interest, and it sat in the closet for 20 or more years, and it does NOT have the name of Martin, Gibson, or Guild on the headstock, it is most likely not worth more than 10 bucks. Go ahead and get it appraised, but there is a slim chance that it is worth something. Instead, sell it at a garage sale for a few bucks, so that either some other kid may try to play it, someone like me might be able to salvage it as playable and give to someone, or let someone else hang it on the wall.

Chew on it and comment.

Bluegrass Music

The IBMA Virtual Conference – Really? Really???

Even though I am no longer a member of the International Bluegrass Music Association, I still get regular emails from it regarding monthly activities and, of course, an invite to register for the annual World of Bluegrass conference. This year, due to the Coronavirus, the conference is being held virtually.

Now the IBMA knows that it could never get away with charging the usual $300 or so that it would cost for a normal in-person conference. The cost this year is $99 for members and $149 for non-members for the Business Conference portion (which is the only portion that I ever attended anyway). But what do you really get for that cost?

Well, you will get to “virtually” attend a number of seminars dealing with the business end of bluegrass music. Great, but with everyone lately doing the work-from-home option and connecting to meetings through Zoom or some other online conference application, the World Wide Web can only handle so much. The chances of crashes are extremely high. Additionally, the opportunities to ask questions and get an answer back is highly unlikely.

One of the regular activities at WOB every year is the Gig Fair, which artists do a speed-dating style of interaction with booking agents and event organizers to secure gigs for the upcoming year. I am wondering how well this will go by trying to do it over the internet instead of speaking with people face-to-face and physically handing out press kits.

However, the one concept that I have the most problems with is the Virtual Exhibit Hall. During a normal conference at WOB, dozens of musical instrument manufacturers, festival organizers, record companies and artists set up display tables in a hall and allow attendees to try out new products and talk with the band members. It is a VERY physical experience! Many attendees love to try out a new guitar or banjo, shake hands with a bluegrass performer, and grab up a bunch of free swag. With the virtual aspect, that has all disappeared. Now everything will be only available to see on the computer screen. But … the IBMA still plans to charge exhibitors $300 to $400 to appear at the Vitrual Exhibit Hall.

Seriously? Something that can be done on the manufacturer’s website, such as product questions, price guides and feedback, the IBMA is going to charge a few hundred bucks for them to do at its virtual conference? I am sure that there will be a few that will succumb to this “virtual” pick-pocketing, but I am sure that there will be many others that will opt out just for the reason that it seems ridiculous.

I am sure that there will be enough people to register for the virtual business conference for the IBMA to not lose a lot of money, perhaps even make a few bucks from it. However, for whom is this all benefitting? The WOB always served as a great networking opportunity as well as a chance for fans to get up close to their favorite bluegrass artists. The virtual idea seems only like an opportunity for someone to take someone else for granted.

The IBMA is losing touch with its original objectives and philosophies more as each year passes. The Coronavirus has screwed up everyone’s normal schedule and lifestyle. We all need to adapt. The IBMA should also remember that the bluegrass artists, event organizers, and managers went broke this summer due to cancelled shows. It should have swallowed its pride and postponed the conference for this year, or perhaps moved it up to the late Winter/early Spring of 2021 when the world may have a better handle on the virus. Instead, it continues to think only of itself and its progressive ideas. While I miss many people that I have networked with in my previous trips to the WOB conferences, I seriously feel that I am not losing anything by not attending them any more.

Musical Instruments

Quick Thoughts: 1. Rosa String Works; 2. Complaint About Gov. Whitmer

It’s Saturday morning, and I just remembered that I had a blog to post. My week has been busy caregiving my mom, maintaining her house, writing a few articles and looking for a job, so I forgot about this. So here’s a quick recommendation.

I mentioned the Rosa String Works YouTube channel in a previous post, but I highly recommend subscribing to the channel, or at the very least, checking in every few days. As a person that likes to do musical instrument repairs, Jerry gives some great home-style tips and advice. He videos some of his repairs, and talks to the audience in a very relaxing manner. It’s like sitting in the shop with your uncle or next-door neighbor and talking about mandolin repairs along with the weather and mowing the lawn.

Every one of his videos is magic. Whether he’s repairing a fiddle or the occasional non-musical instrument like his lawn tractor, Jerry has the answer for everything. I learn something new with every video. I also love that he has an assistant now, Caleb, who has the same Missouri drawl in his speech and is making some of the same helpful videos. There are also times when someone comes into the shop to test out a repared instrument and plays a tune for Jerry while he sits and listens. This is the down-home atmosphere that we all need these days while we are surrounded by fears of Coronavirus and riotous protests.

Check out some of his videos here:

A few days ago, I was notified of the cancellation of the one remaining bluegrass festival here in southeast Michigan. It irritates me that the Coronavirus has made just about everyone nervous and on-edge to the point that every activity outside of watching TV is being cancelled. Yes, there are a number of virtual concerts online, and one bright side is that people stuck at home have been using downtime to learn a musical instrument.

However, I feel that we are being way too cautious in a lot of areas. Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer (as well as a few other state governors) have banned singing in church. Really? It was bad enough (and some could argue rightfully that it was unconstitutional) to close the churches in the first place. After opening and limiting attendance, something that has such meaning as singing hymnals can be banned? What is worse, the Archdiocese of Detroit (as well as other state dioceses) are cowering to the governor. When will the people of faith stand up for themselves and not allow an overzealous governor like Whitmer bully them out of their constitutional rights by using the Coronavirus as an excuse?

Chew on it and comment.

Acoustic Guitars Bluegrass Music Musicians

Addendum: Coronavirus, Michigan Bluegrass, and Glarry Guitars

Some follow-up on previous blogs …

Coronavirus – the US death toll is over 2,000 as of this writing (March 29). It is going to double for sure, most likely way more than that. We have to remain vigilant and stay to ourselves as much as possible. It is sad that even when we need to turn to God, the churches are closed indefinitely.

Internet concerts are popping up like crocuses on the lawn. That can be bittersweet. Many of the potential viewers are in the same situation as the performers – no job and needing money. Add to that every musical artist is doing this, which means most will be pushed by the wayside. That’s showbiz. It was a positive thing to see that Congress passed a bill providing some financial relief to performers of the arts. However, one idea that artists must realize is that they chose this career, no one pointed a gun at them to do it. It is a freelance type of employment, and it moves the way the wind blows. Whether it is a school district budget, a city or municipal budget, or a pandemic, the arts and entertainment funds are usually the first to get cut during hard times. Please accept the fact that you may have to forego any reliance on playing guitar or singing, and this may be a situation for a long time. I also see these virtual concerts being more of a norm in the future, with live performance venues suffering once the virus threat has subsided.

A good read is an article by Bobby Owsinski in Forbes Magazine:

Michigan Bluegrass – While I complained about how little attention is paid to the history of bluegrass music that happened in Michigan, I must say that part of the blame lays on the media in Michigan, particularly in Detroit. On March 22, Eric Weissberg passed away in a nursing home located in suburban Detroit. He was a multi-instrumentalist who performed and recorded with Bob Dylan, Judy Collins and The Talking Heads. His most famous work was playing the banjo part on the hit recording of “Dueling Banjos,” which was on the soundtrack to the movie Deliverance. The New York Times had an obituary; Rolling Stone had an obituary; neither the Detroit News nor the Detroit Free Press had an obituary. Sad. I was motivated enough to write to the Detroit News story desk and complain. I doubt that it will go anywhere. RIP Eric, your work is appreciated.

Glarry Guitars – Well, these guitars are becoming quite popular, and my Glarry blog is the most read of all of them. Checking out the Glarry website (, in the Acoustic Guitars section, all of the guitars are sold out except one, which I predict will be out very soon as well. Now granted, these are made in China, and with restrictions on imports due to the virus, this may take some time to recover getting them back into the Glarry US warehouses. However, it does go to show that these guitars must be worth the money. One can read the numerous reviews and posts on the website and see that almost all respondents are satisfied with the guitars. Once I got my GT502 set up, I compared it to my Jasmine by Takamine S341 and the Glarry outshined! It won’t replace my Martin D-28, but I may try to get it into the hands of someone who will do wonders with it. I truly hope that this surge in purchasing quality but budget-priced musical instruments helps get people, especially kids, picking them up and putting down the Playstations.

I should have something different to talk about next week. Until then, chew on it and comment.

Bluegrass Music

Music and the Coronavirus

The Coronavirus is hitting the US as of this writing (March 21) with a vengeance. Thousands of people are infected, and about 150 have died in the country from it. Compared to other countries, especially in Europe and the Middle East, we are relatively tame. Only a few states and cities are declaring mandatory stay-at-home. Most of the country is doing it on a volunteer basis, with many non-essential businesses closing and restaurants doing only carry-out.

Bars and concert venues are closed until further notice. This puts a lot of musicians out of work. Bluegrass artists are especially hit hard, as most of their income as bands come from touring and festivals. With each day passing, there is an announcement that another festival is being cancelled or postponed until later in the year. During this time of the year, many bluegrass bands hit small venues for weekend two-set shows in the north and midwest areas. Now that those are cancelled, the tour buses and vans stand idle.

However, musical artists, managers, agents and promoters are resilient, and are making lemonade out of lemons. It was heartwarming to see that The Grand Ole Opry, which hasn’t cancelled a show ever in its near-century run, will continue to perform on Saturday nights (sans audience) and broadcast it on the radio and through various channels on the internet. The world-famous Station Inn in Nashville is keeping some of its music schedule going by webcasting on its site and having a virtual “tip jar” for onlookers to pay the band. Hundreds of artists are taking to the internet to webcast solo or small combos on StageIt or other concert websites, as well as on Facebook. I urge you to check with your favorite bluegrass artists on their websites to see if they are performing online. As AT&T used to say, it is the next best thing to being there.

Some of the most touching musical moments that I have seen lately on YouTube are the number of videos showing apartment complexes in Europe, which are under lock-down, with musicians performing on balconies for the other residents to enjoy. Some even show multiple musicians trading licks and accompanying each other from different balconies. Music knows no barriers.

With my regular job office closed until further notice, I am working at home (actually my mom’s house, as there is heavy construction going on in front of my house at this time). Yes, I am going batty occasionally, it is confining and stressful to be in the same place for work and after work. It has, however, made me work more on my guitar and fiddle playing, along with songwriting. What little spare time I have in my life I can use it to improve on my musical skills.

This self-quarantine situation is not going to end soon, but it will end eventually. There is promise a few months down the road. The two big roots-music conferences from the Americana Music Association and the International Bluegrass Music Association are still planning to go in September. Little-by-little, we are learning to cope, and music is one of the medicines for the soul.

Now is a good time. If you never picked up a guitar or banjo, do it now. If you already play an instrument, play it some more. Go on YouTube and learn a new lick. Get one of Pete Wernick’s Jam videos ( and play with the virtual band. Record yourself and see how you have improved over the time. When this is all over, you will be a better person for it.

Support music in any way that you can, be it watching and tipping a band on the internet, buying a guitar for yourself that you never thought you would, or just singing. Music supports us in our down-spirited times in so many ways.

Chew on it and comment.