An alumni of San Francisco's popular The Good 'Ol Persons and later The Tony Rice Unit, John was already recognized as one of the finest mandolin players of his generation. Up In The Woods was yet another display of his remarkable playing and composition skills.
Up In The Woods remains an important classic in traditional music and inspires mandolinists to this day.
Motivated in part by the passing of Bill Monroe, John began writing tunes for the recording and ultimately assembled an all-star cast to present his new music. The recording was released August 1, 1999 and included Todd Phillips on bass, Gabe Witcher on fiddle, Jim Nunally on guitar, Dennis Caplinger on fiddle, Scott Nygaard on guitar, Nick Hornbuckle on banjo, Rob Ickes on Dobro, and Kathy Kallick and John Miller on guitar.
The release of the transcriptions from Up In The Woods was made possible in part by John's friends David Benedict and Don Grieser. Publication this week provided the perfect opportunity for us to celebrate its release and hear about the project from them directly. We started with a few questions for John.
Probably the most important question, where can we get a copy of the book?
The book is self-published and intially it will only be available on my web site (NOTE: link follows at end of article). I have lots of experience selling CDs, but this is my first book so it's a bit of a learning curve.
The book was mentioned in our 2009 interview with you. What's the story between that point and its release?
It has taken so long mainly because I have been working on other projects; CDs, tours, etc. When I first thought of going forward with this project, I contacted my friend and fellow mandolinist, John McGann. I met John in Boston in 1981 when I was on tour with the Tony Rice Unit. Before that, I had known his name from David Grisman's Mandolin World News. That little periodical was a great resource to aspiring mandolin players in the pre-internet days, and John's transcriptions were regularly featured.
John and I hit it off and stayed friends over the years, although our encounters were infrequent. I sent him the CD and he worked on the initial drafts of the tunes. In 2006 I met with him in Boston and we fine-tuned the transcriptions. Then in 2012, John tragically and unexpectedly passed away. The project was on hold at that point.
Fast forward to the summer of 2014, I met the talented young mandolinist David Benedict at the Swannanoa Gathering in North Carolina. David was in my class, although he was already an excellent player and composer. He was interested in working on transcriptions of my tunes, and, with the help of my friend and mandolinist Don Greiser of New Mexico, I was able to send him John's transcriptions. Don had been encouraging me to put out a book of transcriptions for years, and offered to help with the production, as he had with other musicians. David, Don, and I conferred about all of the pertinent details and David's work was completed relatively quickly.
Tell us about the actual transcriptions.
The transcriptions include both the melodies and solos I took on the tunes. It was interesting going back since at the time of recording the tunes were relatively new. I've continued to perform them over the years and my playing on them has subtly changed.
For those wanting to know, the tunes are in both standard notation and tablature.
From David Benedict
I vividly remember when I was introduced to Up in the Woods as a freshman in college. It was my first real encounter with John Reischman, and I was gripped from the start by his expressive playing and original tunes. Over the following months, I listened to that album so much that it felt almost necessary for me to learn some of this inspiring music.
As I started digging into "Eighth of February" and "Bluegrass Signal," I was even more amazed by how beautifully John's music works on the mandolin. Every tune and every solo I learned seemed to strike this perfect balance between logical ease of expression and exciting, fresh, new sounds. In short, I discovered that studying John's music increased my enjoyment and appreciation of it overall—which I've found to be a surprisingly rare quality in music.
This book is for other mandolinists like myself who also have been inspired by John's unparalleled playing and have begun to feel that inevitable pull to experience and enjoy his music on a deeper and more personal level. It was an honor to work alongside John and Don on this project and to help make this wonderful resource available to the greater mandolin community.
From Don Grieser
I've known John Reischman for a while so I brought up the idea of a book of transcriptions of Up in the Woods soon after it came out. This recording became an instant desert island pick for me, and I thought it warranted a book. I have experience in printing/publishing and volunteered to help with the project.
Our initial efforts never made it to publication, but the project lingered in my mind. Like many other mandolin players, I've listened to Up in the Woods over and over trying to work out John's tunes. I felt like this book still needed to be done for the mandolin community.
I got in touch with John a few months ago and asked if he still wanted to put the book out. As luck would have it, he had already been talking to David Benedict about transcribing some of his tunes. I still had the original book files to jumpstart the process. I got John to write an introduction for the book and he provided an in-depth look into the writing and recording of the tunes on the CD. John also came up with some great photos and commissioned cool cover art for the book.
I'm thrilled to see the Up in the Woods book finally published. It was a lot of fun working with David and John, and I hope the book sells like hotcakes so we can get started on another book of John's great original tunes.
Up In The Woods Transcriptions - Table of Contents
- Notes on the Tunes
- Notes on the Sessions
- Alexandra Waltz
- Bluegrass Signal
- Eighth of February
- Indiana Firefly
- Johnson Warhorse
- Low Gap
- The Nootka Blues
- The North Shore
- Ponies in the Forest
- Up in the Woods
Book Sample - Indiana Firefly
Sample tune from Music From Up In The Woods, "Indiana Firefly."
Downloadable PDF of "Indiana Firefly."