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The Roland White Interview

By Mandolin Cafe
June 13, 2010 - 5:45 pm

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Roland White. Photo credit, Mickey Dobo. Roland White. Photo credit, Mickey Dobo.

Roland White's high-placed position of honor in the bluegrass world could stem from any one of a number of his accomplishments in his long and storied career.

Roland is a pioneer of the West Coast bluegrass scene beginning in the 1950s with his groundbreaking work with and leadership of first the Country Boys, then the Kentucky Colonels. The live tapes of the band, distributed as underground treasures, showed the Colonels with a traditional repertoire but with a new and wildly rhythmically and melodically exciting approach. The band featured guitar wizard Clarence White; banjo spectacular Billy Ray Latham, bass whacker without equal, Roger Bush; and the brilliantly innovative playing of Roland on the mandolin. The Colonels singing style was set by the tonalities of Roland's tenor voice.

Those tapes made it all the way to Oklahoma where I heard them as did my mentors Eddie Shelton and Byron Berline. We wore them out listening and trying to cop the licks and recreate the feel of the band. Those live recordings are now available on records and CDs. Get them. You can also see them on a few old reruns of The Andy Griffith Show. Very cool!

Roland left California and joined Bill Monroe's Bluegrass Boys to play the guitar and sing, and participated in some of Monroe's most memorable units. He appeared alongside fiddlers Byron Berline and Kenny Baker, banjoist Vic Jordan, and bassist James Monroe. With Monroe, Roland recorded the classics of that era, Gold Rush, Virginia Darling, Sally Goodin', and Train 45 Heading South.

After his stint with Monroe, Roland joined Lester Flatt in the Nashville Grass now back on his main instrument, mandolin. Here again Roland shined on the many recordings with the Flatt unit. Not many have had the opportunity to work for two of the seminal players of the original 1946 Bluegrass Boys – a rare occurrence for sure.

Roland rejoined his brothers Clarence and Eric to tour briefly again as the New Kentucky Colonels. This was cut painfully short by tragic death of Clarence in 1973. A live recording from Sweden provides a glimpse at the potential of the reunion of those talented brothers.

Roland next joined the band I was a member of, Country Gazette. This West Coast based band was formed by Byron Berline and Roger Bush in the early 70s and was the home for Roland and me for 15 years. Roland played guitar and later switched to mandolin. Here I got a chance to see up close the extraordinary talent that is Roland, how he could take a song and move it to places I would never have dreamed. The poignancy he brought to the music is rare in bluegrass. Check out his singing of the Tom Paxton song, Last Thing on My Mind, or his mandolin solo on Drowning the Flame of Love. There are many, many other equally demonstrative examples.

Then there is his work with the Nashville Bluegrass Band.

Then there are his own recordings: Jelly on My Tofu, Trying To Get To You, and I Wasn't Born to Rock'n Roll.

Then there is his work as an educator, and the wonderful instructional books and workshops.

Then there is his wonderfully supportive and ready spirit. Just ask anyone in Nashville about his work in the bluegrass community.

Roland has had, and continues to have, a wide and varied and influential life unequaled by anyone in our music.

— Alan Munde
    Leader/Banjo Player of Alan Munde Gazette

Country Gazette

Country Gazette, February, 1986. L-R: Alan Munde, Gene Wooten, Billy Joe Foster, Roland White. Photo credit: Rick Gardner.

Questions for Roland White

Question from AlanN: I always dug your Ridge Runner record I Wasn't Born To Rock'n Roll (But I Love to Cook) especially for the fact that you grabbed songs outside the genre, like Same Ol' Blues, and the funny album cover backside. How did that record come to be?

Roland's solo recording <i>I Wasn't Born to Rock'n Roll</i>. re-released June 1. Click to purchase. Roland's solo recording I Wasn't Born to Rock'n Roll. re-released June 1. Click to purchase.

Roland White: Hi, Alan, thanks for asking. Coincidentally, that album was just released on CD for the first time on June 1. The album was recorded in 1976 with the members of Country Gazette: Alan Munde (banjo), Roger Bush (bass), Kenny Wertz (guitar), Dave Ferguson (fiddle) and me.

We were traveling and playing a lot in those years. Slim Richey, owner and producer of Ridge Runner Records of Fort Worth, Texas, was recording many artists/groups along with the Gazette. We were going to be in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area for a couple weeks and he asked if I would be interested in doing an album while we were there.

We decided to do mostly the material that we were performing on our live shows, with the addition of The Storms Are On The Ocean. That, and Same Old Blues Again from our live show, were perfect songs for Alan's finger-style guitar playing. Marathon was a lot longer (7:38) than I meant for it to be. I just kept on singing and we kept on playing. I think we just did one pass at it. We listened to it and other than a couple of quick fixes Slim Richey said it was just right. I was told by some DJs that they liked the album, especially Marathon, because gave them a chance to use the rest room, get a soda pop or coffee. Sometimes I wonder if that was the only tune that got any air play {:^)>.

From the back cover of the newly re-released 1976 recording <i>I Wasn't Born to Rock'n Roll</i>. Click to enlarge. From the back cover of the newly re-released 1976 recording I Wasn't Born to Rock'n Roll. Click to enlarge.

I don't know which one of us started the idea for the album title and cover. A lot of ideas were tossed around between all of us in the band and Slim Richey. I think I suggested I'd like to take a picture with an old car from the year I was born. Slim knew a car collector who had the 1936 Packard on the front (missed my year by 2) and the dog was his too. She just wandered up so we included her. I went out and bought that black hat and the cigar for the occasion. The jacket was formerly Clarence's, a Nudie creation. The But I Love to Cook back cover was probably Slim's idea (me cooking eggs on my mandolin in a chef's hat in a model kitchen). We cooked the eggs that morning and sopped up the oil with paper towels, put the eggs between two pieces of waxed paper in a container and went to the model kitchen with them. The more we talked about it the more we laughed about it.

You mentioned Same Old Blues. John Hadley wrote that, and he contributed a lot of great songs to Country Gazette's repertoire. Whenever he had 4 or 5 new ones he'd send us a tape, and we ended up recording at least a dozen of his songs, probably more. His songs paint a real nice picture. He is brilliant. Nobody writes songs like he does. He had a great sense of humor and it showed in his songs.

Question from Mike Romkey: Thanks for so many years of great music, Mr. White, and for the YouTube videos and other things you do aimed at helping developing mandolin players. Please discuss how you approach developing a solo on a bluegrass tune like Soldier's Joy or Bluegrass Stomp. When your turn comes around to play a solo, what are some of the things you try to do or avoid doing during your breaks?

Country Gazette plays Saro Jane

From an appearance on New Country, August 27, 1986.

Roland White: If I am going to sit down and work out a break, I start with the bare bones melody. I play that until I know it pretty well, then I add embellishments, or phrase things differently. I look for the phrases I hear in my head, but my choices are also influenced by how it falls on the fingerboard in a particular key. There are a lot of factors and I can't describe them all. It's primarily guided by what hear in my head, though.

When I am playing with a band and improvising, over the years I've absorbed and thought of so many musical ideas, the ones that make sense in the tune come to mind and I play them. I play what my ear tells me at the time. I listen to the other players and to the rhythm of the band and what we are saying to each other influences what I play.

Roland discusses developing breaks

Now let me talk about Soldier's Joy, one of his my favorite tunes. My dad played it on the fiddle along with many others and I'd heard it from the time I was born. At about seven going on eight years old I started playing on the mandolin the tunes I heard him play. The melodies to each one were not so difficult to find on the finger board. I could hum them, so there was my melody/solo. Once I had it down pretty good I would work on another like Rag Time Annie or Bile em Cabbage Down. That's the way I still do it mostly then I can add embellishments, improvise a bit, and I do. Sometimes too much. {;^)> Dad loved to strum the guitar and sing songs like You Are My Sunshine and Red River Valley, some of Roy Acuff's and Hank Williams' tunes so that's how I learned. I encourage my students to sit and listen to a tune whether it be and instrumental or a ballad as much as possible before attempting to play it. It'll take much of the mystery out if it. Still works for me. If I'm playing with other players on a song/tune I've never before, I'll make up a break on the spot. I sometimes come out OK or not. Just don't hit a bad note. {:^(>

Roland White plays Soldier's Joy

Question from mandolirius: Can you speak about the change you made in your right-hand technique? What was the change, when did you do it and why did you decide it was something you needed to do? How did you accomplish it and how long did it take you to make the switch?

Jim McGuire studio portrait of Roland White, 1975. Click image to see enlarged version on Jim McGuire's Nashville Portraits web site. Jim McGuire studio portrait of Roland White, 1975. Click image to see enlarged version on Jim McGuire's Nashville Portraits web site.

Roland White: Well, I knew for a long time that my right-hand technique was wrong – almost from the start, though it was working OK for me at the time. While playing the guitar in Bill Monroe's Bluegrass Boys I could hear his timing was different from anyone else's. His playing just flowed so well. On the fast tunes, like an instrumental, it sounded like a galloping horse. It had a nice stride to it and I wasn't getting that. One day while out on the road he handed me his mandolin to play a tune for him. I got through the first bit of Sally Goodin' and he stopped me. I knew that he was going to point out my right-hand technique. Instantly I said I know that holding the pick between my thumb, index, and middle finger, and planting the ring and pinky on the top is not the usual way. He said "yes, change that." I didn't do that playing the guitar! You can really see what Monroe is doing when you are standing right next to him. That was a big lesson for me.

When I'd get home I'd bring out my mandolin and work at keeping my right-hand free, my forearm on the edge of the mandolin and the flesh below my thumb on/behind (demonstrated in above video) the bridge, using side to side wrist action. It took a while but I finally got the hang of it. Playing around town with other players helped a good bit. When I listened again to our Kentucky Colonels' album Appalachian Swing and recordings of live shows I could see I hadn't had that flow in my picking. Most of my picking sounded like this! Tinkle-tinkle-tinkle and more tinkle. A year and a half later I joined Lester Flatt's Nashville Grass as mandolin player and I was ready.

Roland and Clarence White on The Andy Griffith Show

From the February 13, 1961 episode Mayberry on Record during a guest appearance on The Andy Griffith Show. L-R in the band: Andy Griffith (guitar), Roland White (mandolin), Eric White (bass), Clarence White (guitar), Billy Ray Latham (banjo), and Leroy McNees, AKA "Leroy Mack" (dobro) as "The Country Boys" playing Whoa Mule!.

Question from mandolirius: I understand you sold the Randy Wood mandolin you used to play? I always thought that was a fantastic instrument. Do you know where it is now, and what did you replace it with?

Roland White: The Randy Wood (his #2) IS a fantastic instrument. It served me very well for 35 years. In February of 2004 Joe Vest, then with the Gibson Guitar Company, along with Charlie Derrington, who is no longer with us, said that the company would build me a mandolin after many years saying they would. I said "well, it's about time." Got a chuckle about that response. They asked me what I wanted in a mandolin, and I said a copy of an F-5 Gibson Master Model. I went to the factory to talk about some modifications: leave off the fingerboard extension, lacquer instead of varnish, and have the neck fitted to my hand, and would April be too soon for delivery? Charlie said "I'm sure we can deliver by then." I visited it while they were working on it several times and moved my hand on the neck and they'd take a bit of wood off until it was just right. I also had them leave the finish off the back of the neck (just rubbed oil finish). I wanted a flat fingerboard, not radiused. It was finished and signed on April 2, 2004. I went to pick it up and to my surprise it was just what I was hoping for.

Nashville Bluegrass Band, 1991. L-R Gene Libbea, Alan O'Bryant, Roland White, Pat Enright, Stuart Duncan. Nashville Bluegrass Band, 1991. L-R Gene Libbea, Alan O'Bryant, Roland White, Pat Enright, Stuart Duncan.

I was going to Sore Fingers Bluegrass Camp in England the following week, and I was ready. Well, when I got back to the states a week or so later I told Joe it was like playing with the angels. Easy to play because the neck was fitted to my hand perfectly. They had told me they couldn't make it sound like my Randy Wood, and it didn't, but it did speak to me. Occasionally, I would take out my Randy Wood play it a bit around the house, but I liked my new one so well I couldn't stop playing it. I just found that when I played with that extra slender neck I really liked it a lot.

Even though the Randy Wood was really close to my heart, I couldn't see keeping both. I sent the Randy Wood to Randy to look it over to make sure it was all OK. If they don't get played on for a good while things happen to them like glue joints and binding come loose. He went over it. I got it back and played it only a little. I listed the mandolin through George Gruhn and he sold it within a couple of weeks. I didn't ask him who bought it, but I learned a year or so later it had gone to Japan. I have no regrets and all, and hopefully I'll see and play it again sometime. I am sure whoever has it is enjoying it as much as I did!

Roland White with Earl Scruggs and Lester Flatt

Roland White, backstage at the Grand Ole Opry (Ryman Auditorium) during a DJ Convention, 1960. Photo credit: Leroy Mack (McNees).

Question from Bigtuna: Thanks so much for all the music. Appalachian Swing is still one of my all-time favorites, and I've learned so much from your Approach to Bluegrass Mandolin. Do you have plans for an Approach to Bluegrass Mandolin 2?

<i>Appalachian Swing</i> - The Kentucky Colonels instrumental recording from 1964. Click to enlarge. Appalachian Swing - The Kentucky Colonels instrumental recording from 1964. Click to enlarge.

Roland White: We've thought about it but for now will probably just work on DVDs and videos to share online. The books are a lot of expense to print. I'm happy the Approach has been a help to you! We hear that a lot!

Question from wamjr52: I was wondering for some time about the recording of Nine Pound Hammer on the Appalachian Swing album. Did you play the F4? The sound of that mandolin on that record is different, in a very good way. The only way I can even get close to the sound is to pick down the neck. Some have suggested that it was the recording techniques of the day, and it could be. Inquiring minds want to know. Thank you for being a great standard bearer for the mandolin and bluegrass music. If you tell us that it was the F4 then I will have to get one.

Roland White: No, that was a mid to late 50s Gibson F-5 mandolin with block inlay that I bought from Bill Harrell on an East Coast tour with the Kentucky Colonels. It was the first F-5 I ever owned. You can put that money back in the bank!

Questions from Nelson Peddycoart: Thanks for the great music and the opportunity to ask questions. This is timely since I have been listening to Appalachian Swing and Long Journey Home for a few weeks. Could you talk about influences other than Monroe on your playing? I hadn't noticed crosspicking sounds coming from your playing with the Colonels until just the other day. Could you talk about the influence your mandolin playing had in the development of the Colonels overall sound, especially the guitar playing of Clarence?

Kentucky Colonels

The Kentucky Colonels, onstage at the Newport Folk Festival, 1964. L-R: Roland White, Bill Ray Latham, Clarence White, Roger Bush. Photo credit: Jim Marshall.

Clarence and Roland White

Clarence and Roland White at The Ash Grove coffeehouse, Los Angeles, California, 1972. Photo credit: Frank Chino.

Roland White: Bobby Osborne is one. Some of the most outstanding breaks to me were on Who Done It, his introduction to Let's Be Sweethearts Again, and One Tear. I tried some of his style of playing in the Kentucky Colonels. Another mandolin player was Ira Louvin, especially his solo on Hoping That You're Hoping. We learned the song so I could play his mandolin break. There were some Monroe-style mandolin players that I would listen to in The Clinch Mountain Boys. We were big fans of the Stanley Brothers. There may have been other mandolin players I would hear on recordings that were somewhat interesting. I did try crosspicking on a couple of Jim and Jesse vocals back when we were The Country Boys. It was very difficult to do and I didn't really like how it sounded. It wasn't even close to Jesse's. I gave that up quickly. I'd like to know where you heard me play crosspicking style! I might surprise me. {;^)>

<i>The Essential Clarence White Bluegrass Guitar Leads</i>. Click to purchase from rolandwhite.com. The Essential Clarence White Bluegrass Guitar Leads. Click to purchase from rolandwhite.com.

Your last question: I don't think it was my playing that had so much influence as just the fact that I was playing, in the style, and pulled things together for us to play, learn and be a band. I chose the songs and bought the records, bought the stage outfits, and bought instruments and made sure we rehearsed every night. But Clarence and Eric (and JoAnne too when she played and sang with us) learned by listening to records and watching players in person, that's the way we all did. I didn't show anybody what to play on their instrument, and really nobody else did either. Bits of things might have been shown to us by someone here and there but almost all of it was by ear and observing. I tell this story in our The Essential Clarence White biographical section.

NOTE: Diane Bouska is my wife, partner in music, and all our business. She is the one who created all three of our self-published instruction books.

The Essential Clarence White Bluegrass Guitar Leads was a big undertaking. Diane did the lion's share of it – analysis, instruction, layout, editing and publishing. I can never thank her enough. We're working on my next mandolin instruction project which will be an instructional DVD.

Question from chasray: How does a kid from Maine end up playing for Bill Monroe?

Roland playing guitar for Bill Monroe with James Monroe on bass, circa 1967-68. Roland playing guitar for Bill Monroe with James Monroe on bass, circa 1967-68.

Roland White: Our family moved from Maine to Burbank, California in 1954. We met Bill Monroe for the first time in at Rose Maddox's 101 Club in Oceanside, California in 1958. I was twenty years old. We played a few tunes during his break and he seemed to like what we did. It probably amused him.

At that time we were "The Country Boys," brothers Clarence White, Eric White, Billy Ray Lathum and me. Bill was touring the West Coast. While on tour he had a few free days here and there, so we made plans that he and his band would come to our home for some nice home cooking. Mother was the best. We immediately became good friends.

Then came another time or two when they toured the southern California area. He was very fond Mother's banana nut bread. It was a sweet bread and he liked anything that was sweet. I think it had a bit of nutmeg in it too and he liked that. Anyway, on one of his trips the bus broke down in Dallas and he came on to California with Byron Berline, leaving the rest of the band to tend to the bus repairs. I filled in on guitar at that time and it so happened that Doug Green, who had been the guitar player, was returning to college after that gig, so I asked for the job and got it.

Bill Monroe and Roland White at The Ash Grove coffeehouse, the week Roland was hired to play guitar for Monroe, 1967. Click to enlarge. Bill Monroe and Roland White at The Ash Grove coffeehouse, the week Roland was hired to play guitar for Monroe, 1967. Click to enlarge.

When I was in the Bluegrass Boys (1967-1968) he would mention how much he missed the bread. So I called and told Mother about it, and she sent a couple of loaves. He could hardly believe it. They say the way to a man's heart is through his stomach!

Question from Piper: Any plans for an instructional DVD in the near future to go along with the CDs? I have been using your instruction book and CDs, but it would be great to have some visuals for those who can't get to lessons or camps with you. Thanks for the help so far. Also, your wife is a very nice and helpful person. She handled my purchase of the materials with the customer attention and business sense that we just don't see much of these days.

Roland White: Yes!! Check out my website for some videos (front page and Video FAQ page) and also sign up for my email list and I'll let you know when our first DVD is available. We've planned it, just need to shoot it!

Question from James S: Thanks for all your contributions to the bluegrass mandolin world. Are there any plans for some new albums and/or the re-release of older ones such as Live in Sweden?

The Country Boys, 1961. L-R: Eric White, Leroy Mack (McNees), Clarence White, Billy Ray Lathum, Roland White. Click to enlarge. The Country Boys, 1961. L-R: Eric White, Leroy Mack (McNees), Clarence White, Billy Ray Lathum, Roland White. Click to enlarge.

Roland White: Yes, we're working on a new Roland White Band album, gathering material. Hope it will come out within a year. On our own we're working on a CD reissue of the Live In Sweden. I have a nice concert in Holland we did with Herb Pedersen I'd like to put out too.

Question from Jim Roberts: Do you grip your pick the same when playing guitar versus mandolin? Seems like I saw a video of you from way back playing mandolin and you were holding the pick a bit different than you do now.

Roland White: Yes, my grip is the same for mandolin or guitar playing. Long ago I had a different grip when playing mandolin but I changed to holding it the same as my guitar grip when I straightened out my right-hand technique (1968-69).

Roland White's right- and left-hand positions

Roland prepared the following videos for this interview to assist in answering questions about right- and left-hand position and pick grip.

Question from Jim Roberts: Also, do you still eat jelly on your tofu?

Roland White: Only if I take time to make a tofu spread! {;^)>

The Roland White Band's <i>Jelly on My Tofu</i>. Nominated for a 2003 Grammy. Click to purchase from rolandwhite.com. The Roland White Band's Jelly on My Tofu. Nominated for a 2003 Grammy. Click to purchase from rolandwhite.com.

Questions from William Grant Macdonald: I've never gotten up to speed on reading music and become a bit flustered in workshops when teachers hand out music. I grew up listening to the radio and records and picking things out by ear. Does being able to read music play an important part in your musical life? Is that skill held among those who you've played with over the years?

Roland White: I don't think so, unless you want to play classical or jazz music. I never knew how to read music or play with tab. Since Diane and I have published my mandolin method books I have learned to slowly read tab just to help a student follow along. There's no need in this music though it is sometimes very helpful for students!!!!

Question from doc holiday: I'd like to thank you for the Clarence book. Together with Russ Barenberg's book they are a real important source for me that I go back to all the time.

One of my favorite tunes that you played together is Alabama Jubilee, of which there are a number of recordings with lots of interesting differences between them, the same I guess, could be said for Julius Finkbine's Rag. I also want to say what a pleasure it was to meet with you and Diane in Alberta a couple of years back. Over the years I've always enjoyed your music, and I want to thank you for keeping the music and the memory of Clarence alive. The Kentucky Colonels recordings that you made together were the most exciting music I had ever heard. They are still today, especially the live recordings, some of my very favorites, and not a week goes by when I'm not listening to the two of you playing together. Also could you talk a little about how you played together on these particular tunes and how you went from working up the tunes to arriving at the various versions?

Roland White: Thanks so much for the kind words. I have to give credit for the Clarence book to Diane. I don't know how to answer your question. Somewhere, sometime we learned the tune and it developed into what you hear. We'd change it a little each time we took a break. It was second nature for us.

P.S. Julius Finkbine's Rag is really Beaumont Rag. We started calling it that for a friend and a big fan who requested it a lot. I'm guessing that was Clarence's idea.

Roland White with Stringbean

Roland White with Grand Ole Opry legend Stringbean, backstage at the Ryman Auditorium during a DJ Convention, 1960. Photo credit: Leroy Mack (McNees).

Gear Facts

Roland White's bestselling <i>Approach to Bluegrass Mandolin</i>. 60-page spiral-bound book with 2 CDs. Click to purchase from rolandwhite.com. Roland White's bestselling Approach to Bluegrass Mandolin. 60-page spiral-bound book with 2 CDs. Click to purchase from rolandwhite.com.

Main Instruments: 2004 Gibson Master Model F-5 mandolin.

Type of strings you use: D'Addario J74 Phosphor Bronze, but I substitute the E first string with .0115

Picks: For the last two or three years I've been using a Dunlop 1.14 mm. I'm trying out a Blue Chip "35" (it's not mm) right now and it feels good to me. I like the tones I'm getting so I will probably stay with it.

Instrument cases: Calton for traveling and a Colorado Gig Bag.

Microphone preferences, studio and live: On stage Shure SM 57 for mandolin and SM 58 for vocals. For studio recordings a good recording engineer will choose a microphone that best captures the sound of my mandolin. Rich Adler put his ear in front of my mandolin and listened to me play. Then he tried several microphones until he had one that he felt was closest to what he heard.

A Selected Roland White Discography

With The Country Boys

Roland, Eric and Clarence White, 1955. Roland, Eric and Clarence White, 1955.

Single: Kentucky Hills/Head Over Heels In Love With You - 1956

With The Kentucky Colonels

Single: That's What You Get For Lovin' Me - 1965
The Ballad of Farmer Brown - 1965
Appalachian Swing - 1964
The Kentucky Colonels featuring Roland and Clarence White (live concerts) - 1965-67
Live In Sweden, The White Brothers - 1973
Clarence White and the Kentucky Colonels - 1963
The Kentucky Colonels On Stage (live concerts) - 1965-67
Livin' In The Past (live concerts) - 1963-67
Long Journey Home, Live at Newport Folk Festival - 1964

With Bill Monroe

Decca singles and album cuts: The Gold Rush, Sally Goodin', Virginia Darlin', Is The Blue Moon Still Shining, Train 45, Kentucky Mandolin, I Want To Go With You, Crossing The Cumberlands, Walls of Time - 1967-68

With Lester Flatt

The Country Boys with Rex Allen at Riverside Rancho, Glendale, California, 1956. L-R: Eric White, Rex Allen, Clarence White, Roland White. Click to enlarge. The Country Boys with Rex Allen at Riverside Rancho, Glendale, California, 1956. L-R: Eric White, Rex Allen, Clarence White, Roland White. Click to enlarge.

The One and Only Lester Flatt - 1969
Flatt Out - 1970
Lester 'N' MacLester Flatt and Mac Wiseman - 1971
On The South Bound, Lester Flatt and Mac Wiseman - 1971
Kentucky Ridge Runner - 1972
Country Boy - 1972

With Country Gazette

Country Gazette Live - 1975
Out To Lunch - 1976
Sunny Side of the Mountain - 1976
What A Way To Make A Living - 1977
All This and Money Too - 1979
American and Clean - 1981
America's Bluegrass Band - 1982

With Alan Munde/Roland White and Country Gazette

Bluegrass Tonight - 1986
Strictly Instrumental - 1987
Live on the Road - 1973-84

With Alan Munde

Banjo Sandwich - 1975
The Banjo Kid Picks Again - 1980
Festival Favorites, Volumes I and II - 1980
Festival Favorites: Nashville Sessions - 1982
Festival Favorites: Southwest Sessions - 1983

The Roland White Band, nominated for a 2003 Grammy for the recording The Roland White Band, nominated for a 2003 Grammy for the recording "Jelly On My Tofu." L-R: Diane Bouska, Roland White, Todd Cook. Fellow nominee not pictured: Richard Bailey. Click to enlarge.

Roland White Solo Recordings

I Wasn't Born To Rock'n Roll - 1976, re-issued 2010
Trying To Get To You - 1994

With the Dreadful Snakes

Snakes Alive! - 1982

With The Nashville Bluegrass Band

The Boys Are Back In Town (Grammy nominee) - 1990
Home of the Blues (Grammy nominee) - 1991
Waiting For the Hard Times To Go (Grammy winner) - 1993
Unleashed (Grammy winner) - 1995
American Beauty (Grammy nominee) - 1998
The Best of the Sugar Hill Years - 2007

The Roland White Band

Jelly On My Tofu (Grammy nominee) - 2002

Various artists

O Brother, Where Art Thou? (Grammy winner) - 2000

Roland White with Lester Flatt

Roland White in the Lester Flatt Band, Roland White (mandolin), Marty Stuart (guitar), Haskell McCormick (banjo), Johnny Johnson (bass) and Lester Flatt at Chilhowee Park, Jacobs Building in Knoxville, 1972. Photo credit: Lynn Dudenbostel.

Roland White with David Grisman

Roland White, Gene Wooten and David Grisman, circa 1987. Photo credit: Rick and Mary Gardner.

Country Boys, 1954

The Country Boys, circa 1954. L-R: JoAnne White, Roland White, Eric White, Clarence White at Riverside Rancho, Glendale, California.

Additional information

Roland's web site
Roland's Mandolin Playing Video FAQ (Chord positions)
Roland's YouTube Channel

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Reader Comments

grassrootphilosopher
June 14, 2010 04:18 AM
It's great to hear from Roland White. I still cherish the memories of the 1991 concert in Koblenz-Güls with the Nashville Bluegrass Band. It's via him that my friend Rupert told me about Duff mandos. "I Wasn't Born To Rock And Roll" is a great record (as is Appalachian Swing, New Sounds Of Bluegrass America, the Lester Flatt Recordings etc). Roland's recording carreer shows nicely how a musical style etc. devellops.

But ... it's not "the Clarence D-28" that's on the front page. So the description of the picture is wrong. My guess would be that Clarence plays a Roy Noble in the 1972 Ash Grove picture.
Denny Gies
June 14, 2010 10:12 AM
These durn interviews are just outstanding. They are full of live and information and just a joy to read. Thanks a bunch.
Don Grieser
June 14, 2010 10:54 AM
That Soldier's Joy video is a master class in and of itself. Roland's left hand is a study in efficiency. Just amazing playing. Thanks for the interview, photos and videos of one of the all-time best mandolin players.
Mike Bunting
June 14, 2010 12:40 PM
I have to second Don's comments. Roland is a great guy and teacher. I learned so much from him last year and we were just sitting in the lobby of the BG museum in Owensboro talking and visiting. He'd show me some licks and relate anecdotes from the "glory days" of the Monroe band, I absorbed a lot about the music just from listening to him. And his folks originated in Canada! -)
Cullowheekid
June 14, 2010 01:32 PM
Thank you for doing this interview Roland. The Kentucky Colonels album, Long Journey Home, was one, if not the most influential album I listened to when I was learning to play bluegrass music. The harmony singing and band instrumentation is simply amazing. I'm still trying to get close. Thanks again. Eric Young in NC
ps. I love the tone of your Gibson mandolin.
Spgmando
June 14, 2010 01:35 PM
Thanks to Mr. White and Mandolin Cafe for this interview. His instructional books have been my "go-to" for many years. The rare pictures and video are priceless.
D C Blood
June 14, 2010 02:00 PM
Just a question about what is Eric doing now? Is he still around? I haven't heard anything about him for a long time.
Eliot Greenspan
June 14, 2010 02:13 PM
great interview, love the final photo at the bottom, that guitar is huge on Clarence, he definitely grew into it...
Spgmando
June 14, 2010 04:11 PM
Is it me or does it appear the late Stringbean was the first to wear "droopy pants"?
Backlineman
June 14, 2010 07:33 PM
Awesome interview. Great history, great photos, and fantastic instruction video. I really feel better now about my left hand/neck position. I've been trying to re-learn holding the neck with my thumb only, which feels very un-natural. After watching the video, I 'll go with what Roland describes here for the left/neck hand. I feel like I'm off the hook, and can forget all that I've been struggling with to relearn "proper technique."
Nelson Peddycoart
June 16, 2010 11:15 AM
Thanks for another great interview.
AlanN
June 16, 2010 12:41 PM
One aspect of Roland which comes through loud and clear is his gentleness and all-around nice guy persona. This immediately struck me the first time I met him at a Butch B. seminar. He is simply a good soul. I mean, this man has been in *important* bands down through the decades - Keturney Cuckolds, Country Gazette, Dreadful Snakes, Bluegrass Boys. He could easily cop an attitude over all this...he doesn't.

I pick with a banjo man whose business card reads 'Former member of Bill Monroe and His Bluegrass Boys'...he was a one-time pick-up guy when Monroe came through town once.

Thanks for sharing your time and knowledge, Roland. We are all the wiser.
Kirk Pickering
June 16, 2010 03:33 PM
Enjoyed the interview. Thanks for teaching me to play the mandolin Roland. You're one of the nicest guys in the business, in my book. Best of luck to you and Diane.
Bigtuna
June 18, 2010 01:41 PM
I also enjoyed the interview as well. I can't wait for the DVD, your book has served me well. I just got your reissue of "I wasn't Born to Rock...", and I love it already. Keep'm coming, thanks for all the music!
Scott Tichenor
April 23, 2013 08:35 AM
Happy 75th birthday today to sir Roland White who provided one of the best interviews ever to appear on the Mandolin Cafe.
grassrootphilosopher
April 23, 2013 11:10 AM
I wholeheartedly second all the best wishes for Roland White. Many happy returns, a blessed birthday and future health and happiness.
Ranger Stan
July 14, 2014 12:40 PM


I met Roland White while I was working at ROMP and he was amazingly friendly and informative. He's a class act all the way. "I Wasn't Born to Rock and Roll" remains one of my all time favorite albums.
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