View Full Version : Side Musicians: The Musical Glue Making Bluegrass Work

Ted Lehmann
Jun-21-2017, 7:56am
My weekly column in No Depression focuses on the essential role of the side musician in bluegrass. Among others, it focuses on Jesse Brock as both a valued side musician and a featured soloist. Hope you enjoy it and I look forward to your comments. - Ted


Jun-21-2017, 8:17am
Nice article Ted,
Being on the road is no picnic! Your statement about the band leader job as understanding "How to get the best from the band" is something which many people don't always remember. Doyle Lawson clearly sees the bigger picture and has rights to being a "Schoolmaster" as does Greg Cahill, some fabulously talented musicians have learned tradecraft under the tutelage of band leaders like those gentlemen. Seeing potential, having vision, teaching what it takes to be successful in a band is a tough lesson.

Jun-21-2017, 10:53am
Although I am not a bluegrass guy, I can see your article clearly in many other genre's of music. As a matter of fact, a lot of my musical idols were 'sidemen'. In my early days of delusions of musical grandeur, I never aspired to be a star, only the guy in the band who could contribute to good music.

Nice work.

Ivan Kelsall
Jun-22-2017, 2:49am
Ted - I fully understand what you're saying,but why is Jesse Brock in your opinion a 'side musician',i thought that he was a 'full band member' ?. To me,the side musicians were the guys who literally sat at the side of a concert stage ready to play with 'whoever' if they were needed. In other words they were not 'band members'. If by 'side musician' you simply mean the band members 'other than' the main guy,i get your drift & agree 100%. So, i suppose that we could apply the name 'side musicians' to Lester & Earl in that capacity,but to me they were band members.

My apologies if i'm missing some subleties of nomenclature here !,

Ted Lehmann
Jun-22-2017, 6:09am
Ivan - Side musician is, in no way, a disparaging remark, nor does it minimize the importance of people who play in supporting positions in a band. Speaking generally, I'd define the term as referring to all members of a band who aren't the named members or principle focus of the band. Thus, in The Gibson Brothers, Jesse Brock, Mike Barber (bass) and Clayton Campbell (fiddle) are side musicians, standing by the side of the two singer/songwriters who name the band and absolutely essential to it as supporting staff. One reason this topic has had such strong response on my FB page and online in other places, is that it captures an often taken for granted truth about their importance. - Ted

Drew Egerton
Jun-22-2017, 7:45am
Also brings up something that gets my goat once in a while.
I have never been a fan of "The Main Guy & the band" scheme of naming your group.

I guess there are exceptions that have earned it like Doyle after going through....hundreds? of sidemen.
I still don't like it though. It just seems arrogant. (Yes, I KNOW, BUT BILL DID IT...)

What's even worse is when it is more than 1 name and then still the band. You're just specifically naming half the band and these other guys are just whoever. Do you really have to be Lester Flatt, Earl Scruggs and The Foggy Mountain Boys?

I'd rather see the name The Del McCoury Band, than Del McCoury & The Travelin' McCourys, etc.

The Gibson Brothers, I understand they want to play up the brother thing. But they don't even say The Gibson Brothers AND anybody....nevermind the awesome other dudes. Jesse is the man! Great guy too.

Anyway, I woke up in the mood to rant LOL, sorry.

Willie Poole
Jun-22-2017, 10:10am
I see Jesse Brock playing in quite a few bands...He sure moves around, a great picker...If he could only stand still for more than 20 seconds...Lol

Ted Lehmann
Jun-22-2017, 5:16pm
I don't think it's too new a trend (J.D. Crowe & the New South, Jimmy Martin & the Sunny Mountain Boys) but I do think the movement has accelerated with an emphasis on star power over team effort. Just a thought. - Ted

Jun-22-2017, 5:32pm
I'm happy to be a side musician in the sense of others being the main attraction. Somehow though people keep wanting to put me in the center. I don't even know how to play the mandolin very well and I'm not very pretty so it makes no sense unless perhaps they, too, like being a side musician.

Ivan Kelsall
Jun-23-2017, 2:46am
Hi Ted - I just think that we refer to the same 'role' in different ways. I never thought that you were being disparaging in your remarks.

One 'side man' that i can think of who was so instrumental 'literally', in helping maintain the 'signature sound' of a band,is Steuart Smith,the lead guitarist that The Eagles ( 'Eagles' really ),brought in to replace Don Felder. How many hours that guy put in to learn every 'original' break taken by Don Felder i don't know,but he nailed every one.

As an aside,/ for any 'Eagles' fans - look here :- https://www.eagles.com/ It looks as though they've got a working band together with Glenn Frey's son & Vince Gil,


Jun-23-2017, 6:56am
I understand the term side man but realize the difference in importance from One genre to another. Ask the typical "country" music fan who's playing fiddle with Garth Brooks, he doesn't know or care. Bluegrass fans can usually name all the "sidemen" in most cases past and present. To a certain extent that may be changing due to the ego of certain leaders. The last time I saw Doyle Lawson in person one of his sidemen tested his vocal mic, he checked his mandolin, by way of his electronic pickup, from backstage so he could make a grand entrance when his name was called. IMHO that ain't no part of bluegrass.

Ted Lehmann
Jun-23-2017, 8:30am
I think he's been doing that for a while. Rhonda Vincent has Mickey Harris do the same thing for her in Rhonda Vincent & the Rage. The grand entrance works for major performers. Despite the entrance, Doyle's band is truly an ensemble in which the spotlight shines on every performer. Doyle sings harmony as much, or more, than he sings lead, and still plays strong mandolin. - Ted

Ivan Kelsall
Jun-24-2017, 1:03am
This is one of my favourite 'entrances' - Bill Monroe playing ''Goldrush'' with Byron Berline's band California,helped out by Mark O'Connor. I posted this one on here before & one cafe member replied - ''Hell fire,i didn't even know the guy had teeth'' . Byron's remark - ''He's been in Bluegrass a long time'' - err yes !,
Ivan ;)


You might notice that Bill Monroe glances at each individual musician as he takes his break - except when it comes to Jerry Douglas whom he totally ignores. BM wasn't 'big on Dobros' was he ?.

Jun-24-2017, 10:23am
Twin fiddles put to excellent use! Bill would just say "What dobro?"
That's a great video.
Heck, in this music if you're not the "Name" we're all sidemen. Doesn't bother me at all.

Ivan Kelsall
Jun-25-2017, 2:53am
From Timothy - "Doesn't bother me at all ''. Me neither - just let me pick !!!. Just a point - Bill Monroe himself 'played the sideman' very often when he gave up the stage to a performance by one of his band memebers. Listening to a live performance of ''Northern White Clouds'',BM doen't play a solo,it's all Tater Tate on Fiddle. I really hate it when the 'main man' hogs the limelight all the time. For me,it's all about ''the band as a whole'' - that's what Ted Lehman was getting at in the first instance.

Although back in 1965,i was the one who got the band members in my band together - it was never ''my band'',it was always ''our band'',


Jun-25-2017, 1:27pm
Well said Ivan, they guys I play will and I always take a certain amount of ownership but, for the most part it's others who say it's my band or the banjo players band or the guitar players band for us, it's the pool we all swim in!