Live in Sweden 1973
This CD contains all 26 songs performed by The New Kentucky Colonels at the Mosebacke club, Stockholm, Sweden on May 28 and 29, 1973. They have been re-engineered from the original recordings by Ben Surratt and re-mastered by Alex McCullough. Fourteen songs from these performances were previously released on the 1976 Rounder LP 0073.
Liner notes by Peter Cooper
Few of us were there, in Stockholm, in May of 1973, on those nights that the White brother--Roland, Eric, and Clarence--tore through the Mosebacke with water-clear picking and ethereal energy. Few of us were there to hear Alan Munde's banjo reveal marvels of tone, timing and technique. Few of us were there to hear Clarence White at the towering height of his powers.
Let us praise Claes Bergstrom. He's the man who rolled tape. Without him, we wouldn't have this remarkable recording. Some of us heard portions of it on the long out-of-print vinyl Rounder LP credited to "The White Brothers", but now we have the whole thing, complete with occasional interference from the Mosebacke's microwave, which was connected to the same electrical feed as the venue's soundboard. Every time you hear a brief hum, just know that some long-ago Swede got a slice of hot pizza out of it.
The New Kentucky Colonels could have done something different. By then, Clarence had invented a new way of playing electric guitar, coaxing a Telecaster to sound like some warped and whimsical version of a pedal steel. But this wasn't a time to expand, it was a time to expound on the particularly, peculiarly American roots of this bluegrass-burnished brand of acoustic music. It was a time for harmony, and for virtuosity, and for joy. Joy was in short supply for Americans in 1973. The presidency was a tight-jawed concern. The South was a clenched consortium.
And so the New Kentucky Colonels played. They were propulsive and virtuosic and amazing, and they thrilled the folks that heard them. They even thrilled themselves: Roland White says that the Stockholm shows were as fine a time as he ever had playing music.
"In my opinion, this is the best playing of Clarence's on record," Roland says, and a listen to the guitar solo on "New River Train" or "Alabama Jubilee" proves his thesis. "I know it was the best music I ever made. Clarence and Eric and I had grown up playing and singing together, so when we reunited as the New Kentucky Colonels, everything felt natural and right. And Clarence had a lot of fans in Europe, a lot of them from his days in the Byrds, and he was aware that a lot of them had come out to those shows. He was really pouring it on."
They all poured it on, and they had more to pour than at any other point. Roland rebuilt his right hand technique in his late 1960s days as a guitarist in Bill Monroe's Blue Grass Boys, and when he applied that technique to the mandolin, the results were righteous and distinctive. Clarence's work with the Byrds found him seeking and finding new approaches to guitar, and with the New Kentucky Colonels he fused new world ingenuity with the rigor and certainty of what Monroe called "the ancient tones". Munde applied lessons learned in stints with Jimmy Martin's Sunny Mountain Boys and with the Flying Burrito Brothers. Eric White's bass provided propulsion and playfulness, and the band locked together, an unstoppable force of rhythm, melody, and harmony.
This version of the New Kentucky Colonels was magical, but temporal. Munde was there as a last-minute replacement for Herb Pedersen, who joined with the White brothers earlier in 1973, and who started the European tour with the White Brothers but left to join up with Johnny Rivers. After the Stockholm gig, Munde returned to his own group, Country Gazette. And less than two months after Stockholm, Clarence White was killed, struck by a car outside the Palmdale, California club where he and Roland had just performed.
Tragedy ended Clarence's life, but it did not lessen his impact on generations of musicians, and it does not dull the wonder of his creations. Roland White went on to establish himself as one of the most important and adventurous mandolin players in bluegrass history, contributing to mind-bending west coast band Country Gazette and winning Grammy Awards with the Nashville Bluegrass Band, before leading the Grammy-nominated Roland White Band in the new century. Eric White's bass enhanced the soundscapes of Linda Ronstadt, the Flying Burrito Brothers, and others. And Alan Munde spent 35 years as a driving force in the groundbreaking Country Gazette, and has continually moved bluegrass forward, as a solo artist and as an in-demand teacher.
Few of us were in Stockholm those nights in May of 1973. Thanks to Claes Bergstrom's tape, those Swedish nights are here for all of us, right now. Across decades and oceans, the music is present. It sustains and endures.
-Peter Cooper, Nashville, Tennessee
Liner notes by Alan Munde
When I joined Roland, Clarence, and Eric to play banjo on the European tour that produced these recordings, it was like being sucked up into a cosmic rhythm whirlwind. As I played there was no place to play other than get with them and hang on. Their playing was beyond the oft-cited sense of brothers or family connectivity - as I say, cosmic. They created a harmonic and rhythmical environment, a context, that made a new and wonderful sense of the music. It seemed to me my normal bluegrass banjo offerings were transformed into hyper-important moments in the music. They had that wonderful, too rare ability to make those around them not just sound better, but maybe sound and play the best they ever had. I think that was the case for me. It was quite something and is abundantly evident to me as I listen to the music. It was and is my honor to be a part of it all. When someone mentions that they really love these recordings, I internally use it as a marker that this person and I may share some understanding of how music can be.
-Alan Munde, Wimberley, Texas
Liner notes by Roland White
It has to be the best way to learn to play music, to grow up playing together. From the time I was 11, Eric 9 and Clarence 5, we played together. I'd say that by the time we were 14, 12 and 8 we were really a band. We played old-time country music for a few years, with sister JoAnne singing, until we moved to California and an uncle told me about Bill Monroe. I bought Pike County Breakdown on a 45 rpm record, and that record, and then all the great bluegrass records to come after, changed our lives. It put us on the path to play bluegrass. We worked hard at it. We were able to play on TV and radio shows and later toured the country and made recordings. We met many of our bluegrass idols at a Hollywood club where we played often, the Ash Grove - Monroe, Flatt & Scruggs, Doc Watson, the Stanley Brothers. And we were able to participate in and soak up that great West Coast country music scene in the 50's, with the likes of Joe and Rose Lee Maphis, Merle Travis, Speedy West and Jimmy Bryant. It was a very exciting time. So much music, great entertainers, and they put a lot of zest into their music, a lot of showmanship. First we called ourselves The Country Boys (JoAnne dropped out of our group when she was about 17, and I was 18). In a few more years we were joined by banjo player Billy Ray Lathum,, and later The Kentucky Colonels. Mike and Marge Seeger helped us get booked at folk music venues across the country, and the Newport Folk Festival. We had a lot of attention, and we recorded a really nice instrumental album that is still talked about, Appalachian Swing. We had some great years touring in the early to mid-sixties, but gigs got scarcer with the end of the folk boom and by 1967 we all sought other work. I went to Nashville to play guitar with Bill Monroe and His Blue Grass Boys. Clarence stayed in California and worked with a number of artists, acoustic and electric, played many recording sessions, and joined, toured and recorded with The Byrds. Eric also stayed in California and played sessions and bluegrass and country gigs. By early 1973 I had been working for Lester Flatt for 2 years and Clarence had quit The Byrds. This European tour was a reunion for us. We fell in together like no time had passed, except that we had all grown in our time apart. This was perhaps the best playing my brothers and I ever did; it was fantastic to be playing with them again after working apart for years. To have Alan Munde, banjo player extraordinaire, join us on the trip really capped it off. We loved his strong drive, perfect timing, and his own unique style that incorporated melodic as well as Scruggs style. Anything new we brought up, he had it after hearing it once. He could keep up with us - and we played fast! We've been friends since 1967 and played together in Country Gazette for 15 years. After the European tour we came back to the States, played a couple of festivals and had plans to continue together. Losing Clarence in July of 1973 was totally unexpected. We'll never play together again, but we have this recording that will live on forever.
-Roland White, Nashville, Tennessee