Audie Blaylock has been playing music his whole life. After 25 years as a sideman with some of the most well know acts in bluegrass including Jimmy Martin, Rhonda Vincent and the Rage, and Red Allen to name a few, he formed Audie Blaylock and Redline in 2005 and was nominated for the International Bluegrass MusicAssociation’s Emerging Artist of the Year award in both 2005 and 2006. On a recent Saturday afternoon, Audie Blaylock took some time out of his busy touring schedule to speak about his early days with Jimmy Martin, his new release and his upcoming concert for the HVBA.
We’re really pleased that you will be coming to Poughkeepsie in May to do the concert. Do you play often in the Northeast?
It varies, sometimes we do. We do stuff in Maine and Vermont, in fact we’re going to be in Vermont again this summer at the Jenny Brook Festival. Candy Sawyer runs that so we do get up there occasionally.
How do you find audiences in the Northeast compared to other places where you play?
I think they’re extremely appreciative and very knowledgeable about the music. I love coming up there.
I wanted to ask about your early days, how you started playing music.
Well, I started playing the guitar when I was 8 years old. I grew up in a musical family. My dad played music. My mom also played and sang as well as all her brothers and sisters so, on the weekend, we’d be at one place or the other and everybody would just play music on a Saturday night. That was normal for me.
Did you have any formal musical instruction or did you learn by playing with the family?
I pretty much learned playing with the family and also on my own. I played by ear. I’m not a trained person per say. Patrick McAvinue, who plays fiddle in the band, is a very trained musician. He graduated from Towsen University last summer so he’s more knowledgeable about the technical side of it than I am.
So it was listening to records and slowing them down if you could, and picking it up that way?
Oh yeah, you took the record albums and took a rubber band, pulled it past 33 to try to slow down the licks and learn that way. Now of course they have fabulous tools where you can just slow them down and it doesn’t even change the pitch.
I know, I use them myself. It helps a lot.
(Laughs) Yeah, I can see where it would.
From those days playing with your family, what was it that got you into playing bluegrass?
Well, my dad was a big bluegrass fan, as well as my other uncles and family, so I grew up hearing Jimmy Martin, Flatt and Scruggs, Bill Monroe, as well as George Jones, Merle Haggard, Lynn Anderson, you know - all the classic country artists. I grew up going to bluegrass festivals, and you meet this person and you meet this person and before you know it, you’re playing in a band. It was kind of a natural thing. I love all kinds of music, not just bluegrass and country.
I guess that explains the post on your website that you recently took a detour from the road and went to see the Tedeschi-Trucks band. They’re pretty amazing, aren’t they?
Oh my gosh, it was sick. Derek Trucks, he’s not of this planet. As a matter of fact, Reed and I just saw them again two nights ago in Columbus. It’s an 11 piece band. The cool thing is that Susan took people from her band, and Derek took people from his band and they formed this whole thing so that no one was left behind. It’s an incredible, incredible musical experience.
What other styles of music do you listen to?
I love stuff like that, classic rock, anything that’s good really. Blues, country, jazz, there’s a lot of jazz that I like, and though I’m not that deep into it, I enjoy that also. I just love real music.
How do you bring in those other influences and those other types of music into your playing?
Sometimes it’s really hard, in fact most of the time it’s really hard. I think when you play a certain type of music you need to try to stay true to the foundation. Not that you can’t grow and expand your boundaries, but I think if you get too far off the mark, it becomes unrecognizable, and you end up creating a new type of music. I try to capture the spirit of things and put it into what we do.
I want to go back to something that you said earlier, that you were influenced by musicians like Jimmy Martin. When you were in your teens, you ended up playing with Jimmy Martin’s band. How did that happen?
Well, like I said earlier, I grew up going to bluegrass festivals and you meet this person and you meet this person, so I kinda met a couple of guys in his band and we hung out and did some picking. It’s just a networking thing, you get introduced. Jimmy got to know me that summer and he needed a mandolin player. I got a call one day and the rest is history.
Sounds like you were in the right place at the right time.
Actually it’s kind of a funny story, I was playing in a local bluegrass band. We had played in northern Michigan and had gotten home at about 4 or 5 o’clock in the morning. Then I got a phone call, probably around 7, and the caller said, “Is this Audie Blaylock? This is Jimmy Martin.” And I’m like ok, which one of you yahoos out there is trying to pull some kind of trick. I thought it was someone in the band. He just kept talking, it didn’t even slow him down. Then he said something that made me realize that it really was Jimmy Martin and at that point he had my full attention. So he said “I need a mandolin player, do you think you know all the songs? Well, meet me down here on Thursday.” So I got a flight to Nashville on that Thursday, and he picked me up and I spent a couple of weeks at his house. I played in his band for 9 years.
What was that like playing with him, playing with one of the 1st generation bluegrass players?
It was a tremendous experience and I’m very grateful to be able to have had that opportunity. I feel sorry for some of the younger generation that will never be able to experience it first hand. I’m glad we have the recordings that they can listen to, but those first generation players, not only were they great players and singers, but they were also teachers. Maybe it was the nature of the beast. When they first started bluegrass, there weren’t as many people playing it so if they ran into someone that played fiddle, they had to teach them how to be in their band. Maybe it had something to do with that. They were tremendous teachers, and I know I certainly learned a lot, especially from Jimmy Martin who is noted for being a timing and rhythm master.
How important is rhythm and time in bluegrass?
If you don’t have rhythm in the band, you don’t have music. It would be like building a house with no foundation. You just stand up 4 walls and hope that it makes it though the storm. We are talking about Tedeschi- Trucks before, that is one complete rhythm machine. It’s all about the rhythm and laying down the groove and that makes it easier to put the icing on the cake.
There are a lot of flashy players out there that are all about putting the icing on the cake, but in your view, what is the key to playing great bluegrass guitar?
Rhythm first, and be it new style bluegrass or old style bluegrass, I think the rhythm guitar is the glue of the band. A lot of young players are attracted to the flashy stuff, playing the lead and you have to have that too, it certainly does helps. But there are periods of music where the lead guitar wasn’t as flashy as it may be today, and the rhythm carried the whole sound. The 1st generation knew that kind of thing. They stressed that.
I hear you are going to do a guitar workshop for us in May, what can we expect from the session?
Yes, we finally got that straightened out. We’re gonna focus on that very thing, playing rhythm guitar and what the role of the guitar is in the band, and how you would interact with the different instruments.
Can we talk a little bit about the band? How did Redline come together?
Well as I said, I played 9 years with Jimmy Martin, and left Jimmy and played a couple of years with Red Allen before he passed away. Then I did about a year with Lynn Morris, playing mandolin, Tom Adams and I were in that band at that time. I left Lynn and did a country thing with Harley Allen when he had a deal on Mercury and did that until about 2000. I joined Rhonda Vincent’s band and spent 4 years there until Nov 2003. I think there comes a point in time when you want to do what you have in your head and it got to that point. So we started the band in 2004 and the first full season was in 2005. I just wanted to do my own thing and play my own music.
Was it always with the same musicians?
We haven’t had a lot of personnel change. Patrick McAvinue has been the fiddle player for Redline since day one. Evan Ward played banjo for the first 4 years, which was a remarkable thing since both he and Patrick were carrying a full schedule at college, and played music on the road with the band at the same time. Evan was offered a scholarship to Vanderbilt University, which was hard to turn down, so he left to pursue his master’s degree. So in comes Russ Carson and he’s been with us for 2 years. Matt Wallace played bass for the first little while but he’s got a couple of young children and didn’t want to be on the road as much so Reed Jones came in.
Those are the guys you worked with on your CD I’m Going Back to Old Kentucky. Any new projects in the works?
Yes, we’re actually right in the middle of one, in fact, it’s almost done. I’m leaving in the morning to go finish up the single, which will be released next week I’m hoping. And then the album, Hard Country is scheduled to be released I believe June 19th.
There seems to be a renaissance of traditional and bluegrass music. A lot of artists are heading down to Nashville to record an acoustic, bluegrass or traditional album, Elvis Costello, Steve Martin and Robert Plant, come to mind. Do you think that brings bluegrass more to the forefront as an American musical art form or is it a passing phase?
Even if it’s a passing phase, I can’t see where it’s gonna hurt. When you have people like Robert Plant and Steve Martin, bringing bluegrass to the Dave Letterman show or the Jay Leno show, and putting it in front of people, I think that people are open minded enough so that if they hear something interesting, they will like it. In today's market – people are fed music on the radio, they don’t have choice. They’re not aware that there are other types of music out there. Steve Martin, for instance, has a tremendous audience as a stand up comedian and actor, and of course rock fans know Robert Plant, so with that said, it has to help raise awareness.
You play a lot of concerts and festivals. How important is live music to keeping the bluegrass tradition alive and well?
Small venue live music can’t be replaced. There is nothing like going to a live show and experiencing it with someone. It’s a bonding thing, a memory that you will always share with your family or friends. I grew up around music and that’s the only thing I wanted to do.
Can I ask you about your gear? What kind of guitars do you own and play?
I own many guitars. I’ve grown up since day one playing Martin guitars, and I have a bunch of them. I prefer herringbones, and I love a rosewood guitar because it lends itself to rhythm playing, has more bottom end than a Mahogany guitar. I have mahogany guitars also. I think every guitar has its function. Recently, it will be 2 years this September, a gentleman named Teddy Workman in West Virginia, he’s a guitar builder and runs TW Guitars, called me and asked me if he could build me a guitar. I told him I wasn’t really in the market to buy another guitar but he said no, he just wanted to make me one. I said well as long as we were going to do this, let’s make it a little different, so we made the Red Line edition guitar. It’s a rosewood back and sides, much like a D-28 herringbone and there’s a thin red line up the fret board into the peg head. I’m not typically torn up about ornate guitars, but it’s just ornate enough to make it cool. That’s what I’ve been playing primarily for the last year and a half. It’s a canon.
What gauge string do you use? Any manufacturer that you find works better for you than the others?
I use a medium gauge, nothing out of the ordinary, no special gauges, just a standard medium set. I think different strings fit different guitars, but what characteristically works for me are D’Addario flat tops. Do you remember the old Fender flat wound strings? Well, it not a flat round per say, but the winding has been ground down to where they have a smoother feel, much like an Elixir, although they are not coated. It’s a bronze wound string, and they are really punchy and increase the volume considerably on my guitars.
What would people be surprised to find out about you?
I don’t know. I think musically, when people expect a certain type of music from you, you get branded with that type of thing. I think that there are a lot of folks out there that really enjoy our music that would be surprised to see me play electric guitar or know that I listen to Led Zeppelin, or AC/DC or whatever. That would probably be the biggest surprise.
I guess I should have asked you before if you had electrics. Are you a Fender guy or a Gibson Guy?
I have a selection of electrics, I love them all. I have Fenders and Gibsons, but when it comes to playing rock and roll, I can’t get away from my Les Paul. I bought a Les Paul, brand new when I was 17, it was one of the Kalamazoo guitars, one of the last ones made there, and I love it. To play rock and roll, it can’t be beat.
Thanks Audie, we’ll see you in May.
We’re really looking forward to coming up there. It’s gonna be a lot of fun.