29 Sep 2006
The bluegrass band The Country Gentlemen formed on July 4, 1957, as a replacement group for Buzz Busby’s Bayou Boys after several members of the band were hurt in a car accident. The original lineup included Charlie Waller on guitar and lead vocals, John Duffey on mandolin and tenor vocals, Bill Emerson on banjo and baritone vocals, and Larry Lahey on bass. The band would later have a fairly permanent lineup of Waller, Duffey, Eddie Adcock on banjo, and Tom Gray on bass. Over the years, members included such musicians as Doyle Lawson, Ricky Skaggs, Jerry Douglas, and Norman Wright. However, Charlie Waller remained the sole original member until his death in August 2004.
The band was known for Charlie’s exquisite baritone voice and John Duffey’s innovative techniques on the mandolin, as well as Eddie Adcock’s unusual banjo style. The Country Gentlemen also chose unusual songs to cover, turning them into bluegrass standards.
The band is considered to be the first “progressive” bluegrass band and was the leader of the genre in Washington, D.C., which included such bands as Cliff Waldron and the New Shades of Grass, and the offshoot band Seldom Scene.
The Country Gentlemen released 40 albums from 1960 through 2004; the band was inducted into the International Bluegrass Music Hall of Honor in 1996. Today, Charlie’s son Randy continues the tradition – and name-of the Country Gentlemen.
Ahmet Ertegun, founder of Atlantic Records, and a seminal figure in defining and promoting R&B; and soul, as well as other American genres, died Dec. 14, 2006, at age 83. He had been in the hospital since falling backstage at a Rolling Stones concert in New York City on October 29. Born in Istanbul, Turkey, Ertegun was the son of a Turkish ambassador and moved to Washington, D.C. in 1935.
Ahmet and his brother Nesuhi loved American music and collected records; they shopped at the Hot Record Shop and Commodore Music Store. The brothers hung out in DC clubs including Bengasi, the Casbah, and the Crystal Caverns. Ertegun later said that his experiences in those clubs molded his understanding of African-American music. The brothers became friends with Duke Ellington, Lena Horne, and Jelly Roll Morton, and decided to promote the first integrated concert in DC, at a Jewish Community Center. They were later allowed to use the National Press Club’s auditorium. While in graduate school, Ertegun discovered Max Silverman’s Quality Radio Repair Shop, which also sold records. That shop became Waxie Maxie.
Ertegun told The Washington Post’s Richard Harrington, “If anybody asks me where I’m from, my first inclination is to say Washington because that’s where I grew up meaningfully.” Ertegun and his brother started two local labels, Jubilee (gospel), and Quality (jazz and R&B;); both failed in 1946. In 1947, they formed Atlantic in New York. Atlantic’s first real hit was Stick McGhee’s “Drinking Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee,” in 1949. Ertegun was influential in promoting the work of Ray Charles, Ruth Brown (Atlantic was known as the House that Ruth Built), Big Joe Turner, Aretha Franklin, Cream, the Clovers, CSN&Y, the Rolling Stones, and Roberta Flack
Ertegun himself wrote blues songs, including “Chains of Love” and “Sweet Sixteen” under the pseudonym A. Nugetre (read it backward), and shouted backups on Big Joe Turner’s “Shake, Rattle and Roll.” During the 1960s, Ertegun adjusted with the musical tastes of the country and signed Led Zeppelin, the Rascals, and Sonny and Cher.
Sophocles Papas (1894-1986) was an internationally known teacher and scholar of the classical guitar. A lifelong friend of Andres Segovia, Sophocles made it his mission to popularize classical guitar in the US. He founded the Guitar Shop, the Washington Guitar Society, and Columbia Music Company, one of the first publishers of classical guitar sheet music and instructional methods.
Sophocles was born in Sopiki, Greece, then a part of Albania. He grew up there and in Cairo, where he studied mandolin and guitar. In 1913 or 1914 he moved to the US. He fought for the US in WWI and moved to Washington, D.C. in 1920, where he began teaching the ukulele, banjo, mandolin, Hawaiian guitar, and classical guitar. He met his friend Segovia in 1928 at Segovia’s debut performance in North America.
Sophocles opened a studio in 1925 and taught for more than 60 years in Washington, D.C. – first in a studio in a turn-of-the-century rowhouse at 18th and M Sts, NW (with the Guitar Shop below), then in an office building on Dupont Circle (also gone). He was a prolific writer; he wrote articles for scholarly music journals such as Guitar Review and Soundboard and wrote a column for the Crescendo magazine.
He promoted his students by showcasing them in Washington Guitar Society concerts and having them perform for Segovia when he was in town. One former student, Diana Quinn remembers, “I was 11 years old when my family moved to the area and I started taking lessons from Sophocles. He was a masterful teacher, and very strict. More than once he would use a ruler to smack the thumb that was peeking above the fretboard. He had me perform publicly often, from WGS concerts to an appearance on Claire and Coco, and especially after Segovia concerts, where we would be ushered into a dressing room and where I would play the latest piece I was working on. Those were very special times.”