Known as one of the areas longest standing bluegrass groups, Seldom Scene is a collective of five Washington D.C., musicians who have been playing old-time music for over four decades. Dudley Connell, lead guitarist and vocalist has been with the band for 20 years.
Connell is accompanied by founding member Ben Eldridge (banjo), Lou Reid (mandolin/vocals), Ronnie Simpkins (bass/vocals), and Fred Travers (dobro/vocals). The group, formed in Bethesda, Md., performs fresh interpretations of covers of old-time tunes and even had a Grammy nominated album, “Scenechronized” in 2007.
This legendary band is setting a new standard and attracting a wide range of audiences to the bluegrass genre all around. And lucky us, we got the chance to chat with Connell about the band and its upcoming show at the Strand-Capitol Performing Arts Center on Jan. 16.
Here’s what he had to say:
Q. How long have you been with the band and how long have you personally been playing music?
A: I just celebrated my 20th year with the band. I started playing with Seldom Scene December 31st, 1995.
Q. Where did you meet your band mates and how did you all get together and decide you wanted to make music together?
A: It kind of started because the band I was in (Johnson Mountain Boys) and Seldom Scene were both from the same area. They were very contemporary and we were very traditional. Promoters thought it would be nice to put the two groups together ... sometime in 1995 that The Seldom Scene guys were dissolving their partnership, so I called John Duffey up (mandolin player and vocals at the time) who was the leader of the group at the time, and expressed my condolences, because you know, its kind of like a death when you hear that kind of news in the Washington D.C bluegrass family. That’s when John told me in a funny way “Oh no, we aren’t really dissolving the group, we are just looking for a new guitar player, lead singer, baritone player and a few other things, and kind of just made a joke of the whole thing. That’s when I suggested that we get together to play a little music together and we did, and it just clicked right from the start.
Q. Can you tell me a little about the most popular song that you cover?
A: I would say that “Wait a Minute” Herb Pederson is our most popular song. Herb sent a cassette tape to the band many years ago and this was one of the songs that was on the tape. Everyone loved it so much so we still play it to this day.
Q. What are the bands expectations for the show in York and have you ever played here before?
A: Well, actually York, PA was the first show we ever played outside of the Maryland area almost 20 years ago in the winter of 1996. The Strand was the first place we ever actually traveled to and spent the night. They recently asked us to come back and we were absolutely thrilled. It’ll be nice to play again somewhere we played many years ago, it is kind of like going back to where we started.
Q. What is your most treasured memory as a band?
A. You know, no one has asked me that question in a very long time. I’ve had so many great memories with this band for the past 20 years. Two years ago, the band was inducted into the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame, and that took place in Raleigh, North Carolina. We got an award given by the International Bluegrass Music Association, which is the biggest organization currently supporting this kind of music. We got to sit and listen to them give a speech about the band and how we have made such a big contribution to bluegrass music and music in general, which was really neat. We got to perform “Wait a Minute,” and I have to say, that was a pretty powerful moment for us as a band. There were a lot of cheers and it made me really realize the importance of our band, and how proud I am to be a part of a group that has made such an impact.
Q. What was it like hearing your band on the radio for the first time?
A: The first time I heard our band on the radio, I was absolutely thrilled. I remember pulling over and turning it up full blast. That’s been a long time ago now.
Q. How would you describe your band to someone who has never heard of The Seldom Scene before?
A: I would say we are a little different. Our material is a little more…I don’t even know what you would call it because we play so many different things, but we play all kinds of music. Everything from Bob Dylan and Eric Clapton to Bill Monroe and Merle Haggard. We cover a lot of repertoire, which really gives us a distinctive sound.
Q. Is all your music original or do you mostly do covers of other songs? If so, which are your favorite songs to cover at shows?
A: We actually don’t do a lot of original stuff, we simply just dig around for good songs. I am a big believer that good songs will outlast the singer every time. A good song, is a good song. Once in a while we have songwriters that send us original content, too, and we’ll occasionally use it. We love to cover songs like “Wait a Minute,” by Herb Pederson, (which gets requested the most) and “Rider” which is an old Grateful Dead song, and “Nadine,” an old Chuck Berry song, “Muddy Water” by Phil Rosenthal, and “Walk Through This World With Me” by George Jones.
Q. What artist/group would you say is your biggest influence and who was your biggest influence in bluegrass growing up that inspired you to do what you do today?
A: I would say my parents were a huge influence on playing bluegrass growing up. Watching my parents play music the way they did really inspired me to do what I do today, and of course Bill Monroe (American mandolin player singer/songwriter) who pretty much created the style of music.
Q. You’ve been around for over four decades now as a band. What do you think makes you stand out from the rest and relevant today?
A: We are a singing band—and everyone is confident on each of their instruments. But we really concentrate on our singing and our trio and of course, the repertoire, which is what I think has really led this band to its longevity.
Q. I saw you have a video up on the website of the band playing at the White House, can you tell me a little bit about that experience?
A: Someone who was working on George W. Bush’s staff really enjoyed the band and were big fans and invited us to come out and play. We actually went there twice. The first time we went to play, we got to meet the president and the first lady and the show, I believe was mainly for staffers, however we never got to play because the show got rained out. So we came back again, and the second time we got invited (which is the video on our website), that was a show for the U.S. Olympic team we did in 2009.
Q. Tell me a little bit about your current album and upcoming albums you are currently working on.
A: We are collecting material as we speak for a new album and are still in the very early stages of it ... This new album will probably come out next winter or fall, which is kind of a rough guess.
Q. How long do you think you’ll continue to do what you do?
A: I think I’ll continue to do this as long as we keep having fun. Right now, I find it enjoyable so I will keep doing what I love to do.
Q. What do your tour dates look like in 2016?
A: We have a very busy schedule. We travel extensively, especially over the summer. We are kind of the bread and butter of a bluegrass band. These days, we play multi-based festivals, and we work them all over the country nearly every weekend. Generally, we work 60-65 days a year, which is enough. We don’t spend weeks at a time out on the road, we are weekend warriors and then come home, re-prioritize life, and then go back out there and do it again.
See them live
Who: The Seldom Scene
When: 8 to 11 p.m. Jan. 16
Where: Strand-Capitol Performing Arts Center, 50 N. George St., York
Cost: $25 per person
More info: www.mystrandcapitol.org