Jerry Douglas and Ron Block of Union Station discuss
their role in bluegrass music.
May 3, 2002
q: How did it go tonight? How'd it feel out
there tonight, you've done the show a number of times over the years.
a: (Jerry Douglas): Fast.
a: (Dan Tyminski): That was the fastest show
we've ever done.
a: (Jerry Douglas): I kept thinking we haven't done enough. We better
do some more songs.
a: (Barry Bales): Aren't the tickets free?
I hope so.
a: (Jerry Douglas): Short crowd, short show.
q: I'm kind of curious, this might sound
like a heavy philosophical question, but Union Station has been together
for a while now, at what point in this strange kind of musical journey
do you think you are right now? How does it feel? Has it been a good ride,
and where does it go from here?
a: (Alison Krauss): I feel like the band is
just beginning right now. It's been an incredible year, but in spite of
all that, in spite of all the great things that have happened for the
band, I feel musically it's just really beginning. I'm very excited to
see what our next few records are going to be like.
q: Does it feel like it's the beginning for you guys too?
a: (Barry Bales): Yeah, I think so. To me it's
almost like everything up till now has been, I don't know, almost like
a: (Ron Block): Practice.
a: (Dan Tyminski): I think everybody is less
uptight than we've ever been. I think we're having more fun together than
we've had. We're still enjoying what we do. That's a good thing.
a: (Jerry Douglas): Well, I'm the new guy but
it feels to me like we've found the key to it somehow. Feels just like
something clicked you know, like sometime in the last year, to me it feels
like everything solidified. It's all just a big piece of something now.
a: (Alison Krauss): A big piece of cake!
a: (Dan Tyminski): With frosting!
q: Well you're doing fewer retakes anyway, for what it's worth.
a: (Alison Krauss): I thought, there's Terry
a: (Jerry Douglas): I remember those days when
you used to hate to see these guys "Oh, I know it's gonna be 14 takes,
of each song."
q: It wasn't that bad, was it?
a: (Jerry Douglas): Everybody's just more comfortable
with all this stuff …
a: (Alison Krauss): Everybody pointing at me, yeah…
a: (Barry Bales): Three shows ago we'd still be on the first song.
a: (Alison Krauss): That wasn't very nice.
a: (Jerry Douglas): It's actually happening, too, though, it is good,
so we don't have to do it again.
a: (Dan Tyminski): We're just having a little conversation between us,
you guys talk …
q: Now I don't want to dwell on the "O, Brother" phenomenon and all that,
because I do firmly believe that there is more to it than just that. That
for whatever reason bluegrass is just having its day in the sun right
now, but there is obviously a change out there and I'm sure you're sensing
it, by the size of the crowds, by the newness of some of the people in
the crowds -- I'd rather hear you explain it in your own words, this phenomenon
of bluegrass as a newfound popularity and all of these new fans coming
a: (Dan Tyminski): It's fun, I mean it's a really neat thing. I mean,
all of us have been doing this our whole lives. And for whatever reason,
"O, Brother," or whatever all the stars lining up, it's great to see new
faces and see people excited about the type of music we've been excited
for all this time. So it's very fun.
a: (Barry Bales): I can't … personally I have no explanation for it.
I mean, I have yet to figure out why it's so successful, other than the
fact that, as Dan alluded to, we think this music is great, and have for
a long time, but, you know, it's been around for years, why now? I don't
a: (Jerry Douglas): I think a door has been opened though, to, you know,
the movie helped, but we were kind of rolling before that happened, and
that just sort of gave us a kick, and as far as I can tell, the concerts
are selling out faster. They were selling out before, but now they're
selling out faster, we're playing bigger places.
a: (Alison Krauss): I also think that people, it was like a secret, it's
not accessible like everything else on the radio, and I think that lucky
for us, meaning us people who play bluegrass music, bluegrass got its
time in this movie, and it could have been as easily Cajun music, or blues
music, because people love that too. It's just these wonderful traditional
forms of music that people don't get to hear like they do commercial music.
And we were lucky enough that many bluegrass people could get their time
a: (Alison Krauss): Oh, I hear crying, the baby, I hear crying, I'm sorry.
q: Grammys … Ralph buys a fancy new bus and Mercedes… Something's changing…
a: (Jerry Douglas): Hell has now officially frozen over …
q: Well, I was there, and I've been involved with the Grammy organization
and the TV show, and everybody had a sense that that was going to happen
that night. Critics and people were saying that you too, were going to
sweep the top awards. When it came to album of the year, and country,
and whatever it was, male vocal, I think people were ready for that upset
a: (Jerry Douglas): We weren't. We weren't talking about it.
q: No, you don't want to jinx yourselves.
a: (Jerry Douglas): No, I think we were all scared to death, but we weren't
talking about it. And we kind of thought maybe something like this would
happen. It was in the air, it just felt like something was going to happen
like that, and, but, we don't want to jinx anything like that.
a: (Dan Tyminski): We all silently hoped.
a: (Jerry Douglas): Yeah, yeah. It was scary though. And when we played,
we're looking out at, you know …
a: (Dan Tyminski): Everyone.
a: (Jerry Douglas): An amazing array of everybody that we've ever, a
lot of people we have been listening to all of our lives, maybe not country
artists, but just everybody was sitting out there, and they were all rocking.
They were loving it, so I thought, "man, we're in. We're here."
q: I was out there in the audience, and when Ralph did his little piece
of… and there were some rappers and hip hoppers sitting there by him,
and they were like, 'that's really cool.' They didn't know for sure his
background, but …
a: (Jerry Douglas): And that's also the cool part of the Grammys. Is
that, there's this wide array of music and assortment of people that perform
it. And they're all there, and they were all clapping along, they were
all into it, and they liked it. And we were leaving, we were waiting for
a limo to leave the place, and everybody came by us, because we were the
last ones to leave probably, but they were all coming by us, people that
we've never met before, going, "great job"…
a: (Dan Tyminski): A lot of positive comments.
a: (Jerry Douglas): It was amazing. It may never happen again, but it
did happen that way.
q: Well, I don't think the ride is over yet. And I know some of the purists,
and there are always purists in any form of music no matter what it is,
but they're worried that this is going to be the end of bluegrass as we
know it today. Well bluegrass as we know it has been an ever-changing
a: (Jerry Douglas): Well it's the same people that are going to be playing
it, that's not going to change. It's those same people too that are the
traditionalists that are scoffing and saying "this is going to ruin our
music." But they can still go home, and call somebody up, "come over on
the porch and play."
a: (Dan Tyminski): There's lots of room for lots of interpretation.
a: (Barry Bales): What is bluegrass as we know it anyway?
a: (Jerry Douglas): Oh, we don't want to open that one up.
a: (Dan Tyminski): We don't want to get into that.
q: Well I like to think it's a bigger tent than it used to be.
a: (Barry Bales): Well, that's just it, ten people have ten definitions.
a: (Jerry Douglas): Now I think the role we kind of need to play is to
go, "OK, that's the roots of what we do, now here's where it's going,
here's how it's gone. And this is what we do with it."
a: (Ron Block): That's the main idea behind what [Bill] Monroe and Flatt
and Scruggs and all those guys did. They took the existing forms of music
of the day, and radically innovated a new music form. So the spirit of
that is happening today. It's taking the roots and turning it into a new
thing that's uniquely your own.
(Alison Krauss returns to the interview)
q: So that's how you really feel about Alison?
q: I'm not sure how much more there is to talk about. Everything under
control over there?
a: (Alison Krauss): Yeah.
q: I guess my only other question would be just to give you an opportunity
to talk specifically about this record, "New Favorite," and
then maybe what comes next. So say anything you want to about the record
and fill us in on what your plans are for the future.
a: (Alison Krauss): Oh, this last record I just love the songs on there
so much. And it was a very fun record to make, and I was thrilled with
it. I think we were all really happy with it and it just set up - getting
Jerry in the band, it was a new person with a lot of ideas, which was
really fun. It just set us up to make a better one next time, and I just
can't wait to go in.
q: What's the next record going to be like?
a: (Alison Krauss): Well, I've just got a bunch of songs, and I'm really
excited. They just all keep coming. And it's just getting more exciting
and more exciting and no one wants to hear about it right now…
a: (Jerry Douglas): I think now we know what we like, though. We tried
everything. Every idea that anyone had, we tried it. Somebody told me
if you don't try every idea, they dam up in your head and something really
bad can happen. So, I think we did. Any idea that was thrown out on the
table and we tried it, and if it didn't work, it didn't work, but at least
we tried it.
q: So, Larry, what do people say when you tell them you're a bluegrass
a: (Larry Atamanuik): They don't believe it … I'm a banjo player without
a neck, you know. I think people are, well, I don't know what people think
really. I have no friends, so, I'm a very lonely person, and …
a: (Larry Atamanuik): No, I don't know, it's like, I don't go out there
and talk about my work if you will. You know what I'm saying, so I don't
know. If I meet people at concerts, or people outside I always get a lot
of positive feedback about my approach to the music, and not getting in
the way of anything, and that I must listen to it, and compliment it a
lot. So, that's, that works for me. Then I'm doing what needs to be done.
Of course, I'm thrilled to be…
a: (Jerry Douglas): He's carved out a spot though, he's carved out the
place where he is. He's the first guy that I've known of that actually
did that. That sounded like a part of this kind of music. It makes it
sound right. It's not like, you know, like he says, he tries to fit in
to it, tries to compliment it, supplement it. There are going to be a
lot more guys like Larry because of Larry. I think that's a very positive
way to go.
a: (Larry Atamanuik): Lot of lonely old guys…
a: (Barry Bales): Also with the success of "O, Brother" and all that
I think it's getting to be less and less of an issue all the time. There's
the core traditionalist, as happens in any music or any topic you can
think of, there's those that are against change, and anything new or different
is bad, but I think 99.7 percent of the people who come to see us, it
never even crosses their mind that there's anything out of the ordinary
a: (Larry Atamanuik): I was going to say that my, I guess my validation
of being in this music, to be able to play this music, there was a … show
in Nashville and we were doing a jam thing down at the station and Bill
Monroe came in. And he got up and he was going to sing a couple of tunes
and I was back there on a kit, and I put my brushes up and started to
walk off stage because I felt like that was not appropriate at all. And
he turned around and he said, "sit back down." So, I felt like I had made
it, you know. Ta Da! … It could have been just as easily for him to say
nothing and left, and I would have been fine with that, because I was
respecting his presence, if you will, his stature in the business.
a: (Dan Tyminski): He knew it was right. He knew you were a bluegrass
boy at heart.
a: (Jerry Douglas): He was seeing it as the next step for his music.
He said, "I gotta get that guy in the bluegrass boys."…
q: Oh, there's no telling what Bill would think of all that's going on
right now. I was being sarcastic when I asked you that question of course,
but I'm glad I did because obviously it brought you into the loop here.
You didn't have a lot to say up until then, Larry.