On a warmish, sunny Sunday afternoon we drove east from Wilkesboro, NC through lovely rural North Carolina countryside to spend a couple of hours with Lou and Christy Reid in their home near Union Grove. As we reached the corner to their road, Lou turned in ahead of us and waved as we, a little too early for our comfort, followed. Somehow we lost him, drove past his driveway, turned around, drove into the wrong drive where, as we were turning around, a trim, attractive woman came out of the house to help us. She smiled and pointed to the next drive. Later, it turned out we had driven into the home of Christy's parents, who live next door. Straightened out, we headed up the paved drive to a pleasant house with a white fence and lots of garden where Christy's daughters Regan and Mackie were flitting back and forth as we got out of our car. We were also greeted by two of their dogs, who we'd watched grow up on Facebook. Lou and Christy came outside, greeted us, making us feel instantly at ease, and welcomed us into their home.
It's a special joy to be allowed to enter the real lives of some of the people we meet who are working professional musicians on the road. Bluegrass music often feels like an extended family with something of a blurred distinction between fans and performers because so many fans play instruments, too. There remains a certain distance between the touring professionals and their many admirers. This is a good thing, allowing the pros to maintain something of an aura of romance as well as to be able to get some private time when they're not constantly "on." Thus, to move from the "friendly" toward breaking down the barrier and becoming "friends" provides us with insights into the musicians as people that enriches our lives, while almost always making the performers more human and real to us and our readers. Walking into the combined living room - kitchen of the Reid home, surrounded by kids, dogs, and our hosts enfolded us in the family life of these lovely people.
While Lou toured with both Ricky Skaggs and Vince Gill, leading country music bands at the time, he emphasizes the difference between the large productions of a country tour and the more intimate and improvisational aspects of working in bluegrass. He chatted about the closeness, and the risks of almost too much togetherness that come from touring in a bluegrass band. He also emphasized the thrill of working together in an often improvisational environment in bluegrass, a sense of risk taking and mutual growth coming from the performance of the music. His first stint with The Seldom Scene was as guitar player and lead singer while John Duffey was still alive. He commented that he "loved to watch the joy of John Duffey making a mistake and enjoying his own imperfection" as he worked out of the problem he had created. This is a common experience in bluegrass, often not tolerated in the world of big-time country music.
After founding a band which became Southbound, he became a founding member of Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver. Doyle had been a member of Jimmy Martin's band, J.D. Crowe & the New South, and The Country Gentlemen before heading out to found his own group. Lou spoke of the growth of the band as Doyle began to exercise effective leadership in drawing together his own ideas with Lou, Terry Baucam, and Jimmy Haley in the band on the way to becoming the legendary group they now are. He learned the importance of leadership and especially of careful preparation and rehearsing in this setting. Touring with Ricky Skaggs offered a whole new level and format for performing. The daily grind of performing for large audiences and then traveling to the next venue doing the same show every night was in sharp contrast to putting together a set list and performing a much more spontaneous program. With both Skaggs and, later, with Vince Gill, Lou learned more about his craft, singing, and technical aspects such as the Nashville number system. He especially commented that such touring dampens the desire to pick, to grow in one's own instrument found in bluegrass, where players play for the love of the the ensemble, creating new music each time they get together, either in formal or informal settings.
Lou first joined the legendary Seldom Scene in 1986 playing guitar and singing lead. He left in 1993 to return to Nashville, touring with Vince Gill and Vern Gosdin, while also forming his own band with Terry Baucom called Lou Reid, Terry Baucom and Carolina. After Duffey's sad death, he returned to The Scene in in 1995 and has been with them since then, while also continuing with Lou Reid & Carolina, the band he and Christy now play together in. With such a busy career as a performer, Lou has been able work full-time as a performing musician since his earliest days on the road. The Seldom Scene, established in 1971, have always been a more cutting edge band, incorporating folk and rock music into their highly stylized and recognizable bluegrass. Lou Reid & Carolina have hewed much more closely to a traditional sound while still originating songs that establish their uniqueness while not straying from the Monroe style model. Lou seems equally at home in either setting, combining a joy for the music, excellent mandolin picking, and one of the finest tenor voices in bluegrass.
Both Lou Reid & Carolina and The Seldom Scene can be seen at the Willow Oak Bluegrass Festival in Roxboro, NC this coming weekend.