Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Mike Auldridge: Continuing A Family Tradition

In addition to my colleagues' previous articles here at the European Bg Blog, I would like to offer this additional insight regarding my friend, Mike Auldridge. As you may know, Mike passed away peacefully at his home in Silver Springs, Maryland on the early morning of December 29, 2012 after several years of fighting cancer.

Perhaps readers in the global music community who may not be familiar with Mike's life and family history might appreciate some background. After all he did more to advance this instrument, whose inventors originated from Slovakia, than anyone in his generation. As a founding member of the Seldom Scene (a “newgrass” band that fused bluegrass with contemporary pop, rock, blues and jazz) Mike Auldridge redefined the sound and musical direction of the Dobro .
[The Dobro is a resonating acoustic slide guitar, producing sound by a single inverted resonator cone placed in the center of a wooden sound board. The instrument’s name is a variation on the Slovak-American brothers last name, Dopyera, and a Slovakian word meaning "goodness". John Dopyera (pictured in photo at right) received the first United States patent in 1928 for the Dobro instrument as we know it today.]

Mike Auldridge's innovations and influences to the Dobro world, and his contributions to the music world in general, are what I believe make someone a true legend. That term, legend, is perhaps one of the most over-used words in today's world when describing various artists. I argue that Mike deserves that legendary status. So did his longtime colleague and Seldom Scene bandmate, John Duffey, who would seemingly joke about "Larry The Legend" onstage. However, in private, Duffey would tell you in no uncertain terms he was very serious about his comment -- that he whole-heartedly believed Mike Auldridge was a legend amongst his generation of musical artists.
Mike's uncle Ellsworth T. Cozzens played the Dobro (listed as 'steel guitar' in Victor Recording session notes) on Jimmie Rodgers’s historic first recordings. One of those songs was Mike's favorite song - "Treasures Untold" - recorded on Rodgers' 78rpm Victor release on February 14, 1928. Cozzens was the first person in music history to ever play a Dobro in a recording session.
Mike once told me in a conversation on my radio show:
 "When I was a kid, I had an uncle who played Dobro for Jimmy Rodgers. His name is Ellsworth Cozzens. He played on the very first album that Jimmy Rodgers did in 1927 or 28. In fact, he was the first person to play Dobro on a country album. Anyway, I got to listen to him as I grew up. That's how I got interested in Dobro. At first I was playing guitar and banjo but started on the Dobro around the age of 12."
Following in his uncle's historic footsteps Mike Auldridge took the Dobro to an entirely new level. His tone and extremely clean, precise noting is now legendary. His styles included bluegrass, country, blues, jazz and swing. On his Dobro swing album ["Eight-String Swing" / Sugar Hill Records 1982] Mike used two 8-string Dobros, both built by Rudy Q. Jones.
Mike was also an accomplished electric lap steel and pedal steel guitar player. Although he was often called by producers and artists for Dobro and steel guitar recording sessions, the idea of movng to Nashville or Los Angeles to be a studio session player never appealed to Mike. However he managed to 'own' the Dobro recording session work in the 1970s - '80s from his home in Maryland. 
The list of his peers whose lives were forever changed by the artistry of Mike Auldridge is a very long list. At the top of that list is another innovator of the resophonic slide guitar, Jerry Douglas, whom is quick to tell you that Mike is "one of my heroes". The list of music artists with whom Mike recorded is much longer.
Mike Auldridge received the 2012 National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellowship Award on October 4, 2012. While he was weak and barely able to talk, Mike did play a fine set of music with Rob Ickes, plus fellow award winner Andy Statman. You can find that celebration on the Internet at this link: NEA Concert.
Shortly before Mike went into Hospice Care, he managed to complete his portion of a Dobro trio album with fellow players Jerry Douglas and Rob Ickes. Jerry and Rob talked in 2011 about making a recording as a tribute to Mike Auldridge. They wanted to "commemorate his lifetime of dedication and contributions to the instrument." Rob reports that the CD will be released early this year.
I think it fitting to end with a comment Mike Auldridge made one year ago to his friend Rob Ickes:
"You know, I could go tomorrow but I have no regrets. I’ve been able to play music my whole life.”