Bluegrass 45: “50 Years Ago This Week” Week 5

1971/7/15 Thursday — Rehearsal

In the early evening we started rehearsing “Mocking Banjo” in the apartment but soon we realized we needed a bass so we drove over to Dick Freeland’s house and resumed rehearsing “Mocking Banjo” & “Fuji Mountain Breakdown.”  Once we were done practicing, Dick played Ralph Stanley’s master tapes for his new album Something Old, Something New.  It’s wonderful and it sounds like Stanley Brothers’ Mercury recordings.  Especially “Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone” is 10 times better than a Jalyn’s version!

1971/7/16 Friday — Broomes Island, Maryland

The Freeland family and Bluegrass 45 got on the bus and picked up Bill Carroll and also some beverages on the way.  We arrived at a home of Dick’s relative in Broomes Island, Maryland at 8 pm.  We—the boys—fixed burgers (Sab once fixed burgers for the Freeland family with soy sauce and everybody loved it.  So they started calling it Sab-burger and it has become our job to make them.)  After dinner, we entertained in a living room.  Then we practiced “Mocking Banjo,” “Bending the Strings,” “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” “Bluebell” and others.  We went to bed at 3 am!  Broomes Island is located in southern Maryland and close to Callaway where the contest was to be held this weekend.

1971/7/17 Saturday — A Contest at Callaway, MD 

Several weeks ago, Dick called up this contest promoter to see if they would hire Bluegrass 45 as a guest band, but they had already booked Del McCoury as a guest band.  They offered us $200, but Dick said “Thanks, but no thanks” and that we would come down and compete.

We got up at 11 am and Grandma fixed us breakfast.  We had a request to do “How Great Thou Art,” so we tried.  To our surprise, we remembered the Osborne Brothers’ arrangement pretty well and it came out very nicely.  After lunch we practiced again for the contest.  We left Broomes Island at 3 pm and arrived in Callaway around 5.  Registered for the contest and started competing on stage right away.  

Songs/tunes we did for the contest:

MemberCategoryFirst round songSecond round song
Bluegrass 45BandFuji Mountain BreakdownRawhide
Place in the SunBridge Over Troubled Water
SabBanjoBending the StringFoggy Mountain Breakdown
JoshBanjoSoldier’s JoyCamptown Races
LiaoFiddleDevil’s DreamMocking Bird
AkiraBanjoBlue BellBig Tilda
JoshFiddleFlorida BluesWake Up Susan
ToshioBanjoShady GroveFlint Hill Special

The first round was terrible.  The song orders were wrong and the tuning was not right.  Dick was not happy at all.  He was also upset that we didn’t bring our jackets.  We talked about it before we left the apartment and decided not to wear jackets because we didn’t want to look too professional.  Well, I guess we were wrong.  The second round was little better.  We set up our tent….we were next to Del McCoury again!  Many years later Sab remembered Mrs. McCoury carrying a new born baby.  I guess that was Rob.  After the contest portion was complete, Del did his set and then BG45 did a set, but this was not a part of the contest.

Del McCoury and the Dixie Pals
  1. “Raise a Ruckus”
  2. “Wild & Reckless Hobo”
  3. “Someday Soon”
  4. “Bill Cheatam”
  5. “Sitting on Top of the World”
  6. “Hamabe”
  7. “New Camptown Races”
  8. “Come Home, My Dear One”
  9. “Orange Blossom Special”

 By the time we finished O.B.S., heavy rain with thunder started coming down.  We hid in our bus, but the rain didn’t last too long and we joined a jam session, which lasted till 2 am!  We saw a banjo with custom Scruggs gears that you can bend 2nd& 3rd strings at the same time and we were impressed.  It was custom built by Johnny Whisnant and the player was Steve Spence of Grass Reflection.  Many years later he became a Bluegrass Unlimited Magazine editor.

Liao & I went to bed first in the tent.  Later Dick came back and fired up fire-crackers so we couldn’t sleep until past 3 am.  I heard a rumor in the morning it could have been a real gun!!

1971/7/18 Sunday — Callaway Contest

Contest officials announced that BG45 passed the primary in the band category, Sab, Josh & Akira in the banjo category, and Liao in the fiddle category.  Dick & Bill Carroll went to take a shower and Bill fell down.  An ambulance took him to a hospital and Dick went with them.  We didn’t know what to do but joined a jam session on stage from noon to 2 pm.  Del & his Dixie Pals joined but with Del on banjo!  Billy Baker and another fiddle player, Del & Sab on banjos, Dick Staber (Del’s mandolin) and me…. all double.  “Big Mon,” “Pig in a Pen,” etc.  Dick Freeland came back and told us Bill Carroll broke his collar bone, but his heart is fine.

Now it’s our turn at the contest around 4 pm.

Band category: “Sakura,” “Roll in My Sweet Baby’s Arms”

Banjo category: Sab—”Fuji Mountain Breakdown,” Josh—”John Henry,” and Akira—”Big Tilda”

Fiddle category: Liao—“Mocking Bird”

We played OK.  Since it’s Sunday, there were more people in the audience.  They announced the primary results and we passed in all categories.  So, we rehearsed some more near the bus and the finals started at 6 pm.

Band category: “Bridge Over Troubled Water” & “Mocking Banjo”

Banjo category: Sab—”Foggy Mountain Breakdown,” Josh—“John Henry” and Akira—”Big Tilda”

Fiddle category: Liao—”Devil’s Dream”

On “Mocking Banjo,” girls up in front were screaming so loud that we couldn’t hear each other.  I thought it was a satisfactory performance.  Even Dick was pleased.  Ronnie (Dick’s son) came over to our tent and told us that Sab and I were tied for the first place in banjo.  We thought he was kidding but we found out it was true so we had to do a tie breaker.  First Sab played “Green Mountain Hop” in D tuning and then he handed me the banjo saying “You tune in.”  I was going to play Ralph Stanley’s “Mastertone March” in normal G tuning.  Well, this portion was being broadcasted live on a radio and the MC rushed me—I couldn’t get in tune quite right.

They announced the final winners and BG45 received the 2nd place in band category, Liao 3rd place in fiddle & Josh 3rd in banjo.  However, when we received our prizes, it was Josh 1st, Sab 2nd and Akira 3rd.  Confusing.


Band1Bob Goff$750
Band2Bluegrass 45$500
Band3Voice of Bluegrass (from New York)$250
Fiddle1? I didn’t write it down$100
Fiddle2? I didn’t write it down$50

Dick said our performance was just as good as Bob Goff, who won the top prize.  What made the difference was because we did not bring our jackets.  But, we made $700 (¥252,000)!!  This is the most money we ever made in 2 days.  Good thing we entered the contest instead of taking $200 as a guest band.

We picked some at midnight then we had to head out.  Came back to Hyattsville around 1:30 am and we went to bed around 3 am

1971/7/19 Monday — Day off

We got up a little after 12 noon.  We wrote letters & cards to home.  Josh & Sab went to see a movie.  Dick dropped by and told us we’d have a recording session tomorrow.  I practiced a little and went to bed early.

1971/7/20 Tuesday — Recording

We got up at 8 am, had breakfast and we were ready to go, but no Dick yet.  He came at 9:30 am and we went to see Ed Ferris (he was also living in Hyattsville) to borrow his bass, but he was not around.  Many phone calls later we got the bass and arrived at Roy Homer studio at 11 am.

  1. “Place in the Sun” (1966 Stevie Wonder Pop hit)
  2. “Hamabe” (“Song of the Seashore”, a popular Japanese song)
  3. “Wild & Reckless Hobo” (old song we probably learned from Blue Sky Boys)
  4. “Bring Me Back” (an original song Akira started and Josh finished)

(5. “That’s the Time” – reject)

On the way home, we stopped at a dentist’s office.  This time they operated on Dick.  We had to wait for an hour and a half and I drove back to Hyattsville.  Cliff Waldron, Bill Poffenberger and Dave Auldridge were there installing a generator in their camper.  We cleaned our bus and we rehearsed “Bridge Over Troubled Water” & “Along the Way.”

1971/7/21 Wednesday — Recording

Got up at 8:10 and I made breakfast for everybody.  (Note: Since I don’t mention it too often, I guess this was a rare occasion.)  Dick picked us up & arrived at Roy’s studio at 10 am.

  1. “Bridge Over Troubled Water” (well known Simon & Garfunkel’s big hit) 
  2. “Meet Me In Heaven” (co-written by Mr Goto from Kobe and Josh – reject)
  3. “Along The Way” (John Duffey composition that he recorded with Country Gentlemen)

Finished by 1 pm.  On the way home, we passed Don Reno’s house in Riverdale, Maryland, stopped at Bill Carroll’s house and then Ed Ferris’ to returned the bass.  Finally, back to our apartment & nap.  Dick took Sab, Toshio & Liao to a Japanese grocery store in DC then Sab fixed a wonderful lamb & rice dinner!  After dinner, Josh, Sab & I went to Dick’s house and listened to our recording.  

Share this Article

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.