Smithsonian Folkways SFW 40228

   This is a marvelous new project celebrating the legacy of John Duffey who passed away in 1996. Produced by Akira Otsuka and the late Ronnie Freeland, the two got together in 2002 when they met at the IBMA’s World Of Bluegrass in Louisville, Ky. Back home in 2003 at Freeland’s studio, the first recordings and basic tracks were laid down. Next, they packed the recording gear in a van and hit the road, setting up in hotels, at artists’ gigs, and other spots where the performers were playing. In all, they recorded 53 musicians throughout Maryland, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Connecticut. The list of artists is too many to mention here, but includes Sam Bush, Tony Rice, Tim O’Brien, Dudley Connell, Steve Gulley, John Starling, Fred Travers, Lou Reid, Jonathan Edwards, and many, many more.

Otsuka’s association with Duffey began in the 1970s when his Japanese band, Bluegrass 45, came to the U.S. Otsuka had learned Duffey’s mandolin licks note for note from Country Gentlemen recordings. Duffey was impressed and soon became Otsuka’s mentor, producing Bluegrass 45’s CaravanLP. Freeland, son of Rebel Records founder Dick Freeland, had been involved in recording projects since his youth. Learning from his dad, he soon became the engineer behind many recordings for artists such as the Seldom Scene, Ralph Stanley, Hazel Dickens, Jimmy Arnold, and others.

John Duffey’s influence was felt not only as a mandolin player and singer, but also for his stage presence. He was a great emcee who was not often politically correct and could sometimes make you laugh, smirk, or cringe, all with a twinkle in his eye. In the project’s booklet, there are reminisces from Katy Daley and Dudley Connell, both who knew Duffey quite well. Daley as a radio producer/host and Connell as a member of the Seldom Scene (which he continues to be a member of today). Otsuka adds a look at the mandolins that Duffey owned and/or built—his F-12 and his “Duck” mandolins.

The song selections include many of the tunes Duffey was known for: “If I Were A Carpenter,” “Girl From The North Country,” and “Lonesome River.” Also included are some Duffey originals including “Bringing Mary Home,” “He Was A Friend Of Mine,” “Reason For Being,” “Cold Wind A Blowin’,” “Christmas Time Back Home,” and “Sunrise” (Duffey’s tour de force on mandolin). The booklet includes notes on each selection, listing the artists and why the song was selected. This project is truly a wonderful tribute to John Duffey whose influence on bluegrass music will be felt for years to come. (Smithsonian Folkways, 600 Maryland Ave. SW, Ste. 2001, Washington, DC 20024,

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