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 ARCHIVED TOPIC: New Grass Revival and Courtney Johnson


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banjo1930 - Posted - 08/21/2011:  17:46:33



I just recently got most of the New Grass Revival stuff and have been listening to it a lot over the past few days.  I was mostly listening to the recordings with Bela, but the other day I listened to the older stuff with Courtney Johnson, what an incredible banjo player!  He has such a great sound, his tone and ideas are amazing.  He is probably one of my favorite players now.  His kick off on "When the Storm is Over" is one of the best kick offs I have ever heard.  Hearing that reminded me of the first time I heard Earl and Bela, I got the same shiver down my spine.  If you haven't heard Courtney Johnson, check out the early New Grass Revival stuff, it's all great!


OSCAR82AA - Posted - 08/21/2011:  18:28:49



Oh yeah,



  Courtney Johnson helped to get me stated at this banjo life along time ago it seems.



 He was one of a kind of a great player. Thought I would throw this you tube shot of him in here. Hope you don't mind.



 



                                                                               youtube.com/watch?v=wjnNFq9TcJ...e=related


jbalch - Posted - 08/21/2011:  18:29:09



I loved seeing those guys pick in Nashville...back in my youth.  The whole band was amazing. Courtney was incredible.


tom elder - Posted - 08/21/2011:  18:30:23


been preaching this for years,thanks

OSCAR82AA - Posted - 08/21/2011:  18:51:39



It is great to see you young pickers taking the time to get to know the great Masters from awhile back.



 


lbartosh - Posted - 08/21/2011:  19:03:37



I sure have to agree with you, especially when you consider how different, and more limited, the styles of playing were in those days. He was around before Bela, Alison Brown and so many other greats and still came up with a style that fit in with Sam and the New grass sound. The only other players I was aware of back then that played such neat styles were Bobby Thompson and Bill Keith but I never had much access to their music. Just an additional note to his playing, I was living in Dallas and still attending High school when a friend called to let me know that Courtney would be staying with him for a few days. At that time I was really wanting to learn some melodic licks and fiddle tunes but practically no banjo players in the area knew much about those styles. I was introduced to Courtney and spent many hours with him helping me get into some new material. Not just a few hours but many, on several different days working on tunes like Molly Bloom and Grey Eagle hornpipe along with some chromatic licks. He was never intimidating or impatient and just seemed pleased that someone was interested. I think it was around the time Jon Cowan joined them.  Unfortunately I wasn't as familiar with his music as I should have been but did get to see them live several times after that. One particular show at the Winfield KS festival was just a time I'll never forget. I was watching some videos of him on utube a while back and was amazed at all he knew. His kindness to me was even more impressive and looking back It's really unbelievable that I had those days with him. 


Arthur Hatfield - Posted - 08/21/2011:  19:19:23



Courtney was a great melodic banjo picker and a very good friend of mine. He grew up in Hiseville, Ky. about 25 miles from me. We actually played together in a couple local bands,before he joined the Bluegrass Alliance. Until meeting Alan Munde he wanted to play Ralph Stanley style he never cared for Scruggs style. But after meeting Alan in Mountain View Arkansas at the Festival in 1968 he decided he wanted to play melodic style banjo. About as different as could possibly be but he made the change and done it well.  


dbrooks - Posted - 08/21/2011:  19:24:06



It's great to see the occasional thread like this about Courtney Johnson.  He was a real talent and he was taken too soon.  My boss is a huge Sam Bush and Bluegrass Alliance/Newgrass Revival fan.  He saw many of their shows here in Louisville.  I saw several but I have learned much from my boss, especially about Courtney.



Here's another fine video featuring Courtney and his original melodic style:



youtube.com/watch?v=wjnNFq9TcJg



My boss talks about Courtney's wife, Hazel, working as a roadie replacing broken strings during performances.  He said she was really quick at it.



 



David


lbartosh - Posted - 08/21/2011:  19:25:08



Mr. Hatfield, I remember hearing that Courtney was an auto mechanic for years before he became a professional. If that's true it's really amazing that he was able to play so well when doing a job that is so hard physically with chemicals, heat and all the wrench pulling. I would never have guessed him to be fond of traditional bluegrass. He really was an awesome player!!!


Wes Lassiter - Posted - 08/21/2011:  19:32:40


working on his version of sapporo right now

Wes Lassiter - Posted - 08/21/2011:  19:43:40



working on his version of sapporo right now. What a great innovative player he was. I had to say it twice



Edited by - Wes Lassiter on 08/21/2011 19:44:38

steve davis - Posted - 08/21/2011:  19:55:13


I don't see what job someone has as affecting what kind of music they play.
A lot of hard working mechanics pick a banjo well.
If any music is connected with physical labor,I would think bluegrass would be high on the list.

Kenneth Logsdon - Posted - 08/21/2011:  20:56:37


Yep... When I was justastartin, used to see Courtney bout every Sat at the music store pickin in Glasgow... Showed me several things about Stanley style... Still see Hazel ever so often at one of the local gettogethers...
Joe Larson is probably as close as your gonna see now to Courtneys style in someways...

tom timberlake - Posted - 08/21/2011:  21:10:07


Courtney was a fabulous Gentleman as well as one of the innovators of the "Newgrass" sound. I got to be great friends with him and Hazel, as well as Curtis Burch and his family, when we were members of the Lonzo & Oscar(of Grand Ol' Opry fame) Band. I learned so much from him that it's hard to put into words.

"We Miss You My Friend!""

uncledaveh - Posted - 08/22/2011:  06:02:18



I first saw Courtney Johnson with Bluegrass Alliance in 1970 at Bill Monroe's Bean Blossom Festival.  That band also included Tony Rice and Sam Bush.  They made some excellent music.



Hot dog!



"Uncle Dave" Holbrook and The Rockdale Ridgerunners



Edited by - uncledaveh on 08/22/2011 06:02:53

fatdaddyo6 - Posted - 08/22/2011:  06:15:05


One of the best in my book. If were not for him and Crowe I don't know if I would be picking. I miss him everyday.

KLandreth - Posted - 08/22/2011:  07:18:01



quote:


Originally posted by fatdaddyo6



One of the best in my book. If were not for him and Crowe I don't know if I would be picking. I miss him everyday.





 



Amen Steve...two of the best read-headed Kentuckians to ever pick up a 'five'....JD Crowe and Courtney Johnson.





Camp Springs,NC- 1972


rickr - Posted - 08/22/2011:  07:49:50



Bela Fleck had a ton of respect for Courtney Johnson,



and there are pictures floating around the net of them playing together.



Correct me if im wrong, but i think Courtney Johnson took up the



banjo at the age of 25,,,,,



 



Rick



Edited by - rickr on 08/22/2011 07:50:42

banjotom2 - Posted - 08/22/2011:  08:04:32



Courtney Johnson Bio on Wikipedia



Tom



BanjoTom2



Edited by - banjotom2 on 08/22/2011 08:04:49

Richard Dress - Posted - 08/22/2011:  08:13:24



quote:


Originally posted by lbartosh




I sure have to agree with you, especially when you consider how different, and more limited, the styles of playing were in those days. He was around before Bela, Alison Brown and so many other greats and still came up with a style that fit in with Sam and the New grass sound. The only other players I was aware of back then that played such neat styles were Bobby Thompson and Bill Keith but I never had much access to their music. Just an additional note to his playing, I was living in Dallas and still attending High school when a friend called to let me know that Courtney would be staying with him for a few days. At that time I was really wanting to learn some melodic licks and fiddle tunes but practically no banjo players in the area knew much about those styles. I was introduced to Courtney and spent many hours with him helping me get into some new material. Not just a few hours but many, on several different days working on tunes like Molly Bloom and Grey Eagle hornpipe along with some chromatic licks. He was never intimidating or impatient and just seemed pleased that someone was interested. I think it was around the time Jon Cowan joined them.  Unfortunately I wasn't as familiar with his music as I should have been but did get to see them live several times after that. One particular show at the Winfield KS festival was just a time I'll never forget. I was watching some videos of him on utube a while back and was amazed at all he knew. His kindness to me was even more impressive and looking back It's really unbelievable that I had those days with him. 






I was at a party in Alexandria VA in the early 1970s and watched Courtney do the same kind of cram session with Ben Eldridge.  It had a big effect on ornamenting his Emerson style.



Courtney was by far my favorite melodic player because he could really drive it.



Edited by - Richard Dress on 08/22/2011 08:14:32

oldplayer - Posted - 08/22/2011:  15:01:56



Courtney was one hell of a musician and more important than that,
he was truly a great person to know to go along with it.

lethegoodtimesroll - Posted - 08/22/2011:  15:15:53


Courtneys style was an important part of the revivals sound."ole Red" really could lay it down.

Arthur Hatfield - Posted - 08/22/2011:  17:46:29



Larry yes Courtney was a mechanic. And a very good one on the older vehicles.


yumagah - Posted - 08/22/2011:  19:55:54


Since the thread about Hartford's Aero-Plain cd also just started, I'd say that Courtney's break on the NGR's version of Steam Powered Airplane is a real "tour de force" of bluegrass playing. It's the closest thing to a perfect break I've ever heard, even better than Hartford's original version. But of course, Courtney didn't have to sing at the same time like John did.

segovialvr - Posted - 08/23/2011:  02:19:41


For those interested, the book "Masters of the 5-String Banjo" (Trischka/Wernick, 1988) lists Courtney's banjo influences as:

*Ralph Stanley
Alan Munde
Bill Keith

Other non-banjo musical influences:

*Sam Bush
Duane Allman
Bill Monroe
John McLaughlin

* denotes an outstanding influence

(also of note in this book - the only banjo player out of the 68 interviewed for the book who listed Courtney as an influence was Jean Marie Redon from France - last I saw of him was in a band called Blue Railroad Train with the lead singer from that Beatles tribute LP "Beatle Country" by the Charles River Valley Boys...James Field. Jean Marie is a great player...not to get too far off subject...)

BTW - while I've got you guys here...

The only sources of tab for Courtney's stuff I know of (outside of random internet posts and BNL back issues) is Trischka's "Melodic Banjo".

It's got three songs and a few signature licks - namely that chromatic Vassar Clements lick. Great stuff. There's also sections on Keith, Thompson, Eldridge and many more for those wanting more in this vein. That story about his cram session with Ben Eldridge back in the day makes sense. Listen to that early 70's Seldom Scene and you'll hear a lot of Courtney's influence - especially in the live stuff that was field recorded back then. Another recording that comes to mind is John Hickman's LP "Don't Mean Maybe". It's saturated with those licks from the blues scale Courtney was known for.

But again I digress...

Anyone else have any other sources for Courtney's banjo tab?

Someone should write a book...

I'll leave you guys with something cool Sam Bush said about Courtney after my band got to open for him back in 2003 (we weren't worthy - we still aren't). I had just told him that Courtney was one of my favorite banjo players, hands down. And he said (I'm paraphrasing, but these are the exact names he dropped) "Me too. All those other guys Bill Keith, Bela, Munde...they never play anything on stage that they haven't practiced 100 times in the living room. They never go out on a limb. Courtney was the only banjo player that would truly improvise on stage."

I said, "Yeah, that's why he got tangled up sometimes."

Sam said, "Yeah, that's because he was going for something new - something he'd never done before. Sometimes he'd land it. Sometimes he wouldn't. But at least he had the guts to go for it."

That's stuck with me, even though it's hard to make it happen on stage...hard to have the guts like he did...

robbif - Posted - 08/23/2011:  07:59:56



Here's the New Gras Revival at the 1972 Country Gentlemen Festival in Webster, Mass.



Sam Bush, Courtney Johnson, Ebo Walker, Curtis Burch




JIMBO53 - Posted - 09/06/2011:  07:52:35



One of my most cherished CD's is a 2 CD live set a friend recorded off a sound board at a club in Rock Hill SC, October, 1980. He recorded it to R2R and recently digitized it. They were touring to promote their "Barren County" LP and introduced a new tune, "Sapporo", that  they were working on for their next album, "Commonwealth".  Even Courtney stumbled around on the intro, but once he got in the groove, it was one of the most amazing melodic tour de force songs I've ever heard. That set also has a 19 minute "Lee Highway Blues, that totally leaves me breathless, even as I listen to it today.  I wish there were more bootleg recordings of early NGR live sets. They really set the bar high for non-trad bluegrass, and, as much as I love Bela, post Courtney NGR just didn't have the heat as it did when Mr Johnson was on the 5 string. I have a couple of early Bluegrass Alliance LP's that I've digitized-the first on released in 1970 on American Heritage in 12970, was simply titled "Bluegrass Alliance" and featured Buddy Spurlock on Banjo. The 2nd Bluegrass Alliance was released in 1971 was titled "Newgrass-The Bluegrass Alliance" and featured Courtney. It's a shame these early records aren't available anymore-they were a very important link from traditional to modern "newgrass" bluegrass.  




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