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The Seldom Scene is an American bluegrass band formed in 1971 in Bethesda, Maryland.
The band formed out of the weekly jam sessions in the basement of banjo player Ben Eldridge. These sessions included John Starling on guitar and lead vocals, Mike Auldridge on Dobro and baritone vocals, and Tom Gray on bass. Then mandolinist John Duffey, who had previously played with the Country Gentlemen, was invited to the jam sessions at the time when Auldridge arranged for the group to play as a performing band.
Each of the band members had a job during the week; Duffey repaired musical instruments, Eldridge was a mathematician, Starling a physician, Auldridge a graphic artist, and Gray a cartographer with National Geographic. They agreed to play one night a week at local clubs, perform occasionally at concerts and festivals on weekends, and make records. The band's first home scene was the Red Fox Inn in Bethesda, Maryland, where they spent six years before starting weekly performances at The Birchmere Music Hall in Alexandria, Virginia.
Rise to popularity:
Bluegrass reached a second peak in popularity in the early 1970s, and the progressive bluegrass style played by The Seldom Scene was particularly popular, especially Duffey's high tenor and the vocal blend of Duffey/Starling/Auldridge. Their weekly shows included bluegrass versions of country music, rock, and even classical pop. The band's popularity soon forced them to play more than once a week --but they continued to maintain their image as being seldom seen, and on several of their early album covers were photographed with the stage lights on only their feet, or with their backs to the camera.
Though the Scene remained a non-touring band, they were prolific recorders, producing seven albums in their first five years of existence, including two live albums (among the first live bluegrass albums). The band's philosophy of not touring and maintaining their day jobs eventually caused some changes in membership.
Departure of John Starling:
In 1978, John Starling left the group to focus on his medical career, and was replaced by singer and songwriter Phil Rosenthal, whose song "Muddy Water" had been recorded by the Scene on two earlier albums. Starling and Rosenthal shared their lead vocals on the group's sixth studio album, Baptizing (recorded in 1978). Around the same time, the group switched record labels from Rebel to Sugar Hill. Starling recorded a solo album for Sugar Hill in 1980 called "Long Time Gone" and another in 1982 called "Waitin' On A Southern Train," on both of which Mike Auldridge played.
Rosenthal as a lead singer:
The band recorded several more albums in the 1980s and firmly established themselves as one of the most influential bluegrass bands. The lineup of Rosenthal-Duffey-Gray-Auldridge-Eldridge, might be called as "second classic", as they recorded five albums of a very comparable quality and popularity to the ones with the founding members, including John Starling. Rosenthal proved to be as good lead singer as Starling and his baritone voice contrasted well with Duffey's high tenor extravaganzas. He also wrote typically two to three songs on each of the albums and also added acoustic guitar solos to the group.
More changes in lineup:
In 1986, Phil Rosenthal and Tom Gray both left the band to focus on other pursuits, and were replaced by Lou Reid and T. Michael Coleman, respectively. Coleman proved to be very controversial, as many purists objected to his use of an electric bass in what is nominally an acoustic genre, but the albums produced by the band after Coleman's arrival maintained the traditional appeal of any of the Scene's earlier albums.
Reid left the band in 1993, and Duffey convinced former member John Starling to return to the band for the next year. During that year the Scene recorded the album Like We Used to Be, but Starling did not wish to stay with the band long term. He was replaced in 1994 by lead singer Moondi Klein.
Throughout these changes, band leader John Duffey's original plan of keeping a light touring schedule and staying close to home continued to prevail. During 1995 and 1996, Klein and Coleman, along with original member Mike Auldridge, wanting to be part of a full-time project, left the Seldom Scene to form a new band called Chesapeake. For a time the Scene stopped recording.
Duffey and Eldridge, the two remaining original members, recruited resophonic guitar player Fred Travers, bassist Ronnie Simpkins, and guitarist and singer Dudley Connell to join the band, and the reconstituted group recorded an album in 1996 and continued live appearances.
John Duffey's death:
For 25 years The Seldom Scene remained popular in bluegrass circles even with the near-constant personnel changes. But the band was dealt what seemed a crushing blow in late 1996, when band leader and founder John Duffey suffered a fatal heart attack. Duffey had been widely regarded as one of the most powerful and entertaining stage performers in bluegrass, and there was no one who could replace him.
Seldom Scene without Duffey:
Nonetheless, the band was simply too popular to disappear for good. Banjoist Ben Eldridge, the sole remaining original member and a significant force in banjo music in his own right, assumed leadership of the band. Former guitarist Lou Reid rejoined the band on mandolin. Initially the new Scene concentrated on live performances, but in 2000 the group recorded a new album, Scene It All. The Seldom Scene continues to tour, and has recorded for the Sugar Hill Records and Smithsonian Folkways labels.
Seldom Scene today:
Seldom Scene continues to excel in the bluegrass scene and recently received critical acclaim for their work. Their latest CD, Scenechronized, recorded in 2007, was nominated for a Grammy Award.
In July 2008 Seldom Scene performed at a White House dinner honoring the 2008 U.S. Olympic team as well as previous U.S. Olympians. Seldom Scene also played the National Folk Festival July 11-13, 2008 representing bluegrass music.
On April 22, 2014, the longtime pillars of the bluegrass world returned with Long Time... Seldom Scene, via Smithsonian Folkways. The collection features fresh interpretations of 16 oft-requested tunes and is the band's first studio album since the GRAMMY-nominated album Scenechronized in 2007. In 2015, "Long Time...Seldom Scene" and "Mean Mother Blues" won awards in the "Bluegrass" Album and Song categories at The 14th Annual Independent Music Awards.
The band consists of Dudley Connell (guitar/lead vocals), Ben Eldridge (banjo), Lou Reid (mandolin/tenor vocals), Fred Travers (dobro/lead vocals), and Ronnie Simpkins (bass/baritone vocals). Ben Eldridge's son, Chris, also frequently performs with the group.
Ben Eldridge - banjo, guitar (1971-present),
Lou Reid - mandolin, guitar, vocals (1986-1993, 1996-present),
Dudley Connell - guitar, vocals (1995-present),
Ronnie Simpkins - bass (1995-present),
Fred Travers - Dobro, vocals (1995-present),
John Duffey - mandolin, vocals (1971-1996; died 1996),
Mike Auldridge - Dobro, vocals (1971-1995; died 2012),
Tom Gray - bass (1971-1986),
John Starling - guitar, vocals (1971-1978, 1993-1994),
Phil Rosenthal - guitar, vocals (1977-1986),
T. Michael Coleman - bass (1986-1995),
Moondi Klein - guitar, vocals (1994-1995),