Behind the Glass

Talent Swarm, Part 2

At my live video recording studio, I would on occasion find myself recording the same guys or gals in different groups. Part of the reason, like in the case of bass player Sam Grisman and mandolinist Dom Leslie, is that the elite talent pool in the traveling music scene is predictably smaller than the rest. Also, I’ve recorded damn near every band in this area worth recording, and likewise the good ones bounce around and collaborate.

It’s fun seeing a bill for a music venue or a festival and counting most of the groups listed as ones I’ve heard from behind the glass. Recently, a stunning quartet of some of the best players I had recorded was announced for four Colorado shows. As far as I can tell there was no prelude to this grouping, no organized “band” sort of stuff. The only tidbit I could find was a blog post from the artist who created their show posters for the Colorado run.

The group called themselves the Phoffman/Beck Quartet. Paul Hoffman is the lead singer and mandolin player for the progressive bluegrass super group Greensky Bluegrass. Anders Beck plays dobro for the group as well. I’ve previously written about Greensky Bluegrass‘ session with me (Behind The Glass, Copper Issues 4 & 5) , and their videos remain the most-viewed of all of our recordings. Here’s a video from the session, and check out the earlier columns for more background.


Included in the quartet is a special guitarist that we recorded just before his career started to open up. He goes by the name Billy Strings, and I suggest you commit that one to memory. This guy is picking up where Tony Rice left off. He’s one of those rare players with a carefully defined style that he is interested in marrying to other styles. I love these kinds of musicians. He always sounds like himself, and he translates well.

We watched our videos of Billy and his then-partner Don Julin (the one and only author of Mandolin for Dummies) skyrocket in views, and as time went on I was hoping others would notice the raw talent. Watch this instrumental from the duo, which has one-tenth as many views compared to the other videos, but which remains my favorite from our session:


There’s a lot of traditional Appalachia in that sound. But I love that in the three years since he and Don stopped by our studio he had a chance to spread out, and meet and mingle with the likes of Paul, Anders and the remaining member of Phoffman/Beck: bass player Sam Grisman.

When you grow up the son of an excellent musician, you have an opportunity to see music making as something doable, something fun and possibly something profitable. The mystery is gone, but respect is left in its place. I know this well, and I saw a lot of that in Sam when he came by our studio twice — once with his group The Deadly Gentlemen (videos in the last issue of Copper), and once with another collection of all-stars, The Brotet (Behind The Glass, Copper Issues 6 & 7). To bring back to speed, here’s a video of the Brotet, a group which also went by the title Grisman, Leslie, Hargreaves and Smith:


Sam had the same quiet power that I’ve noticed in the best upright bass players I’ve come across. I wouldn’t generalize when it isn’t warranted. There was the familiar quiet smirk of more going on under the surface and the predictable professionalism and even reticence amid the chaos of the recordings. Others may have needed adjustments or re-takes but Sam was ready and right on, every time.

It’s good to see the better players find one another. I’m not fully up to date on what else Sam is doing these days, but I have been following his former multi-band mate Dominick Leslie  a bit. He’s living in New York, and one of the groups he’s playing with is the Grant Gordy Quartet. Grant Gordy is a Denver-born flatpicker extraordinaire, and features on fiddle — guess who! — Mike Barnett  from The Deadly Gentlemen. He absolutely rips in this one, but pay attention also to Grant’s masterful work and Dom’s expressive mandolin style here:


The other project of Dom’s at the moment is in support of his young new wife, Phoebe Hunt , in her band Phoebe Hunt and the Gatherers. I don’t know much about Phoebe’s story but her voice speaks for itself:


Other members of these groups I’ve followed are each doing fascinating things. Stash Wyslouch, the lead singer and guitarist of The Deadly Gentlemen, has taken his “acoustic heavy metal” further in his own group called The Stash! Band. Alex Hargreaves is busy playing with The Turtle Island String Quartet when he’s not fiddling around with young mandolinist Jake Jolliff (whom I recorded with his current group, Yonder Mountain String Band). As the bios read, Alex is considered one of the best improvising fiddlers in the world, and Jake was hand-picked to fill Jeff Austin’s spot in Yonder Mountain for a reason. Take a look at the lineup of the Jacob Jolliff Band, and you see on guitar… Stash Wyslouch.


It’s a small world at the top.

Keep an eye on this new crop of elite acoustic musicians. I suspect we’ll see more collaboration, not less, between them as the years go on.

And without further adieu, here are videos of the Phoffman/Beck Quartet in two stops on their recent journey through our state: