Jeff Adams, Sonny White, Brandon Lee, Bird Snider, Pete Adamson. photo by Cindy Steele
~by Mark Blackwell
I was in Nashville the other Saturday. The air was crisp and the sun was shining with just a few clouds. The wind was a bit gusty, but all in all, it was a perfect autumn day in Brown County.
I headed over to the Salt Creek Winery tasting room to hear some music. The tasting room is a great little venue tucked away back in an alley.
The band I had planned on seeing calls themselves the “Grass Hounds.” I thought to myself, I’ll have to remember to ask the boys how they came up with the name.
When I arrived, there wasn’t a band, just one feller tuning a banjo. This set me back a bit, for I was sure that I was acquainted with the banjo picker. This was some other guy.
I marched over and introduced myself. He shook my hand and introduced himself back to me. He said his name was Sonny, he was the bass player, and he was just tuning up the banjo whilst he waited for the real banjo slinger to arrive. Then a couple of other fellers showed up—Jeff the dobro player, and Brandon, the mandolin player—but for that afternoon he was playing guitar.
The guy tuning the banjo was the bass player, the mandolin player was playing the guitar, Pete, the guitar picker, wasn’t able to appear that day, and we were all waiting on the banjo player.
I asked the boys how long they had been together.
Things got murky again—three different band mates and three different answers. One said that they had been playing off and on together for couple of years. Another said he and the banjo player had been friends since grade school but had just started playing together about a year ago. The dobroist said he played in another band with the late Bird Snider—not that he’s deceased, he was just late. Then the consensus was that as the “Grass Hounds” they have been playing together since the spring of the year.
As I talked to Brandon, the mandolin/guitar picker, I thought he looked very familiar. I used to run into a Bluegrass band back about ten or twelve years ago called the New Old Cavalry and Brandon played with them. I asked him what happened to that band and he said most of the members grew up. I have heard that maturity is a leading cause of bands breaking up.
About that time, Bird showed up, and we got reacquainted while he shouldered his banjo. Bird and I used to live near each other, on different ridges. And I knew Bird through his other band, the “White Lightning Boys.”
I asked, “If you’re already in a band, why would you want to play in another band?” The answer was, “Because it’s fun!”
I got a chance to hear them play. The first tune was honky-tonk number about whiskey and heartbreak with a lot of crying dobro in it. Next up was an old Merle Travis tune, “Nine Pound Hammer.” I’m an old Travis fan—so they had me right there.
They did three more traditional Bluegrass songs: “Down the Road”, “Footprints in the Snow,” and “Gravel Yard.” I was just settling into the notion that these fellers were a pretty good Bluegrass band of the traditional persuasion when they rocked into the Hank Williams song “Jambalaya” and then they moved into Travis Tritt’s “Country Club.” After that they played the old Steve Goodman song made popular by David Allen Coe, “You Never Even Called Me by My Name.”
I could see they are not to be stuck in one musical pigeon hole. Through the versatility shown in just a few songs there was still the overall texture of Bluegrass. They launched into a very traditional version of the Bluegrass standard “Darlin’ Cory.” I was favorably impressed and I had only heard 4/5ths of the band. I am looking forward to when I can hear Pete Adamson’s guitar picking and lead vocals.
When a break was called, I shook hands with the boys and went on my way, thinking that the afternoon was well spent. Any amount of time loafing on a front porch in Nashville, listening to folks render up tasty tunes can be counted as pure profit.
I advise keeping an eye out and an ear peeled for the “Grass Hounds.”
Oh yeah, about that name. They told me that the “Grass” comes from Bluegrass but I never did get a satisfactory answer about the “Hounds” part. I’m gonna say that it is on account of how dog-gone versatile they are.