Gordon Stone has always been a busy guy. Over the last thirty years he has established himself as one of the country’s top banjo players, heard and admired by musicians and music fans alike. His impeccable banjo style and flair for the unique and infectious qualities of the pedal steel have gained him recognition in bluegrass circles, and made Gordon a force to be reckoned with on the “jam” scene.
Gordon has played in ensembles whose styles ranged from traditional bluegrass to rock to Afrocuban, and has spent the last several years touring with his own aptly named Gordon Stone Band, which has included musicians like Phish bassist Mike Gordon (check out “Fraction” on Stone’s CD Even with the Odds), mandolinist Jamie Masefield and bassist Stacy Starkweather, and, most recently, bassist Rudy Dauth and drummer Russ Lawton, known for touring with Trey Anastasio.
Currently, Gordon can be found touring in one of three configurations. He is most often seen with the Gordon Stone Band, who will be playing quite a few shows over the next couple of months, including New Year’s Eve at Bones Bar in Wikes-Barre, PA (the last show for bassist Rudy Dauth) and a tour through North Carolina in mid-January. He is spending most of December as part of a duo with guitarist/mandolinist/vocalist Michael Daves, and as a member of Al and the Transamericans, with Al and Vinny from the popular jamband moe. He has also played some recent shows with Boston based mandolinist Jimmy Ryan. Catching any or all of these lineups proves worth the effort, and every show is different thanks to the creativity and flexibility of the musicians and the quality composition of originals and covers. Gordon has a knack for finding and playing with musicians who contribute to the evolution of his music and of music in general. Anyone who has seen a recent show can attest to this fact. For instance, the Gordon/Jimmy/Rudy show on Halloween (at Cafe Zacquor in Gloversville, NY) included songs from all of Gordon’s albums, Jimmy’s new album, Lost Diamond Angel, and covers that spanned musical tastes from very bluegrass (the audience-requested “Pig in the Pen” and a mandolin/banjo/bass version of “Dueling Banjos”) to very not (the Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil”). It is pretty much a given that similar variety will prevail at other shows.
This variety is especially apparent in the pairing of Gordon Stone and Michael Daves. Michael and Gordon have been playing shows together as a duo for nearly a year now, and the pairing could not seem more natural. It is the classic combination of seasoned veteran and skilled newcomer, each challenging the other, suited to each other as both are determined to excel at their instruments, and progress through composition and attention to the best music of their chosen genres. Michael grew up in a musical family and, like Gordon, is innovative in the way he combines the bluegrass and country blues absorbed from childhood with the jazz he studied with masters at Hampshire College, and the funk he plays with Massachusetts-based Inner Orchestra. That Michael and Gordon both have progressive and wide-ranging musical tastes and backgrounds allows them to draw from many styles during a performance, challenging the audience’s expectations and defying distinctions between old time, jazz, funk, Latin, reggae and jam rock. In this way, the two musicians reach the widest possible audience, just doing what they do best, what they enjoy most, with relatively few tricks up their sleeves.
Through practice, experimentation, and contact with different musicians, Gordon Stone has opened minds and ears. He is at least partly responsible for bringing the banjo to so much recent public attention, and remains one of a very small number of skilled pedal steel players outside the world of Nashville and country music. His shows are generally intimate and inclusive, since he satisfies the musical needs and tastes of just about everyone in the room. Generally, there is not a person who can resist dancing, not one who leaves unimpressed, and nearly everyone leaves happier than they were when they came.
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