Rob has invited me to think out loud a bit about Mike Auldridge. That’s not difficult for me as my love affair with Mike goes back to the mid 70’s, even before the fateful decision to take dobro lessons.
I came to know Mike as a legend, a teacher, a businessman and later a friend. To this day I can’t pick up a reso or sit behind a steel without thinking about him. What I do today is clearly his “fault”. I had no choice.
A lot is known about Mike. His playing career was spectacular even though he made a lot of music that isn’t widely known today. That’s a subject for another time. I think today I’d like to touch on several aspects of Mike that while acknowledged may not be widely discussed, his openness to new ideas and his willingness to pass it along to the next generation.
I call it “Learning and Teaching”:
Learning – For many Mike’s name evokes images and sounds of the original Seldom Scene or those classic solo albums of the 1970’s. For those willing to dig a littler deeper there awaits the discovery of Mike’s earliest recordings with Cliff Waldron and The New Shades of Grass and the later works with Chesapeake, Auldridge, Bennet and Gaudreau, The Legends of The Potomac and dozens of solo artists, known and obscure.
Listening to the Emerson and Waldron (Fox On The Run )(later Cliff Waldron and The New Shades of Grass) recordings can be a huge surprise. On my first listen I had to double check the liner notes. That couldn’t have been Mike. It must have been Josh Graves. Nope, it was Mike.
How did Mike “become Mike” of the Scene years? He and I had several conversations and he shared where he tried to be like Josh but it was forced and uncomfortable. It wasn’t until he allowed himself to be influenced by his environment and other players with similar interests that he began to bring the dobro “uptown”. “Wait A Minute” Seldom Scene live TV
Mike’s melodic lines began to sound less banjo like and more steel guitar and horn influenced. His phrasing got longer and more melodic over the decades. He was playing fewer notes and leaving longer spaces. His love of country and big band music found its way into his style. I’d like to think that folks like Buddy Charleton (Mike’s steel teacher) and Duke Ellington had a huge impact on what eventually became the classic Auldridge sound.
Mike continued to be open to new sounds, music and influences over the decades. A move to larger bodied guitars gave him a larger voice. He took full advantage of the technology of the day and his reso began to “rock out” in the later Scene work.
I’m personally a huge fan of Mike’s post Scene output. You could get a sense of what was to come if you owned a copy of the little known “Auldridge, Reid and Coleman”. None the less, it was a shock when Chesapeake emerged and unleashed their sound on an unsuspecting cadre of fans. Chesapeake Always On A Mountain Mike and the band had turned a corner and there was no returning. On those recordings you might hear typical rock guitar technique and phrasing.
Mike returned to the acoustic ensemble with Auldridge, Bennett and Gaudreau Auldridge, Bennett and Gaudreau (w/ guest Tony Rice) and although bluegrass Mike’s style continued to evolve with fewer notes and more “breathing space”. He could be out front and center without spraying notes like a machine gunner.
Mike retired from public performance during his tenure with “The Legends of The Potomac” Stompin at The Savoy Legends of The Potomac a contemporary band in full bluegrass mode. His style was fluid and melodic with a bit of “bite” when it suited him. He was at the top of his game.
Two short anecdotes:
- A short road trip listening to satellite radio and Mike hears a dobro solo. He immediately pulls over, listens and says “I gotta call Randy Kohrs and ask him how he did that.”
- After a rehearsal for a “Three Bells” track Mike tells me how much better Rob Ickes knows the neck then him and hopes that he can get a few tips about how Rob approaches the neck.
The man was always listening, absorbing, asking questions and learning.
Teaching – In my mind the thing that made Mike absolutely legendary and what set him apart from other top players was his willingness to pass along everything that he knew to whoever expressed an interest and an aptitude for work.
Mike might have been the first player to offer a series of written and video instruction material. He was an astute businessman and understood the need.
Mike went one step further by offering personal instruction at his home. Legions of the known and unknown made the pilgrimage to Mike’s basement. You’d be sitting knee to knee with the man as he’d demonstrate the lesson of the moment and gently prod you with “ok, now you try”.
His ability to explain. His gentle approach. His empathy. All of these things made him an extraordinary teacher.
Mike knew beginners. He loved to teach the correct basics so he wouldn’t have to undo a bad habit. He wanted students who couldn’t tune a reso. He’d teach them the correct way.
I tell players that learning reso from Mike was like learning rock from Elvis. Hundreds of players from all over the globe seem to agree.
Heck, Mike had a published phone number. Before my first lesson I stared at the number for weeks before calling. Once I did the phone rang and a voice said “Hi, this is Mike”.
He was seemingly happy that I called. I was stammering but managed to schedule a lesson.
Weeks later at our first meeting he asked me to play something. His reaction was (yes, I still have the cassette) “Hey man, I don’t want to discourage you but you’re doing it all wrong.”
It was all uphill from there.
Mike at his best, chatting, demonstrating and having a good time.
Howard Parker plays music professionally in the mid-Atlantic region. He credits a late 70’s radio broadcast of the Mike Auldridge solo in “Keep Me From Blowing Away” for his decades long obsession with the resonator guitar. In 1997 Howard formed resoguit-L, the email discussion group for lap style resonators and the resoguit.com website. Howard joined Beard Guitars in 2004 as the “beardbizguy”, the company’s business administrator. He retired from the day to day operations in 2012 to pursue performance opportunities. He maintains his relationship with Paul Beard and company as a “special projects” guy.