Legendary Bluegrass Mandolin Player Roland White Has Passed Away
There aren’t many areas of bluegrass music that haven’t been touched at one time or another by the work of mandolin player Roland White. The brother of fellow bluegrass legend and later country rocker Clarence White, an original member of the Kentucky Colonels, a sidekick to Bill Monroe in his Bluegrass Boys, a founding member of Lester Flatt’s Nashville Grass, not to mention his later years in The Country Gazette and the famed Nashville Bluegrass Band, Roland White’s mandolin has appeared throughout the bluegrass catalog.
Roland White was born on April 23, 1938 in Madawaska, Maine, at the top of the state, into a family of musicians of French-Canadian descent. They moved to Burbank, California in 1955, and a few years later Roland’s three brothers, Eric and Clarence were performing regularly together as The Country Boys. Although they started out primarily as a folk-oriented string band, it was Roland who got hold of Bill Monroe’s recordings that pushed the trio to pick up their pace and veer into bluegrass.
Being based in Los Angeles made the Country Boys unique, influential, and ultimately fundamental to the emergence of bluegrass on the West Coast. They’ve appeared in movies, starred on The Andy Griffith Showand in 1963 they went by the name of The Kentucky Colonels, setting the California folk scene on fire, powered by Roland’s mandolin and Clarence’s flatpicking.
During the heyday of the Kentucky Colonels, Roland took two years off to serve in the US Army and actually missed his appearance on the band’s debut album. Nonetheless, many live recordings later in their career had bluegrass fans and other pickers admiring Roland White’s heavily Bill Monroe-influenced mandolin style.
It turns out that when the Kentucky Colonels disbanded around 1967, Roland White continued to work for Monroe after Bluegrass’ father was booked for a week-long residency in Los Angeles and his band got stuck at the Texas with a broken down bus. . Looking for bluegrass pickers in the area, Roland stepped in. Obviously, Monroe could play the mandolin very well, so Roland played guitar and earned a spot in the Bluegrass Boys where he remained for three years. The job also facilitated Roland White’s move from California to Nashville.
In 1969, when the breakup of Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs had repercussions in the bluegrass world, Roland White saw the opportunity to return to the mandolin, playing for Lester Flatt’s The Nashville Grass. Time in Bill Monroe’s Bluegrass Boys had served White well, honing his mandolin skills after sharing the stage with Monroe so many nights.
By now Roland White and his younger brother Clarence had made legendary names for themselves – Clarence being a member of the Byrds and helping to develop the B-Bender guitar capable of mimicking the sounds of a steel guitar from one shoulder. slung instrument. (Note: Marty Stuart still owns and plays Clarence’s legendary B-Bender guitar). But Clarence was ready to get back to his roots, so he formed a band with Roland called The White Brothers.
The White Brothers might have been one of the most legendary couples in country music history. But sadly, the project was cut short when Clarence White was killed by a drunk driver in a car accident in July 1973. The brother duo’s live recordings show how much the two musicians had evolved and mastered their instruments since their time. together at the Kentucky Colonels. Gram Parsons’ death two months later put another dagger in the heart of the California country scene, but also helped influence the formation of another legendary bluegrass band, The Country Gazette.
Born from the ashes of the Flying Burrito Brothers by fiddler Byron Berline and bassist/guitarist Roger Bush (Roland taught Bush how to play bass), The Country Gazette became a staple of bluegrass music for two decades. Roland White left The Country Gazette in 1989 to join the generically titled, but terrifically important Nashville Bluegrass Band, which saw some of Music City’s greatest pickers come through its ranks like Stuart Duncan. The group has also received numerous Grammy nominations over the years.
Roland White saw bluegrass develop on both sides of the American continent. He saw it grow from an offshoot of folk and old times into its own genre in its own right. Roland witnessed the influence of bluegrass on popular folk rock music, country and country rock. And Roland White was heavily influential in popularizing the bluegrass medium itself on the East and West Coast, and every point in between.
Roland White passed away on Friday, April 1. He was 83 years old.