© Warren Fahey
One of my all-time favourite recording artists is the American old-time and bluegrass singer, songwriter and mandolin player, Peter Rowan.
He’s my age, mid sixties, and I have been listening to his music for decades, starting in 1978 when my sadly missed friend Bruce Kaplan issued ‘Peter Rowan’ on his independent Flying Fish label. I still remember the label number FF071 and all of the songs on the album. I used to play it (loud) in the Folkways store on Saturdays and was always certain to sell half a dozen copies with ‘Panama Red’, ‘Midnite Moonlight’ or ‘When I Was A Cowboy’. Playing music I liked, and selling it, was one of the joys of owning a music store and even better fun when it was one of your favourite albums. A couple of year’s back I was booked to perform with The Larrikins at the Blue Mountains Music Festival and so was Peter Rowan. He was a ‘stand alone’ sort of fellow, almost a reclusive personality, until he realised I knew a thing or three about early minstrel bands. He was fascinated to hear of the influence of American minstrel performers and songwriters on the Australian tradition. We bonded and swapped notes. His performances were riveting and, working solo, weaved a spell on the audience, many not having heard his songs before. There are a few things about Peter Rowan that make him a stand out performer: he has a real bluegrass voice that soars and dips like the American eagle, it also harmonises beautifully in that high lonesome sound familiar to bluegrass audiences; his song writing is masterful and so many of his songs sound like old friends despite the fact you might be hearing them for the first time, and his mandolin playing is as tasty as it gets. I’ve lost count of the recordings that he has made, starting with the Rowan Brothers Lps (not recommended), his albums when he served his apprenticeship with bluegrass legend Bill Monroe, his many solo and band albums including his amazing duo albums with Tony Rice. My favourite album of the collection is ‘Walls of Time’ (Flying Fish) where Rowan ‘tackles’ Celtic Americana and wins.
Compass Records owner and artist in her own right, Alison Brown, has just produced a new Peter Rowan album titled ‘Legacy’ and it is as good as everything he has ever recorded. It features some of Americana’s finest musicians Jody Stecher (who I brought to Australia in the late 80s), Keith Little and Paul Knight, with guest appearances of Del McCoury, Ricky Skaggs, Gillian Welch, Dave Rawlings and Tim O’Brien. This album is going to spin in my computer for quite a while.