Washington, D.C. and vicinity, known for forward-thinking bluegrass bands like the Country Gentlemen and the Seldom Scene, also had staunch traditionalists, among them the team of mandolin virtuoso Frank Wakefield (a one-time Stanley Brothers and Jimmy Martin sideman) and former Osborne Brothers singer-guitarist Red Allen.
In 1963, the pair, along with banjoist-vocalist Pete Kuykendall and bassist Tom Morgan, recorded an album for Folkways Records, performed at Washington-area clubs and on bluegrass-friendly WDON radio in Wheaton, Maryland.
The 22 songs from those broadcasts largely reflect a mainstream ’50s and ’60s bluegrass repertoire blending traditional tunes, country hits, and gospel with unexpected twists like the Bailes Brothers’ “I Guess I’ll Go On Dreaming.” Wakefield’s pyrotechnics, which inspired David Grisman and Ronnie McCoury, stand out on “Deep Elem Blues” and the dazzling “Red Apple Rag.”
Powerful vocals aside, Allen was a gifted rhythm guitarist and Kuykendall a fluent banjoist. Morgan provided a solid, syncopated bass rhythm rarely heard in today’s bluegrass.
While Allen died in 1993, Wakefield, now 80, continues performing and recording. Kuykendall is the founder of Bluegrass Unlimited magazine. Morgan remains a respected Tennessee luthier.
These intense, vibrant live performances, unleashed after half a century, epitomize an era of bluegrass long gone but well worth revisiting.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s February ’15 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.