Gordon Stone Band
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Gordon Stone Band

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The best kept secret in music


"Acoustic Musician"

Talented. Versatile. Adroit. Creative. Clean. Driving. Melodious. Hot. Inventive. Impressive. Skillful. Clever. These are only so me of the words that have been used to describe Gordon Stone. This banjo-player from Burlington, Vermont is using the instrument as a vehicle to explore new musical dimensions. Banjo wizard Bill Keith remarks. ‘Gordon arranges his music with impeccable taste and plays with an infectious verve and vivacity.’

Gordon Stone got his start on banjo during the folk revival of the 60s, listening to the Kingston Trio, learning from Pete Seeger’s book, and practicing the rolls and songs of Earl Scruggs. “I started playing bluegrass because I heard the banjo rolls driving the band.”

Stone appreciates musicians that are willing to take risks by departing from tradition and admits to getting his own musical inspiration from many different sources. “I’ve had a lot of musical influences and have jumped around a lot without settling on any one specific thing.” offers Stone.

Stone’s first bluegrass gig was with Pine Island, a band that became fairly well known in New England during the 70s. The band, which also included David Gusakov (fiddle), Tim McKenzie (guitar), James McGinniss (bass), and Jim Ryan (mandolin), produced three albums. Pine Islands 1978 Live Inside album has been heralded as “sprightly, demanding contemporary bluegrass” and “...incorporating elements of jazz, rock and blues….” By 1980, Chris Lee had replaced Stone in the band which had built a reputation for “super hot picking by northeastern wizards of modem (to put in mildly) bluegrass.” Stone continued to perform bluegrass with Dealer’s Choice and Gordon Stone and the Bluegrass Clones.

In 1981. Stone released his first solo album. Scratch/n the Surface. Including numbers by jazz greats Thelonious Monk and Charlie Parker, as well as 10 original tunes, the album was called one of the strongest modem banjo albums of its day. “1 never gave it any tour support to promote it even though it did get some good air-play.” In 1995, the album was re-released on Alcazar Records, and Stone’s banjo (and pedal steel) ingenuity is being rediscovered. The original release of Scratch/n ‘ the Swjdce may have been ahead of its time, although Bela Flecks solo Rounder releasess Crossing the Tracks, and Natural Bridge) appeared about the same time.

Stone was also experimenting with pedal steel and banjo in a Vermont-based Afro-fusion band called Zzebra headed by Nigerian Lofty Amao. “We somehow put the bluegrass rhythm over the Nigerian rhythm, and the whole thing jelled.”

In the 80s, the new wave movement was taking hold with the younger eeneration. “I was actually playing new wave music with pedal steel when [the first album] came out,” recalls Stone. With a new wave croup called The Decentz (with mandolinist Jim Ryan). Stone played pedal steel, and that band released one album (Get In Trouble) in 1982.

“The band would say. ‘Hey don’t play all those country licks,’ so I developed a way of playing to fit the music” This was followed by a stint playing classic rock and roll pedal steel with The X-Ravs, which recorded in 1984. Over the years, this talented musician has performed and recorded with bluecrass, new wave, rock, country, Celtic, soul, and jazz groups. Stone’s musical affiliations include Phish, Blood Oranges, the Fortune Tellers, Chrome Cowboys, Soul Finger, Reel Time. Beacon Hillbillies, and Breakaway. His bands have opened shows for the likes of punk group The Ramones, jazz saxophonist Joshua Redman, bluegrass luminary Bill Monroe, and rock guitarist David Lindley.

“Opening for Joshua Redman was exciting. We were a sextet playing to a sold out theater. We only did a half hour but got a rousing encore. People were asking ‘What were you up there doing?’ Between my banjo rolls, the band’s fusion progression, and soaring sax overlaying the whole thing, it definitely opened up some new territory.”

When nationally-recognized Phish needed a banjo and pedal steel player, there was little question who to call. Phish’s first single Fast Enough For You and their compact discs Rift and Picture of Nectar are graced with Stone’s work. Stone has also made guest appearances in concert with Phish.

“I’ve always emphasized versatility.” explains Stone. “My focus changes depending upon the musical genre I’m involved with at the time. I’m more focused right now on incorporating banjo into other musical forms. I have a preference for the more adventurous and challenging material, but I really like traditional bluegrass too. That’s where my musical roots are. There’s a certain feeling and attitude about playing it that goes alone with it.”

Until 1996 (when he left to focus on his jazz trio), Stone played with the contemporary bluegrass band. Breakaway, with Gene White (fiddle), Andy Sacher (mandolin), Andy Greene (guitar), and Peter Riley (bass). In 1994, the band released their second album entitled Unpaved Road and also won - Joe Ross

"Banjo Newsletter, the 5-String Banjo Magazine"

Scratchin’ the Surface with Gordon Stone
By Douglas Fulmer

The 5-string isn’t just for bluegrass any more. (Well, Bela, Tony Trischka, Tony Furtado, Alison Brown and many others have been demonstrating that for some time now.) But lately, the banjo has been showing up in more musical genres than ever, from jazz to rock’n’roll. Vermont’s Gordon Stone has taken it even further: into reggae, Latin and Afro-fusion music. Nothing is off-limits, if it sounds right to him. “The key to making it work is that I never try to put the banjo into a type of music just for the sake of doing it. But if I think I hear the banjo in a reggae tune, I’ll go and try it. I only put it into a context where it makes sense, Stone explained in a telephone interview.

The 45-year-old musician showcased his various musical influences on his solo “Touch and Go” album last year. Gordon also works in bluegrass with the band Breakaway. No one could have expected this musical direction for a young boy growing up in the small town of New Canaan in western Connecticut. There wasn’t much bluegrass being played in the Nutmeg state in those days and Stone picked up his interest in the banjo from a different source. “The Kingston Trio was happening then and my brother and some of his friends were playing guitars,” Stone remembered, “so I decided to learn the banjo.” But he wouldn’t be satisfied playing the Trio’s brand of pop-folk for long. He remembers a defining moment when he was about twelve and heard a Flatt & Scruggs album for the first time. Bluegrass was what he wanted to play. “I thought ‘Now that’s how it’s supposed to be done!’” Stone said. “So I learned how to do it out of the Seeger book and by slowing down records.”

Still, there were very few chances for Stone to learn by watching experienced Scruggs-style pickers. He remembers that the Greenbriar Boys were just starting in New York (which was about an hour away) and the New Lost City Ramblers would occasionally play in the area. But there was very little else and virtually no one to pick with. In-stead, Stone pursued other musical interests. He had been learning classical piano for some time, and soon picked up the electric guitar and focused more on playing rock’n’roll. That would influence his musical direction until he moved to Vermont when he was in his early twenties.

Stone moved to that state for the simple reason that he’d always liked it. Little could he have imagined the effect the move would have on his musical tastes, and by extension his life. Vermont at that time was a mecca for people seeking a simpler life in a state of rural areas and small towns. They moved from all over the country, and brought with them a wide variety of cultural and musical interests. Unlike Connecticut, there were people playing bluegrass— and playing it in public. “There were a lot of places to play in those days, and people coming out to listen. There were four or five bands working regularly in the Burlington area,” Stone recalled. Banjo Dan and the Midnight Plowboys were playing regularly and Stone often saw them perform. “I finally got the chance to see Banjo Dan play Scruggsstyle the way it was supposed to sound,” he said, “and that helped a lot in developing my right hand and getting that real bluegrass sound.”

He began seriously studying the banjo, but he wasn’t satisfied with just straight Scruggs-style playing. Gordon had heard the melodic stylings of Bill Keith and others, but he drew some of his inspiration from another source. He’d earlier spent one semester at the Berkelee College of Music studying jazz guitar, and now he began adapting some of the things he’d learned listening to the likes of Django Reinhardt and Charlie Christian to the five-string. “I tried taking some of the chord progressions and moving them onto the banjo and applying some jazz theory,” Stone remembered. He joined a local bluegrass band called Pine Island and began teaching the other players some of his jazz I changes. “Everything we did was still very much in a bluegrass setting and wasn’t at all out of context,” he said.

Stone left Pine Island in 1978 and spent some time playing pedal steel guitar with local rock and country bands. It was that instrument that gained him a place with a band that would expose him to an abundance of new rhythms and musical styles, and influence his own music up until the present day. Zzebra was a Vermont-based Afro-fusion band headed by Nigerian native Lofty Amao. Stone was invited to join the band—a seemingly unusual match for a banjo and pedal steel guitar player. He recounted how it happened. “Amao was putting a band together for a tour of Nigeria when somebody quit. A friend of mine in the band said, ‘Why don’t we try this steel guitar player?’ and I was invited to join.” Stone played banjo with Zzebra as well. “We somehow put the bluegrass rhythm over the Nigerian rhythm, and the whole thing jelled,” he explained.

At about the same time, he released - Douglas Fulmer


Gordon Stone has been around for a bit. He first came to public notice on some of Phish’s early. mid-90s efforts, and has had three self-released efforts since that time. His fourth, RED ROOM, doesn’t break any new ground simply for the fact that he pretty much has titled the whole farm already. This guy is a jaw-dropper.

The banjo is pretty much associated with bluegrass these days: those with memories and life experience longer than a New York minute, however, will recall that the banjo was a mainstay of traditional jazz. As recently as the mid-60s you could hear a banjo being plunked right up in front of the mix during Louis Armstrong’s “Hello Dolly.” A banjo in Stone’s hands recalls those moments and makes many more of its own as welt.

We get a hint of this on “Close Enough,’ RED ROOMS opening track, which hews closer to jazz than to bluegrass. But things really kick off on “Yesterday’s Coffee,” which opens with... conga drums? Yes, Stone somehow fuses Caribbean rhythms with banjo picking and some really fine steel guitar playing for good measure to create something new and unusual which will leave you shaking your head in delight and wonderment. It’s all well and good to think out of the box, so long as your result is something other than a puddle on the table. Stone’s result is nothing short of breathtaking. I would love to see him and his band perform “Yesterday’s Coffee” live somewhere. There is plenty of room for everyone to take off on extended solos; you certainly won’t feel cheated in any way by the disc performance, however. “Major Breakdown” is faintly reminiscent of Flatt & Scruggs, and features Patrick Ross guesting on fiddle for a great solo or two as well as some fiddle and banjo call and response with Stone.

There are a few vocal tracks on here. Bassist Rudy Dauth (who wields a mighty fine stick here, by the way) handles vocal duties on “Light” (with Sara Lynch on loan from Rounder Records)
“Too Quick To Judge.” “Runaway Jim,” and “I Don’t Know.” These tracks are somewhat reminiscent of what The Grateful Dead’s AMERICAN BEAUTY and WORKINGMAN’S DEAD would sound like if the Dead had recorded these during a period of sobriety. Interesting as these tracks are, however, the standout work on RED ROOM is the purely instrumental. The slightly dreamy “Cahboss” gives way to a few more or less straight country/bluegrass tunes, “I Don’t Know,” “Half Creek,” and “Runaway Jim,” with the latter Artist featuring some nice skin work from drummer Russ Lawton. “Red Room,” the title track, is straight out jazz, and is perhaps the most interesting track on a disc full of gems. Closer to some of the Kaukonen/Cassady Title instrumental collaborations during their Jefferson Airplane heyday than Bela Fleck, “Red Room” lets Stone stretch out and demonstrate the potential versatility of the banjo, especially when in the hands of a Label craftsman. Perhaps my favorite track, however, is “Hammock Time~” the disc’s closer, an easy banjo solo over a slow sliding pedal steel with Dauth’s bass and Lawton’s drums providing a fine rhythm backing. This track, again, treads more into jazz than country. One reaches the point more than once on RED ROOM where such genre classifications become difficult, if not meaningless.

Given the quality of Stone’s work on RED ROOM. it would appear that it is by his own choice that he continues to release his work independently as opposed to signing with a label. He is good enough to be anywhere he would choose to; I can’t imagine an A & R guy not wanting to immediately sign him up. And his work, while eclectic, isn’t at all difficult to classify. File Gordon Stone under Great.
http://www. music-reviewer. com/0302/stone. htm
- Critically Hip


1992 - Phish, "Picture of Nectar," featured musician
1993 - Phish, "Rift," featrued musician
1995 - Gordon Stone Trio, "Scratichin' the Surface"
1997 - Gordon Stone Trio, "Touch and Go"
1998 - Gordon Stone Band (GSB), "Even With the Odds"
1998 - Strangefolk, "Weighless in Water"
2001 - GSB (featrued alongside Dave Mathews, Arlo Guthrie, Jimmy Buffett, Little Feat, and others), "Sharin' in the Groove," a Phish Tribute album
2001 - GSB, "Red Room"
2002 - GSB, three live discs with Rockslide.com
2002 - Al and the Transamericans (with Al and Vinny from moe., Erik Glockler from Strangefolk, and Kirk Juhas from Free Beer & Chicken), "Al and the Transamericans"
2002 Cracker, As of yet unnamed release

Sound Tracks:
1999 - GSB, Gordon Stone's original soundtrack for "Mud Season," an official entry at Slamdance and wins best picture at both the Pasadena and Silver Strand film festivals
2000 - Gordon Stone is featured on the soundtrack of Mike Gordon's (Phish) movie "Outside Out"


Feeling a bit camera shy


The Gordon Stone Band plays original music focusing on composition, interaction and improvisation. They combine bluegrass and jazz, blended with Latin, world beat and funk in tunes ranging from laid-back grooves to high-energy musical excursions. As journalist Tim Lynch puts it, “This is music with enough energy to appeal to rock and jam-bands fans, as well as acoustic music lovers, newgrass fans and jazz lovers, all with enough danceable energy to move entire festival sites into dancing frenzies.”

The music will lift you up.

Featured prominently on two Phish albums, and in three Phish major Phish festivals with attendance of over 70000, Gordon Stone is one of the vanguards of experimental newgrass and jazz, getting radio play as far away as Alabama, St. Louis, and California on shows that showcase live music.

Widely hailed as a veteran road dog and session man, Gordon Stone is asked to record with nearly everyone touched by his music (Phish, Strangefolk, Cracker, members of moe., members of Strangefolk, members of Free Beer & Chicken). Gordon has composed and recorded award-winning film sound tracks, and has released four critically acclaimed solo albums.