Juneau-Grass adds snare, harmonica to bluegrass recipe

Posted: Thursday, October 21, 2004

Astute fans of Alaska bluegrass have likely heard Clark County, a trio of friends from the same town in Ohio who relocated to Fairbanks and played all over the state for the better part of a decade.

Banjo player Jeremy "Jr." Kane moved to Juneau in September after spending a year as a resident artist in ceramics at the Archie Bray Foundation in Helena, Mont. He's now a ceramics professor at the University of Alaska Southeast, and he's decided to form a new band with some longtime friends in the bluegrass scene.

Juneau-Grass will play at 9:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Oct. 22 and 23, at the Alaskan. Their first show was Wednesday, Oct. 20, at Squires Rest in Auke Bay.

Kane plays banjo. Ryan Judy, a friend from Ohio and a bandmate from the group Slim Pickins, plays Martin guitar. Another friend, known simply as Snyder, plays snare drum. And Sean Tracey and Maridon Boario, of local group Panhandle Crabgrass Revival Band, play harmonica and upright bass respectively. Kane and Judy handle harmony vocals.

"I have to play bluegrass all the time," Kane said. "These guys have been my friends for awhile, and they still have their old bands. They're all into the fact that I'm making all the decisions and all the phone calls."

"We're going to present '50s-style bluegrass, like Stanley Brother and Bill Monroe-style bluegrass, with a little bit of a '70s-bluegrass twist," Kane said. "The only thing that's not going to be traditional is the instrumentation."

That would be the snare drum and the harmonica, two additions that Kane thinks will put "drive" into the band's take on bluegrass.

"The mandolin is what defined bluegrass as far as Bill Monroe was concerned," Kane said. "He was a mandolin player, and by not putting it in there, it's kind of funny. My favorite band is the Stanley Brothers, and they never had a mandolin player. Just fiddle and banjo and bass. Sean is kind of doing the fiddle player's job with the harmonica. And the snare drum is going to keep the chuck, which is what the mandolin player used to do."

Snare drums started to turn up in bluegrass in the 1970s. It gave the genre what Kane calls a "semi truck-driving bluegrass sound."

"Gram Parsons, the Osborne Brothers, Jimmy Martin, they all had snare drummers during the 1970s, and they changed bluegrass," Kane said. "I'm doing a takeoff, but my contribution to it is I'm playing straight traditional bluegrass with snare drum rather than changing the style of the music. It's going to be traditional, it's just going to switch instrumentation to give the band that much more drive."

• Korry Keeker can be reached at korry.keeker@juneauempire.com.

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