Randy Walker special for the Roanoke Times
It’s not too hard for John Jorgenson to turn on the TV or click on a random video and see a music legend he played with.
“The other day I was watching this documentary called ‘Summer of Soul,’ made in 1969 in Harlem,” Jorgenson said. “Watching it, I couldn’t believe I played with Stevie Wonder, I played with Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis, and I played with Rose Stone from Sly and the Family Stone. Watching something like this and to realize that I have crossed paths with many of these artists, it amazes me, and I feel extremely lucky and grateful for what I have been able to do.
Jorgenson, who plays multiple instruments in multiple styles, brings his John Jorgenson Bluegrass Band to the Floyd Country Store on March 2.
Jorgenson, 65, was born in Wisconsin but grew up in Southern California. “I really consider myself a Californian,” he said in an interview from his home in Ventura.
West Coast folk rock, country rock and singer-songwriter style all influence his music.
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After working as a freelance musician in Southern California, Jorgenson met Byrds co-founder Chris Hillman at a National Association of Music Merchants show in Anaheim in 1985. [mandolinist] David Grisman and that’s where Chris and I met, and he invited me to start playing with him. And within four or five months, I was kind of pushing him to expand the band and turn it into what became the Desert Rose Band.
Desert Rose scored two number-one country singles, and Jorgenson’s work earned him Guitarist of the Year from the Academy of Country Music.
Desert Rose co-founder, banjoist Herb Pedersen, is part of the John Jorgenson Bluegrass Band (J2B2), with Mark Fain on bass and Patrick Sauber on guitar. Jorgenson plays guitar and mandolin.
J2B2’s debut album, “From The Crow’s Nest”, was recorded at Sheryl Crow’s home studio in Nashville and released in 2015 as part of Jorgenson’s three-CD set, “Divertuoso”.
“I was trying to come up with a word that means diverse, but not jack of all trades, master of none,” he said.
Other styles represented on the set are gypsy jazz (Jorgenson portrayed Django Reinhardt in a 2004 film, “Head in the Clouds”) and electric guitar instrumentals.
The bluegrass album, reissued as a standalone disc in 2018, features material from Guy Clark, Jon Randall, Rodney Crowell, JD Souther, Hillman, Pedersen and Jorgenson. “It showcases our style, which has one foot firmly in traditional bluegrass and another foot in the slightly Californian style of the West Coast singer-songwriter,” he said.
“I love traditional bluegrass and I’ve had the good fortune to perform and record with Earl Scruggs many times. But I felt like what I could possibly contribute was more lyrical content. interesting and trying to bring new songs in style. Because there are a lot of bands that do traditional songs very well and there’s no reason to do more. And because Herb and I are both from California, we also have some kind of west coast bluegrass.
“It’s funny, we’re probably more traditional than most artists who call themselves bluegrass these days, which I find kind of interesting, because we’re not trying to stay really traditional. But I think our roots are very much in traditional music, as opposed to younger bands that are more jamgrass influenced.
Herb Pedersen was a member of The Dillards and bluegrass supergroup Old & In the Way. Bassist Mark Fain toured and recorded with Ricky Skaggs for 13 years. Multi-instrumentalist Patrick Sauber has toured with Peter Rowan.
Space doesn’t permit mentioning all the famous musicians Jorgenson and his comrades have worked with, but this article can’t end without dropping a very big name.
In 1988, the Desert Rose Band performed at the Roxy in Los Angeles, to a sparkling audience that included Bernie Taupin and Elton John. This led to a friendship with Elton and his longtime guitarist, Davey Johnstone. Six years later, Elton called Jorgenson and asked him to join his next tour.
“This tour started in 1995 and I was with him from 1995 to 2001, then I came back sporadically to replace or record. More recently, in 2019, during his farewell tour in Europe, I joined the tour for a few months. I refer to it jokingly and fondly as a bit like the Mafia – once you’re in, if you don’t do anything wrong, you’re kind of part of this organization for life.
“When Davey and I are both there, I would play more varied instruments, pedal steel and saxophone, mandolin. If I’m replacing Davey, obviously I have to cover the main guitar parts as well. And also sing a lot of harmonies with Elton. That was one of the main reasons they asked me in the first place, they wanted a strong harmony singer.
At the Floyd Country Store, expect to hear harmonies, bluegrass with a California flavor and stellar instrumental work, plus stories of a rich musical life.