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Volume 90, Issue 94
Friday, March 21, 1997
Flyers not just whistling Dixie
©Gazette file photo
THE HOUSE BAND FROM HEE HAW. London's own Dixie Flyers bring their true Canadian bluegrass stylings to The Grad Club tonight.
By Michael Dacks
When highly-skilled musicians come together to play traditional roots music the results are often magical. Such is the case with London's The Dixie Flyers, who bring their highly entertaining and original Canadian bluegrass music to The Grad Club tonight.
"The key to playing bluegrass is to stay within the idiom," says one of the four founding Flyers, mandolinist Ken Palmer. "We can take tunes by Fats Domino or Neil Young and play them so that they fit our band."
Invented over 50 years ago by the late Bill Monroe, the father of bluegrass music, the genre is much more than two guys wasting the day away picking banjos on the front porch.
It is a style of music that contains complex basics and a unique fusion of melody and rhythms that blend together on a quest to seek out that high lonesome sound. With elements of blues, country, rock and even jazz, Palmer, who also teaches mandolin in the London area, views bluegrass as "evolutionary, not revolutionary."
From the American roots of the music, Palmer feels a distinct Canadian style has emerged over the years.
"You start off imitating the Americans and then you realize that you're not from Tennessee and you start expressing your Canadian influences," Palmer says.
Among these Canadian influences Palmer sites Gordon Lightfoot and Stompin' Tom Connors. Influences from south of the border include Monroe, Lester Flatt, Earl Scruggs and Merle Haggard.
Founded in 1974, The Dixie Flyers have played festivals all over North America including Monroe's Bean Blossom, Indiana Festival, the Edmonton Folk Festival and Mariposa. The Flyers had their own radio show during the '80s and were host band for CFPL TV's Bluegrass Express in 1985. Currently, The Flyers have a standing gig at Maverick's on Saturday afternoons.
The current incarnation of the band consists of Palmer on mandolin, Bert Baumbach on guitar, Walter Maynard on banjo, David Zdriluk on bass and Mike Ethelston on harmonica. The vocal duties are shared, with songs often having complex yet beautiful vocal harmonies. While laying down solid rhythm and intricate supportive backup with hot instrumental breaks, The Flyers are as cohesive a unit as Canadian bluegrass has to offer.
Possessing a repertoire of over 140 songs, a Dixie Flyers show is always full of surprises. On a given night, one can expect to see any number of Flyers' alumni or friends up onstage to dust off an old classic or tear through an instrumental. This loose and friendly atmosphere makes a Flyers show a truly entertaining musical experience that is very conducive to throwing back a couple of cold ones if the mood strikes
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Copyright © The Gazette 1997