Jimmy Gaudreau & Moondi Klein Perform in Harrisburg March 29, 2014

 

World class instrumentalists and singers Jimmy and Moondi bring their updated and refined duets that are reminiscent of the old time acoustic country duos of the 1930s and ‘40s to a Susquehanna Folk Music Society concert at 7:30 p.m., on Saturday, March 29, 2014, at the Fort Hunter Centennial Barn, 5300 N. Front Street, Harrisburg. The concert will be preceded by a free 6 p.m. potluck dinner.

Concert tickets are $22 General Admission, $18 for SFMS, and $10 for students ages 3-22. Advance tickets are available through Brown Paper Tickets at (800) 838-3006 or online at http://www.BrownPaperTickets.com. For more information, visit the Susquehanna Folk Music Society web site at www.sfmsfolk.org

I recently had the opportunity to speak to Jimmy Gaudreau about his and Moondi ‘s past accomplishments, their music, and how they select their repertoire.

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FOLKMAMA: You’ve had a really sensational career, playing with some of the very best bluegrass musicians in the business. Could you give me a little recap?

JIMMY: I came to the DC area in 1969 after John Duffy left the Country Gentlemen and they were looking for a replacement for him—a tenor singing mandolin player—and I came down for the audition. I passed so I joined the Country Gentlemen and recorded some with them and then moved on after a couple of years. I joined up with Eddie Adcock, former banjo player with the Country Gentlemen to form a group called the Second Generation.

But after about a year they started becoming more of a lounge act rather than a bluegrass act so we parted company and I formed my own group called The Country Store and the first lead singer in that group was the late, great Keith Whitley, who of course started with Ralph Stanley and he went on, before his untimely death in 1989 to become a major country star. He’s among the best lead singers that I’ve sung with and I can say that I’ve been privileged through the years to sing with guys like Charlie Waller, Glen Lawson, Tony Rice, John Starling and Moondi Kline. And actually Emmy Lou Harris, I worked in her band for awhile. I’ve been privileged to hook up and sing with some of the best singers in the industry.

From Country Store I went to J.D. Crowe and the New South. That was a big move for me because I moved from the D.C. area to Lexington, KT and really got indoctrinated with bluegrass and what it meant to play “timing” because he was, and is one of the best banjo players on the planet. And he concentrated very much on the timing of bluegrass which was drilled into me during my stay with that group.

Went from there to a group called Spectrum which was myself, Bela Fleck on banjo, Doyle Lawson on guitar, and Mark Schatz on bass. And that was mostly because after I heard Bela Fleck play banjo, I knew that I had to hook up with him because he is such a phenomenal player; I knew that I could learn a lot just by being around him and the three years that we were together I did. It advanced my musical knowledge immensely.

After that I went back to the Country Gentlemen for a short stint 1981-1985. Then I went to the Tony Rice Unit. I stayed there almost 10 years up until the time that Tony had major vocal cord problems. From there I hooked up with Moondi and that’s when we formed Chesapeake which included the late, great Mike Aldridge on Dobro and steel guitar and Michael Coleman who worked with Doc Watson as his bass player for 18 years. So it was a pretty stellar group and we recorded three CDs for Sugar Hill.

When Chesapeake disbanded Moondi took a couple of years off because his kids were pretty young and he was tired of road traveling, so he went back to being a stay at home dad. A couple of years later I called him and asked him if he wanted to do some duo work and he said he would providing it was most local dates—the folk clubs and house concerts and the like. So we got together and it sounded good.

You know Moondi is still a major, major vocal hero of mine. To this day when I get on stage with him I still get chills hearing the guy sing because he’s such a great performer. It wasn’t my major source of income because I started working with Robin and Linda Williams and that was a major travelling experience for me, but Moondi and I did some dates off and on.

Moondi and I were pretty much a side line until about 4 years ago when we cut our first CD called “2:10 Train” and from that point on we pretty much figured that we were going to ride the duo. We just cut our third CD, which is coming out soon. We’re just doing what we want, playing locally, because both of us are burned out on traveling.

FOLKMAMA: How about Moondi. What’s his background?

Moondi and his brother sang with the Metropolitan Opera’s Children Chorus when they were living up in New York. His dad was a music critic for the New York Times, and then went on to write grants for the Rockefeller Foundation. His mother was an accomplished artist. So they were around that element growing up. It was when he was with the Metropolitan Opera’s Children Chorus that he got his musical training being around some of the acknowledged greats in the opera field. He learned how to really use his diaphragm and project his voice, scales and being able to sing a capella.

Hi dad was asked to come down to the Carter Family Fold which is at where the Carter Family is from, in Southwestern Virginia. It’s a performing venue that was put up to honor country music. It’s become kind of a musical icon place for country music. But they didn’t have a great sound system. So Moondi ‘s family went down there with his family, saw that they needed a new sound system and got the Rockefeller Foundation to back it. Once Moondi hears the banjos and fiddles and things he said, “You know, I really want to do that.” And his dad told him to go for it if that’s what he wanted to do.

Years later when he moved down here to do the bluegrass and folk thing in DC the first group he got involved in was Rock Creek, and he was the lead singer in the Seldom Scene for close to three years. We met at a local friend’s jam session, and we played a few tunes and we both really liked the blend. Eventually we played together in Chesapeake full time.

FOLKMAMA: Where does his name “Moondi” come from? It’s an unusual name.

JIMMY: It’s a nickname. His real name is Lawrence. Mondi was a name that he picked up when he was growing up. His parents had a nanny who looked after the boys, and I think as the story goes that she said “Oh, his eyes are so ‘moony’ looking and somehow the nickname came out of that.”

FOLKMAMA: I’ve been listening to your CDs, and it seems like your music has diverged from bluegrass. How do you categorize it?

JIMMY: We just refer to it as Americana. That encompasses a lot of things and that’s how the term came about. It’s kind of a coined term these days—they have “Americana” festivals and it means that you are not pigeonholed into being folk or bluegrass or a country singer, you can have elements of all of the country styles incorporated into your music and that’s where we are. We like to listen to classic bluegrass and classic country and a lot of the folk styles and the Americana stuff that’s around now like Jonathan Edwards and Tim O’Brien.

When we were with Chesapeak we rehearsed a lot. If you go back and listen to our CDs you’ll find musical precision and heavy arrangements. When Moondi and I decided to do the duo we made kind of a pact between ourselves that we would not be that structured, we would leave room for improvisation, we would not try to do something that was so slick and clean that it was perfect. Now we have a little bit more room for entertainment. We challenge each other musically on stage. When he breaks, he’ll look at me and say, “There, take that!” and he’ll have this look in his eye—he just played something great and the audience applauded and I’ll go “Mmm” and then it’s my turn for a break and the audience will wait to see what I’m going to do next just to see if I can top what he did. So it’s having fun and being entertaining and playing good music at the same time.

On of the things that I store back in my memory—talking to people on breaks—at house concerts because it’s an informal setting, you might be talking to the guy that was sitting in the front row that’s been watching your fingers all night long and he’s got a bunch of questions for you. One guy, just a few months ago at a house concert, came up to me and said, “You know, if I were to describe your act I would call it like a triple threat. You both are world class pickers, you sing, and then, you’re entertainers.”

FOLKMAMA: How do you select your repertoire?

JIMMY: I write some of the instrumentals. We don’t tend to write most of our vocal things. Mondi has written a couple over the years but he admits that he’d rather go to the well of people like Jonathan Edwards and Tim O’Brien and other singers and choose material that he likes to sing. He can hear a song and know right off the bat if it suites his voice or not. I leave that to him. I don’t force or even suggest tunes that he should sing because he knows best what suites his vocal style.

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