The Missy Raines Quartet plays in Harrisburg on Sunday, February 9

A Journey with an Upright Kay Bass, and Missy Raines

by Curtis Rockwell

            At 7:30 PM on February 9, 2020, at the Appalachian Brewing Company in Harrisburg, we will be welcoming the critically acclaimed Missy Raines and the Missy Raines Quartet for a Susquehanna Folk Music Society sponsored concert. 

Missy was awarded the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Bass Player of the Year award for the eighth time in 2019.  Her most current album, Royal Traveller, produced by banjo wizard and veteran musician Alison Brown, was awarded the IBMA instrumental Recorded Performance of the Year, and has been nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Bluegrass Album. 

For tickets and information visit: https://www.sfmsfolk.org/concerts/MissyRainesTrio.html

I had the pleasure of asking her a few questions about her musical journey, and about some of her current projects.  Here are some of the highlights:

What brought you to performing Bluegrass music and the upright bass?

            “As a kid my parents were already into bluegrass music.  They were going to hear live music – that’s what they did for fun and they did that before I was born.  They were seeing early country music.”

            “A few years later I came along and I grew up where there was always bluegrass on the radio.  So I started playing piano early on because music seemed like part of my life, and then I switched to guitar because I was more and more saturated with bluegrass.  My role models at the time were Lester Flatt and Mac Wiseman.  But then one day my dad bought a bass, I think on a whim, and so it was in the house, and so as a kid, you know, you’re curious and you’re already showing a certain musical interest so I just started picking it up and playing it and I really liked it and just stayed with it.  That bass that he bought, turned out, is a really nice Kay and it’s the bass that I play today.”

When did you start playing publicly and professionally?

            “I was playing in bands and in bars that I wasn’t old enough to be in since I was like twelve or thirteen years old.  I played in bands in high school, every weekend so I didn’t participate in the high school football games and dances because I was always gigging somewhere, and I was very happy with that.  As soon as I graduated from high school, I left and went out on my own and started playing with bands.  I’m not saying I made quite a living that way during those days, but I’ve just always been playing.”

If I were to steal your car, what music would I find you were listening to? 

            “You might find Bob Dylan, Radiohead, Lucinda Williams, you know, Christian McBride, and lately just about anything.  I try to listen to a little bit of everything.  Yesterday I was going through my iTunes list and I was listening to Grizzly Bear, but you know I probably hadn’t listened to that in five or six years.  I really like to keep it going and I’m always trying to listen to new stuff and hear what’s being made today.  Bonnie Raitt is a perennial favorite.  That’s classic – that’ll never go away.  But I’m also getting ready to download some Billie Eilish.  I love everything.  Bluegrass is what I know best.  If I’m going to listen to bluegrass, I’m going to listen to Bill Monroe and Tony Rice and I’m going to listen to the Nashville Bluegrass Band and stuff like that.”

Can you reflect on how Bluegrass has changed or evolved over the last several decades?

            “I was first affected by traditional bluegrass which is what I’d heard, but then the evolution started as early as The Country Gentlemen.  At the time, they were considered very contemporary and very modern, and changing what bluegrass was.  Of course now they’re considered very traditional, but you have to put yourself in that place and in that time.  Then Sam Bush came along and he created things like Newgrass and that was more influenced, I think, by rock music and some jazz, but more contemporary rock for its day.  And that completely influenced and became a part of what I was interested in.  Then you’ve got folks like Tony Rice and David Grisman, both of whom had this complete traditional thing happening but they brought in jazz and various things at the time.  It became, for lack of a better term, Dawg Music – this sort of acoustic music that was influenced largely from jazz. So all of those things were hugely influential to me, because that’s what I was hearing when I was coming of age.  The way I still see them is, it wasn’t even just the music that specifically they were creating, but it was the act of the influence.  It was the fact that I started seeing this cycle.  I had been part of this my whole life.  Ever since I can remember, I’ve known who these musicians were and I could recognize how they were all different from each other, so to me, what bluegrass defined was innovation, like was supposed to be and meant to be a process of – oh – you hear this then you do this and it might not sound like what you just heard, but it will be influenced by and enriched by it, and that’s part of the process.”

            “I think the most important thing for me has been where others may seem to grasp and hold on to what they think bluegrass is supposed to be – it’s supposed to be something that happened in 1946 and didn’t change – I don’t see that.  I do love that sound – I might want to hear that and love it and relive it for what it is, but I don’t believe that’s what I’m supposed to do.  I look inside and try to pull out something that’s unique to me that represents the things that been pouring into my life and pouring into my head and what I’ve been influenced by.  That includes a whole other world of music as well.  The ones who are making a difference are the ones who are learning from the tradition, learning from the masters, and then putting their own spin on it.  They’ve all done it, but they’ve all done it differently, so there’s room for everything in my mind.”

How has the role of women in Bluegrass changed?

            “It’s definitely changing and improving, but there’s lots of room for it to get even better.  It’s changed since I’ve been playing, since I first got started, and that was better than it was twenty years before that.  It’s always evolving, but I think we have a long ways to go.  I play in a sometimes band called The First Ladies of Bluegrass.  We are the first five women to win in our instrumental categories from the International Bluegrass Music Association.  The first IBMA awards show was in, I think, 1990.  The first woman to have won in that arena was Allison Brown, and I think that was in 1992.  I didn’t win until 1998, and then I didn’t win till almost 10 years later, but what that span represents is how much faster we’re moving now as opposed to how slowly we were moving for a long time. I think honestly the internet has changed all that and made everything move faster, so we’ve got a long ways to go.  I’m proud to still be here.”

Tell me a little bit about your online program for teaching aspiring musicians to play the bass.

            “I have an online school called the Artistworks Academy of Bluegrass, School of Bass.  The Artistworks folks are amazing, it’s one of the best companies I’ve ever been associated with.  So I created a curriculum online available to subscribers where they go and the can cherry pick whatever lessons they want to and they can go at their own pace and they can loop the lessons. The other element is the video exchange which is so unique.  So folks can upload a video of themselves, so even though its online and we’re not having “Skype” lessons, they are getting actual personal interactions with me because I look at the videos and then I respond to them personally with my own video and talk about what they brought up.  It’s really rewarding because it’s allowed me to have such a broad reach all over the world and I wouldn’t ever be able to possibly teach all the students that I reach individually through this school. There just wouldn’t be enough hours in the day.”

            “I do love teaching and I try to do at least two to three music camps every year.  It’s part of what I’ve done. I started teaching seriously around 1998 and it’s something that I really do enjoy.”

           

           

           

          

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