J.D. Crowe (born James Dee Crowe on 27 August 1937, in Lexington, Kentucky) is an American banjo player and bluegrass band leader. He formed J.D. Crowe & The Kentucky Mountain Boys who subsequently became J.D. Crowe and The New South. He also co-formed The Bluegrass Album Band.
Crowe first became known during his four-year stint Jimmy Martin’s Sunny Mountain Boys, begun while he was still a teenager in the mid–1950s, contributed to scores of bluegrass classics and set a standard to which legions of banjo players and harmony singers still aspire. The Rounder Records debut he recorded in 1975 with his trailblazing band, J.D. Crowe and The New South., is widely recognized as one of the genre’s most important recordings and continues to inspire new generations more than a quarter of a century after its release. He has been sited as an influence on Terry Baucom and Sammy Shelor's banjo styles.
While subsequent albums have explored both hard–driving bluegrass and creative country blends, with The Bluegrass Album Band, he was part of reintroducing audiences to the songs of the first generation’s masters in a series of influential albums that spanned more than a decade and a half. He’s earned Grammy and IBMA awards, been honored by his native state and acclaimed around the world. Today, his name is synonymous with unsurpassed mastery of bluegrass tradition, bold innovation, the nurturing of fresh talent and an uncompromising devotion to musical excellence.
Yet even as he continues to earn recognition for a lifetime of accomplishment, Crowe continues to lead a hard-working bluegrass band that has earned comparison with the greatest of the New South’s earlier lineups. Dwight McCall, Harold Nixon and Rickey Wasson all grew up musically within a hundred miles of Crowe’s long time home ground of Lexington, Kentucky. Inspired not only by the New Southˆs classic albums but by personal appearances, the Crowe repertoire and approach to bluegrass are as familiar to them as bluegrass itself. Supplemented at times on personal appearances by outstanding instrumentalists like fiddle players Ronnie Stewart, Aubrey Haynie and Michael Cleveland, they’re equally at home with the bluegrass classics, the wealth of the New South repertoire and their own additions to it.
Dwight McCall was born in Maryland, moving to Cincinnati shortly before he began playing mandolin and singing in earnest as a teenager. The son of bluegrass great Jim McCall, he first drew attention as a member of Union Springs, releasing three well-received CDs and touring regionally between 1992 and 1995. He stopped onto the national stage as a member of Charlie Waller’s Country Gentlemen before joining the New South in 1996. He appeared on J. D. Crowe & The New South’s Come On Down To My World (1999), taking the lead on the title track as well as several other songs, including his own “I Don't Know.” His powerful tenor has been paired with the Lost & Found’s Scottie Sparks on his self–titled debut of 1999, and with two time IBMA Male Vocalist of the Year Dan Tyminski, both on the latter’s solo album and the award–winning Stanley Gospel Tradition.
Rickey Wasson is a lifelong Kentuckian who began playing guitar when he was five. After playing in area groups, he joined Southern Blend in 1985, recording three albums with the band and earning a reputation throughout the region as a gifted lead and rhythm guitarist and New South-influenced singer. He recorded his own solo gospel album, Songs From The Old Country Church (1989), with a guest list that included Alison Krauss, for whom he returned the favor in 1993 by filling in on tour dates as a member of Union Station. Rickey joined the New South in 1998, taking part on several of Come On Down To My World's tracks as guitarist. He also appeared with J. D. Crowe & The New South on the live album, At Bean Blossom: Uncle Pen Days (2000). Like Dwight, Rickey took a hiatus from playing with the New South before returning to the group at the beginning of 2002.
Harold Nixon is the least well–known of the New South’s members, but it’s no exaggeration to say that’s a consequence of his youth than his talent. He first came to the New South’s attention playing with John Cosby and the Bluegrass Drifters, a durable central Kentucky outfit, and served a stint with Unlimited Tradition before joining Crowe’s band in early 2002. Harold’s steady, tasteful but energetic bass is an indispensable part of the New South.
With a compelling blend of youth and experience, tradition and bold creativity, this is a band as close to the heart of bluegrass today as it — or anyone else — has ever been.
When it comes to J. D. Crowe & The New South, no other word but “legend” will do.
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