Mark O’Connor will flip 60 this August and never far behind, the fiftieth anniversary of his arrival on the roots music scene. A musical prodigy if ever there was one, O’Connor was making such a stir on the fiddle contest circuit by age 12 that Rounder Data signed him to a deal. By 16, he’d launched three albums, together with his daring bluegrass guitar opus Markology. Now, 44 years later, there’s a sequel, and it’s a wild story.
The world got here to know O’Connor as maybe essentially the most full and revolutionary fiddler/violinist in American historical past. However his first instrument was really the guitar. Not people or bluegrass guitar, however classical and flamenco, beginning about age six, as a result of his mom cherished the kinds, and Andres Segovia was a favourite artist. However as soon as he acquired into fiddling and concerned in contests, he gained trophies and attracted some legendary figures to mentor and educate him.
His first Rounder launch documented his championship tunes, with the enormous Norman Blake on rhythm guitar. Then on Jan. 1 of 1976, when he was 14, his Pickin’ In The Wind LP featured unique instrumentals, extra requirements, and assist from Sam Bush, John Hartford and different luminaries. That’s when the forces of the music enterprise and the enterprise of being adolescent collided, as O’Connor tells me in Episode 169 of The String.
“I used to be really simply totally depressed. I had not solely these mid-teenage blues, however a number of issues that being a baby musician, from age 12 via 15. It actually put me via a number of hurdles, and type of psychological video games. I used to be making an attempt to develop up, and a part of that was simply type of rejecting my childhood music experiences. I simply wished to get away from it. And Rounder Data, to their credit score, saved calling my mom saying we want one other album by Mark, and I used to be turning them down…I simply wished to skateboard.”
Then Rounder actually acquired artistic, suggesting that as a substitute of one other fiddle album, Mark may put his guitar enjoying out entrance. O’Connor says he was coy at first after which he set what he thought had been unimaginable phrases. If they might get his heroes Tony Rice to play guitar and David Grisman to play mandolin, he’d do it. Rounder referred to as his bluff, and that’s how Markology got here to function the highest acoustic pickers of the instances enjoying with the skateboard child. And the outcomes had been astonishing, a collection of unique and interpreted requirements that shot newgrass music forward by leaps and bounds.
Sadly, O’Connor discovered that his guitar enjoying model, with a number of rotation in his forearm, triggered bursitis in his proper elbow, threatening each of his key devices. So he gave up guitar, targeted on fiddle, and the remaining is historical past, as they are saying. His resume is overwhelming. O’Connor performed rock and roll fiddle for a time with the Dixie Dregs. He moved to Nashville and have become the first-call session fiddler on the town, enjoying on scores of hit nation periods. He was the impetus for the wildly influential Power In Numbers supergroup in 1989 with Sam Bush, Bela Fleck, Jerry Douglas and Edgar Meyer. He was band chief for the wonderful TNN present American Music Store. After which he went classical, or neo-classical, composing for orchestra and small teams, together with his profound Appalachia Waltz with Yo Yo Ma and Edgar Meyer. He additionally pursued gypsy jazz with among the finest bands to make that music in fashionable instances. Lately, he returned to bluegrass along with his household band, successful this third Grammy Award within the course of. He additionally years in the past launched a fiddle camp that helped new generations of string band innovators discover their voice and kind a community of pals and colleagues.
Throughout the household band adventures, he started enjoying the acoustic guitar once more simply to see the way it felt and he felt inspired to start out enjoying a bit on stay exhibits. That led to extra intense follow and testing his limits, which opened up doorways to a up to date strategy and elegance.
“After I began to place down tracks, I did not suppose it was going to be an album. I wished to demo my progress, however I wished to ensure the sound was nice, you recognize, simply in case. And in order that was occurring for a couple of years. And I had about 5 items down. So then the pandemic hit 14 months in the past. And so I believed, effectively, I’ll do a brand new one, as a result of I’ve extra time. After which I did one other one after which one other one. After which unexpectedly, I had 9 out of 10. After which Tony Rice handed away.”
Whereas he knew Rice solely glancingly when he secured his assistance on Markology within the 70s, Rice turned a mentor and lifelong pal. Rice turned the dominant drive on guitar for his technology simply as O’Connor turned the middle of gravity on fiddle. Their lives had been intertwined, in order that’s why Markology II is devoted to Rice. It’s not only a superb tribute, it’s a one-of-a-kind mission. Bluegrass guitar is a lead instrument nevertheless it’s hardly ever if ever a solo instrument. Over 46 minutes, O’Connor bids the guitar in all types of instructions utterly on his personal. It’s fiery, finessed, extravagant and spellbinding. So typically we lament the passing of musicians whose voices are stilled. Not often can we witness a resurrection.