The Seldom Scene

From Academic Kids

The Seldom Scene is an American bluegrass band.

The Seldom Scene formed in 1971 in Washington, D.C., with mandolinist John Duffey, banjo player Ben Eldridge, guitarist John Starling, dobro player Mike Auldridge, and bassist Tom Gray. Duffey, a musical instrument repairman, was the driving force behind the band's creation, as he had grown weary of long road tours during his ten years with the Bluegrass group Charlie Waller and the Country Gentlemen. He chose only other musicians with demanding day jobs that would prevent them from travelling beyond the Washington area on tour; Starling was a surgeon, Eldridge a mathematician, Auldridge a graphic artist, and Gray a cartographer with the National Geographic. The group's name was intended as a joke on the idea that they wouldn't be seen much on stage, initially playing only once a week at Bethesda, Maryland or Alexandria, Virginia. This didn't last long.

Bluegrass was just reaching a second peak in popularity in the early 1970s, and The Seldom Scene was at the time the most progressive and wide-ranging band playing in the genre. Their weekly shows included Bluegrass versions of country music, rock, and even classical pop. The band's popularity soon forced them to play more than once a week--but they continued to maintain their image as being seldom seen, and on several of their early album covers were photographed with the stage lights on only their feet, or with their backs to the camera.

Though the Scene remained a non-touring band, they were prolific recorders, producing seven albums in their first five years of existence, including two live albums (among the first live Bluegrass albums). But the band's philosophy of not touring and maintaining their day jobs eventually caused some changes in membership.

In 1977, John Starling left the group to focus on his medical career, and was replaced by singer and songwriter Phil Rosenthal, whose song "Muddy Water" had been recorded by the Scene on two earlier albums. Around the same time, the group switched record labels from Rebel Records to Sugar Hill; however, while Starling had been officially the band's frontman, these changes made little significant difference to the band's overall sound.

The band recorded several more albums in the 1980s and firmly established themselves as the most influential band in Bluegrass. In 1986, Rosenthal and Tom Gray both left the band to focus on other pursuits, and were replaced by Lou Reid and T. Michael Coleman, respectively. Coleman proved to be very controversial, as many purists objected to his use of an electric bass in what is an acoustic genre, but the albums produced by the band after Coleman's arrival maintained the tradtional appeal of any of the Scene's earlier albums.

Reid left the band in 1993, and Duffey convinced former member John Starling to return to the band for the next year. During that year the Scene recorded the album "Like We Used To Be," but Starling did not wish to stay with the band long term. He was replaced in 1994 by lead singer Mondi Klein.

Throughout these changes, John Duffey remained the group's spiritual center and greatest influence, and his initial ideas about keeping a light touring schedule and staying close to home continued to prevail. Though there had been disagreements about this philosophy before, it wasn't until after Starling left for the second time that it cost the band a majority of its members at once. During 1995 and 1996, Klein and Coleman, along with original member dobroist Mike Auldridge, left the group to form a new band called Chesapeake. This new band became a full-time project for its members, and for a time the Scene stopped recording.

Duffey and Ben Eldridge, the two remaining original members, recruited dobroist Fred Travers, bassist Ronnie Simpkins, and guitarist and singer Dudley Connell to join the band, and the reconstituted group recorded an album in 1996 and resumed live appearances.

For 25 years the Seldom Scene remained extremely popular in bluegrass circles even with the near-constant personnel changes. But the band was dealt what seemed a crushing blow in late 1996, when founder and leader John Duffey suffered a fatal heart attack. The band again stopped recording and made no live appearances for some years. Duffey had been widely regarded as one of the most powerful and entertaining stage performers in bluegrass, and there was no one who could replace him.

Nonetheless, the band was simply too popular to disappear for good. Banjoist Ben Eldridge, the sole remaining original member and a significant force in banjo music in his own right, assumed leadership of the band. Former guitarist Lou Reid rejoined the band on mandolin. Initially the new Scene concentrated on live performances, but in [[2000] the group recorded a new album, "Scene it All." The Seldom Scene continues to tour, and remains on the Sugar Hill label for future recordings.


  • Act I (1972)
  • Act Two (1973)
  • Act 3 (1973)
  • Old Train (1974)
  • Live at the Cellar Door (1975)
  • The New Seldom Scene Album (1976)
  • Baptizing (1978)
  • Act Four (1978)
  • After Midnight (1981)
  • At the Scene (1983)
  • Blue Ridge (1985)
  • The Best of the Seldom Scene, Vol 1 (1987)
  • 15th Anniversary Celebration (1988)
  • Change of Scenery (1988)
  • Scenic Roots (1990)
  • Scene 20: 20th Anniversary Concert (1991)
  • Like We Used to Be (1994)
  • Dream Scene (1996)
  • Scene it All (2000)

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