J.D. Crowe is recognized as one of the finest banjo players and band leaders in bluegrass. As a youth, he was enthralled by the playing of banjo master Earl Scruggs. While still in his teens, Crowe landed a job with Jimmy Martin and the Sunny Mountain Boys, where he participated in some of Martin’s most celebrated recordings. During the 1960s and ‘70s, J.D. fronted the Kentucky Mountain Boys, which included such luminaries as Red Allen, Doyle Lawson, and Larry and Tony Rice. From the middle 1970s to the present, J.D.’s New South has been at the forefront of trend setting contemporary bluegrass.
The music of J.D. Crowe came to Rebel in a manner as it did for several other groups. In the late 1960s and early ‘70s, J.D. recorded several albums for the Lemco Records label of Lexington, Kentucky; they were subsequently re-released on King Bluegrass Records. When that label was acquired by Rebel, J.D.’s music found a new home. It has remained in print as part of the Rebel catalog for over 30 years.
Bluegrass Holiday first saw the light of day in 1968. The band was in a good groove, having come together as a cohesive unit during a lengthy and celebrated gig at the Holiday Inn in Lexington, Kentucky. The foursome of J.D., Red Allen, Doyle Lawson, and Bobby Slone turned in masterful performances on a set of decidedly traditional bluegrass songs and tunes. One reviewer cited the recording as “flawless.” Among the favorites were “Little Girl in Tennessee,” “Will You Be Satisfied That Way,” “Helen,” and J. D.’s authoritative rendering of the banjo classic “Train 45.” A 2007 repackaging of the album added four new bonus cuts!
By the time of 1971’s Ramblin’ Boy (later reissued by Rebel under the title Blackjack), it was evident that J.D. Crowe was headed in a more modern direction. The performances were still straight ahead bluegrass but the material was coming from a variety of sources. The title track, for instance, was from popular folk artist, Tom Paxton. Country rocker Gram Parsons and Chris Hillman contributed “Sin City” while Nashville songwriter Dallas Frazier added “So Afraid of Losing You.” Bluegrass fare consisted of several Flatt & Scruggs favorites including “I’ll Stay Around,” “Bouquet in Heaven,” and “Somehow Tonight.” J.D.’s revamping of the instrumental “Bear Tracks” caused one reviewer to cite it as “just a good, or better” than the classic he recorded earlier with Jimmy Martin. Lofty praise, indeed!
Released almost at the same time was the gospel album Model Church. The line-up remained the same as for the previous album – Crowe on the banjo, Doyle Lawson on guitar, Larry Rice on mandolin, and Bobby Slone on bass. Given his subsequent success with bluegrass gospel music, it’s a pretty safe bet that Doyle Lawson had a hand in arranging the material for this project. The title track, from obscure gospel circles, is a gem and has been covered by others, most notably Ralph Stanley and the Bluegrass Album Band. Also given nice treatment were two songs from Jim & Jesse, “Are You Lost in Sin” and “Look For Me,” as well as Flatt & Scruggs’ “No Mother or Dad.” Particularly nice is Vern and Rex Gosdin’s “Goin’ Up.”