All the holiday pageantry surrounding the arrival of 2013 tended to overshadow the under-the-radar exits of several under-appreciated musical ambassadors during the final days of 2012.
Among them was Ray Collins, co-founder of the Mothers of Invention with Frank Zappa. Collins was the principal vocalist on the band’s first two albums. He died Christmas Eve. Obituaries listed his age only as “middle 70s.”
Then on Dec. 26, we lost Fontella Bass, the St. Louis pop-soul diva behind the huge 1965 hit Rescue Me. By the ’70s, Bass turned to jazz by recording with her husband, the great trumpeter Lester Bowie, and his band, the groundbreaking Art Ensemble of Chicago. She embraced gospel in the ’90s and even moonlighted with the British electronica ensemble Cinematic Orchestra in 2002. Bass was 72.
But the loss that probably hit home the hardest was the Dec. 29 passing of Mike Auldridge.
Anyone with a serious love for bluegrass music likely grew up or grew old listening to the clean and surprisingly progressive musicianship that Auldridge conjured from the dobro. Josh Graves can be credited for forging a lasting place for the slide-played resonator guitar in bluegrass, and certainly Jerry Douglas can be viewed as the instrument’s foremost innovator today. But between the two was Auldridge.
Although he was well versed in pre-bluegrass country styles, Auldridge is best known for the genre-busting music he produced with The Seldom Scene, which he co-founded in 1971. Auldridge cut a few fine but hard-to-find solo albums and branched out in the latter part of his career to collaborate with Lyle Lovett and the contemporary string band Chesapeake. But to appreciate the full technical scope of his playing, and his ability to use it within a more folk-informed repertoire, check out any of the first five Seldom Scene albums, culminating with the outstanding 1975 concert recording Live at the Cellar Door.
Auldridge was 73.