By Katherine Cole
In my last post, I talked about what a great year 2012 had been for roots music. But it was a tough one, too. Levon Helm, Earl Scruggs, Doc Watson were among the household names that passed away. The list of sidemen (and women) lost included NRBQ‘s legendary drummer Tom Ardolino last January and Mike Auldridge just last Saturday. Mike was a founding member of the bluegrass band the Seldom Scene (and later Chesapeake) and master of the six string resophonic guitar, or dobro. This loss hit me especially hard as Mike was a longtime friend.
Like me, Mike called Washington, DC home. It was a treat to see him playing at local clubs. The first time I saw him was with the Scene, probably a few years before this performance on Canadian TV.
The name of the band, Seldom Scene, was an inside joke — a play on the phrase “seldom seen.” While the group did play around town regularly, they rarely toured — each of the members had a full time day job. Mike worked as a graphic artist, drawing the ads in several Washington, DC newspapers. He sketched me once, the result was an extremely flattering cartoon drawing of me sitting at a club listening to a band. It hung on a bulletin board in my office until being torn a few years ago by the guys moving me from one office to another at VOA. That’s the closest I’ve ever come to saying a “bad word” on the job!
Chesapeake was Mike’s full time job after leaving the papers and the Scene. This version of Rider comes from a 1998 Chesapeake show at a club just a few miles from the VOA studios called The Birchmere. Regular listeners to my show Roots and Branches have heard of it because the musicians who come to visit often talk about the place. But you may not have heard of Chesapeake, a band truly before its time. If only they’d formed in 2012 instead of 1994 I think they’d be up there with Mumford and Sons and the other neo-folk-bluegrass-country-rock bands at the top of the Americana and Bluegrass charts.
I’m not going to use this space to write another obituary for Mike Auldridge, I’ll leave it to the New York Times to talk about his elegant playing style, and the Washington Post to explain his place in music history.
I’ll just share a bit about Mike Auldridge, the guy. He loved cars, old ones especially. Fast ones most of all. And then there was his impeccable taste in clothes. He was the only guy I knew who could show up on Friday to a weekend-long bluegrass festival in snow white jacket, and — after three days of rain and mud — leave with it looking just as pristine on Sunday. Never a hair out of place. He even ironed creases on his jeans.
My friend and fellow broadcaster Katy Daley was a friend of Mike’s for many years —she was the first person I called after I heard he’d passed away. We told stories for about an hour and I hung up feeling…well, not happier, but a bit better. Later, she shared this picture with me. In Katy’s words: “Here’s a picture I took of those famous creases when Mike last visited me at the station. His brother, Dave, was obsessed with well-ironed jeans, too. I remember once when Mike was going to buy a new iron the two of them debated the merits and shortcomings of each brand and model of irons for about an hour. There should have been a Mike Auldridge signature model iron!”
We miss you Mike!