Remembering Mike Auldridge

Posted January 2nd, 2013 at 11:04 pm (UTC+0)

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!”

Mike Auldridge and his ever creased jeans. (photo by Katy Daley)

We miss you Mike!

Host of VOA's Roots and Branches, and world traveler extraordinaire! When I'm not listening to music, I'm probably talking about it or thinking about the next band I'm going to see. Or my next interview! Join me every week for the best in folk, bluegrass and all other forms of American roots music!

16 responses to “Remembering Mike Auldridge”

  1. Gerry MacCarthy says:

    Mike was one of the nice guys in bluegrass music beside being one of the innovators of the dobro guitar taking the instrument to newer levels. I had the pleasure of meeting Mike years ago on my first visit to the Gettysburg bluegrass festival. He was staying at our motel and came in and sat to have breakfast with us. I still remember a festival in Erie Pa. our Canadian band happened to be playing the festival . Mike came to our camp site and sat around the fire and played with us and what a great time we had.
    Lastly, Mike designed the cover of our album jacket in 1982 with awesome caricatures and refused any payment.
    If there is an angel band I’m sure he will fit right in.

  2. Gerry, thanks for sharing your memories of Mike! He was a very special guy. Can you figure out a way to share a photo of that album cover? I’m sure everyone would enjoy it—if not, let me know and we’ll figure something out! KC.

    • Gerry MacCarthy says:

      Hello Katharine:
      Thanks for replying to my Mike A. memories. I happen to have an original copy of the album still but I’m not sure how to apply it to my computer. I would be happy to send it to you if you want to E mail me direct with an address I could send it to.
      Wish we could have been at the service but it’s a long drive from Niagara Falls Canada especially in January.
      The Seldom Scene was here in October for a show which my brother organized. Lou Reid and Carolina appeared with them. Great people whom we’ve known for a long time.

      • Hi Gerry!
        send me an email at (and put an @ in there instead of the -at-)–I’ve got a couple of ideas.

        • Gerry MacCarthy says:

          Hey Katherine:
          I haven’t had much luck with the roots email address. Keeps coming up failure. I have been able to put the picture on my computer but can’t seem to get it into an email.
          I obviously need some more experienced help.
          Gerry M.

          • Hi Jerry,
            Sorry you’re having problems—the email address is working. You should be able to just include the photo as an attachment in an email. But don’t worry about it. Is there a picture of your album cover anywhere online? If so, share the address here and we can all go look at it!

  3. Tom MIddleton says:

    I love to hear stories about Mike. I first met him in 1974 at a festival somewhere in Virginia. I spotted him getting his dobro out of his trunk while Charlie Waller waited for him. I followed them over to Charlie Waller and wife’s camp site and stood on the fringe while the two of them played a few songs. I had just started playing a few months previous, hunkered down in my parents basement in Pittsburgh with Mike’s 1st Takoma album constantly spinning on my KLH stereo, I finally got up enough nerve to ask him a few basic questions and he was happy to answer. I ended up working at the RQ Jones Resophonic Guitar Co. in Wanette, OK in 1978 when Rudy Jones was building one of Mike’s two Jones 8-Strings. Over the years we would cross paths a few more times, we shared the bill at Bluegrass in the Hills in the early 90’s when the original Scene was still together, the last, when his daughter was living here in Austin and he came through doing a show with Lyle Lovett. We sat in the lobby of the Four Seasons Hotel and chatted for about an hour after the show. I made a trip out to Cottonwood, Arizona where Chesepeake was playing a show. He was gracious in calling the motel where I was staying to talk about the show. We exchanged emails over the years, a few that I have kept. I read them again the other day. I wish I was able to attend his memorial service today. What a fine man hew was.

    I would love to hear more stories about his car collection if anybody has any.

  4. James Mead says:

    Mike was a long time aquaintance. I’ve know him for a very long time as we both grew up in the Kensington, MD area. He was everyone’s musical prodigy. He will be greatly missed. He let behind however his tremendous legacy of Bluegrass music. His music will live on.As Stonewall Jackson said on his last breath,”We shall swim through the river, and gather under the tree on the other side.”

    • Hi James,
      Thanks for checking in. I grew up in the area, too! It was a beautiful send off for Mike yesterday. So glad we have all the fabulous music to enjoy. And a new album with Jerry Douglas and Rob Ickes on the way!

  5. John Stevenson says:

    Hey Katherine. Wonderful post. Thanks so much. Sorry I didn’t know Mike; sounds like a wonderful guy and a good friend of yours. Good friend of music too. I did, however, know John Duffy. He and I used to teach together, probably 40 years ago. He actually didn’t do much teaching, but built and repaired instruments. He was a great guy — some days surly, some days beautiful — but always a pro. Thanks again for the great post about Mike. All the best.

    • John! Great to hear from you. Your description of Mr. Duffey is “spot on” as my British friends say. As you might imagine, his name came up in conversation often yesterday.

  6. Dick Hyde says:

    All Kensington Elementary and Kensington Jr. High grads,…….. George Hayden, Kensington Pkwy, Mickey Desmond/deceased / Bexhill Drive, Eric Schmitter, Franklin Street, myself on Kingston Rd…We remember playing pool and Mike’s house….In 2nd grade he could draw antique cars like a pro….he had talent in his fingers in many ways…..from art to music…..

  7. GerryMacCarthy says:

    Hello Katherine:
    You’ve likely forgotten by know but I wrote you after Mike Aukdridge’s passing trying to send you a picture of an album jacket he designed for us here in Niagara Falls Can.
    I try to read you articles often and would still like to get a copy to you. I have a couple of spare jackets and would send you one if you could send me an address where it would reach you.
    Also, do you have any current info on the status of Tony Rice? I heard he is having a tough time and needing financial help. He is my all time fav and I love listening to him play. I did a pen and ink sketch of him and would love to send him a copy.
    Love to hear from you. Gerry M.

    • Hi Gerry,
      You can reach me here at VOA:
      Katherine Cole
      330 Independence Ave SW, #3408-B
      Washington DC 20237
      I understand that Tony has hit a rough patch –I think Bluegrass Today might be a good source of info for you!



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