Larry Beem: Transcript
Bluegrass steel guitarist
I started actually at seven years old playing the steel guitar. And at that time I really wasn't a whole lot familiar with the whole bluegrass world. My sister and brother and mother actually were players, too, so we had a little family band going on. And, for a reason unbeknownst to me, they decided not to play anymore, so I was blessed with a whole houseful of instruments.
And the next thing that I took up was standard guitar and got fairly proficient on that about the time I found the bluegrass world. Was a pretty good guitar player, really. And there were so many guitar players, I decided to try banjo, and it really interested me. And the right-hand technique was similar to the steel guitar, so I already knew how to use finger picks. And it seemed that there were banjo players every place. Every time you'd shake a bush, a banjo player would come out of it, you know. So I decided to—I already knew how to run a bar, and it might be wise to try dobro. And I stumbled one day into a music store in Indianola, Iowa, and bought my very first one down there and have been in love with it and mesmerized by it ever since.
There's a fellow named DeVere Adams down there that had DeVere's Music Store in Indianola. And I ran into him a while back. The store long since closed, but that's where I bought my very first guitar. And he still had the sales receipt! It was in 1991, when I bought that first dobro.
The main one really that stuck out and made it famous above all was Roy Acuff's dobro player, Oswald Kirby. Brother Oswald they called him. His style at that time, and along with all the other backup players, were to play the melody, basically, is what they did, was embellish the singer by playing the melody right along. Not right along with what he sang, but when he was done singing, to play exactly what he had sang note for note. And most of them were very, very good at that. And so it tended to be pretty simple, you know, at that time.
I think probably one of the more requested tunes that I get as a dobro player is one called “Great Speckled Bird.” Every dobro player in the country plays this and has their own rendition of it. And what I would like to do is show you the way, kind of, that it started with the basic thing with Oswald. And I'll play just a tiny portion of that and then play it the way that I would play it with my approach today, which is a little bit more technical, shall we say. (Music)
Very straight up the middle. It's almost the notes that the singer sung on that song. And that's the way that the original guys approached it. There's nothing wrong with that; it's just it has evolved into something totally different. The whole trick of the thing today is to get as many notes—I don't want to say “get as many notes in as you can possibly get,” because then that becomes ugly, but to more hang around and embellish the actual melody, rather than playing it note for note. (Music)
I love playing traditional bluegrass, but I also like listening to the newer styles and the guys the way they’re playing things today. Nickel Creek really turns me on for one. Randy Kohrs is a very progressive dobro player—a good friend of mine also—and he's an extremely talented player. Of course, there's Jerry Douglas; needn't say much about him that hasn't already been said. But I don't know that I would really necessarily choose one style over another, but there are definite differences in it, and that's for sure. It's more fun for me to play the newer things because it tends to make me work harder; it makes me more creative. (Music)