The most recent edition (#49) of The Fretboard Journal showed up in my mailbox earlier this month, and among other gems it contained a delightful little piece on how the tune Salt Spring had become a bluegrass jam favorite. I immediately checked out versions on You Tube, and this Saturday Soundtrack was born.
The tune was written by John Reischman, shown playing a delicious duet of Salt Spring in the 2019 video above with mandolinist Sierra Hull. Beyond a connection to a previously unknown tune that is clearly known to half the (bluegrass) world, the article was a re-introduction to Reischman and his music.
John Reischman first came to my attention as the mandolinist in the original configuration of the Tony Rice Unit on 1981’s Still Inside (later released as part of the compilation Devlin). Reischman’s original tune Birdland Breakdown was featured on both albums, as was the joyful Rice composition Devlin, with Reischman’s mandolin solo beginning at the 2:17 mark.
Also from that era, I came upon a rather rare audio of that band live at the iconic McCabe’s guitar shop in Santa Monica. The funny thing is that the picture is of the 1990s version on the TRU. Among those pictured, only Tony is playing on this recording. It is an amazing forty-five minutes of music, beginning with Reischman’s My Waltz. I especially enjoy the band’s version of the famous Wes Montgomery tune Four on Six beginning at 34:44.
To many ears, 1982’s sublime Backwaters album was the best of the Tony Rice Unit’s offerings from that era. On Green Dolphin Street, written by Bronisław Kaper and Ned Washington, is a personal favorite.
After leaving the Tony Rice Unit, Reischman moved north of the border to Vancouver, British Columbia in the 1990s and formed John Reischman & the Jaybirds, where he recruited the best acoustic musicians on each side of the border to realize his broad musical vision. John also explored more intimate musical styles playing mandolin on several duet records with fingerstyle guitarist John Miller.
Here is Reischman and The Jaybirds playing Hop High. Reischman’s mandolin solo on this bluegrass work, following a tasty acoustic guitar lead, begins around the 2:15 mark of the video. At 3:37 he doubles with the banjo to take the tune out.
Building on those milestones, Reischman has released a series of acclaimed solo recordings — North of the Border, Up In The Woods, and Walk Along John — that showcase his gifts as a composer and instrumentalist. Many of John’s signature “melodic mandolin” tunes such as “Salt Spring,” “Little Pine Siskin,” and “Birdland Breakdown,” also have been adopted as bluegrass standards and can be heard at jam sessions across the continent until the wee hours of the dawn.
Filmed on August 26th, 2016, at the NimbleFingers Bluegrass and Old-Time Music Workshop and Festival in Sorrento, BC, this a showcase of John with the inventive guitarist Molly Tuttle and The Taterbugs playing the aforementioned Little Pine Siskin from his album Walk Along John.
Reischman’s newest album is New Time & Old Acoustic featuring 12 new Reischman originals and a reinterpretation of his classic Salt Spring. The Punch Brothers’ Chris Eldridge and long-time Rice bassist Todd Phillips join Reischman on the mesmerizing Old Road to Kingham. Horses of Dorrigo from the same album features Nick Hornbuckle and Trent Freeman on banjo and fiddle.
And let’s end where we began — with John’s melodic Salt Spring — this time performed by the Jaybirds while waves crash against the shore in the background. Lovely.
More to come…
Image of John Reischman | JohnReishman.com by Trent Freeman
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