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About the video
John Herald and the Greenbriar Boys perform "Little Birdie", from the 60's
About the artists
One of the first urban bands to play bluegrass, the Greenbriar Boys were
instrumental in transforming the sounds of the hill country from a Southern music
to an international phenomenon. The Greenbriar Boys first came together during
informal Sunday afternoon jam sessions at New York's Washington Square Park.
The impetus for the group, however, had been conceived a few years before,
when New York-born John Herald met banjo ace Eric Weissberg at the University
of Wisconsin. Inspired by Weissberg's repertoire of Bill Monroe, Flatt & Scruggs,
and Don Reno tunes, Herald acquired an acoustic guitar and, with help from
Weissberg, taught himself to play.
After leaving the school, Herald and Weissberg moved to New York, where they
were soon joined by Bob Yellin. Yellin had studied classical violin, piano, and
vocal harmony as a child and trumpet at the High School of Music and Art. After
listening to a recording of Flatt & Scruggs, Yellin had been converted to
bluegrass and bought himself a banjo. Using Pete Seeger's instructional record
How to Play the 5 String Banjo, Yellin mastered the three-finger Scruggs style of
banjo picking. In 1958, Yellin and Mike Seeger (of the New Lost City Ramblers)
attended the Old Time Fiddlers Convention in Galax, VA, and received a second
prize for their double banjo rendition of the traditional folk tune "Old Joe Clark."
Herald, Weissberg, and Yellin had few commercial aspirations when they formed
the Greenbriar Boys, and their performances were limited to concerts at
American Youth Hostels and the Sunday sessions at Washington Square Park.
When Gerde's Folk City opened, the Greenbriar Boys were one of the first acts
to play the club.
The Greenbriar Boys became more serious after Weissberg left to join the
Tarriers and was replaced by Paul Prestopino and then Ralph Rinzler. A
mandolin player and folklorist, Rinzler owned a large collection of tapes that
included recordings by Riley Puckett, Charlie Poole, and Uncle Dave Macon.
Rinzler encouraged the Greenbriar Boys to rehearse on a regular basis, and the
group's sound began to meld. In 1960, the Greenbriar Boys traveled to Union
Grove, NC, where they became the first northern group to win the band
competition at the Old Time Fiddlers Convention. A year later, Yellin returned to
the festival and became the first northerner to win first prize in the banjo
1962 proved a pivotal year for the Greenbriar Boys. In addition to accompanying
Joan Baez on two songs -- "Pal of Mine" and "The Banks of the Ohio" -- on her
second album, the group was signed by Vanguard Records. After being featured
along with Jackie Washington, Bob Gude, and Hedy West on a multi-artist
sampler, New Folks, the Greenbriar Boys released a self-titled debut album.
They subsequently released three other albums -- Ragged but Right! in 1964,
Dian & the Greenbriar Boys in 1965, and Better Late Than Never in 1966. With
Rinzler leaving the group to accept a job as director of the folk department at the
Smithsonian Institute, the Greenbriar Boys were joined by bluegrass mandolinist
and vocalist Frank Wakefield and fiddler Jim Buchanan on Better Late Than
Never. The Greenbriar Boys' arrangement of "Different Drum," by Mike Nesmith
(later of the Monkees), was re-recorded and turned into a pop hit by Linda
Ronstadt and the Stone Poneys in 1967. However, the Greenbriar Boys
disbanded in 1967, although they have occasionally reunited in the years since.
~ Craig Harris, All Music Guide