Pick ’em up
When Charlie Edsall was 8 years old, his dad sat him down in the kitchen of their Indiana farmhouse and showed him how to play three chords on the guitar. “I just took it from there,” he says.
In the 45 years since, Edsall’s played guitar (as well as mandolin, banjo and upright bass) with bands like Buzzard’s Roost, the Slide Mountain Boys and Ron Spears & Within Tradition. Now he’s part of the F-150s, a nationally touring bluegrass band that formed about a year ago.
The F-150s is so named because the four band members have been in so many different bands that the F-150s became a “pick-up” band. By phone from Kings Beach, where he works as a postmaster, Edsall somewhat bashfully admits he actually drives a Dodge Ram.
Joining him in the F-150s is fiddle player Bruce Johnson, who’s played since he was about 11 years old. Bass player Steve Spurgin was offered a job with the Dixie Chicks in their early days and was a Nashville staff writer for Reba McEntire. Driving the music with his five-string banjo is Hal Horn. Collectively, they represent about 140 years of bluegrass experience, says Edsall.
The F-150s will be at the Sparks Marina Park Pavilion on June 3 for the “Bluegrass Battle of the Bands,” organized by the Nevada Bluegrass Project. It’s a benefit for the Northern Nevada chapter of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. The band members aren’t at a stage in their careers where they feel like “battling” anyone, says Edsall, but they hope to raise some money for the cause.
Here’s how it works. The event is free, but the audience gives dollar votes for their favorite bands to win the trophy. Other bands on the roster include the Bar-B-Que Boys, Moonlight Hoodoo Revue, Nevada Rain, Saddle Rash, and Wild Creek.
While the heyday of bluegrass in the 1930s and ‘40s gave way to a sleepy little genre of passionate pickers in later decades, the current bluegrass revival is hard to dismiss. “A lot of time, if you tell somebody there’ll be live bluegrass, you’ll get people you never met knocking your door down,” says Edsall.
But now that the realm of bluegrass has stretched and incorporated other musical influences, the word “bluegrass” can mean different things to different people. For example, any jam band playing a banjo seems to get a bluegrass reference. Those same bands are often an introductory point for younger generations into the genre.
For Edsall and the F-150s, their idea of bluegrass is in the vein of Ricky Scaggs, Vince Gill, and of course, the father of bluegrass, Bill Monroe.
“There’s some individuals who get together who say they play bluegrass, but it’s not even close,” says Edsall. “Someone who’s never heard bluegrass says they’ve heard it [based on some] stereotype that wasn’t even in the same ballpark. That really hurts bluegrass.”
With so many bluegrass bands plucking away out there, it sometimes seems they could all dissolve into a cacophony of high-pitched strings. What separates the F-150s from others has much to do with experience. “What cuts us apart from 80 percent of other bands is the fact we’ve been around so many years,” says Edsall. “We know what needs to be done, and not just for ourselves but for other musicians you’re picking with, so it sounds like a collective unit. You can put four professionals together, but they can sound terrible if they don’t click together as a unit.”