Quintet of Talent

By Andrew Gilhooley / 411

To those in the know, there is Bluegrass music and then there is Newgrass music. Bay Area band The Waybacks are considered to be one of the finest exponents of the Newgrass sound, and have been described as “one of the most exciting, inventive and fun acoustic bands on the planet.” 

Bluegrass traces its roots to the British Isles, mainly Scotland and Ireland.  As the Scottish and Irish immigrants came to America, they settled in the Appalachian Mountains before moving on to other pats of the country.  The music that they brought with them was the forerunner of Bluegrass as well as Country and Western.  The Bluegrass sound is generally agreed by historians to have been defined by Bill Monroe (1911 – 1996).  Monroe took the traditional songs of Scotland and Ireland and blended them with the Blues and the folk songs of the black workers in the Southern plantations.  He set the songs to a driving beat played on the five instruments now considered the standard for Bluegrass bands – acoustic guitar, five-string banjo, fiddle, mandolin and upright bass.  Bill Monroe’s Bluegrass Boys brought the enjoyment of this traditional form of country music to millions.

In more recent years, many bands and musicians have experimented with the bluegrass sound, introducing new instruments including electric guitars, and combining the traditional musical style with other genres including jazz, rock and even funk.  Artists such as David Grisman and Bela Fleck have been instrumental in developing this musical style, which has come to be known as Newgrass.

The Waybacks have been playing together for only a few years, but already have performed at venues such as The Fillmore, the Kennedy Center Millennium Stage and McCabe’s.  They have also performed at festivals all over the country.  Their music, embraces a huge range of styles and is wild, energetic and unpredictable. 

The five musicians / vocalists in The Waybacks are all highly accomplished and have impressive musical pedigrees.  James Nash, lead guitarist and mandolinist, has been playing since he was 9 years old.  He has played in a variety of rock, country and bluegrass bands and regularly sits in with bands in the Bay Area.  Chojo Jacques plays fiddle, mandolin, guitar and Humanatone (nose flute) and has performed with David Grisman and Ramblin’ Jack Elliott among others.  Guitarist Stevie Coyle taught himself to fingerpick while touring the US with the Royal Lichtenstein Circus, and is also a successful stand-up comedian.  Bassist Joe Kyle Jr is known throughout the Bay Area for his playing and is in great demand from local bands.  Percussionist Chuck Hamilton as played every type of music from orchestral recitals in Norwegian cathedrals to performing with Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown. 

The Waybacks have released three albums.  “Devolver” (2000) and 2002’s “Burger After Church” have received critical acclaim and worldwide radio play.  The third, “Way Live” has just been released and was recorded at three California shows in February.  This week’s live shows are CD release parties.

First published in "411", The Salinas Californian, May 15, 2003

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