Patuxent CD-075 Frak Wakefield - Don't Lie to Me
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Don’t Lie To Me is Frank Wakefield’s second CD for Patuxent Records, the latest in a legacy of recordings that spans half a century. Frank Wakefield is still as creative and technically amazing as ever, and his mandolin wizardry continues to inspire and delight listeners.
Franklin Delano Wakefield was born June 26, 1934 in Emory Gap, Tennessee. As a teenager living in Dayton, Ohio, Frank got his first mandolin, an old bowl-back model. One day, Frank was sitting in his yard playing the mandolin when Red Allen, destined to become one of bluegrass music’s most powerful lead singers, happened down the street. This was the start of a musical collaboration which was to last many years. Red was playing in a local bar, and quickly got an underage Frank in to play a show with him (with Frank earning eight dollars pay). Frank and Red organized a bluegrass band, with Noah Crase on banjo, which performed in the Dayton area for some time.
Frank remembers the day in the early ‘60’s when Monroe, aware of Frank’s stylistic devotion, told Frank, “You play my style about as good as I do; what you have to do now is get your own style.” Frank took these words to heart. Adding unexpected blues notes, minor chords, new twists and turns in timing and melody, and exploring the tonal possibilities of the instrument in new ways, Frank built a unique and unmistakably recognizable mandolin style for himself.
Frank was adventurously exploring new territory on the mandolin, developing techniques typically not heard in the world of bluegrass mandolin. Playing “chimes” (simultaneously picking and plucking notes in different registers of the instrument), experimenting with different tunings, using split-string techniques to play different notes within the same pair of strings, and exploring the use of classical-sounding alternating bass and treble picking, combined to make Frank’s evolving mandolin style difficult to pigeonhole as either bluegrass, jazz, or classical. Performing at college concerts, coffeehouses, and as opening act for rock groups, Frank was taking his music to an everwidening audience. While bluegrass traditionalists would frown at some of Frank’s “wild” innovations, the frowns would turn to grins when Frank would play the straight bluegrass just like Bill Monroe himself. Listen to Frank’s playing on Ralph Stanley’s early solo album on the Jalyn label (1967) for some of the best straight-ahead bluegrass mandolin you’ll ever hear, anywhere.
Over the years, Frank has recorded an impressive repertoire of original mandolin instrumentals. The chord structures and rhythms are innovative, the melodies are sophisticated. You generally don’t hear these tunes played around the campfire at a bluegrass festival jam session because the music is technically so challenging. However, Frank’s influence on mandolin playing is easily detected when listening to newer generations of mandolin stylists from David Grisman to Ronnie McCoury. Grisman once commented, “Frank was the first mandolin player to transform the bluegrass energy of Bill Monroe into something new. He split the bluegrass mandolin atom.”
When considering Frank’s influence in the world of acoustic music, one is often struck by the sheer number of musicians who have worked with Frank, and learned from Frank, over the years. It is rare to be around a group of bluegrass musicians without finding several who have played in Frank’s bands at some point. In one respect, this is not surprising considering the length of Frank’s musical career, and the fact that he has lived in so many different parts of the country. In addition, Frank Wakefield has always viewed himself as a teacher as well as a performer. Beyond giving mandolin lessons and producing video instruction tapes, it seems that Frank has always sought out a younger generation of musicians to perform with, to teach, and to encourage. His patience and disciplined focus, an obvious ingredient in his mandolin technique, is quite evident whenever he sits down to rehearse with other musicians. Frank’s infectious enthusiasm for music is part of the legacy which Frank will leave to younger generations of musicians who have worked onstage with him through the years.
It should be mentioned here that Frank has a deeply mischievous sense of humor. Frank’s verbal improvisations parallel his musical ones. His fondness for “backing talkwards” (talking backwards) is often misunderstood by strangers, but friends and fellow musicians delight in engaging in this banter with Frank. (He’ll answer the phone, “Goodbye!” and sign off with “Hello!” Don’t let this throw you.)
In recent years, Frank has traveled widely overseas, to Australia, to Japan, and even to Cuba for a month of recording and performing. “I got mad because Castro didn’t invite me to dinner,” Frank quips. Frank was a key participant in the Bluegrass Mandolin Extravaganza recording project on the Acoustic Disc label. In 2000, Patuxent Records released Frank’s previous CD, Midnight on the Mandolin.
Don’t Lie to Me includes a wealth of original material, including the title song and several mandolin instrumentals. Frank’s version of “Danny Boy” will absolutely take your breath away. Frank is joined on this album by a number of veteran bluegrass musicians including banjoist Bill Keith (who performed on the 1964 Frank Wakefield/Red Allen Folkways album), fiddler Jon Glik (who recorded with Frank in the 1970’s), guest artist Mike Auldridge, and others.
For those of you hearing Frank for the first time, know that you’re getting a taste of music history. For old friends of Frank, know that he’s alive and well, and his playing is as great as ever!