Patuxent CD-134 Nate Leath - I've Always Been a Rambler
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The last Saturday in March every year, folks around these parts attend the Mooresville, NC fiddlers convention at the local high school. It was there in 1994 Red Tommy Malboeuf (premier
bluegrass fiddler) and I were walking down the school hallway to our warm-up room when we
heard the “Roxanna Waltz” being fiddled as pretty as you can imagine. “Baker must be here!”,
exclaimed Tommy and I pointed out that whoever was playing it was certainly Tommy’s competition that night.
We speculated as to who the seasoned professional might be if indeed it wasn’t Kenny Baker. When we got to our room, there before us was not an experienced veteran but 10 year old Nathan Leath fiddling his heart out for all he was worth. He was amazing to watch. Nate very politely asked us to show him a certain tune or lick; we’d play it for him and immediately Nate would give it back to us - note for note. It was like playing into a tape recorder. Nate’s ear was so acute that when I fiddled something and bobbled it – sure enough, Nate threw it back, bobble and all.
Nate’s grandmother, Sandy Austin, was very influential in furthering his musical interests as she encouraged him, playing the classic bluegrass records at home and driving him to conventions, festivals and music gatherings over the years.
Sandy asked Red Tommy if he’d give her grandson fiddle lessons but Tommy declined saying he needed to take lessons from Nate.
Roger Hart (Sandy’s brother) hand crafted a fiddle and gave it to Nate when he was 9 years old and pointed the youngster in the right direction. Roger is a good luthier and multi-instrumentalist and advised Nate to listen to bluegrass records. As a result Nate became quite adept at playing by ear. Some of the greats he listened to were Kenny Baker, Scotty Stoneman, Bobby Hicks and Stuff Smith. It was the latter that influenced Nate’s pension for jazz and improvisation.
By the time he was 11 years old, Nate took the Galax, VA fiddlers convention by storm, performing a reprise of “Roxanna Waltz”. Not only did he win first bluegrass fiddle but he garnered the best all-around musician trophy as well. He told guitar accompanist Steve Kilby, “It felt good while I was playing it. Maybe I’ll get in the finals and get a prize.”
Nate now has a wall covered with ribbons and trophies he has won at various contests down South.
At 15, the urge to play music full time was so powerful and all consuming that Nate went to Maryland at the offer of mentor and musician/recording impresario Tom Mindte. At Tom’s insistence, Nate went off to Boston to attend the prestigious Berklee School Of Music. There he fell under the expert tutelage of fiddle instructors like Matt Glaser, Rob Thomas and Eugene Friesen (cello).
It was at Berklee that Nate was thrown head first into the unfamiliar waters of music notation, structure and theory but he retained his ear and is able to swim in the deepest part of the “improv” lake.
Now in his 21st year, Nate has been recording professionally since he was 15. He tours with The Old School Freight Train band and plays Dawg music with David Grisman’s stage gigs.
Nate now gives private fiddle and mandolin instruction and conducts workshops at various festivals.
This CD marks Nate’s 4th solo album and he is expertly backed by sidemen whose credentials
read like a bluegrass who’s-who:
Since discovering the banjo at the age of twelve, Rex McGee has been playing bluegrass in the
tradition of his father and grandfather. Rex also creates music not often associated with the banjo, such as classical, rock and jazz. Rex has performed with such luminaries as Vassar Clements, Tony Rice, John Cowan, Pat Flynn and Wayne Benson.
Danny Knicely is a 4th generation Appalachian multi-instrumentalist from a Virginia family of
traditional mountain music. He won 1st mandolin at the Telluride bluegrass festival and has performed with Mac Wiseman, Vassar Clements and Tony Rice.
Chris Eldridge (whose father Ben Eldridge helped form the Seldom Scene) grew up with a deep
understanding of traditional bluegrass. While at Oberlin Conservatory of Music he studied for 2
years with Tony Rice and performed with Rice, Bill Keith and the Emory Lester Set. He also picks with the Seldom Scene and the Nashville String Dusters.
Stefan Custodi has performed at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington,
DC and played bass with Richard Greene, Frank Wakefield and Fred Wesley.
Tom Mindte, whose voice ranges from deep bass to soaring tenor, adds his unique mandolin
virtuosity on two tunes on this album. The late Buzz Busby once commented, “Tom knows where all the good notes are on the mandolin and really knows how to extricate them.”
Dede Wyland was awarded 1999 Female Bluegrass Vocalist of the year and was founding
member of Tony Trischka and Skyline. She’s appeared on “A Prairie Home Companion”,
“Mountain Stage” and “Fire on the Mountain”.
The “Cluck Old Hen” version was inspired by a Miles Davis recording entitled “On The Corner”. Nate felt it would be cool to see what Miles might have done with an old time fiddle tune. Nate Leath handles the tunes on this album with stellar bluegrass tradition at first- then when the mood strikes, he surges toward the far-flung outer reaches of jazz laced plateaus. Nate’s fiddle is the starship and his imagination the universe.
– Jim Scancarelli
(Cartoonist for the comic strip, “Gasoline Alley” and best fiddler in his living room)