Call it Bluegrass. Call it Newgrass. Call it whatever you like, but when music is in John Cowan’s hands, it’s not to remain in any one category for too long. He plays Sings Like Hell on Saturday, September 15.
How do you find playing bluegrass music in this part of the world? The further you go past the Mississippi River the better it gets. When you get across there you find there just aren’t as many preconceived notions about what should or shouldn’t happen in that particular art form. California has always been a forward-thinking place, and I can’t help but think that has something to do with it, too.
What will you be bringing musically to Santa Barbara? I have a little four-piece band and we sit down when we play and it’s kind of like a living room experience. While we use traditional instruments, it’s not traditional music we play. There might one or two fiddle tunes thrown in there and maybe some bluegrass songs. But I have always written outside of that genre and we also interpret a lot of other people’s music that wouldn’t normally be found in this musical world. So I think that makes for a nice eclectic mix of music.
What led you into bluegrass music? It was kind of an accident. I grew up in Kentucky playing in your typical garage band. When I was a teenager, black music first blasted onto white radio here in the U.S., so I grew up learning how to play Sam and Dave songs and Hendrix songs and Aretha Franklin songs, which made for nice puffery. I then got myself into a bluegrass band by accident and have stayed in that world ever since.