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Newfoundland group believed to be Canada's longest-running bluegrass band
Forty-six years is longer than many marriages, but that’s how long Neil Rosenberg and Ted Rowe have played music together.
After nearly five decades, they’ve likely figured out the secret to a long-lasting relationship, even if it’s purely musical:
“No cross words,” chuckled Rowe.
Photographs of the band from the 1970s show Rosenberg in bell-bottoms, and Rowe with side-swept bangs.
When The Telegram spoke with the musicians on Wednesday, Rosenberg wore a blue button-up dress shirt and Rowe’s hair was grey.
But some things never change: unwavering since Crooked Stovepipe formed in 1973 is the band’s vast repertoire, solid musicianship, and knack for performing country, folk, and Newfoundland music in the bluegrass style.
But how does a band keep its music fresh after so long?
For Crooked Stovepipe, the answer is enlisting young musicians.
Today, the age range between the band’s youngest member, fiddler Carole Bestvater, 30, and the eldest – Rosenberg, 80 – is 50 years.
“That really pushes us to stay on our toes and do our best. We find the energy to be able to keep up with them,” said Rowe, laughing as he adds: “So far.”
Ted’s son, Dave Rowe, has played with the band for 20 years. He said he’s learned a lot about bluegrass over the years and calls it “an honour” to be a member of the longest-running bluegrass band in Canada.
If anyone could attest that they are indeed the longest-running, it would be Rosenberg. He’s spent his life studying the genre and wrote what’s considered the definitive book about the history of bluegrass, titled “Bluegrass: A History”.
“There are quite a few bluegrass bands not only in Canada but in the United States that are like us – made up of what you might call weekend warriors – you know, people who play bluegrass and also do other things. So, it’s possible that there’s a band someplace in Canada that’s been together longer than we have, but we haven’t heard of them,” said Rosenberg.
“Until they show themselves, I think we’re going to stake out that territory,” laughed Ted.
And if Dave has his way, the band will be around for many more years to come.
“I look forward to playing with my father and Neil for as long as it’s possible, but I think that the band is going to continue on.
“I think Crooked Stovepipe is going to have a continual life even past the current generation because I plan on keeping it going – enlisting other bluegrass-minded musicians, and keep it rollin’ on.”
In the meantime, they show no signs of slowing down.
After a tour last summer, the group thought it was time for a new studio album.
Beginning before Christmas last year and clewing up in February, they recorded “Hand-Picked Bluegrass Music From Newfoundland”.
It includes covers of tunes by Newfoundland songwriters, such as “Stop the Trains” by Sherry Ryan, “Vitamin C” by Peter Narváez, and “Take a Chance on Love” by Ron Hynes.
Of course, it’s got some bluegrass standards, such as “Ridin’ That Mighnight Train” and “Teardrops in My Eyes”.
There’s also an original instrumental tune composed by Rosenberg that’s built on the old-time piece “Sugar Hill”.
“Hand-Picked” was produced by acclaimed country and bluegrass guitarist Craig Young at his Paradise studio. He’s also the special guest at the band’s CD release party Thursday evening, July 25 at the Rocket Room on Water Street.
“Hand-Picked” is available at Fred’s Records, O’Brien’s Music and online at crookedstovepipe.com.