Remembering ‘Rounder 0044’
The recording was known as “Rounder 0044,” while some called it
the “Old Home Place” album.
The self-titled project by J.D. Crowe and the New South was released in 1975 on the Rounder Records label, and it would go on to influence a whole generation of bluegrass musicians.
One person who was a witness to that historic recording was Crowe’s long-time friend, Hugh Sturgill.
Sturgill, who has lived in Deep Gap since 1981, is now the force behind the Mountain Music Machine, an entity that concentrates on cultivating local High Country roots music talent.
By the mid-1970s, traditional bluegrass was getting a little stale. So, future hall of famer Crowe, along with his bass player, Bobby Sloane, decided to bring some younger players into the New South, including future legends Tony Rice and Ricky Skaggs.
As the band gelled, the idea was hatched to record an album of innovative bluegrass music, adapting and playing songs written by then-contemporary artists, such as Gordon Lightfoot, Ian Tyson, Rodney Crowell and Utah Phillips.
Sturgill had known Crowe since the 1960s in Lexington, Ky., and Crowe credits him with helping to bring Skaggs into the New South. Sturgill also performed the road managing duties at the time. With Skaggs and Rice already in the band, the last piece of the puzzle came with the inclusion of a teenage Jerry Douglas on dobro.
“Ricky Skaggs is the most talented man in the studio that I’ve ever seen,” Sturgill said. “He was as strong in the 12th hour as he was in the 1st hour. Skaggs knew Jerry from the Country Gentleman. Jerry was the only one who could play ‘Train 45’ on the dobro. Crowe knew about him, too. But what Skaggs never told any of us was that he was taping all of our rehearsal sessions and sending them to Jerry. Well, Jerry showed up and knew that material cold and burned it up. He was a member of the band from that time on.”
In the summer of 1975, before the “Rounder 0044” album was released, J.D. Crowe and the New South began to tour, and few people knew what was about to hit them.
“The funny thing about it, we started out that festival season as the ‘B’ band, and we’d go on about 8 o’clock,” Sturgill said. “Then, the Seldom Scene, the Country Gentlemen, Ralph Stanley, Larry Sparks and all of these people would come on behind them. Well, that was in April and early May. By the time we got around to the Watermelon Park (Va.) festival on the Fourth of July, all of a sudden there were headliners saying, ‘We’ve got to be up the road. We have to be there early. Can we go on in front of you?’
“Nobody wanted to follow the New South, with the ‘0044’ band doing that material and burning it. And nobody was even close to them. They (headliners) all had their excuses. ‘Can we get out of here? We’ve got to get to Detroit.’”
Here is the kicker: By the time the album came out later in the year, that infamous version of the New South had disbanded. Despite lukewarm reviews at the time, the record became hot on the radio, and that is when the album’s influence kicked in.
“To me, besides the stunning vocals and instrumental work, the material jumps out for its freshness,” said Eric Gibson of the Gibson Brothers, the reigning International Bluegrass Music Association Entertainers of the Year. “Songs by Lightfoot, Tyson and Rodney Crowell became part of the bluegrass canon as a result of ‘0044.’ It was a landmark recording.”
Tim Stafford, long-time member of the award-winning group, Blue Highway, said, “It’s the one record I go back to time and time again for inspiration.”
Bob Minner, guitarist for Tim McGraw, put it this way, “That album spoke to my young generation as a new level in bluegrass music and working as a band in a way which was fresh, exciting, yet still paying homage to traditional bluegrass roots. It was pivotal in my career.”