By TAMMIE HETZER-WOMACK
BELLEFONTE — Ned Crisp cut his musical teeth on 80’s rock power ballads blaring from his radio. But, at about age 16, he discovered Seldom Scene — a progressive bluegrass band. The bottom line — he fell in love with the sound.
Wanting to start a garage band, Crisp and his Worthington cousin and “faithful sidekick” Don Rambo put their heads together.
“I got my first banjo for Christmas my junior year of high school. Just a mail order, very basic instrument that cost around $100,” Crisp paused. “I got with another childhood friend who played guitar and a little mandolin. Then Don picked up the bass. Then we found another kid down the street who played guitar and our first band was formed.”
Blackbottom Review made a record and played fairs for about three years before the boys broke up, heading in different directions and genres, growing up.
In 2002, finally in harmony, three of the four original players got back together as Bottomline, ultimately recording four CDs of pure downhome bluegrass tunes, with acoustic vocals, banjo twang, fiddle bowing, upright bass and smooth mandolin melodies.
They restructured again last year, renaming the band, Ned Crisp & Bottomline, with Rambo, Brandon Adams and Zach Rambo. Crisp is center stage plucking banjo. With the change, the band signed onto the Blue Circle Records lineup — a popular label owned by local star, Tom T. Hall and his wife, Dixie.
Multi-award winner Don Rigsby, who produced several chart-topping albums, enlisted in the project, producing the record, “Taking the Back Roads Home,” and even made a guest appearance on percussion. Andy Hall, Dave Kazee, Patrick McAvenue and Julie Reeves helped with vocals, keyboards, fiddles and dobro resonator guitar. The CD will soon be available on ITunes.
It runs the gamut, featuring never-released music by the Halls, originals from the band, a traditional gospel hymn, even a bluegrass remake of a Johnny Cash song, Crisp said.
“Everyone has their own unique style. We’ve tried to keep the sound traditional but also introduced some contemporary music to our audience,” the Bellefonte musician observed. “Our new record has examples of both. A couple of songs could cross over to [the] acoustic country market.”
For him, it’s an Appalachian dream started as a boy. He hopes it continues over generations.
“I remember as a kid, Melvin Goins coming to the school and introducing bluegrass music to us for the first time. It was amazing. It planted a seed that took root,” Crisp added. “We need to keep all music alive in our schools. It’s exercise for the mind, coordination of the muscles and medicine to the soul.”
It starts with parents who introduce a child to an instrument or a live concert.
“Expose them to different kinds of music. They may not even know what bluegrass is. Or jazz or blues,” he said. “Let them listen and see what they like. They may bounce around a little at first, but if they find something they like, they’ll let you know.”
Crisp prays he touches people’s hearts musically every time he takes the stage.
“My number one goal is to try to perform to the best of my ability and speak through the music we play. In today’s world, folks need a little time to forget the stress of their job, or money, or maybe a personal situation they’re going through, and just take a little vacation in the music.”
It’s a joy for the band, seeing their fans come out to sing along.
“No words can describe the feeling of knowing your audience is enjoying your music. It’s what feeds the desire to perform. When you start a song they recognize and they applaud, there’s no feeling like it in the world,” Crisp smiled. “I have played to crowds that sat in the rain to hear me play, traveled for hours, and even planned their vacations around an event. I can’t thank them enough.”
On the road, from Idaho dude ranches, to Bahamian cruises, the Bottomline fans offer up dinner, Harley Davidson knick-knacks, Wisconsin cheese curds, even driving six hours to see their state park shows.
“It truly shows the heart of bluegrass music is the fans and I feel so privileged to share my music with them,” Crisp went on. “I always try to take time to visit when I can. It always leaves me with a bad taste when a celebrity brushes off a fan.”
They’ve opened for George Jones, John Anderson, Glen Campbell and many others. The biggest day? Crisp shared the spotlight with his hero, JD Crowe, at Don Rigsby’s homecoming show.
“He motioned me up to the microphone and watched over my shoulder while I played ‘Train 45.’ I must admit, it was the bomb.”