These words, written by Charlie Waller, can be found in the liner notes on the Country Gentlemen’s (Rebel SLP 1574) Calling My Children Home album. They give us an inside look at the man, as well as the musician.
Charlie Waller continues today as the leader, guitarist, and lead singer, of one of the most influential and innovative Bluegrass bands in the history of the music, The Country Gentlemen. His voice stands out from all the rest of the great Bluegrass lead singers, with much drive and feeling in each note. His speaking and singing voice clearly enunciates each word, allowing the listener to get the full meaning, whether in a song or conversation.
Young Bluegrass guitar players should listen closely to the Charlie’s rhythm techniques, because he ranks among the greatest in this often overlooked part of the music. He has the ability to bring up the volume of the acoustic instrument to a certain level during the instrumental breaks, and then soften down, so the singing can be heard. He has developed many series of guitar runs, illustrated in his many recordings, that make him one of the most copied rhythm guitar players. During the comedy numbers of the Country Gentlemen, when the banjo and mandolin player are going through some hilarious routines, chasing each other around and often off the stage, Charlie very subtly carries the rhythm on his guitar. On some occasions, he will go into a flat picking of a song until the other members would return to the stage. He is quite adept at playing lead on the guitar, as evidenced by his recordings of “Under the Double Eagle,” “Electricity,” and many other tunes.
The career of Charlie Waller has spanned more than forty years. Through it all, his lead and harmony singing have made him the favorite of many. He sings a wonderful lead part, then can switch to a deep bass, and he also sings a great baritone or low tenor in the trios or quartets. He has also handled the emcee chores for the major portion of his thirty five plus years with the Country Gentlemen. His introduction of band members is exact and to the point, and when he has finished, he simply says, “I’m Charlie Waller, and I’m from Louisiana.”
Charles Otis Waller was born in Jointerville, Texas on January 19, 1935, where his father was employed as an oil field worker. The family soon returned to their home state of Louisiana, where they remained until 1945, when they moved to the Washington, D. C. area. His father, Charlie D. Waller, and his mother, Bessie B. Sullivan, passed away some years ago. He completed his sophomore year of high school, where he was voted “most talented,” but the desire to play music moved him away from further education. He enjoyed building models as a youth, and has often said he would like to get involved with some kind of crafts, working with his hands, if he ever decides to retire from music.
Young Charlie Waller listened to much music on the radio, but it was a movie showing Roy Acuff and his Smoky Mountain Boys traveling around the country playing music, that caught his attention. From that moment on, his main desire was to play music. Charlie received a Harmonica when he was eight years old, and his first guitar, a new Stella that cost $15.00, at age eleven. He became a devoted fan of the great country singer. Hank Snow. He was also interested in the music of Flatt and Scruggs, Jim and Jesse, and others. He knew that Bluegrass music was what he wanted to play. He was quite concerned at first about ever being able to play at the fast pace of the early bands he enjoyed, but his determination to learn and excel pushed him on to become the great guitarist he is today. His biggest influences on guitar were, for rhythm. Red Smiley and Mac Wiseman, and, for lead guitar. Merle Travis.
When Charlie was in his late teens, he and Earl Taylor formed the Stone Mountain Boys, with Sam Hutchens on banjo, playing at the Seventy Nine Club in Baltimore, Maryland. Charlie joined Buzz Busby and his Bayou Boys, making his way back to his home state, where they were regular members of “The Louisiana Hayride.” He had learned to play the banjo along the way, and he told of one of his fondest memories in an interview in Nashville, Tennessee in February, 1990: “Elvis Presley was on the ‘Hayride’ at the same time that I was, and he loved Bluegrass. When we didn’t have to be on stage, he would say, come on, get your banjo, let’s pick some. We’d go back stage and pick, because he loved to play rhythm guitar while I played the banjo. I’ll never forget that.”
Buzz Busby was seriously injured in an automobile accident shortly after he had moved his group to the Washington, D. C. Area. Charlie Waller and Bill Emerson, who was playing banjo with the Bayou Boys, needed someone to fill in to keep a job that had been booked. Bill contacted John Duffey. When they played the job, everything went so well, they decided to form a new band.
They became The Country Gentlemen on July 4,1957, with John providing the name. Charlie would play guitar, Bill the banjo, and John the mandolin. They all proved exceptionally good singers, able to switch harmony parts in any combination imaginable. Their first job was at the Admiral Grill in D. C. During those early days, they did not have a bass player, since there was not usually enough money to pay four people. The first recording session for the Country Gentlemen came in late 1957 at radio Station WMAL in Arlington, Virginia. They recorded two sides: “Going to the Races,” written by Carter Stanley, and “Heavenward Bound,” written by John Duffey, that appeared on a 45RPM record. Bill Emerson left the group in mid-195 8, and his replacement was Pete Kuykendall, who is currently the Editor and General Manager of Bluegrass Unlimited magazine. Eddie Adcock joined playing banjo in 1959, and Tom Gray became the bass player in 1960.
They signed with Folkway Records and had four albums released on that label: (FA 2409) Country Songs, Old and New, in 1960; (FA 2410) Sing and Play Folk Songs and Bluegrass, in 1961; (FA 2411) On the Road, in 1963, and Going Back to the Blue Ridge Mountains, in 1973. Tom Gray told in an interview in 1970, how the On The Road album was recorded: “We played at this place, and they didn’t have a P. A. System, but someone had set up one microphone for a tape recorder, and we just naturally gathered around it, and that’s how it was done.” This album included some of the comedy routines that added much to the group’s entertainment value. One of the selections was “The Blue Ridge Mountain Blues” sung in a fake English accent, complete with, “Where is me blooming boy tonight.”
The Country Gentlemen recorded in Pete Kuykendall’s Wynwood Recording Studio in Falls church, Virginia for Mercury Records, with one album released on that label in 1963, (SR 60858) Folk Session Inside. Copper Creek Records issued other songs that had been recorded for Mercury, but were never released, on a compact disc (CCCD-011) The Nashville Jail in 1990.
The Country Gentlemen brought many new ideas into Bluegrass. They illustrated that it was O.K. to smile and have a good time on stage. They would do the traditional tune, “Cripple Creek,” with the singing sounding like a 78RPM record played at the slower speed of a 45RPM, then blast off into a lightning fast instrumental version. Waller, Adcock, Duffey, and Gray did some reunion concerts during the late 1980s. This led to the recording of the 1989 Sugar Hill LP (SH-3772) Classic Country Gents Reunion. The musical magic they had started generating thirty years earlier was still cooking.
The late Ed Ferris had joined the group as the bass player in 1964. When he and John Duffey left in 1969, their fans were concerned that this would be the end of the band. Eddie Adcock had remained playing banjo and singing baritone, along with Charlie. Jimmy Gaudreau was the new mandolin player and tenor singer, with Ed McGlothlin on bass. The concerts that the new version played, and their first album (Rebel SLP 1490) New Look, New Sound established that the Country Gentlemen were alive and well.
When Eddie Adcock departed, the original Country Gentlemen banjo player, Bill Emerson, replaced him with Bill Yates playing bass. When Jimmy Gaudreau decided to leave, Bill Emerson encouraged Charlie to consider Doyle Lawson, who at that time was playing guitar, and fronting J. D. Crowe’s band in Lexington, Kentucky. Doyle met with the Country Gentlemen in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, and though he had laryngitis so bad he could hardly speak, he was offered the job as mandolin player and tenor singer, which he accepted on August 10,1971. The first album of this line-up, (Rebel SLP 1506), The Award Winning Country Gentlemen recorded two months later, once again showed that the Country Gentlemen sound was intact.
A letter in Bluegrass Unlimited for March, 1972 from Michio Higashi, Tokyo, Japan, read as follows:
Japan welcomes the Country Gentlemen. The Country Gentlemen were here in Tokyo in January. Their farewell performance at the Sugino Hall was completely sold out, in fact, it was standing room only for a great number of people. The response they got was fantastic. Rarely has there been such a spontaneous, enthusiastic and warm reaction to any performing group. We hope they will think of coming to Japan again in the near future.
The date of the show was January 18,1972. A double album entitled The Country Gentlemen Live in Japan was issued in Japan in 1975 on Seven Seas GXF 27 and 28. It became a very rare collector’s item. Charlie’s “Hank Snow Medley” on this performance, where he sings and plays guitar like Mr. Snow, just about brought the house down. Rebel Records issued this recording on compact disc (Reb-CD-1104), but four songs were not included.
The band signed with Vanguard Records in New York. In May, 1974 they cut their eponymous debut LP (VSD-79331) for that company with guests Ricky Skaggs, fiddle, and Mike Auldridge, Dobro. By the time they recorded their second project for Vanguard, (VSD-79349) Remembrances and Forecasts, Bill Emerson had left to join the Navy. James Bailey was now the banjo player, with Ricky Skaggs, fiddle and Jerry Douglas, Dobro, now members of the band.
They were disappointed that Vanguard had not promoted their recordings as they had expected, so they returned to Rebel Records for the next album, (Rebel SLP 1559) Joe’s Last Train, in 1976. Skaggs and Douglas had left. Bill Holden was now the banjo player, with Mike Auldridge, Dobro, and Ed Ferris, bass, as guest artists. James Bailey rejoined the Country Gentlemen for their next recording, (Rebel SLP 1574) Calling My Children Home, a gospel LP. Bill Holden was no longer with the band when the record was released, but he had recorded some vocals before he left. Ferris and new Gent Spider Gilliam played bass on the sessions.
Charlie Waller has often said that he is not a good song arranger, but when he hears a song in the recording studio, he can usually find a way to sing it. Doyle Lawson’s talents as a singer and mandolin player proved very beneficial, but he also proved particularly adept at finding songs that fit Charlie’s style and voice, such as: “Bloody Mary Morning,” “Casey’s Last Ride,” and many others. During the period Doyle was with the Country Gentlemen, he, Charlie, and Bill Yates were full partners in the operation of the band. Doyle left in 1979 to start his own band. Quicksilver, where he uses many things that he learned from his years with Charlie Waller. The Country Gentlemen recorded several albums for Sugar Hill during the early 1980s, then returned home to the Rebel label for 1988’s (REB 1663) Return Engagement.
Well known song writer and musician Randall Hylton and Charlie joined their guitars and voices for the Rebel CD (Reb-1679) The Singster and the Songster in 1991. Charlie has been justifiably proud of this record, saying that he feels it is one of the best things he has ever done. The Rebel compact disc (1699) New Horizon, issued in July, 1992 showed something new. This was the first time the group was listed as “Charlie Waller and the Country Gentlemen.”
Charlie Waller is not only a very accomplished musician. He has also demonstrated his ability to handle the business end of the music. He has achieved success in a world where many fail, but his friendly smile and outgoing personality is still the same. He loves to talk to the people and will always take the time to answer questions from an eager-eyed youngster, who wants to follow in his footsteps. He likes to do some things around his home and his cabin, such as cutting wood, raking leaves, and other chores that most people hate to do, but are fun to him, so seldom he gets this opportunity. Charlie and his wife Sachiko, have been married for thirteen years, and they have one daughter, Mina Melody, age ten. Charlie has three children by a previous marriage: Randy Waller lives in Richmond, Virginia, and like his father, plays guitar; Don Robenson is a homemaker in Maryland; and Danny Graves Waller is a ski instructor in Denver, Colorado.
Through the years the personnel of his group has changed, but the main, constant feature of Country Gentlemen performances and recordings has been the guitar and voice of Charlie Waller. The Awards that Charlie has received for his music are many, including two SPBGMA “Master’s Gold Awards:” “Bluegrass Guitar of the Year” (1984 through 1988) and “Male Vocalist of the Year” (1985 through 1989). He has received the IBMA’s “Certificate of Merit” for lifelong contributions to the music. Charlie Waller added another honor to his long list in 1987, when he was inducted into SPBGMA’s Preservation Hall of Greats.
(Note: Charlie Waller was selected to IBMA’s Hall Of Honor in 1996 along with John Duffey, Eddie Adcock and Tom Gray, The Classic Country Gentlemen).