Little Roy Lewis and Lizzy Long keep the traditional sounds alive
With a casual glance at their respective biographies, it's obvious that bluegrass musicians Elizabeth 'Lizzy' Long and Little Roy Lewis have much in common.
Both are talented multi-instrumentalists and singers, both come from families that loved playing and listening to music, both started performing at early ages, and both hail from the small town of Lincolnton, Ga. And despite their age difference - Long is 27 and Lewis is 69 - they insist there's not much of a generational gap when it comes to their musical tastes in bluegrass, gospel and traditional country.
'I love just what (Lewis) loves,' Long says. 'But he doesn't necessarily like what I like,' she adds with a laugh, noting she's more open to the modern styles of bluegrass.
East County audiences will have a chance to see them in action when the Little Roy and Lizzy Show take the stage at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 16, for the Eastside Bluegrass Series at Freedom Foursquare Church, 660 S.E. 160th Ave., Portland.
The Little Roy and Lizzy Show's visit to East County will follow their performances at the Mount St. Helens Bluegrass Festival in Toledo, Wash. Afterward, they'll head to Alaska with the seven-day Biscuits n' Bluegrass Alaskan Cruise, which sails from Seattle.
Long says it's the first time she's visited the Pacific Northwest. Lewis says that the last time he traveled through the region was about 15 years ago while on tour with his family band, the Lewis Family, which is known as the 'First Family of Bluegrass Gospel.'
'In our 58 years (of performing), we did about 1,000 songs,' Lewis says, noting that he started performing live with his parents and siblings at age 6 and is still the youngest member of the band, which retired and held its farewell performance in November 2009.
Long says Lewis was a frequent guest at her grandfather's jam sessions, or 'pickings,' at the family farm in Lincolnton, when she would sit on the piano while her aunt played. She eventually learned to play piano, fiddle and guitar. At age 13, the bashful Long worked up the courage to ask the gregarious Lewis to show her a banjo roll.
Long even played with the Lewis Family throughout high school and college.
Since they joined musical forces in May 2009, Long and Lewis have recorded five CDs. Their most recent, 'Tradition With A Twist,' recently won the Rural Roots Music Commission's 'Best Old-Time Bluegrass CD of the Year' award. Their other CDs and songs have won numerous awards.
On their first CD, 'Lifetimes,' Long and Lewis collaborated with the legendary banjo picker and country music star Earl Scruggs, an icon for both Long and Lewis.
Scruggs popularized the three-finger style of banjo playing that is a characteristic of bluegrass music. Scruggs and Lester Flatt recorded classics such as 'The Ballad of Jed Clampett' from the TV show, 'The Beverly Hillbillies.'
Long says Lewis introduced her to Scruggs in 2005. In early 2006, as both Scruggs and his wife, Louise, recuperated in a Nashville hospital from separate injuries, Long - a student at Belmont University and a member of the college band Mountain Fury at the time - tended to their needs, racing between their rooms on different floors of the hospital. Long says Scruggs suggested that they record a CD together.
Scruggs even praised Long as a talented newcomer and said 'she'll be a household name among bluegrass fans,' according to an article in The Lincoln Journal.
Long says it was a chance of a lifetime for her to record with Scruggs, but she wanted to make sure Lewis was included.
'Little Roy is who I grew up playing with, and I needed that support,' Long says, noting that she had no national name recognition at the time.
A mix of old and new songs
In addition to a few songs from the Lewis Family, Lewis and Long's repertoire includes both original and classic songs.
Long says one source of their classic songs is the record book of a friend's father, who in the 1950s started keeping lists of his favorite bluegrass and country songs that he would hear on the radio. Another friend owns an extensive archive of bluegrass and classic country recordings - an invaluable resource for them.
'If all else fails, I can go out there, and he usually has a record of it,' she says.
Long notes that bluegrass music sometimes conjures up images of old-timers in overalls and chewing tobacco, at least among certain less-informed members of the media. However, she says, the audiences at their shows tell a different story.
'We have doctors and lawyers, businessmen, even actors and actresses; they all love bluegrass,' she says. At one recent show, she says, the audience members ranged in age from 3 to about 103. Long also hopes to change the perception among people in her generation that bluegrass is for the older folks, noting that it's important to keep the music alive for future generations.
But whatever your age, gender, ethnicity and background, Long and Lewis promise that everyone will have a great time at their show.
'Our show is fun, it's exciting, it's fast and it's slow,' Lewis says. 'I like to see smiling faces.'
If you go
WHAT: The Eastside Bluegrass Series
WHERE: Freedom Foursquare Church, 660 S.E. 160th Ave., Portland
WHEN: 7 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 16. A jam session in the lobby begins at 5:30 p.m.
COST: The suggested donation is $10 per person (free for children). Refreshments will be sold, as well as CDs and merchandise
About the band
The Little Roy and Lizzy Show features Lizzy Long on banjo, fiddle, guitar and auto harp; Little Roy Lewis on banjo, guitar and auto harp; Nathan Stewart on mandolin; Al Hoyle on guitar; and Lisa Hoyle on bass. All the band members sing.
For more information, visit littleroyandlizzy.com or its Facebook page.