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Long a familiar face in acoustic music circles, Tom Gray
is the first bassist inducted into the Bluegrass Hall of Fame by the
International Bluegrass Music Association.
He has played on well over 100 recordings with many artists. He has gained a following among other
bassists, attracted by his melodic bass lines.
Tom was born Feb. 1, 1941 in Chicago.
When he was seven, his family moved to Washington D.C. Tom attended D.C. public schools,
graduating from Western
High School in 1958. He attended George Washington
University, but dropped
out in 1960 to begin work as a cartographer for National Geographic
Society. He continued to work on the
society’s maps until accepting an early retirement offer in 1994. He still does
occasional map edit and research work for them on a free-lance basis.
While growing up in Washington,
Tom became part of the active bluegrass music scene in the 1950s – before it
became known as bluegrass. He played
guitar, then mandolin, but really always wanted to play a bass. He was tuned in to the bass line of any
music he heard, and had ideas for bass lines before he’d ever touched the
instrument. One day after a jam
session, a friend, Tom Morgan, left a bass fiddle in Gray’s basement. That was the beginning of Tom’s identity as
one of bluegrass music’s most awarded bassists. He formed a band in High School and
attended many picking parties.
The first major artist Tom performed with was Bill
Clifton. John Duffey
asked Tom to play with Bill’s Dixie Mountain Boys in 1959. Since then, Tom has recorded with Bill on
ten recording projects from 1962 to 2004. They have toured overseas together
in 1976, 1992, 2001, and 2002.
In 1960 at the age of 19, Tom was asked to join the
Country Gentlemen as their bassist. In
the next four years, that quartet of Charlie Waller, John Duffey,
Eddie Adcock and Tom Gray established a reputation as the World’s leading
progressive (for that time) bluegrass band.
It was this configuration of the Gents, now called the “Classic
Country Gentlemen” that in 1996 was inducted by the International Bluegrass
Music Association into the Hall of Fame.
They recorded five highly acclaimed albums in those four years.
During the late 60s, Tom played in many bands in the Washington area. These included Benny & Vallie Cain, Buzz Busby, Leon Morris, Bill Emerson &
Cliff Waldron. Tom also played some
dates as a temporary band member with the Stanley Brothers, Jim & Jesse,
and Bill Monroe. Family
responsibilities made Tom decline an offer to join Bill Monroe’s Blue Grass
Boys. Meanwhile, there were more
A giant leap in Tom’s musical career came in 1971 with the
founding of The Seldom Scene. Tom
teamed up with old friend John Duffey, plus Mike Auldridge, Ben Eldridge and John Starling to create this
groundbreaking group. Presenting their
music from an urban perspective, they redefined smooth in bluegrass with
Tom’s bass lines underpinning it all.
This group converted many new fans to bluegrass. By the time Tom left the band in 1987, they
had recorded 14 albums, and won numerous awards. During this period, Tom was voted best
bluegrass bassist eight times.
For the remainder of the 1980s, Tom was a member of Paul
Adkins’ Borderline Band. For the
decade of the 1990s, he toured and recorded with his friend Gary
Ferguson. For three years in the
mid-90s, the Gray Green and Travers Trio drew a local crowd for their unique
approach to all kinds of music. From 1994 to 2008, Tom was a member of the
Federal Jazz Commission, which had a busy schedule playing traditional
jazz. From 1998 to 2003, Tom was a
member of the Hazel Dickens Band. From
2001 to 2004, he was active in the “Seldom Seniors”, the reunited original
Seldom Scene in which Larry Stephenson replaced the late John Duffey. From 2002
to 2006, there were occasional dates with bluegrass pioneers Tony Ellis, Les Woodie and Dave Verny. From 2004 to the present, Tom has been
traveling the Mid-Atlantic bluegrass circuit with Jay Armsworthy
and Eastern Tradition. From 2004 to
the present, Tom plays frequently with old friends Eddie & Martha Adcock,
for special engagements.
Tom is a part of two supergroups
formed in 2005. First is John Starling
and Carolina Star, a new band of well-established players in the bluegrass
world consisting of John Starling, Mike Auldridge,
Jimmy Gaudreau, Rickie Simpkins, and Tom. Carolina Star appeared throughout 2006 and
2007 with Emmylou Harris. When she
learned her old friends from the original Scene had gotten back together, and
that John Starling had retired from his day job, she wanted to use Carolina
Star as her band for acoustic venues.
The other supergroup is The Country Gentlemen Reunion Band,
consisting of Eddie Adcock, Jimmy Gaudreau, Randy
Waller, and Tom Gray. The C.G.R.B. recreate the sound and feel of the Classic Country
Gentlemen. Their new recording was
released in March 2008.
In between all those engagements with those several bands,
Tom still finds time to play his bass with local Washington-area bluegrass
bands. These include Randy Barrett and
The Barretones since 2000, Appalachian Flyer, and
The Lisa Kay Band 2008-09. And there
are still those pickin’ parties!
Tom is part of another new bluegrass supergroup
forming in 2009. It will be known as
Darren Beachley and Legends of the Potomac. Some
new recordings and future engagements are planned.
Tom and his wife, Sally Govers
Gray live in Kensington Maryland, and are proud parents of three
children and four grandchildren. Tom
has retired from his 32-year day-job career in the Cartographic Division of
the National Geographic Society, but still does occasional map work for their
Update: Tom's wife passed away in March, 2011.