Tom Gray

class of 1958

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Musician

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 picking parties.

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 Book Division.

Update: Tom's wife passed away in March, 2011.

 

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Updated July 6, 2009 03:54 PM