I got a call in the fall of 1977. It was Pete Wernick on the line and he had a proposal. Since we each had solo recordings coming out in the coming year, and since we’d helped each other record them, he thought we should join forces, form a bluegrass band to play our music for folks. He even had a name for the band – Hot Rize. He explained that it would connect us in a way to the greater Bluegrass community, since Flatt and Scruggs had sung for so many years on their radio and television shows about Martha White Self-Rising flour with its special leavening ingredient “Hot Rize”. I said that’s a good idea, and we agreed to start booking some gigs starting in late January.
In that first year, we found our strengths in traditional grooves and a mixture of new and old material, and focused on writing our own songs. We had a lot of fun with each other from the start, and learned to have fun with the audience as well, and Pete was an able manager, with a vision of where we could go and how to get there. Our first recording, in 1980, met friendly ears on the newly evolving public radio formats of the day and Pete and our guitarist Charles Sawtelle had a network of Bluegrass friends around the country who could help us find gigs. Our bassist Nick Forster invented his own way of playing electric bass, and dovetailed perfectly into our mix of music, quickly becoming our number one harmony singer. And we could trust him to drive our ’69 Cadillac through the night when we needed to get to the next town.
It’s now forty years later, and I guess the record shows that Hot Rize was a good idea. We announced a break-up and a farewell tour in 1990, but within a year we were doing reunion shows and have continued to do so ever since. Charles died in 1999, and we stuttered for a few years before hiring Bryan Sutton to join as a full time member. We finally recorded with Bryan a few years ago and spent a year touring full time with a new batch of songs.
Last week we announced a couple shows in Boulder Colorado to celebrate our fortieth anniversary. Those shows on January 12th and 13th, with special guests Del McCoury, Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas, and Stuart Duncan are about sold out, so it looks we’ll add another show on the 14th. So I guess it’s STILL a good idea! Thanks for calling, Pete. I’m sure glad I answered the phone that day forty years ago.