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Quicksilver brings a fresh bluegrass interpretation to gospel's four-part-harmony past.

Mountain Music

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Doyle Lawson's bluegrass roots have always been informed by his love for the quartet singing he grew up with in east Tennessee. Lawson played an important role in several of the genre's best groups beginning in the early '60s, but he ultimately returned to the quartet harmonies and moving vocal bass lines of his youth. "I always wanted a strong quartet like my dad had," the 56-year-old multi-instrumentalist says, recalling his decision in 1979 to strike out on his own. Over the phone from his Bristol, Tenn., home, Lawson remembers he knew that fronting his own band held risks. He'd worked with the best, starting as an 18-year-old banjo player with Jimmy Martin and later helping J.D. Crowe cut new bluegrass sounds in the late '60s. During the '70s, Lawson's tenor vocals and mandolin helped him and the Country Gentlemen secure a respected place in the bluegrass world. But Lawson wanted to make his own statement. He'd been able to interject some gospel songs and harmonies from his youth into previous bands, but the results were never the pure quartet singing he heard in his head. Armed with the lessons he'd learned from his former bandleaders and with support from his wife, Suzanne, Lawson moved on and formed Quicksilver in 1979. Acceptance for the new band came fairly quickly. The band played both secular and sacred bluegrass songs, but the vocals took a different tack from the "newgrass" bands of the day. Fans responded quickly, soon asking for more of the group's gospel quartet sound. "What separated us from the other groups," he explains, "was the strong quartet." This was the old-but-new sound that Lawson loved and hoped would catch on: the old style he heard growing up in a Christian mountain home while teaching himself mandolin on a borrowed instrument and listening to Bill Monroe. But success aside, one thing did not separate Lawson from some of his musician friends: the temptations of the job. The bandleader readily admits his Christian upbringing often took a back seat to a stereotypical musician's lifestyle, and for much of his career he wrestled demons. A return to the church and a recommitment to faith in 1985 put much of that behind him, and today, Lawson's faith plays a large role in his life. The group's recent gospel CD and schedule of sacred-music gigs, such as Saturday's show at the West End Assembly of God, make it easy to assume Quicksilver is strictly a gospel group. But Lawson explains the band plays according to its audience, and his personal faith has little to do with it. In fact, he says, it's been too long since he cut a secular bluegrass album and he might record one this year. But regardless of styles, Lawson is the musician he knew he'd become since he was a boy listening to his dad's quartet. His future as a musician was a done deal before the age of 10, and he knows it. "I felt in my heart," he says, "that's what I was."

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