The mandolin has been turned into an instrument of melodic brilliance by Butch Baldassari. A former member of Lonesome Standard Time, Baldassari has continued to explore his six-stringed instrument on his solo albums and recordings with the Nashville Mandolin Ensemble. In addition to working with Richard Greene's Grass Is Greener since 1995, Baldassari is the leader of his own group, the Butch Baldassari Trio, featuring guitarist Gene Ford and mandocello player John Hedgecoth.
Influenced as much by the Beatles and Frank Sinatra as he is by Bill Monroe, Baldassari played guitar with his brother, Buster, in late-'60s garage bands. A trip to the 1972 Philadelphia Folk Festival proved to be the impetus for Baldassari's switch to the mandolin.
After earning a bachelor's degree in music from the University of Scranton, Baldassari moved to Las Vegas for post-graduate studies at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas. While there, he befriended three musicians who were forming a tradition-rooted bluegrass band, Weary Hearts, and he was invited to join. The group went on to win the International Band Competition held by the Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music in America in 1989. Their debut album, By Heart, was released shortly afterwards.
Moving to Nashville in 1985, Baldassari continued to explore the possibilities of the mandolin. While attending the Classical Mandolin Society convention in 1990, he conceived the Nashville Mandolin Ensemble, an 11-piece group featuring mandola, mandocello, guitar, and bass. After four months of rehearsals, the band made its public debut at the Dark Horse Theater in Nashville in October 1991.
Baldassari has remained active with numerous outside projects. As a member of Lonesome Standard Time from 1992 to 1996, he recorded three albums -- Lonesome River Band, Mighty Lonesome, and Lonesome as It Gets. Together with innovative bluegrass fiddler Richard Greene and his band, the Grass Is Greener, Baldassari recorded Wolves A' Howlin' in 1996 and Sales Tax Toddle in 1997.
Baldassari's musical career has been balanced by his work as a teacher. In addition to conducting bluegrass mandolin workshops in Nashville, he became the adjunct associate professor of mandolin at Vanderbilt University's Blair School of Music in 1996. ~ Craig Harris