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Gene Wooten

Dobro ace Gene Wooten straddled the worlds of country and bluegrass music, playing with more than sufficient skill to excel in the latter while picking with so much emotion that he was in demand in the former, more commercial world as well, at least whenever Nashville wasn't on an anti-acoustic instrument kick. He was also a Dobro player's Dobro player, resisting pressures to double on guitar or pedal steel, technically mastering the instrument not only musically but physically. He worked off and on in Nashville for various musical instrument manufacturers in the jobs of repairing, designing, and setting up the resophonic guitars with the sweetly muffled tone known as Dobros. When it came to having their own instrument setup, some of the best Dobro players of all, such as Brother Oswald, would only go to one person: Wooten. He was a native of North Carolina where he began playing music in college. Groups consisting of student friends who would tour in the summers were his training ground, and he must have been coming up with some decent licks even then because his playing quickly came to the attention of the Nashville crowd. He came over the mountains to Tennessee in 1977 to take a Nashville job with Grand Ole Opry star Wilma Lee Cooper. From that point on, the Dobro player was on the Opry stage almost continuously. He was also a member of the innovative Osborne Brothers band for years, a perfect spot for musicians blending the more urban country sound and bluegrass. This was the first bluegrass group to try adding a drummer, as well as being innovative in the use of the Dobro in the lineup. He also toured and recorded with the excellent Country Gazette and had a popular and regular local gig with the Sidemen, a shifting group of Nashville session pros who perform weekly at the club the Station Inn. In 1994, he teamed up with fellow Dobro devils Jerry Douglas, Josh Graves, Rob Ickes, and others on the Grammy-winning recording The Great Dobro Sessions. Less-acclaimed, but equally impressive musically, was his work on the Rounder release by banjoist Alan Munde, entitled Blue Ridge Express, and focusing on the bluegrass side of things. Perhaps the group that best utilizes all of Wooten's talents are the various projects of brothers Del and Ronnie McCoury. Individually and when teamed up as the McCoury Brothers Band, they have chosen Wooten as their favorite on the Dobro and have featured him on recordings and touring lineups. One of the last recordings Wooten made, and as usual some very heartfelt playing, is on Patty Loveless' bluegrass album, Mountain Soul. Wooten died at his home in Nashville after a long bout with lung cancer. ~ Eugene Chadbourne
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