Banjo player Pete Wernick started his recording career back in 1971, when he belonged to the instrumental group Country Cooking. Before the decade was over, he established Hot Rize, a progressive bluegrass outfit. He went on to record as a solo artist, and his 1993 Sugar Hill release, On a Roll, spawned the hit "Ruthie." In addition to recording and performing, Wernick, aka "Dr. Banjo," served the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) as president. He also writes songs, teaches banjo, and is an author.
Wernick first became interested in the banjo during his teen years, when he paid close attention to the playing of Earl Scruggs. While attending Columbia University in New York City, where he earned a doctorate in sociology, he kept his hand in music by playing with local outfits. During the 1960s, he also hosted a regional bluegrass-based radio program. With degree in hand, he headed to Ithaca, where he was a Cornell University sociologist. It was during his time at Cornell that he founded Country Cooking. Wernick left New York for Colorado during the mid-'70s, and once there he put together an album for Flying Fish, Dr. Banjo Steps Out. Not long after, he pulled together Hot Rize, a band that also included Nick Forster, Charles Sawtelle, and Tim O'Brien. The group went to the number one bluegrass spot with "Just Like You," a song written by Wernick.
In 1990, the banjoist and his pals in Hot Rize took home the title of Entertainer of the Year, which was bestowed by the IBMA. When group members went their separate ways in 1990, Wernick continued to perform and record with such artists as Chris Thile, Jody Stecher & Kate Brislin, Jerry Douglas, Peter Rowan, and Jeff White. His band, the Live Five, plays a mix of Dixieland and bluegrass, and first appeared on his On a Roll album. Wernick also performs in a duo called Dr. & Nurse Banjo, which features wife Joan Wernick, who plays the guitar and sings. Instructional materials put out by Wernick include How to Make a Band Work and the Bluegrass Songbook. ~ Linda Seida