Music lovers will of course know the "Duke of Earl," and Frank Zappa fans would no doubt prefer the "Duke of Prunes," but probably only a heavy bluegrass fan would recognize "the Duke of Drive." This is apparently what fellow musicians like to call banjoist Terry Baucom, who has made a name for himself playing in such progressive picking parties as the original Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver, Boone Creek, and IIIrd Tyme Out. One of the names he made in the process would be the "Duke of Drive" slogan itself; it is too heavily promoted by the artist to be considered just a casual nickname, but at least shows confidence in his abilities to drive a band. Some of the tempos this banjoist flails away at with outfits such as Baucom, Bibey, Graham & Haley would cause the revoking of a driver's license were the music measurable in terms of miles per hour, but speed isn't the only thing that makes Baucom bluegrass royalty. He is also a multi-instrumentalist in the old-time music tradition who would be capable of overdubbing an entire string band on his own. He is skilled not only at the banjo, but has performed and recorded on both fiddle and bass. As a vocalist, he displays a bass voice that tends to be something of a show-stopper. Many of these talents are often overwhelmed by the sheer bravado of his banjo playing, inspiring critics to use terms such as "macho" and make comparisons with Uzi machine guns, punching people in the face, and mandatory waiting periods for purchasing assault rifles. Naturally, such a talent has been in demand for banjo solos on recording projects by pickers such as Ronnie Bowman, Alan Bibey, and the legendary mandolinist Herschel Sizemore. Baucom won the "Instrumental Recording of the Year" at the 2001 IBMA awards show, and has created an instructional video for fancy banjo picking.
The banjoist has been a force on the bluegrass scene since the '70s, a decade in which fans often arm-wrestled over the traditional style versus the newfangled progressive bluegrass sometimes called newgrass. In the midst of all this more or less typical kvetching came a banjoist who liked to regard himself as part of a third stream made up of Southern baby boomers. Instead of hightailing after the advanced jazz influences that were powering most newgrass engines, Baucom began molding a style in which the rhythm would be almost aggressive in its presence, punched out by an electric bass whenever possible. Vocals were smoothed out, presenting songs from rock and country & western as well as bluegrass. It wasn't really a new approach at all, but that was the point; in a way, it was the perfect thing to satisfy the dissenting parties on either side, and by the '90s, this style has basically taken over the bluegrass mainstream. Baucom formed Boone Creek when he was only 22 years old, the fellow members being some young dudes named Ricky Skaggs, Wes Golding, and Jerry Douglas. After two years, this supergroup disbanded and Baucom went on to Lawson's original Quicksilver lineup, an archetype contemporary bluegrass combo that kept the banjoist busy until the mid-'80s. The spin-off New Quicksilver outfit was next, followed by the banjoist's collaborations with IIIrd Tyme Out in the early '90s. In 1993, Baucom and original Quicksilver bassist Lou Reid, no relation to the Velvet Underground guy, started a new band named Caroline, perhaps to help the bandmembers remember what part of the country they are in as they hit the touring circuit. Baucom, Bibey, Graham & Haley came together in the late '90s.
Baucom began playing music as a child, and although his father exposed him to both country & western and bluegrass, his excitement about the banjo is quite a typical story among players of his generation: it was the Beverly Hillbillies television show that turned him on. Music was in the Baucom family, his father playing guitar, his grandfather a clawhammer banjo player, and his great-grandfather a fiddle player. Prior to going professional, young Baucom worked in a band of his father's for several years. The banjoist met most of the fellows who would be his first serious musical associates, such as Golding, at various fiddle conventions and bluegrass festivals in the early '60s. In 1972, Baucom was playing fiddle rather than banjo in the Charlie Moore group, and was finding he had a lot in common with other novice professionals he was meeting such as Skaggs. The similarities went beyond musical tastes, although this was important -- Baucom, Skaggs, Golding, and others from this crowd were all the youngest members of various groups. The resulting youth-driven propulsion of new groups and collaborations has kept Baucom busy. Since the '70s, there have only been a few short gaps during which this banjoist has not been a regular member of a band. ~ Eugene Chadbourne