PHONE INTERVIEW WITH SCOTT ROUSE, June 1997
I first met Doc when I was a little kid. My dad had been hanging with J.W. Gallagher…. My dad designed a guitar actually with J.W. Through him is where we got to hanging out with Doc. I guess I was seven or eight then. That’s how we first met, but it’s mostly in the last ten, fifteen years we’ve been hanging out.
AM: How did you get Doc on Macerena?
He was in town [Nashville], and we’d been talking about it for years. He was actually one of the people who encouraged me to move to Nashville to do GrooveGrass and actually get a deal with it. That was ten years ago. I was doing it mostly one club mix at a time on an acetate thing. They’d spin it one time, and that would be it. That would be the last of it.
Doc said, “You should go to Nashville and see if you can get a deal doing that kind of stuff.” So that’s when I moved up here. It was the last part of ’87.
AM: Do you have Doc on upcoming GrooveGrass stuff?
Yep. Right now, we’re working on a Christmas tune. Doc was excited about GrooveGrass. I’ve still got an GrooveGrass album in the can over at Warner Brothers. Doc actually played on that and sang with Bootsy Collins and some other people…. We got to talking about it, and I said, ‘I want you to come sing on this and play on it.’ He said he’d love to. That was four years ago, the first time we actually recorded together. I loaded up some recording equipment and went up to Wilkesboro. I went to Deep Gap and got him, and we went to a little studio there in Wilkesboro. Hooked up and recorded there his parts for my record, which should be out in the fall or spring of this next year on Warner Brothers. He’s on four or five cuts there.
On this GrooveGrass Boys album, Doc did a bunch of stuff. And there’s a bunch of acoustic stuff we’re doing for a trio record, too. The GrooveGrass Boys album is coming out, but it’s not going to be GrooveGrass. It’ll be Mac [Wiseman], Doc, and Del [McCoury]. It think that’s going to be the name of the record. We cut some groovegrass, but with those guys it’d be a crime not to cut real stuff on it. We’ll be finishing that up the end of July. We cut a Christmas tune which will be groovegrass with Roger Troutman, whose from the band Zap. He’s heavy on the R&B scene. He used to be in Parliament [George Clinton’s experimental post-funk ensemble]. He had a big hit in rap last year.
We have a web site up. http://www.groovegrass.com. We pictures there and stuff that you can’t see anywhere else. We got a bunch of stuff from Mac and a bunch of stuff from Doc, stuff from Del. Pictures that haven’t been published.
Two major labels are interested in Mac, Doc, & Del. They actually approached me. All three of us are talking about it. There’s totally just bluegrass and traditional stuff.
The Christmas tune, which I’m writing, will be groovegrass. We’ll do three songs. We’ll probably do ‘Christmas Time’s a’comin’.’
The GrooveGrass Boys will be on Imprint, and that will be out the end of July or first of August. That’ll be Mac, Doc, and Del, Ron and Rob McCoury, Mike Bub, Jason Carter, Terry Eldridge, Gene Wooten, Bootsy Collins, Steve Kaufman, Leroy Troy. He did a tune called ‘Alabama Bound.’ Not entirely groovegrass. There’s two hardcore ‘grass tunes on there. ‘White House Blues’ and Del and the boys recut ‘I Feel The Blues Moving In.’
The concept is to get people, have never heard bluegrass, into bluegrass through groovegrass. We have hardcore groovegrass, and then at the end of side one is ‘I Feel the Blues Movin’ In,’ and on the end of side two is ‘White House.’ And they’re hardcore. They’re real. This is the best, I believe, any of these guys have been recorded. Greg Povich [??] is the engineer. We really spend a lot of time with the recording of it – the setting up, getting them to sounding good, and that kind of stuff.
90% of the groovegrass is cut here at the GrooveGrass Factory, my place. The acoustic stuff we’ve been cutting over at 17 Grand and Battery, most of it.
AM: to get the discography right:
GrooveGrass Boyz album on Imprint
Rocky Top single (Decca)
Macerena single (Imprint)
The Christmas single
Your album on Warners
That’s just a full groovegrass album. There’s no hardcore ‘grass on that.
Then there’s the trio album of Mac, Doc, and Del.
I grew up listening to bluegrass from my father, who’s heavy into that and traditional American music. Being raised hardcore into that, when I got to high school I got into Van Halen and all that rock stuff. Then I went to college at the Berkelee College of Music in Boston. Up there I still went back in the closet to play a bunch of bluegrass and listen to those records. What I went to school for was to learn how to be a studio musician. I was doing more sessions than being able to go to school. So I was out of school doing session work instead of in school learning how to do it. So finally I quit school and kept doing sessions.
The guys I was living with at the time were producers already. They weren’t famous yet. So they were always putting together these little R&B groups. They had already done this band of five black kids, New Edition, who were young but went on to be pretty famous. So we ended up doing New Kids on the Block, which was one of my roommates’ idea, this guy, Maurice Starr. For doing those records, I was just constantly doing R&B records, and funk records, and dance records. All these guys were black, and I was the only white guy there. We had a nice studio and just recorded all we wanted.
Then all of a sudden I started listening to bluegrass again. I’d been missing it. When I had down time at the studio, I record ‘Deep River Blues,’ and all that stuff I’d get from Doc and Flatt & Scruggs, but record them like I would R&B records. While I was playing guitar on those R&B records, here I was playing almost everything – drums, bass, keyboards. Next thing you know I’m producing. I didn’t really know what a producer was. I was told I was the production assistant, but I was actually producing the records.
I make these things called acetates – you’d get a little record of what you just recorded and mixed, and take it out to a club and spin it and see if anybody liked it. So they’d spin these little bluegrass dance things I’d do, and people would just go nuts for them…. So I got to talking to my dad and Doc about it, and Doc said, ‘you should move to Nashville and see if you can get deal doing that.’ So finally I packed up everything and moved to Nashville, and I was literally laughed out of every office in Nashville. I know those guys now. This was like ten years ago. We’d talk about this cross between bluegrass and dance music, and I’d play some for them. They’d laugh and throw me out.
This went on for two years when they’d literally laugh me out of their offices. Now those guys are buddies if mine, and it’s kind of funny when we get to talking about it. There was one person who didn’t laugh at me and got the Groovegrass thing happening. This was a lady named Mary Martin, and she worked over at RCA. She was in the A&R department there. She was the first one who sat me down and told me, ‘Man, I know what you’re doing. I understand where you’re coming from. You have a vision, and I’m going to help you with it.’ She actually gave me some money to go record. I recorded ‘Deep River Blues,’ and ‘Cypress Grove,’ and ‘Miss the Mississippi and You,’ the old Jimmie Rodgers song. ‘Love, Please Come Home’ was the other one. So as fate would have it, so moved from that label to another label. So I had these tapes, but no where for them to go.
Another year or two passed by, and I ended up other there at Warner Brothers. I was thinking if I can’t do bluegrass and country stuff, why don’t we do what I used to do, which was to take top song and make dance songs out of them, do remixes. I went to all these labels and said, ‘what I do is make dance remixes of country songs. Why don’t you let me do that?’ They said, ‘No, no. That will never happen. That’s ridiculous.’ I got laughed at all over town, and finally went to Warner Brothers. They said, ‘That makes sense. Why don’t we try one. Which one do you want to do?’
I said, ‘Why don’t we do that old tune, ‘Swingin’.’
They said, ‘We don’t want to do an old tune. That’s like ten, twelve years old. Let’s do a new one.’
I said, ‘Let’s do that one because it’s a classic, and no one’s ever done dance remixes of country before.’ So we did it, but we did it without John Anderson’s permission. So when he heard it, he said, ‘I don’t want any part of it. That’s not going to happen.’
In the meantime, somehow tapes had gotten out, and the thing went all over town. First thing you know, all these label heads are calling me wanting to do these country dance remixes. So I started doing that stuff for a while, and country dance mixes got big. At the time I was still cutting bluegrass and funk stuff at the house. The reaction we got on ‘Swingin’’ in the black market – you can still hear it in clubs and buy it. I don’t know where they come from – that’s what I got signed on over at Warner Brothers. They said, ‘look, why don’t you do a record of whatever it is you want to do. Let’s put it out and see what happens.’
It ended up being groovegrass. I said, ‘I’m going to get Doc Watson and Bootsy Collins, hard core grass guys and hardcore funk guys, and we’ll just go and make a record.’ So that’s where all that came from.
So then from that, I got to hanging out with the McCourys and some other hard core bluegrass folks, and we all got to talking, and that’s the big underground vibe. We’re selling it. We’re selling a lot of those ‘Rocky Tops’ and ‘Macarenas.’ There isn’t anything else really out there. We’re selling so much groovegrass that the people in the bluegrass community and in the record label community are seeing it as a viable way to sell records. We’ve not only perked up the artists’ interest, but the major labels as well. I’m dealing with that every day. Someone from a major label calling up saying why don’t we do this. Why don’t we do that. I have a lot of that going on.
AM: How did ‘Rocky Top’ come about?
My girlfriend is in the A&R department there at Decca. All of sudden they get this vibe that bluegrass is big again. They said, ‘what do we have that we can take advantage of?’ She said, ‘Why don’t we do a bluegrass dance remix of ‘Rocky Top? We can sell it over there at those football games [University of Tennessee], and it would be a good single.’
They said, ‘Shoot, who are we going to get to do it? What about that guy that does groovegrass?’
She said, ‘I know that guy. I’ll give him a call.’ So that’s how that came about, and it’s still selling.
I don’t remember if it was before that or after that, that my business manager called and said, ‘I’m on the board over here at Imprint, and we maybe want you to come do a groovegrass version of ‘Macerena.’’
I said, ‘You’re kidding me, man. That schlock. I’m not into it. That’s ridiculous.’
He said, ‘Why don’t you think about it, and then get back to me.’ I talked to Doc about it, and I called up Mac and talked to him about it. I talked to Ronnie [McCoury]. I said, ‘What do you all think about doing this?’
I had already been talking to Mac and some other folks about signing with my label, Groovegrass Recordings. They said, ‘Well, if it will help get the groovegrass thing off the ground, I’d be interested in doing it.’ That was the general consensus from everybody.
It’s kind of the reverse of groovegrass. That’s where you take a pop song and make bluegrass. But the main goal of groovegrass is usually to take bluegrass and make it into a pop tune but save all the bluegrass parts of it.
‘Macerena’ is the reverse of groovegrass, but it worked real well. Everybody liked it, and it went real easy.
AM: How have those two singles done?
As far as sales go, ‘The Macarena’ was in the top ten for something like seventeen weeks. This week [a half year after its release] it’s down to number 23. It peaked at six and hung between six and nine seemingly forever. ‘Rocky Top,’ I can’t remember where it peaked at, but I think it was in the top ten also in the Billboard singles sales chart. ‘Macarena’ was in the top ten longer than ‘Rocky Top’ was. It just squatted down and sat there. ‘Rocky Top’ fluctuates; it goes up and comes down. The estimates are it sold around 100,000, more than that for ‘The Macerena.’ So they’re selling a lot. They’re commercially viable. They play them on the radio. Where they get played is actually the smaller stations. We’re not getting the major station stuff happening. When I get the read out from Soundscan and the like, the hotbed for both of them is Knoxville. Then in Texas they’re big, too. It’s these little towns around America with these Wall-Mart’s where they sell the crap out of these things. It’s in these pockets where they don’t have a major radio station. That’s where we have most of the sales, and we see that in Soundscan.
Through letters and the Internet, I’ve seen where people, once they have heard ‘The Macarena,’ say ‘what the heck is this?,’ and they try to find out what it is and who it is. It’s actually a bunch of kids, because I get letters, email, and phone calls from teachers who would tell me they’re hearing it in their parking lots. They say things like ‘I used to love the Osborne Brothers, and I was walking downt he street and heard ‘Rocky Top,’ but it wasn’t the same ‘Rocky Top.’ And the kids are starting to get into that stuff, and I wanted to let you know.’
So it’s working, and the same thing with ‘Macarena.’ There are a lot of people in the bluegrass world who don’t like it, but personally I don’t care. They’re already in the bag; they already like bluegrass. Bluegrass people aren’t my target, it’s young kids, people who don’t know bluegrass exists. That’s who I’m targeting. That’s what groovegrass is going after, and I think it’s working because talking to folks, especially to Mac, their sales are going up.
I don’t want to offend any bluegrass people, because I do care about bluegrass people, and I do care about bluegrass, but as far as groovegrass goes, I don’t care whether they like it or not because that’s not whom I’m after.
AM: Did you get much dance club play?
Yeah. They’re still on the country club charts. I think ‘Macarena’ peaked at 2 and ‘Rocky Top’ at five, and they’re still both in the top ten. In Billboard they were talking about how they’re country club standards, classics now, because nobody does that kind of stuff, and they just love it. They haven’t been out for less than a year and are already termed dance club classics. So they should be around for a long time.
AM: Where did you come up with the name groovegrass.
That started in Boston, ten, fifteen years ago. When I was cutting it, my black friends would say, ‘What do you call this? It’s really groovy. That’s funky’
I said, ‘I don’t know what I’m going to call it. It has to be something grass. Funky grass or something.’ So from all that, over a two or three month period, when we first started taking it to clubs, it got labeled groovegrass. We went to this place in Boston on Lansdown Street called the Time Spent. The hard core dance stuff upstairs was called DV-8. I’d been to another club the week before and spun ‘Cypress Grove’ or something. I saw a DJ from that club deejaying at this place. He said, ‘Hey, man, got any of that groovegrass with you?’
I have signed a couple of acts already to the Groovegrass label that are hard core bluegrass. I’ve signed Mac Wiseman and, Art, between me and you, I’ve signed the McCourys, but I don’t know if they’ve told anybody yet. We’re finishing up that deal now. I’ve signed the Del McCoury Band and Mac Wiseman. I’ve signed Mac and I’m in the process of signing the McCourys. That should be done by the end of July and can be published at that time.
There no attorneys in bluegrass and virtually no managers. The system, it seems to me, needs to be brought up to date as far as managers and attorneys. There are people taking a point from their album, and they aren’t even attorneys. There are a lot of things from the artists standpoint that could be changed for the better.
What I’ll end up doing [for distribution] is piggy-backing on other labels, like I do with Imprint. My company makes the record; their company distributes it. There are a couple of other groovegrass things that I’m putting together. Actually there are two other albums that we have started. One of the them, so far, we’re in negotiations with a major label for it, and the other one is kind of heating up. They’re all extremely interested. The people over at Imprint have been extremely good to us and to the whole groovegrass thing. I wouldn’t be surprised if all this doesn’t come out on Imprint, because they’ve embraced the whole thing. Nobody’s done this before, so it’s really exciting. There are several other labels who want to take their artists and do groovegrass, but they’re not bluegrass artists. I had to turn a couple down.
AM: What will these future groovegrass projects be like?
They’re the same stuff. They’ll be hard core groovegrass and then two or three hard core bluegrass things. These people are fairly well known in the bluegrass arena. There are two others that we’ve actually started, but agreed not to say too much about them. We’re not going to say much now, but wait until they’re finished to tell everybody what we’re doing. There’s a lot going on over here. It will probably be the first of the year when we get them finished. There one we’re a third of the way through and the other we’re just deciding what we want to do. These are not singles, but whole albums.
AM: Are you devoting all your time to groovegrass?
Yeah. I kind of swamped. I do other acts at other labels, but I’ve just kind of put all that on hold. I’m putting everything else on the back burner.
Merle’s style of slide playing is kind of what of the whole thing is based on. Especially on my album, the arrangements and stuff are all based on that Merle style of slide playing. I learned how to play slide from him, 90% of my arrangements for groovegrass I do on slide.
AM: ‘Rocky Top’ was just a straight remix off the old masters?
I went in and took the original three track and grabbed the vocals from it. Then I had all the guys that are Groovegrass Boyz come in and we did the track again. Then we laid the vocals down in that track. We stayed close to the original tempo. I took Bobby, and there are a couple of banjo things of Sonny I stuck in there. It was just the three track master, sampled Bobby and Sonny from it, and the Groovegrass Boyz played the whole track again.
AM: Do you anticipate doing anything more with classic tracks?
Yeah. There’s a big discussion about that. But only stuff that I can actually go talk to the artist or their family about. I don’t want to go in there and just rape all the old recordings. That’s not what we’re trying to do at all. When Decca approached me with the ‘Rocky Top’ thing, I went to Sonny and said, ‘Look. Here’s what they want me to do. What do you think of it?’ I told him if he didn’t want me to do it, I wouldn’t do it. So he and I talked about it awhile, and he and Bobby both said they thought it would be OK. Sonny’s been such an inspiration for this, since he keeps me fired up about it. He’s really been a person to be on my team with this stuff. And Jerry Douglas, too. Years ago when nobody was excited about it, he’d always say, ‘I’m believing in you.’
Wilma Lee Cooper! We’ll be cutting Wilma Lee Cooper also, and I’m so excited about it I can’t stand it. We’re going to start cutting and see what happens. We’ll see what she wants to do and what’s the best things for her to do, and what’s the best things for her to do in that groovegrass style. We get real stuff, traditional stuff, on it too, and groovegrass stuff so that the kids can get into it.