Like so many contemporary banjo players, Alan Dalton's musical gifts are a legacy.
His childhood memories are vivid, recalling visits to his grandfather's house in Knoxville, Tenn., where he would plunk around on his great-grandfather's old open back banjo while listening to tunes like "Rueben," and "Spanish Fandango”.
His grandfather, Papaw John Dalton, saw talent in the youngster and presented Alan with his first banjo in 1976 - a Harmony banjo made of Bakelite. Alan persevered with the crude beginning instrument, picking out Earl Scrugg's version of "Cripple Creek," then "Foggy Mountain Breakdown," without knowing he could use more than one finger of his left hand.
Fortunately, someone set Alan on the right path and the banjo became an integral part of his life. One short year after getting the Harmony, Alan bought the instrument he still plays today, a 1937 Gibson TB3 Conversion.
In the nearly three decades that have passed, Alan has honed his talent; studying classical guitar and conducting at Samford University in Birmingham, Ala., performing seasonly at Dollywood and co-founding several popular bluegrass bands.
Alan now performs with “Back From The Brink” who’s members include Alan Dalton(banjo), Terry Campbell(guitar), Steve Pruett(mandolin), & Bryan Spradlin(bass). The group performs regularly around Jacksonville, Florida.
He's also shared the stage with a variety of Bluegrass notables, including legendary fiddle player Vassar Clements, whose friendship and advice influenced this project.
But the real catalyst was the perpetuation of the banjo's musical legacy. On one hand, Alan had this project in the back of his mind for years, but always believed it had been done. He recognized that Jerry Garcia's banjo work on "Old and In The Way" was unique - a one-of-a-kind performance that was never exactly reproduced again.
"Some people say that Garcia's rough and his rhythm is off - but that's what pulls the album off," Alan explains. ""He played from his heart, what he played came right from his head, right then."
But as much as Alan respected the artistic brilliance of Garcia, it was two of his young banjo students, Gardiner Platt and Adra Cooper, that finally prompted Alan to sit down and begin the months' long journey of creating tablature for the album's 10 songs.
"Gardiner asked if I knew any Garcia stuff on the banjo, and Adra said her parents were Deadheads - that they would love it," Alan recalls. "I couldn't find tab, so I sat down and tabbed a couple out - then just kept going!
"The tab, as best as I can, is as Garcia played it," Alan says. "The middle finger on his right hand was missing, so he does some licks that many banjo players wouldn't play."
"With this tablature book that preserves Jerry Garcia's meaningful licks on "Old and In The Way," Alan passes on the musical gift he was given as a boy. His dedication to this project reinforces the importance of one generation of banjo players teaching newcomers to the banjo - and to Bluegrass music.
When not picking or giving instructional lessons on one of many instruments, Alan is an avid fisherman and shrimper. He and his wife, Debbie, live in Orange Park, Fla., and are the proud parents of two beautiful daughters, Denise, Brandi and dote over their granddaughter Lily . He now performs regularly around the Jacksonville, Florida area.
Alan instructed the first “Garcia Style Banjo” workshop at Suwanee Springfest, Live Oak, Florida on March 25th, 2005. Magnolia Music & Events, Inc. www.magmusic.com.
Tim A. Rutherford