Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music


ROWAN, Peter

(b 4 July '42, Boston MA) Singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist who easily covers genres from folk roots through bluegrass, country, rock and back again. Grew up in musical family; during high school formed the Cupids playing Tex-Mex in New England clubs; released successful regional single on own label '58; joined Mother Bay State Entertainers as singer and mandolinist '63; they contributed to The String Band Project '64 on Elektra. He joined Bill Monroe's Bluegrass Boys '64--7 as lead singer and rhythm guitar; played on Bluegrass Time '66 on Decca and co-wrote bluegrass standard 'Walls Of Time' with Monroe (sang it at the Newport Folk Festival, issued on Bluegrass Masters on Vanguard). Earth Opera, a folk-rock band with David Grisman, made albums Earth Opera '68 and Great American Eagle Tragedy '69, reached top 100 with 'Home To You' '69. He joined rock-fusion outfit SeaTrain with fiddler Richard Greene; recorded SeaTrain '71 in London with George Martin, then Marblehead Messenger '72. Teamed with brothers Chris (b 9 Oct. '47) and Lorin (b 19 March '52) to form the Rowan Brothers, whose eponymous Columbia album did not live up to expectations. The Muleskinner Band with Grisman, Greene and John Khan (Muleskinner '74 on WB, reissued on Ridgerunner and Sierra; Live: Original Television Archives on Sierra) was succeeded by Old and in the Way, with Grisman, Jerry Garcia, Vassar Clements and John Kahn, a bluegrass band whose eponymous album on Round Records (later on Sugar Hill, Rykodisc) brought bluegrass to a wider audience thanks to Garcia's presence (also That High Lonesome Sound on Acoustic Disc, made live '73 in San Francisco). Rowan wrote 'Panama Red' for New Riders of the Purple Sage; then rejoined brothers on Asylum '75--8 (Sibling Rivalry and Jubilation '76--7).

Peter Rowan '78 on Flying Fish was the first peak of his career, incl. 'Panama Red', 'Break My Heart Again', 'A Woman In Love', 'Land Of The Navajo' and 'The Free Mexican Airforce'; the album featured Greene, and Flaco Jimenez on accordion, and brought together perfectly the Tex-Mex, bluegrass, country and rock influences, followed by Medicine Trail '80 with Jimenez and Ricky Skaggs, inevitably a letdown but still a fine album. Two sets made in Japan were solo Hiroshima Mon Amour and Bluegrass Album by Rowan, Greene and the Red Hot Pickers, both '79 on Better Days/Nippon Columbia, tracks later selected on Peter Rowan And The Red Hot Pickers on Sugar Hill. Continuing with various rootsy musical styles Rowan made solo albums incl. Texican Badman '81 on Appaloosa (establishing him as an early champion of Terry Allen), Walls Of Time '82 on Sugar Hill with Skaggs and others, Live Rockin' Tex-Mex '82 (recorded in London with Jimenez), Revelry '84, Hot Bluegrass '85 and San Antonio Sound '86 all on Waterfront. He moved to Nashville and put together rockabilly outfit for Peter Rowan And The Wild Stallions '85 on Appaloosa. He also guested on albums by Greene, New Grass Revival etc; his songs began to be covered by country acts incl. Skaggs, George Strait, Janie Fricke; he received several Grammy nominations for such collaborations as New Moon Rising with the Nashville Bluegrass Band '88, Flaco's Friends '89. More albums incl. on Waterfront; The First Whippoorwill '86, Dust Bowl Children '89, All On a Rising Day '91, Awake Me In The New World '93 (examining the impact of USA immigrants), Tree On A Hill '94 (with his brothers) and Jerry Douglas and Peter Rowan Yonder '96 on Sugar Hill. (The superb dobro player Douglas has three other albums on that label.)