Musical omnivore Rowan has bluegrass roots

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Grammy-award winning singer-songwriter Peter Rowan’s career spans more than five decades, and nearly as many genres. From his early years playing under the tutelage of bluegrass patriarch Bill Monroe, to his time in Old & In the Way with Jerry Garcia and David Grisman, to his breakout as a solo musician and bandleader, Rowan has built a devoted international fan base through a solid stream of recordings, collaborative projects, constant touring and omnivorous musical interests stretching from bluegrass and country to rock, reggae, Tex-Mex and Hawaiian music.

Rowan will bring music from his upcoming release “Carter Stanley’s Eyes” to The Palms Playhouse on Friday, April 6, starting at 8 p.m. The new album honors Rowan’s bluegrass roots and includes songs by the Stanley Brothers, Bill Monroe, the Louvin Brothers, A.P. Carter, Lead Belly and Rowan himself.

Born in Wayland, Massachusetts, Rowan began his professional career in 1963 as lead singer, rhythm guitarist and songwriter for the Bluegrass Boys, led by the founding father of bluegrass Bill Monroe.

“One thing I started to like about the Monroe style was that there was a lot more blues in it than other styles of bluegrass,” reflected Rowan. “It was darker. It had more of an edge to it. And yet it still had the ballad tradition in it, and I loved that.”

By Monroe’s own assessment, Rowan sounded a lot like him. When the two harmonized together, they were said to have reached “heavenly heights.” Monroe and Rowan co-wrote the bluegrass standard “Walls of Time.”

In the late ’60s and early ’70s, Rowan was in a number of rock, folk and bluegrass projects, including Earth Opera, Sea Train, Muleskinner and the Rowan Brothers.

After the Rowans disbanded, Rowan, David Grisman, Jerry Garcia, Vassar Clements and John Kahn formed a bluegrass band christened Old & In the Way. It was during this incarnation that Rowan penned the song “Panama Red,” was a hit for the New Riders of the Purple Sage.

Other classic Rowan songs include “Midnight Moonlight,” Lonesome L.A. Cowboy” and “Thirsty in the Rain.”

Rowan embarked on a solo career in the late ’70s. Since then, the prolific singer-songwriter has released albums under his own name, as part of collaborative projects, and with his bluegrass, country and rock bands.

Notable releases include “Dustbowl Children,” “Bluegrass Boy,” “You Were There for Me” (with Tony Rice), “Legacy” (with the Peter Rowan Bluegrass Band), “New Moon Rising” (with the Nashville Bluegrass Band), “High Lonesome Cowboy” (with Don Edwards) and “Dharma Blues.”

“Carter Stanley’s Eyes” includes a song recounting the moment Bill Monroe introduced Rowan to Carter Stanley. When asked why it took more than 50 years to get around to telling this pivotal story, Rowan replied simply, “No tune before its time.”

Tickets for Peter Rowan’s Friday, April 6 show at The Palms Playhouse are $22 and are available online via The Palms’ website, at Pacific Ace Hardware in Winters, Armadillo Music in Davis, Davids’ Broken Note in Woodland and at the door if the show is not sold out.

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