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Russ Barenberg
  • Male
  • Nashville, TN
  • United States
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Guitarist Russ Barenberg is known as one of the most melodic instrumentalists in contemporary acoustic music, and his compositions are among the finest the genre has to offer. He got his start in 1970 with the groundbreaking bluegrass band Country Cooking and since then has been a member of a number of highly influential groups, most notably his collaboration from 1989 to 2001 in a trio with dobro master Jerry Douglas and bassist Edgar Meyer. Russ’s 1979 debut solo album Cowboy Calypso showcased his sophisticated playing and immediately established him as one of the premier composers and arrangers in the new acoustic music scene. His work since then reflects an ever-deepening musicality with continuing dedication to vibrant, roots-based melodies and ensemble interplay. “Little Monk,” the opening track from When at Last, Russ’s 2007 release on Compass Records, was nominated for the 2008 GRAMMY for Best Country Instrumental Performance. The album was nominated for the IBMA Instrumental Album of the Year award.

Russ began playing guitar at 13 and was inspired early on by guitarists Doc Watson, Mississippi John Hurt, and Clarence White along with a wide range of old-time, bluegrass and contemporary folk and blues artists. While attending Cornell University in Ithaca, NY, in 1970, he joined with Peter Wernick, Tony Trischka, Kenny Kosek and John Miller to form Country Cooking. The group recorded two influential albums and accompanied mandolinist Frank Wakefield on a third, all for Rounder. Russ also played on a number of Tony Trischka’s albums throughout the 1970’s. In 1977 he moved to New York and, together with Trischka, Miller, and fiddler Matt Glaser, formed the eclectic string band, Heartlands. Heartlands backed Russ on many of the cuts on Cowboy Calypso.

Moving to Boston in 1979, he joined Glaser and fiddler Jay Ungar in the triple-fiddle band Fiddle Fever, recording two albums with the group. Fiddle Fever’s recording of “Ashokan Farewell” was later used as the centerpiece for the soundtrack to Ken Burns’ acclaimed documentary, The Civil War. Russ played on the soundtracks for several other Burns’ films as well. During this time, he also worked with Glaser and mandolinist Andy Statman in the bluegrass-jazz band Laughing Hands. He recorded his second solo album, Behind the Melodies, in 1983. That album, along with his appearance on Jerry Douglas’s 1982 release, Fluxedo, began an ongoing series of collaborations between the two musicians.

Russ moved to Nashville in 1986 and has lived there since. Along with Douglas, he worked for several years accompanying Irish singer, Maura O’Connell. In 1988 he recorded his third album, Moving Pictures, another beautiful collection of original instrumentals featuring Douglas, Edgar Meyer, banjoist Bela Fleck, and fiddlers Mark O’Connor and Stuart Duncan. The previously mentioned trio with Douglas and Meyer was a highly original group that further reshaped the direction of acoustic music throughout the 1990’s. Their popular 1993 recording, Skip, Hop & Wobble, strongly influenced a new generation of instrumentalists.

Russ has worked with many other top acoustic and country music artists including James Taylor, Emmy Lou Harris, Tim O’Brien, Sam Bush, Paul Brady, Aly Bain, Phil Cunningham, Natalie McMaster, Alison Krauss, and Sharon Shannon. In 2008, he played on albums by legendary jazz bassist, Charley Haden, actor/comedian, Steve Martin, and songwriting great, Jesse Winchester. He is also known for his ongoing work on The Transatlantic Sessions, a series of television shows produced for the BBC in Scotland that bring together top acoustic musicians from the British Isles and the United States for collaborative performances. The fourth and most recent group of Transatlantic Sessions was filmed in March 2009.

Russ currently performs with his own group, The Russ Barenberg Trio, featuring Luke Bulla on Fiddle and Viktor Krauss on bass, as well as in a duo with guitarist Bryan Sutton.
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Russ Barenberg's Blog

Clarence White Guitar reissue

Hey fellow Clarence White fans. Just wanted you to know I've just released a digital edition of my book "Clarence White Guitar" (originally published by Oak Publications in 1978). It's available from the Digital Store on my website as a PDF download. The book contains transcriptions of much of Clarence's best playing from Appalachian Swing and from various other recordings as well:…


Posted on November 23, 2009 at 11:42am — 2 Comments

Comment Wall (6 comments)

At 5:02am on May 19, 2009, John Bauman said…
Interesting that you'd join the FPG site the week I taught myself "Fat Mountain". I love the tune.

A fan,
At 7:48am on May 27, 2009, Roger Ferguson said…
Hey Russ, It's been a long time... We taught together at PSGW in WA several (1,000,000?) years ago! I just joined this a couple weeks ago - see you around!
At 9:11am on June 8, 2009, Ray Leeds said…
Hey Russ, I cant tell you how much you have influenced me over the years! I learned a lot of Moving Pictures years ago and still find myself playing and thinking more melodic as a result. I also teach out of your 20 flatpicking tunes. Probably should be sending you checks. In fact. My student and I just played When At Last at a recital last week and the audience loved it. Great simple melody to teach the students. Anyway it's your tasty melodies I've always loved. Even when you can pick with the best of them you still keep it simple. Balance for the FLATPICKING WORLD!
At 3:51pm on June 12, 2009, Marco Cavina said…
Ciao Russ,
nice to see you here, we met at Celtic Connections 2009 in Glasgow, it was great to see you play....ciao da Milano.
At 8:08pm on September 28, 2009, Jake Cohan said…
Love your music. Just got done learning "Return to Brandywine" from a previous Flatpik Guitar Mag. Keep composing great music.
At 7:52pm on September 30, 2009, Steve Blanchard said…
Hi Russ,
I've enjoyed your guitar playing for a long time. Are you coming to the Pacific Northwest soon? I'd like to set up some lesson time with you if your out this way...All the best...Steve

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