Obituary: Charles Sawtelle

THE SELF-proclaimed "Greatest Show in Bluegrass", Hot Rize was for 12 dazzling years amongst the finest outfits in the genre, marrying superb musicianship with showmanship.

Bluegrass was developed by the great Bill Monroe in the 1930s and 1940s and is characterised by "high lonesome" vocals, driving rhythms and instrumental virtuosity played out on fiddle, mandolin, guitar and dobro. Born out of the mountain music of the rural South and the blues and field hollers Munroe heard as a youngster, it has transcended its origins to become a universal form.

The quartet of Tim O'Brien (mandolin, fiddle, vocals), Pete Wernick (banjo, harmony vocals), Charles Sawtelle (guitar, vocals) and Nick Forster (bass, vocals) came together as Hot Rize in 1978. O'Brien, Wernick and Sawtelle - a sometime steel guitarist from Austin, Texas - had been members of the Drifting Ramblers in 1976 and both Wernick and Sawtelle performed on O'Brien's Biscuit City album Guess Who's in Town. Working as a group seemed a natural progression, and with Forster on board in 1979 they cut an eponymous debut album for Flying Fish. In common with their later releases it expertly combined covers of standards with newer material, some of which has now entered the bluegrass/acoustic repertoire.

Like many other bluegrass musicians, Hot Rize feted those performers who had given the genre its initial impetus in the 1940s and 1950s. They were particularly drawn to the music of Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs and took their name from "hot rize", the "secret ingredient" in Martha White Self-Rising Flour, which, through its sponsorship of their segment on Nashville's Grand Ole Opry, became indelibly associated with Flatt and Scruggs.

A sophomore effort, Radio Boogie was released to acclaim in 1981 and followed three years later with a fine live set, Hot Rize In Concert. In the meantime, they had unveiled their alter egos, Red Knuckles and the Trailblazers, a hot Fifties-style country swing band with a penchant for sunglasses and song titles like "Wigwam Wiggle". Sawtelle, masquerading as "Slade", contributed bass. Originally an amusing part of their live act, the Trailblazers took on a life of their own and cut two albums, Red Knuckles And The Trailblazers (1982) and Shades Of The Past (1988).

In 1985, Hot Rize jumped labels to Sugar Hill and recorded Traditional Ties with its excellent version of O'Brien's "Walk The Way The Wind Blows". Ninety eighty-seven saw the release of Untold Stories, by which time O'Brien's other projects were taking up more and more of his time. Take It Home (1990), perhaps the band's finest album, proved its swansong and that same year they split.

The band's members went on to enjoy varying degrees of success with O'Brien maturing into a top-flight singer-songwriter. Sawtelle - long enigmatically nicknamed "the Bluegrass Mystery" - formed the Colorado-based Charles Sawtelle and the Whippets and began an association with fellow musician Peter Rowan that saw him become a fixture of the bluegrass festival/concert circuit.

Paul Wadey

Charles Sawtelle, bluegrass guitarist: born Austin, Texas 1946; died Nashville, Tennessee 20 March 1999.

Arts and Entertainment
Smart mover: Peter Bazalgette

film
Arts and Entertainment
'Old Fashioned' will be a different kind of love story to '50 Shades'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Tracey Emin's 'My Bed' is returning to the Tate more than 15 years after it first caused shockwaves at the gallery
artTracey Emin's bed returns to the Tate after record sale
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off contestants line-up behind Sue and Mel in the Bake Off tent

TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Beast would strip to his underpants and take to the stage with a slogan scrawled on his bare chest whilst fans shouted “you fat bastard” at him

music
Arts and Entertainment
On set of the Secret Cinema's Back to the Future event

film
Arts and Entertainment
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pedro Pascal gives a weird look at the camera in the blooper reel

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Public vote: Art Everywhere poster in a bus shelter featuring John Hoyland
art
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

TV
Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in the first-look Fifty Shades of Grey movie still

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, centre, are up for Best Female TV Comic for their presenting quips on The Great British Bake Off

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

TV
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

    Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
    Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
    How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

    How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

    Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
    Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

    Pop-up hotels filling a niche

    Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
    Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

    Feather dust-up

    A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
    Boris Johnson's war on diesel

    Boris Johnson's war on diesel

    11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
    5 best waterproof cameras

    Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

    Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
    Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

    Louis van Gaal interview

    Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
    Will Gore: The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series

    Will Gore: Outside Edge

    The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series
    The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

    The air strikes were tragically real

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns
    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

    Britain as others see us

    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
    How did our legends really begin?

    How did our legends really begin?

    Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
    Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz