Volume 13, Issue 5 ~ February 3 - February 9, 2005

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Music Review
photo by Michelle Robbins
Gary Pendleton, Chris Garrett, Susan Berman and Ray Saunders.

A Chesapeake Bluegrass Delicacy Seasoned with Swing

What is the Chesapeake Bay without the rockfish? But with rockfish off-limits to anglers until April, lovers of this fish have had to order it in restaurants or at the supermarket, where the fish is a winter regular.

Now there’s another choice: the Chesapeake-born bluegrass band, RockFish, which has just celebrated the release of their first CD, Shady Grove.

On the CD’s 15 cuts, you hear American folk classics — rediscovered ballads like “Deep River Blues” to Johnny Cash’s classic “I Walk the Line” to Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice” — seasoned with a little something the band calls the Rockfish Twist, their own flavorings to their all-cover material.

Why Rockfish?
“It’s a local delicacy,” said singer Susan Berman. “And we rock.”

Why Shady Grove? Listen to the lyrics of the title track “Shady Grove, my little love … bound to go away,” and you can hear a nearly lost-love song … a theme in today’s Bay Country, as open spaces and solitude give way to development and commuters … and an explanation for why these four stretch out of day jobs to moonlight as musicians.

Made up of an artist and insurance salesman, a photo editor, a baker and a park ranger, this quartet flies by night to the beat of another drum.

“We’re a working band, but we don’t work very hard,” said harmonica player Gary Pendleton. Thus the band plays about once a month, at local venues and festivals as well as parties and weddings.

Guitarist and vocalist Ray Saunders, by trade a Washington Post photo assignment editor, had been playing guitar since he left college. By the late 1990s, he found that “a growing family, the renovation of our 1940s’ North Beach home and a full-time job pretty much knocked music out of the picture.”

Ray’s wife, Michelle, convinced him to unpack his guitar for an open mike night in North Beach that spring, and while onstage belting out Blind Willie McTell’s “Statesboro Blues,” Saunders “heard someone in the audience playing some real nice harmonica.” It was Gary Pendleton, who after joining Saunders for a song introduced himself and Susan Berman.

“A week or so later,” Saunders recounts, “we got together one evening at Susan’s and discovered we liked the same type of music and knew many of the same songs.”

Berman plays guitar and sings. With the addition of Chris Garrett on bass and mandolin, RockFish was born.

Celebrating the release of Shady Grove, RockFish took to land this past Saturday at Mom’s in the Kitchen in Prince Frederick.

Revved up by Western Swing fiddle legend Bill Marquess, the band jammed through bustling waitresses, two broken guitar strings and 10 door-prize announcements.

Playing songs from Shady Grove, RockFish and its friends, family and fans also raised money to help ensure that at least some of Chesapeake Country’s own shady groves endure. A portion of the proceeds from their performance last weekend was donated to the American Chestnut Land Trust, which works to preserves open space in Calvert County.

With RockFish’s new CD, Bay lovers, music lovers and rockfish lovers can dig anytime into a healthy serving of this folksy mix.

Sample and buy on-line ($15 plus $2.50 shipping and handling) at www.rockfish.music.com.

—Ted Daly and Kipi Moreland contributed to this review.

© COPYRIGHT 2004 by New Bay Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.