Larry Unger has more miles under his belt than just about any other contra musician. For more than 25 years, he’s been on the road playing countless dances and composing hundreds of tunes. Recently his band Notorious — with Eden MacAdam-Somer (fiddle), Sam Bartlett (mandolin), Mark Hellenberg (percussion), and Mark Murphy (bass) — released their third album, The Road to Damascus. I sat down with Larry recently and asked him a few quick questions….
1. What music are you listening to at the moment?
- Ozarks Fiddle Music. I bought this great book and CD, It’s fantastic! There are a lot of tune books in the world, but this is well-done, I think.
- Etta Baker: Banjo. I’ve been listening to it over and over again, recently. She was a blues guitarist that I knew and I used to visit her. She was known for her guitar playing, but I knew she played the banjo and thankfully there are enough recordings of it.
2. What are a few of your all-time favorite albums?
- Music of Roscoe Holcomb and Wade Ward
- High Atmosphere: Ballads and Banjo Tunes from Virginia and North Carolina
3. What’s one of your all-time favorite tunes?
Tour of Scotland by Randy Miller. When I used to play with Rodney [Miller], I used to always ask him for that because I knew he played it. Of course, depending on the fiddler, I always ask for the Opera Reel. And of course Money Musk when the opportunity presents itself.
4. What’s one of the all-time favorite tunes you’ve written?
Two Rivers. It’s an old one. It’s 25 years old. I still like it though.
5. What’s an instrument that you don’t play but wish you could?
Well I don’t play the fiddle all the time! [Laughs.] I hold it in my hands and scratch away. As far as something that I really wish I could play that I don’t play at all, that would be Tejano music, Tex-Mex accordion like Flaco and Santiago Jiménez play. I just love that kind of music. That and the Cajun accordion.
6. In five words, describe your musical style.
“Can’t. Be. Done. Not. Today.” [Laughs.] “A. Little. Bit. Of. Everything.” Someone once said something about me, in a newspaper article or something, and I think it’s pretty good. As far as contra dance playing, they said, I had “the right hand of an old time player, but the left hand of a Celtic player.” I like that, but that’s too many words.
7. Any cool plans coming up?
In January, [Eden and I] will be in London at the Cecil Sharp House and then the next morning we fly to Afghanistan, teaching kids at a school there. It’s going to be a big challenge. We feel like this is something that we’ll be doing that is good for the world. Playing for dancing is fun and does make people’s lives better, but this is important in a different way.
Larry Unger and Eden MacAdam-Somer will be leading our American Dance Musicians course at Pinewoods next summer.
To purchase The Road to Damascus and other Larry Unger CDs and book, visit the CDSS store. -Max