“The most obvious parts of everyone’s life have been depicted in a bluegrass song,” says Ekstein. “The bluegrass tunes I’ve written for my records over the past 30 or so years are mostly named after people, events, or something important that happened in my life. That’s just part of my love for bluegrass.”
As the son of an Austrian immigrant to America his surname, Ekstein, translates, literally, to “Cornerstone,” which is the aptly titled opening track to the album, symbolizing his heritage and love of the genre. Another song on Carolina Chimes that reflects that philosophy is “Jessy’s Fancy,” named for Ekstein’s daughter.
Many of the tunes on Carolina Chimes reflect Ekstein’s travels in this world, from his early years living in California and exploring the American West, to settling down in the western North Carolina mountain town of Asheville.
“Hoot Owl Hop” was written from his days of living in California when the warm summer nights brought hoot owls to the eucalyptus trees every year. The perfect title for a wild ride of a tune, ‘Spikebuck,’ refers to the name of some rapids on the Arkansas River in Colorado where his family, barely hanging on, took a fast-moving whitewater rafting trip one year. “Back Drag” was named after an insane stunt Ekstein once attempted for the first and last time as a trick rider on a galloping horse in his youth.
About a decade ago, Ekstein relocated to Asheville, where he continues to run the Foxfire Recording Studio
(started in 1990), so he could play more bluegrass with western North Carolina roots musician, Billy Constable, for whom this album is dedicated. Constable, who passed away in 2015 of cancer, was best known for his three-finger-picking banjo technique and his vigorous acoustic guitar leads.
A couple of songs on this project were written in Constable’s memory including, “‘Bacon in the Pan,’ Rudi’s version of an old-time fiddle tune done in the bluegrass style as, Rudi recalls, “Billy often spoke endlessly on the phone about the fine points of cooking a good breakfast, and ‘All Night in Kentucky’ is a tune I wrote after jamming all night long at the IBMA convention in Louisville, KY, with Billy. Inspired by that experience, I just couldn’t stop pickin’ on that early morning and I spontaneously ended up playing this tune.”
Rock ‘n’ roll music and bluegrass music from the Appalachian Mountains have had a big influence in Ekstein’s musical life. Within weeks of arriving in the area, Constable introduced Ekstein to many players in the WNC pickin’ scene. Both were in the band Blue Wheel Drive, along with bassist Rob Parks, and all three went on to perform for two years with The Bobby Hicks Band. Parks makes an appearance on Carolina Chimes playing “Rockalachia,” a tune BWD performed live that is reminiscent of the boogie-woogie style of bluegrass played on the mandolin in the 1940’s by the Father of Bluegrass, Bill Monroe. Another bluegrass buddy from those days, Seth Rhinehart, also steps in on banjo on that ditty as well as “Dixie Sunset,” of which Ekstein says, “I wanted to see how close I could write a ¾-time tune within the style of bluegrass, but still make it unique in its own way. Playing music on the deck of my North Carolina mountain home while overlooking the woods and watching the sunset inspired me to write this twisty waltz.”
Other cuts on Carolina Chimes reflect Ekstein’s many musical influences. “I always thought ‘Indian Rain’ would be a good song for an old fashioned western movie. Too bad it was 60 years too late. Turned out to be a better bluegrass fiddle tune, especially with Stuart Duncan at the Helm. In the late 1980’s, I recorded my song ‘Flapjack’ while playing Dobro for a band project,” says Ekstein. “I originally wrote it on the Dobro as a tune for the mandolin. I finally made it a reality here on this album. And, that brings me to the album’s title cut, ‘Carolina Chimes.’ I’ve always loved the classic banjo tunes that featured the sound of arpeggio chimes created by banjo and mandolin duets. It reminds me of bells ringing at an old Carolina country church house.”
Kind Words about Carolina Chimes:
“The bulk of [the songs] are flat-out, hold-on-to-your-hat wild rides that he takes you on… The entire album brings back many great memories to me of John Hartford’s many musical excursions through the years, jam sessions with Mike Marshall down in Florida back in the ’70’s and all sorts of good stuff… I would suggest the best way to listen to this CD is on a nice drive through the country or anywhere.” –Elmore, Ken Spooner
““Here is good, pure music… ‘Carolina Chimes,’ the disc’s title track, is one that completely delights me, certainly another of the disc’s highlights. There is something incredibly catchy and even pretty about it. It’s happiness in the form of music.” –Michael’s Music Log, Michael Doherty
“Rudi Ekstein has written a great collection of new bluegrass instrumentals and as writer, producer, engineer and musician, recorded this album and maintained a very high degree of quality at every step of the production process! The mix is wonderful and Rudi’s cast of musicians is stellar!” –Gene Libbea (Nashville Bluegrass Band)
“Rudi’s original tunes are sure to become classics. The musicians on this project are fantastic – every tune is a gem.” –Dennis Caplinger
“Rudi has put together a nice mixture of tunes that take us from up tempo fiddle numbers to sad mountain laments with a gypsy jazz feel thrown in for good measure. I am honored to be included in this stellar lineup of world class acoustic players from around the country. This project is superbly crafted using the finest instruments, played through the finest microphones by virtuoso musicians. Great job Rudi! –Jeff Autry
“I have known Rudi for a long time. Having lived in California for several years we used to cross paths alot. Rudi, like me, as we have grown older, seems to have a calling to write tunes. Bill Monroe did the same thing. The 12 tunes that Rudi has put together are winners. These musicians that Rudi picked to play on his project are top notch. Surrounding yourself with good musicians is the key, and Rudi, you found the right key.” –Byron Berline
Carolina Chimes Track Listing
1. Cornerstone (2:41)
2. Indian Rain (3:21)
3. All Night in Kentucky (2:48)
4. Hoot Owl Hop (2:52)
5. Jessy’s Fancy (3:54)
6. Spikebuck (2:04)
7. Flapjack (3:31)
8. Bacon in the Pan (2:28)
9. Rockalachia (2:35)
10. Carolina Chimes (2:26)
11. Dixie Sunset (2:39 )
12. Back Drag (1:50)
The Musicians on Carolina Chimes include:
Stuart Duncan – Fiddle (all tracks)
Jeff Autry – Guitar (all tracks)
Mark Schatz – Upright Bass (all tracks except 9)
Rob Parks – Upright Bass (9)
John Plotnik – Banjo (1,2,3,7,10,12), Dobro (4,5,6,8)
Patrick Sauber – Banjo (4,5,6,8)
Seth Rhinehart – Banjo (9,11)
Rudi Ekstein – Mandolin (all tracks)
All tunes written by Rudi Ekstein, BMI, Carolina Chimes Music, P & C 2018
Produced by Rudi Ekstein. Recorded and Mixed by Rudi Ekstein
Rudi has owned and operated his own commercial recording studio business Foxfire Recording since 1990, and since then has played for, or produced and/or engineered numerous albums for CMH, Rounder, Sugar Hill Records, as well as artists like Tony Rice, Larry Rice, Chris Hillman, Josh Graves, David Grisman, Richard Greene, Bill Keith, David Grier, Herb Pedersen, Bill Bryson, and other notables. His array of recording and live performance credits include many internationally known bluegrass musicians like fiddle players Byron Berline and Gabe Witcher; banjo hotshots John Hickman, Dennis Caplinger, and Craig Smith; gifted Dobro player, Rob Ickes, The Nashville Bluegrass Band’s GRAMMY award winning bass player, Gene Libbea; an original Bluegrass Cardinal bass player Bill Bryson; as well as three members of the Country Boys (later the Kentucky Colonels), bass man Eric White, banjo player, Billy Ray Lathum, and Dobro player, Leroy Mack among many others.