Larry Roose is on a mission to educate the public about bluegrass music.
Roose has a weekly Saturday morning radio show on WRPO-LP 93.5 in Russells Point where he spins the best – if obscure – bluegrass music ever laid down on wax, tape, vinyl, or plastic, all selected from his own massive collection. When he’s not on air, he and his band Homegrown Grass can often be found on the road, setting Americana to music everywhere from outdoor festivals to nursing homes. Homegrown Grass could frequently be seen at the Indianhead Roadhouse on Sundays and recently played at the Huntsville sesquicentennial celebration, with Roose upfront, guitar in tune and vocal chords at the ready.
Not bad for a guy who didn’t even pick up a guitar until he was 40.
Having grown up in a house filled with music – his grandparents, parents, and aunts all sang or picked and the legendary Roy Acuff was once an overnight guest of his grandfather – Roose couldn’t give a hang for it while he was growing up.
“I didn’t understand it,” Roose said. “I liked music, but I just didn’t have any interest in singing or playing. I had other things on my mind.”
One of those things was a lifelong passion for restoring and souping-up Volkswagens, an obsession that continues to fill his time between bluegrass gigs. He has a half-dozen Beetles on his property in various states of repair, including a traffic cone-colored drop-top he’s restoring for an Indian Lake-area resident. Also seen were two Karmann Ghias, a dune-buggy straight out of a Frankie and Annette movie and a tube-framed sand hopper that weighs in at about 1,200 pounds, its high-performance VW engine included.
“I have trouble keeping the front wheels on the ground,” Roose said of the buggy-zilla, making it perfect for climbing walls or launching into orbit. He produced a 25-year-old picture of his much younger self, seated in a very similar vehicle, front wheels pointing skyward, waiting for liftoff. This is what kept Roose busy for two decades.
But as he approached 40, his sons, both of whom started singing and picking at a early age, flat out told Roose that it was time for him to join in.
“They said ‘Dad, we know you can sing. Now here’s a guitar,’ ” Roose recalled with a chuckle. Since then, he continued, he’s been hooked and on stage whenever he gets the chance, sharing the guitar licks and harmonies he grew up hearing with a new generation of listeners. Now that he has two full-time obsessions – bluegrass and VWs – he has little time for anything else.
“I haven’t seen a movie in 30 years,” Roose said as he was sitting among the tons of wax, vinyl, and plastic he’s collected over the decades bearing the stylings of everybody from Roy Acuff to ZZ Top. “I spilt my time between the music and the (VW) shop. That’s what keeps me going.”
When asked about his partiality to bluegrass, Roose deadpanned that there are only two types of music (“bluegrass and everything else”), but in reality he’s a fan most most genres of music, and in his vast collection of records and CDs he leans toward old-time country, R&B, and vintage rock-n-roll.
One of his favorite items is an Oak Ridge Boys album, made unusual by two things: The lack of facial hair on every last Boy (this is news for anyone under 60), and the fact that the album cover makes it a big point in mentioning that the Oak Ridge Boys were voted the best quartet of 1964, a neat accomplishment seeing that the Boys were and remain a quintet. All five members are seen smiling on the cover covered by a banner which praises only 80 percent of them, with the error repeated on the back.
But closest to Roose’s heart is the bluegrass and old-time “hillbilly” music, the tunes and melodies that he grew up hearing every day. Roose said that he’s not alone in his preferences as he’s noticed a heightened interest in homegrown American music in recent years, with Ohio quickly becoming hotbed of the bluegrass, old-time country, and traditional gospel music revival. Increasing numbers of music lovers from all over the country are beginning to appreciate this uniquely American music genre that found root and flourished in the piedmont and mountains of Appalachia.
A quick Google search seemed to confirm Roose’s conclusion as it produced a half-dozen full-blown bluegrass festivals scheduled in the Buckeye State over this summer. The Central Ohio Bluegrass Association (www.centralohiobluegrass.com/calendar-of-events) has a schedule of live shows at various locations scheduled almost weekly through the fall.
Roose and Homegrown Grass show no signs of slowing down either, with two gigs scheduled for this past weekend (“We pack ‘em in,” Roose said) and an upcoming show in Michigan.
But even if you can’t catch Homegrown Grass on stage anytime soon, you can always tune in Roose on Saturdays from 11-noon WRPO-LP, where he’ll continue to spread the message of music that features five-string banjos and up-right basses.
“Somebody’s gotta do it,” Roose said of his bluegrass outreach program. “Might as well be me.”
Tom Stephens is a regular contributor to this newspaper.