A talk with Ron Gallant
By Chris Busby
Bluegrass mandolin shredder Ron Gallant is retiring from the Jerks of Grass after the band plays the Thomas Point Bluegrass Festival this coming weekend. An original member of the Jerks – arguably Maine’s preeminent bluegrass group – Gallant has been singing and playing guitar and mandolin with the band for over eight years.
In that time, Gallant’s picked millions of notes and picked up a host of nicknames from fellow Jerks Jason Phelps (guitar, mandolin and vocals), Carter Logan (banjo, fiddle, dobro and vocals) and Tom Jacques (bass). Among them: Hurricane Ron (the original nickname), Old Pinetop, Stingy McDickweed, Sexy Buddha, Single Bongo, Chief Running Scale, Three Fingers Hot Sauce and Mr. Poopy Pants.
Bandmates also recall several wise sayings they attribute to Gallant – pearls of wisdom they call “G-isms” or “gisms.” Top among these: “When the loins sensate, there is contact.” Other favorites include “I’ve played so many goddamn weddings now I feel like I’m fuckin’ gettin’ married;” “I’m sure the bride and groom have something better to do than listen to a tired, old bluegrass band;” and “If you believe it, it’s not a lie.”
The Bollard caught up with Gallant this past weekend, a three-day stretch during which the Jerks played four gigs. (The Jerks will continue gigging with a new member this fall.)
The Bollard: What were the Jerks like when you first joined?
Gallant: It kind of was being formed, I guess, at the time. I think I was the last piece to get in full-time.
What bands were you in before that? You’ve been playing since the ‘70s, right?
I played through high school in rock bands and then I goofed around in college with a couple bands, and when I got out of college I was in a band called the Danville Junction Boys, and we played for quite a few years.
Jason Phelps: What about the Rockin’ Chair Ramblers, man? They brought old rocking chairs and they sat in fucking rocking chairs and played.
What did you play, Ron?
We played old-timey music with real rocking chairs. It was fun. A rocking chair fell right off the stage with me in it – we were rocking so hard.
Where would you play back then?
Pretty much the same bars we play now, with different names. The Old Port Tavern has been around since then; we played there all the time. Pretty much the same neighborhood, just different names, you know, the club scene. We covered ‘em all. And the most amazing thing is, they don’t pay much more than they did in the ‘70s nowadays. The club scene’s always sucked as far as trying to keep your standard of living up.
What are you gonna do now?
I’m just gonna take a deep breath, kick back and try and relax… get some down time, you know. Basically where I’m at right now, I need to put the brakes on a little bit. It’s a tough schedule to maintain – week in, week out; year in, year out – and do some other things. I love to play, don’t get me wrong. There’s a special place to go to when you’re playing. I just need to get away from the gigging part of it and get away from the performing, being on.
How has Portland’s music scene changed over that time?
Really not much. The area has always supported good music. If you’ve got something good going, people will support ya. It’s a good place to play. But you’ve got to earn your chops. They don’t give it to ya, that’s for sure.
If you were paid a penny per note, how much would you make in a night?
I’d lose track, but I’ve have a lot of pennies. I’d probably be buried in pennies.
What’s your favorite song to play these days?
‘Huckleberry Hornpipe’ is one I enjoy playing. That’s an old tune, recorded by Dan Crary, recorded by a bunch of people. Another one is ‘Sliding Down,’ by Edgar Meyer. That’s a nice tune, very slow, kind of haunting tune.
What are you gonna miss about playing with the Jerks?
Jason Phelps, the greatest guitar player in Portland… I’ve been a fan of Jason since day one. From eight years ago to what he’s doing now, it’s been one of the great rushes in my life to see him maturing.
Phelps: Have you been drinking?
Oh yeah, half this beer. Naw, it’s been… Carter, too. It blows my mind. I’ve been doing all I can to just try and keep up, and it just keeps running faster.