Grammy-award winner and five-time Grammy nominee, Peter Rowan is a bluegrass singer-songwriter with a career spanning over five decades. From his early years playing under the tutelage of bluegrass patriarch Bill Monroe, and following his stint in Old & In the Way with Jerry Garcia and subsequent breakout as both a solo performer and bandleader, Rowan has built a devoted, international fan base through his continuous stream of original recordings, collaborative projects, and constant touring.
Born in Wayland, Massachusetts to a musical family, Rowan first learned to play guitar from his uncle. He spent his teenage years absorbing the sights and sounds of the Boston music scene, playing bluegrass at the Hillbilly Ranch and discovering folk and blues across the Charles River at the legendary Club 47 on Mt. Auburn Street in Cambridge. “I could sit in with the Lilly Brothers at the Hillbilly Ranch and then catch the MTA and be in time for Joan Baez’s last set at the Club 47. Bluegrass appealed to me. It was callin’ me—the harmonies, that high and lonesome calling-sound. Don Stover had played banjo with Bill Monroe, fiddler Tex Logan too, before they joined the Lillys. Mandolinist Joe Val taught me all the Blue Sky Boys and the Louvin Brothers songs. I would play a “sock-hop” with my rockin’ group, The Cupids, and then make a beeline for the clubs. Sonny Terry and Brownie Magee, Josh White, Muddy Waters- they all came to town! ”
Following three years in college, Rowan left academia to pursue a life in music. Rowan began his professional career in 1964 as the lead singer and rhythm guitarist for Bill Monroe and The Bluegrass Boys, living in Nashville and playing with Monroe on the Grand Ol’ Opry every week. “One thing I liked about the Monroe style was that there was a lot more blues in it than other styles of bluegrass,” reflects Rowan. “It was darker. It had more of an edge to it. And yet it still had the ballad tradition in it, and I loved that.” Rowan stayed with Monroe and his Bluegrass Boys, touring constantly both in the United States and in England, for two and a half years. ” We went from old-timey places way down south to the colleges up north, we played to all ages, long-time fans of Bluegrass and the college kids my own age.”
The late ’60s and early 70’s saw Rowan collaborating with musical compatriots in a number of rock, folk and bluegrass combinations: Earth Opera with David Grisman, Sea Train with fiddler Richard Greene (himself a graduate of Monroe’s band) Muleskinner with both Grisman and Greene, former Bluegrass Boy banjoist Bill Keith and the great Clarence White. From the ashes of Muleskinner, Rowan and Grisman went on to join Jerry Garcia, Vassar Clements, and John Kahn, forming the legendary bluegrass band Old & In the Way. It was during this time that Rowan penned the song “Panama Red,” a subsequent hit for the New Riders of the Purple Sage and a classic ever since. Other time-honored compositions by Rowan include ” Moonlight Midnight”, ” In The Land of the Navajo” and “Lonesome L.A. Cowboy”. Jerry Garcia himself recorded Rowan’s “Moonlight Midnight” and the haunting “Mississippi Moon”. The 1970’s also saw Peter Rowan playing and recording alongside brothers Chris and Lorin Rowan as the The Rowan Brothers. Their three albums for Elektra-Asylum featured original songs highlighted by the three siblings soaring harmonies.
Rowan subsequently embarked on a well-received solo career in 1978, releasing such critically acclaimed records as Dustbowl Children (a Woody Guthrie style song cycle about humanity’s spirituality in relationship to the earth), Yonder (a record of old-time country songs and Rowan originals in collaboration with ace dobro player, Jerry Douglas) and two extraordinarily fine bluegrass albums, The First Whippoorwill and Bluegrass Boy, as well as High Lonesome Cowboy, a recording of traditional old-time cowboy songs with Don Edwards and guitarist Norman Blake. Rowan’s recent releases- Reggaebilly, a wonderful blend of reggae and bluegrass and Quartet, a recording with the phenomenal Tony Rice, coupled with a relentless touring schedule have further endeared Peter Rowan to audiences around the world.
On the road, Rowan performs internationally as a solo singer-songwriter, while stateside he plays in three bands: the Peter Rowan Bluegrass Band, a quartet featuring Jody Stecher, Keith Little, and Paul Knight; The Peter Rowan & Tony Rice Quartet; and his rocking band, The Free Mexican Air Force.