As a student at William Blount High School, 14-year-old Bethany Morgan is the music aficionado in her circle of friends.
What’s more, she’s expanded the palate of her old man, whose tastes already were eclectic.
Roscoe Morgan is a familiar fixture around Blount County, where most casual fans know him through his association with bluegrass. To call it the genre of which he’s most fond might not be the most accurate statement, given that he’s as passionate discussing Rush or The Fixx or King Crimson as he is Ralph Stanley or Flatt and Scruggs, but ever since his daughter entered his musical orbit, his palate has certainly expanded.
“I didn’t get (the band) 21 Pilots until I went to see them, but the show made me appreciate the band,” Roscoe told The Daily Times this week. “It’s interesting, because 95% of what she brings to the table, I like. For me, a lot of indie rock these days sounds like early ’80s MTV all over again. There’s just a certain portal, a certain rhythmic texture, that makes me smile when we lock in on it. We know, 10 minutes into trying a song, whether it’s going to be a Roscoe and Bethany song or not. If we have to work hard at it, it’s probably not for us.”
Roscoe always has played well with others. While his unconventional approach to music theory — “I get my chord theory from Rush, and I get my desire to play well from Robert Fripp (of King Crimson),” he told The Daily Times a few years ago — has made him an outlier in roots music circles, it’s also given him a skillset that’s made him in demand as a band member and musical partner. He’s performed with everyone from Bill Monroe to Jimmy Arnold to Karl Shiflett and Big Country Show to John Reischman, and his pedigree includes stints in such bands as Misty River, Pine Mountain Railroad, C.F. Bailey and Shadow Ridge, the Knoxville Bluegrass Band and Wild Oats (which also featured local guitar champion Steve Kaufman).
Playing as part of a duo with his daughter came about as a surprise, however.
“It was something I accidentally stumbled upon after getting into music myself,” Bethany said. “I was finding stuff on YouTube that I enjoyed and wanted to pick up an instrument and teach myself how to play it.”
In the Morgan household, the kids — Bethany and her older brother, Roscoe III — had an open invitation to pick up any available instrument and pick or plunk away. Roscoe never pushed his kids to play, and when he heard Bethany with his bass guitar a few years ago, he thought she was simply “tweaking around,” he said.
Then, they were at a guitar shop, and Roscoe tried out a six-string by picking a riff from the latest Paramore album. Always the musically adventurous type, he had been at a convenience store before that, was struck by a song on the radio and asked the clerk, “What is this music?” Mentioning the indie rock band to his daughter, the two went out one night and bought the band’s most recent record. As he played one of its riffs, his daughter took a bass off the wall and joined in with the song’s bass line.
“I just thought, ‘Dang, why haven’t we been playing together?’” Roscoe said.
He had a gig for the WDVX “Blue Plate Special” on the books and parlayed that into the first Roscoe and Bethany gig. They dub what they do as “acoustic New Wave,” and they’ll perform at Vienna Coffeehouse in downtown Maryville on Friday (as well as June 1 at the Maryville Farmers Market and June 12 for the “Behind the Barn” show at Barley’s Maryville). Over the past year, they’ve grown closer as family members and bandmates, each introducing the other to new bands and musicians, finding more common ground than distaste — although there are some things dad likes that Bethany can’t quite wrap her head around.
“Two things that he listens to that I’m not super big on: thrash metal and some of the country stuff, but that I can tolerate,” she said. “I just don’t get metal.”
For his part, Roscoe may not be as into bands like Fallout Boy as Bethany is (or was; these days, she namechecks Superorganism and Mac DeMarco, among others, as her preferred sounds of choice), but he’s been pleasantly surprised to discover mutual interest in groups like the Arctic Monkeys or Soccer Mommy. And while making money as a soon-to-be-15-year-old is an added bonus for Bethany, getting to watch his daughter be a professional musician is a reward for Roscoe as well.
“Youth! I get youth out of it,” he said. “I have a bandmate whose moves I can easily predict, I get somebody who’s not late to the downbeat, and I get just a really neat relationship. It’s a unique thing to get to have with your kid, and I’m not doing the token ‘petting dad’s kid on the head’ thing. We’re two serious musicians who happen to be 40 years apart in age who enjoy playing the same things. And I get extended youth through this crazy-talented, youthful band member who makes me look good.”