Bud Finch was at a festival at Mr. B’s Bluegrass Park in Ladysmith, north of Richmond on Route 1, when I called him on his cell phone.
"The bluegrass community is very close-knit," he said. "I like to support these guys when they’re close to me. If I’m gonna ask them to support me, then I want to support them."
Finch is guitarist and lead singer for Code Blue, one of southeastern Virginia’s most popular bluegrass bands. They open the fall season for the Tidewater Friends of Folk Music Saturday night at the Virginia Beach Central Library. Though they can lay on the traditional bluegrass sound as high and lonesome as anyone, theirs is more a fusion of past and present.
"We were not reared in the hills of Kentucky," he said, "so I guess we’re not so rooted in the tradition like you would be if that’s what you had grown up hearing. Being from the Tidewater area, we have an appreciation of where the music started and we like that kind of music, but we also have a contemporary vein that runs through us. We like to call it the ‘Code Blue spin.’ We take a lot of different songs, whether it be a country song or an old traditional type bluegrass song, and put that ‘Code Blue spin’ on it. One comment that we get about our band is that we don’t sound like anyone else. We don’t try to copy anybody; we just play and sing it the way that we feel it."
Like most Baby Boomers, Bud Finch grew up with eclectic listening habits and a broad palette of musical influences.
"I grew up listening to Hank Williams initially," he remembered. "My brother got me hooked on Hank Williams when he was in the service back during the Vietnam era and I was in my teens. And I listened to a lot of R&B—Motown, The Temptations, Four Tops, that kind of stuff. That’s really what bluegrass is; it’s ‘white man’s soul,’ that’s what Bill Monroe called it. It’s a soulful, heartfelt music. I think that is why I fit so well in bluegrass, why it hit such a nerve once I became acquainted with it. I think all the guys in the band come from that same type of background.
"We’ll do ‘Stand by Me,’ by Ben E. King; we’ll do Jerry Lee Lewis’ ‘Great Balls of Fire.’ We pull from different avenues of music and bring it together to make it interesting. When we play a show like the one Saturday at the library, that’s not a deeply rooted bluegrass audience. So you’ve really got to be diverse in your presentation; you’ve got to be a chameleon and change for what you feel is hitting a nerve with them. A lot of groups are deeply rooted in tradition and that’s what they’re going to play whether it clicks with the audience or not. But we’re able to change gears and find multiple ways to please the audience."
They’ve been pleasing audiences for a long time:
"Code Blue’s been together for about 15-16 years from its inception. The current lineup that we have has been together since 2000. We had our first recording, called Memories of Home, in 2001, and we just completed our second CD project, called Second Time Around, last year."
The current lineup includes Finch’s longtime singing partner and fellow Poquoson Bull Islander, E. T. Firth, on mandolin and vocals; Michael Beaver plays banjo, Paul Anderson is on fiddle and George Thomas thumps the upright bass. Though their sound has a contemporary flavor, their onstage look harkens back to the past.
"We do our vocals around one mike," Finch explained. "That is the crux of what we use. We do have mikes for the banjo and the fiddle. It makes it a lot easier on the soundman—you don’t have to worry about feedback, plus it creates movement. It creates a visual context for the show. It has to be choreographed so you know when to come in and when to go out, when to go left and when to go right. You have to keep your eyes open and be ready for the movement. It keeps you on your toes!"
The men of Code Blue will definitely be on their toes Saturday night. After playing festivals around the state, it’s always nice to play for the homefolks.
"We really appreciate the support we’ve gotten from all our friends and supporters in Tidewater," Finch said. "We’ve been going at it a long time. E. T. and I have been singing together in various groups for probably twenty five years. We hope that we’ve brought a lot of happiness to people with our music."
copyright © 2007 Jim Newsom. All Rights Reserved.