Versatile is a word that gets tossed around frequently when describing guitar players, but it’s hard to think of a more apt description for the legendary bluegrass player Peter Rowan. In the early ’60s, Rowan aced an audition for Bill Monroe, the father of bluegrass, and became the lead vocalist for Monroe’s Mountain Boys as well as co-writing songs with him, such as the classic “Walls of Time.” Rowan would go on to play traditional bluegrass with a myriad of collaborators including Tony Rice, David Grisman, and Jerry Garcia. But he also expanded his musical palette, dabbling in jazz, country rock, Tejano music, and even reggae (check out his sublime 2001 album Reggaebilly).
Along the way, Rowan has cemented his hero status for a multitude of young players and pickers, such as Molly Tuttle and Billy Strings, each of whom appear on Rowan’s new album, Calling You from My Mountain. The album started out as a collection of songs Rowan wrote inspired by Hank Williams’ Luke the Drifter alter ego. But just before he was set to record those songs in Nashville, the pandemic hit, and Rowan holed up at his house in California. During his time in isolation, he began revisiting favorite songs from his substantial catalog for inspiration, figuring out ways to reinvigorate them. One of those is a “A Winning Hand,” which Garden & Gun is premiering below. The track features Strings with a delicate guitar part, a departure from his usual breakneck pace, and it’s a piece of Rowan nostalgia, contemplating the restlessness of his decades of work and finding comfort in one of his favorite places, the shores of Ireland.
“‘A Winning Hand’ was one of the last songs I wrote living in Nashville before I moved to Texas in 1990,” Rowan says. “I’ve recorded several versions over the years, wondering how the story ends. It takes me back to a dawn in Sligo, Ireland, ocean waves crashing, a bright clear morning after an all-night jam with Bill Keith and Jim Rooney. Billy Strings’ uplift on the old ‘44 Martin guitar, like a hawk on the wind, brings it home.”
Calling You from My Mountain comes out June 24 and is available for preorder here.