The Charles River Valley Boys

The Charles River Valley Boys line-up and sound shifted from their late ’50s formation at Harvard playing “old-timey” songs from Uncle Dave Mason and Charlie Poole to their bluegrass take on the Lennon/McCartney/Harrison songbook for 1966’s Beatle Country, but their embrace of both genres helped nurture the folk revival of the ’60s in Boston. Originally comprised of banjo player Bob Siggins, and guitarists Ethan Signer and Eric Sackheim, with singer/guitarist John Byrne Cooke joining the group a few years later, the band attracted a steady following, playing on Harvard’s WHRB radio station, performing at Tulla’s Coffeehouse in Cambridge and releasing 1962’sBluegrass and Old Timey Music on the local Mount Auburn label. By 1966, with a steady line-up of Siggins (banjo, vocals), Jim Field (guitar, vocals), Joe Val (mandolin, vocals), and Everett A. Lilly (bass) (with help from guitarist Eric Thompson, fiddler Buddy Spicher and dobroist Craig Wingfield), the group hooked up with Elektra Records to release Beatle Country, a dozen clever bluegrass interpretations of Beatles hits that stood apart from the crass Beatlemania cash-ins that had already begun to appear at that time. The group disbanded by 1968, with Val forming The New England Bluegrass Boys, which he fronted until his death in 1985. John Byrne Cooke moved to San Francisco, hooked up with the Haight-Asbury scene and road-managed Big Brother and the Holding Company, taking photographs and chronicling the rock ‘n’ roll era.
(by Stephen Haag)

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