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When it comes to ultra-smooth, virtuosic bluegrass, there are few bands in the class of California. Led by fiddler Byron Berline and flatpicking guitarist Dan Crary, the quintet radiates with instrumental brilliance.
The genesis of California goes back more than two decades when Berline formed a new band, Sundance, after the breakup of his influential bluegrass band Country Gazette, which included Crary and banjo player John Hickman. Although they recorded an impressive debut album on MCA, they were together for only two years. In 1977, Berline accepted an offer of a two week tour of Japan and recruited Crary and Hickman for a bluegrass trio — Berline, Crary and Hickman, or BCH. They remained together in that form throughout the 1980s. In 1988, they were joined by bassist and vocalist Steve Spurgin and recorded an album, Now They Are Four. With the addition mandolinist and vocalist John Moore in 1990, they expanded to a five-piece band and renamed themselves California. Their first year together, the band was dubbed Instrumental Group of the Year by the International Bluegrass Music Association.
A three-time fiddle champion, Oklahoma-born Berline is one of bluegrass' most innovative fiddlers. In addition to being a past member of such bands as Bill Monroe's Bluegrass Boys (1966-1967), Dillard and Clark (1969-1979), Dillard Expedition (1970-1971) and Country Gazette (1971-1975) and leading his own bands including Sundance (1975), his list of recording credits include sessions with the Band, the Rolling Stones, the Byrds, the Doobie Brothers, Manhattan Transfer, Emmylou Harris, Linda Ronstadt, John Denver, Arlo Guthrie, Elton John, Gram Parsons, Earl Scruggs, Stephen Stills, Rod Stewart and James Taylor.
Crary has been attracting attention with his melodic flatpicking since 1960. A founding member of the Bluegrass Alliance, he was one of the first to arrange classic fiddle tunes for the guitar. Crary is equally notable for his academic achievements. With a master's degree and Ph.D. in Human Communications Studies, he has taught at as an associate professor at Cal State since 1974. In 1991, he was a consultant for Michelle Shocked's back-to-the-roots album, Arkansas Traveler.
In addition to working with California, Berline and Crary have maintained solo careers. Berline's 1995 album, Fiddle and a Song, featured guest appearances by Bill Monroe, Earl Scruggs, Vince Gill, Mason Williams and the Sherman Oaks Presbyterian Church Quartet. He recorded a duo album, Double Trouble, with John Hickman the same year. Crary's 1992 album, Thunderation, received an INDIE award as Best Stringed Instrumental Music Recording, while his 1994 album, Jammed If I Do, included supportive contributions from Doc Watson, Tony Rice, Norman Blake and Beppe Gambetta.
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