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Peter Rowan Biography

Home > Music > R > Rowan, Peter > Biography

Born: 1942/07/04
Birth Place: in Boston, Massachusetts
Years Active: 1963 - Present
Genres: Bluegrass, Progressive Bluegrass, Folk, Country, Country Rock, Folk Rock, Psychedelic, Tex-Mex

Peter Rowan is a Grammy-Award winning bluegrass singer-songwriter with a career spanning over five decades. Rowan was born in Wayland, Massachusetts on July 4, 1942, and into a musical family. From a young age, Rowan was taught to play the guitar by his uncle; and at the age of twelve, when he heard Elvis Presley sing for the first time he decided right there and then that music was his path. From his early years playing under the tutelage of bluegrass patriarch Bill Monroe, and following his stint in Old & In the Way with Jerry Garcia, and subsequent breakout as both a solo performer and bandleader, Rowan has built a devoted, international fan base through his continuous stream of original recordings, collaborative projects, and constant touring.

In junior high Rowan formed a rockabilly band called the Cupids, shortly thereafter he began to play the blues, which lead to an interest in folk music, and eventually discovery of bluegrass. Rowan spent his teenage years absorbing the sights and sounds of the Boston music scene, playing bluegrass at the Hillbilly Ranch: "I could sit in with the Lilly Brothers at the Hillbilly Ranch and then catch the MTA and be in time for Joan Baez's last set at the Club 47. Bluegrass appealed to me.” Following three years in college, Rowan left academia to pursue a life in music and began his professional career in 1964 as the lead singer and rhythm guitarist for Bill Monroe and The Bluegrass Boys, living in Nashville and playing with Monroe on the Grand Ol' Opry every week. "One thing I liked about the Monroe style was that there was a lot more blues in it than other styles of bluegrass," reflects Rowan. "It was darker. It had more of an edge to it. And yet it still had the ballad tradition in it, and I loved that."

Rowan stayed with Monroe and his Bluegrass Boys, touring constantly both in the United States and in England, for two and a half years." However by the late '60's and early '70's Rowan began collaborating with musical compatriots in a number of rock, folk and bluegrass combinations: Earth Opera with David Grisman, Sea Train with fiddler Richard Greene, Muleskinner with both Grisman and Greene, former Bluegrass Boy banjoist Bill Keith and the great Clarence White. From the ashes of Muleskinner, Rowan and Grisman went on to join Jerry Garcia, Vassar Clements, and John Kahn, forming the legendary bluegrass band “Old & In the Way.” It was during this time that Rowan penned the song "Panama Red," a subsequent hit for the New Riders of the Purple Sage and a classic ever since. The 1970’s also saw Rowan playing and recording alongside brothers Chris and Lorin Rowan as the The Rowan Brothers. Their three albums for Elektra-Asylum featured original songs highlighted by the three siblings soaring harmonies.

Rowan subsequently embarked on a well-received solo career in 1978, releasing such critically acclaimed records as “Dustbowl Children” (1990), “Yonder” (1996), and two extraordinarily fine bluegrass albums, “The First Whippoorwill” (1985) and “Bluegrass Boy” (1996), as well as “High Lonesome Cowboy” (2002), a recording of traditional old-time cowboy songs with Don Edwards and guitarist Norman Blake. Rowan's recent releases: “Reggaebilly” (2001), a blend of reggae and bluegrass, and “Quartet,” has seen Rowan spend more time on the road. Rowan performs internationally as a solo singer-songwriter, while stateside he plays in three bands: the Peter Rowan Bluegrass Band, a quartet featuring Jody Stecher, Keith Little, and Paul Knight; The Peter Rowan & Tony Rice Quartet; and his rocking band, The Free Mexican Air Force.