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  • Ed Schmieder

Buddy Merriam: Welcoming a Long Island Legend

Updated: May 13



This week we welcome our first certified music legend. Certified in what you ask? Merriam has been writing and performing bluegrass music here for more than 40 years; In 2015, he received the Long Island Sound Award from The Long Island Music Hall of Fame for “outstanding contributions to Long Island’s Musical Heritage.” The recently established Mandolin Heritage Foundation, whose mission is to preserve and promote that instrument, its players, and their compositions, will transcribe, and record audio-video performances by Merriam playing many of his estimated 2000 compositions.

But, perhaps the most meaningful benediction of Merriam and his band’s work came years before when Bill Monroe, the Father of Bluegrass and a mandolinist himself, said “I want to thank them for what they’ve done to help bluegrass music, and I’ll always be their friend.” True to his word, on occasions including while on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry, Monroe called Merriam to play at his side.


Accolades aside, Meriam was still at it writing and recording as he hunkered down during the last year. He is as happy to join us on the Long Island Stage as we are to have him. Recently, Merriam in another ensemble, 26 Strings, posted two new instrumentals on Spotify: “For the Dawg” and “Stony Brook Bypass.” I guessed correctly that the first song paid homage to David “Dawg” Grisman another great American mandolinist who straddles bluegrass and jazz, but remained puzzled as to which stretch of roadway in Stony Brook inspired that second number? Merriam explained its title comes from by-pass surgery he had at Stony Brook Hospital, and the tune was composed in his head while recovering as he endured the longest separation from his instrument in forty years.


We perhaps will hear those new compositions along with some cuts from Merriam’s seven CDs, in particular his last release 2014’s The Farm. I asked about two of its songs “New Echota” and “41 Degnon.” New Echota was once the capital of what the Cherokee nation hoped would be a republic in Georgia. It was, of course, a town from which they were displaced during the infamous Trail of Tears march, and the lesser-known Trail of Falling Leaves. Merriam had been reading about those events and was moved to write a minor key lament for the forced marchers and the toll taken on their lives.


I wondered also about “41 Degnon;” is that a model number of a mandolin brand? I googled. I discovered it was an address in Bay Shore on an estuary flowing into the bay. I asked what about that address warranted a tune? Merriam said that it was the location of John Monteleone’s first guitar shop.

Monteleone is one of the most revered luthiers (makers of stringed instruments) in the world and another of Long Island’s hidden gems. A set of four of his arch-top guitars and one of his mandolins reside in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s permanent musical instruments collection. Merriam plays the same mandolin model that is on exhibit in The Met: a Monteleone Grand Artist.

Buddy Merriam and I planned a 45-minute interview that lasted 90 minutes because a talk with him is one that ranges over his music, his bands, his mentors, his Monteleone mandolin, and Bluegrass music’s past, present, and now future.


And don’t forget to watch for his mandolin! I’ll be sure the cameras capture some close-ups of a real work of art.

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