Bluegrass violin master Byron Berline dies at 77
Byron Douglas Berline, the youngest of Lue and Elizabeth (Jackson) Berline’s five children, was born July 6, 1944 in Caldwell, Kan., Near the Oklahoma border. His father worked on a farm and played the banjo and violin at barn dances and other events. His mother, a housewife, played the piano.
Young Byron began playing a three-quarter violin at the age of 5; he won his first public competition at age 10, surpassing his father. Among his early influences was Eck Robertson, the first old-fashioned violinist to appear on record.
A gifted athlete, Mr. Berline won a football scholarship to the University of Oklahoma, where he enrolled in 1963, to fracture his hand in the fall. The injury led him to focus on music, although he maintained his athletic scholarship by joining the track team as a javelin thrower.
Mr. Berline caught the Dillards’ attention while performing in an Oklahoma campus folk group. They invited him to play on “Pickin ‘and Fiddlin'”. After graduating from college in 1967 and completing military service in 1969, Mr. Berline moved to Los Angeles with his wife, Bette (Ringrose) Berline, at the behest of Doug Dillard, who recruited him to record with Dillard & Clark.
After three years of session work in California, as well as time with the Flying Burrito Brothers, Mr. Berline formed his own band, Country Gazette, and signed with United Artists Records. The group’s bluegrass mix proved influential and recorded for nearly two decades, but Country Gazette never achieved mainstream success.
Another project, Byron Berline & Sundance, also secured a deal with MCA Records. But the band’s three founding members, guitarist Dan Crary, banjo player John Hickman and Mr. Berline – later introducing himself as Berline, Crary & Hickman – fared better in a traditional bluegrass market. , releasing records on independent labels like Rounder and Sugar Hill in the 1990s.