|John Humbird Duffey, Jr.|
March 4, 1934|
|Died||December 10, 1996
|Instruments||Vocals, mandolin, dobro, guitar|
|Labels||Starday, Sugar Hill Records, Rebel Records, Folkways, Mercury|
|The Country Gentlemen
The Seldom Scene
Duffey was born in Washington, D.C., and lived nearly all his life in the Washington D.C. area. He graduated from Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School in suburban Maryland. Duffey learned to play the mandolin, dobro, and guitar, in addition to his tenor singing voice. He founded two of the most influential groups in bluegrass, The Country Gentlemen and The Seldom Scene. His tastes and sources were eclectic, often raiding folk song books and Protestant hymnals for material. He embraced the music of Bob Dylan and his style of playing was rock and jazz-inflected. In the late 1950s and the 1960s, he also increasingly began working as a session musician to supplement his income.
The son of a singer at the Metropolitan Opera, Duffey possessed a soaring range that shifted almost without notice from tenor to falsetto. The contrast of his voice with the mellow baritone of Country Gentleman guitarist Charlie Waller created a rich blend without precedence in bluegrass.
Duffey started playing guitar at age 17 after a neighbor convinced him to pick up the instrument. In 1957 he worked at radio station WFMD in Frederick, Maryland partnered with Charlie Waller to fill in for other musicians. That duo eventually became the Country Gentlemen. As a member of the Country Gentlemen, Duffey was inducted into the International Bluegrass Music Hall of Honor in 1996.
Appearing with fellow Seldom Scene member, dobro player and baritone vocalist Mike Auldridge, Duffey played mandolin and provided tenor vocals for two tracks on the Tony Rice album Tony Rice Plays and Sings Bluegrass.
Two months after his induction to the International Bluegrass Music Hall of Honor, Duffey was hospitalized in Arlington, Virginia after complaining of chest pains. The next morning, he died after suffering a heart attack.