Composed and arranged several songs and instrumentals that were recorded by the Country Gentlemen, the Seldom Scene, and others, including:

  • “Silence or Tears” (melody; words were borrowed from a Lord Byron poem)
  • “Walking the Blues”
  • “You Left Me Alone”
  • “(I Know You) Rider” (co-arranger)

Early Influences

  • George and John Shuffler
  • Keeter Betts
  • Bill Monroe
  • Flatt & Scruggs
  • Stanley Brothers

Came to Fame With

  • Classic Country Gentlemen

Performed With

  • Rocky Ridge Ramblers, 1958
  • Bill Clifton & the Dixie Mountain Boys, 1959
  • Buzz Busby, Pete Pike & the Bayou Boys 1959-1960, 1967
  • The Country Gentlemen, 1960-1964
  • Benny & Vallie Cain & the Country Clan, 1965-1967, 1970
  • Bill Emerson, Cliff Waldron & the New Shades of Grass 1968-1969
  • The Seldom Scene, 1971-1987
  • Paul Adkins’ Borderline Band, 1988-1989
  • Gary Ferguson Band, 1990-1999
  • Federal Jazz Commission, 1994-2008
  • (Tom) Gray, (Roger) Green, and (Fred) Travers Trio, 1994-1996
  • Hazel Dickens Band, 1998-2003
  • Randy Barrett and the Barretones, 2000-present
  • Jay Armsworthy & Eastern Tradition, 2004-present
  • John Starling & Carolina Star, 2004-present
  • Emmylou Harris with Carolina Star, 2006-2007
  • Eddie & Martha Adcock with Tom Gray, 2005-present
  • Gentlemen Reunion Band, 2007-2008
  • Darren Beachley & Legends of the Potomac, 2009-present

Led the Way

  •  A member of the “classic” edition of the Country Gentlemen, one of the first bands to introduce bluegrass to urban and college audiences, and a founding member of the Seldom Scene, perhaps the most influential bluegrass act of the ‘70s and ’80s.
  • Played a leading role in making Washington, D.C., the most prominent center for bluegrass music from the late 1950s through the 1970s.
  • Voted best bluegrass bass player eight times while a member of the Seldom Scene.
  • Bluegrass Hall of Fame, 1996 — the first bassist to be inducted.

By the Way

  • Played accordion and piano before discovering the bluegrass sound in the early ‘50s.
  • Played on more than 100 albums, including guest appearances with Hazel Dickens & Alice Gerrard, Jaime Brockett, Tony Rice, Bill Keith, John Starling, Bryan Bowers, John McCutcheon, Gary Ferguson, Mike Seeger, Emerson & Goble, Stephen Wade, Tony Ellis, Bill Clifton, Tony Williamson, Banjer Dan, Jimmy Arnold, Mike Auldridge, Jim Eanes, Fred Geiger, Joe Glazer, Allender Griffin, R.C. Harris, Ned Luberecki & Ron Pennington, Liz Meyer, Lee Moore, New Sunshine Jazz Band, Peter Rowan, Ricky Skaggs, Don Stover, Jerry Stuart, and others
  • Calls his bass “Bessie.”
  • Currently plays in seven Washington-based bands in several genres, and occasionally edits maps for the National Geographic Society’s Book Division.
  • Tom’s wife Sally edited Bluegrass Unlimited magazine in the late 1960s.

From the Archives

“I was lucky when I joined the Country Gentlemen, because they were an ideal group to improvise in just as freely as I liked…. The thing that made it good for the walking style I played was that the lead instrument players were singing in the trios, and that left nobody with a lead instrument to play back-up. That left a clear path for me to use the bass as a back-up instrument, playing a bit of counter-melody along with the usual rhythm functions.”
Quoted by Jon Hartley Fox in liner notes to The Country Gentlemen: Going Back to the Blue Ridge Mountains, Smithsonian Folkways Records, 2007.
“In the early 1960s, we were probably the most progressive bluegrass there was and that used to worry me because I was a hardcore Stanley Brothers fan. I was like ‘Oh no, what are we doing now?’ and then we did that ‘Copper Kettle’… of course we were trying to sell it to the folk music fans. We put some of the gimmicks in there that they would do, like singing in unison. I found that rather embarrassing, but I can live with that now. At the time it was my opinion that just was not done… but we did it.”
Quoted in Gary B. Reid’s liner notes to The Country Gentlemen: High Lonesome, Starday Records, 1998.
“A bluegrass [bass] player has to play with much more taste and control than a jazz player. You have to be very sensitive as to what is going on and figure out where to use certain techniques and where not to. It took many years of trial and error to learn that…. You would be surprised at the overlap of interest between bluegrass and traditional jazz. They are both improvisational musics that have a lot of tradition behind them.”
Interview with Barry Willis, quoted in America’s Music: Bluegrass, 1989.