As a traditional musician with expertise in Piedmont and Delta Blues as well as Southern Appalachian fiddle and banjo traditions, Ainslie has specialized in performing and presenting programs on the European and African roots of American music and culture in community and educational settings.
His performances present a wonderful palette of sounds and stories that will delight the ear, awaken the mind, and satisfy the heart.
As an American blues musician Scott Ainslie has a particular take on tradition.
“I believe in apprenticeship,” he says, “I believe that you should allow traditional music to change you, before you change it.”
Ainslie has spent the past 50 years diving deep into America’s traditional music, on both sides of the color line. From traditional Southern Old-Time fiddle and banjo music to ragtime and Delta blues, he brings a remarkable depth of musical skill, sympathy, and an understanding of its history to the stage.
“My strategy,” Ainslie says, “ has always been to find the oldest person I can, who played the music I am drawn to and to go spend time with them. I immerse myself in their company and the music they play. And keep going back until I can play their music with and for them in a way that they recognize and approve of. Only after I have – not just the permission, but the approval of my mentors and friends – do I presume to play it for an audience.”
In 1986, Ainslie undertook an apprenticeship to a musician who’d been dead for nearly 50 years: Delta Blues legend Robert Johnson.
“We had these remarkable recordings of, not an old blues guy, but a young one! He was 25 and 26 when he was recorded. And he was dead just a few months after his 27th birthday.”
Ainslie continues, “There were books to help younger players learn the music of Mississippi John Hurt, and Muddy Waters, Reverend Gary Davis, but in 1986 the only book on Johnson’s music was wildly inaccurate and misleading.” According to Ainslie, that book was done with good intentions, but with almost no understanding of what Johnson was doing on the guitar.