Feb. 10, 2016 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Shelter From the Storm

Rep. Phil Roe’s Bluegrass Guitar Helps Wash Away the Weariness Of Lawmaking

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call
Roe attributes his love of music to his upbringing in rural middle Tennessee, where, he says, music was “how we entertained.”

Rep. Phil Roe has three really good guitars at home, but the one he keeps in his Washington, D.C., office is a piece of junk.

He seems to be the only one bothered by the guitar’s quality, though, because when he plays, it nearly floats away. After a hard vote or a hard day or even a good day, you can find this Tennessee Republican back in his office strumming his six-string.

Other than the guitar tucked away in the corner of his office, there are no outward signs that indicate this Congressman was a member of a well-respected 1970s bluegrass band. 

The Pony Express released just one album, now out of print, to quiet acclaim in 1972. The band’s second album was halfway complete before life and circumstance forced the band to take the break that turned into a breakup.

However, Roe, an obstetrician before he came to Congress, doesn’t seem especially distraught over the road not taken to musical stardom. He shows off his band’s 1972 album proudly, and he still counts at least one of his former bandmates as the “best friend he has on this Earth.” 

Roe talks about Congress, Washington and politics with the bemused, tired expression exclusive to those with several Congressional sessions under their belts. But when he picks up his guitar, his whole countenance changes. 

The first song he plays is off the Pony Express album, “Teardrops Will Kiss the Morning Dew.” It is, he says, one of the earliest songs penned by the Grammy-winning songwriter Paul Craft. The track was later made famous by bluegrass legends Alison Krauss and Union Station.

He is a bit apologetic when he first starts playing, claiming he hasn’t picked it since Krauss and her band made it famous. But, quietly and skillfully, the good doctor kills it. 

The second time he plays for Roll Call he is accompanied by his staff assistant, Alex Large — a talented bluegrass guitarist and vocalist with D.C.’s Second String Band — and Roe performs beautifully and without apology. 

It isn’t surprising that Roe is a bluegrass, country and folk music fan. The man can weave a yarn. His stories unfold quickly, one behind another, and he has a seemingly endless supply. 

He tells about visiting the Songwriters Hall of Fame to see Craft and watching country superstars Garth Brooks, Alan Jackson, Wynonna Judd and Taylor Swift perform; he talks about his summers bugling at Boy Scout camp (he can still blow a mean bugle), and he tells stories about his childhood in the country. 

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