There's something peculiar on AJ Lee & Blue Summit's 2021 album I'll Come Back. One of the best start-to-finish bluegrass releases of the young decade includes an instrumental number sharing its name with comedian, actor and rapper Rodney Dangerfield. It's weird because nothing about the song screams Dangerfield, and at risk of plucking low-hanging, comedic fruit, the band gets more than ample respect for its banjo-less, no-fences musical roadmap.
While chatting with Wide Open Country for an Acts to Watch feature, lead vocalist and mandolinist AJ Lee shared the funny story behind why the song's writer, fiddler Jan Purat, came up with its title.
"That's the only one on the album that's actually not mine. That's Jan's original song," Lee said. "Long story short, it's not about the actor. Jan used to live in a little place in El Cerrito in the East Bay, and he had this neighbor who lived upstairs from him who hated when they played music. It was acoustic music. It was not amplified, and it was in the middle of the day. But I guess this guy absolutely hated it, and even if it was 2 p.m., he'd threaten to call the police on them a bunch of times. Jan was saying that one of the common tunes they'd jam on would be 'Old Dangerfield' at the apartment. He wanted to write a song in his upstairs neighbor's honor, whose name was Rodney, so he called it 'Rodney Dangerfield.'"
Bill Monroe wrote and first recorded "Old Dangerfield" (sometimes styled "Old Danger Field" or "Old Daingerfield") for his appropriately-titled 1981 album Master of Bluegrass. It's one of the finer later-career instrumentals by Monroe. Other neighbors likely to have heard it practiced include those of champion fiddler Byron Berline, who recorded a version in 2011. The Infamous Stringdusters cut it, as well, for its 2021 release A Tribute to Bill Monroe.
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