Oak Lawn’s banjo man up for Grammy
While growing up in Oak Lawn, Greg Cahill listened to the music of the day.
“Rock ‘n’ roll in the ’60s. I was a big Beatles fan. I was also into folk music,” said Cahill, 66.
He played the accordion — “That’s how I learned to read music,” he said — and performed at the Shakey’s Pizza parlors that once dotted the Chicago landscape.
One day, his life changed.
“A guy came in with a record by Flatt & Scruggs. And that did it for me,” Cahill said.
Upon hearing their distinctive bluegrass music, rich in banjo, Cahill knew his musical future would not follow Paul McCartney or Peter, Paul & Mary. Bluegrass became his favorite type of music.
“The thing I love about it is the blend of instruments: the timbre, the voices, the harmonies. It truly is American music,” Cahill said.
Back in 1975, Cahill cofounded Special Consensus, a band that has enlisted 41 musicians over the decades. Now — 38 years, 16 albums and countless concerts later — Special Consensus is on the brink of something very special: The album “Scratch Gravel Road” has been nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Bluegrass Album.
Cahill and his bandmates will find out Sunday afternoon if they are winners. But win or lose, they will attend the awards show at 7 p.m. Sunday at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. The event will be televised by CBS.
They plan to hit a few Grammy parties that will be extra fun should they happen to be toting awards.
“We were pretty surprised we were nominated, but it’s a good thing. You hear that it’s an honor just to be nominated. Well, it really is,” Cahill said.
When the nominees were being announced, Cahill was watching on TV ... until he switched to another channel. He heard the news later.
The band includes Cahill on banjo, Dustin Benson on guitar, Rick Faris on mandolin and David Thomas on bass. They live in various states and usually meet where they have gigs, such as this weekend at Big Sky Resort in Montana.
“We’re just regular guys out there,” said Cahill, who is married and has an adult son and three grandchildren.
In Montana this weekend, they were to perform and conduct workshops.
“We were supposed to play through Sunday. But they were kind enough to let us leave early Sunday morning to go to Los Angeles, and then we’ll go back to Montana to do a school program on Monday. We leave Bozeman at 6 a.m. Sunday and fly back from L.A. at 6 a.m. Monday,” Cahill said.
He’s hoping for a bleary-eyed and happy flight back to Montana, which would mean there had been a night of celebrating a win.
“We’re a pretty big long shot,” he said. “But who knows?”
Two bands may have an edge thanks to name recognition. The Grascals have toured with country star Dierks Bentley. And the Steep Canyon Rangers gained fame when comedian Steve Martin started taking the banjo seriously. Also nominated are Dailey & Vincent and Noam Pikelny.
“The interesting twist about this is that one of the people who once took banjo lessons from me is now one of the best players in the universe, Noam Pikelny,” Cahill said. “That means two of the final five nominees are banjo players from Chicago who once had a teacher-student relationship. What are the odds?
“It’s not a huge world, the world of bluegrass. Most of the people know each other, and we’re all real supportive of each other. It’s not cutthroat,” Cahill said.
Pikelny and Special Consensus both are with Compass Records. Both are often heard on the bluegrass channel on Sirius XM Satellite Radio, he said.
Even if Special Consensus does not win, the nomination is a victory of sorts.
“It is a big deal,” he said. “It kind of gives you credibility in the industry and has made a difference in some of our bookings. When they hear the words ‘Grammy nominee,’ they figure we must be doing something right.”