Ralph Gresham Lam


Photo: Rué W. Lam

Folk Art: Music

By: Gail Obenreder

“I tend to think of music as a prayer. Sure, I like a good dance tune, but I am most at peace when music is produced with the acknowledgement of something bigger than myself.”

Ralph Gresham Lam has always had music in his life and in his home. He started playing at the age of eight and has been making music for 52 years. “I came to work in my discipline as a matter of fate:” His great-grandparents, who hailed from the Appalachian Mountains of Virginia, played and sang mountain music and bluegrass. His father – guitarist and fiddler – has a bluegrass band, and his mother also played and sang. From as early as he can remember, there were family jam sessions in the living room, his parents joined by an uncle and cousin, and that’s when “I decided I would play too!”

And play he does. As well as singing, Lam is a multi-instrumentalist – guitar, mandolin, banjo, fiddle, ukelele, flutes, penny whistle, harmonica and bass, but he started out in 1965 on a Roy Rogers guitar. “That was a real, playable instrument,” and the youngster “always kept it with me and played what I could.” After he built a guitar out of plywood, nails, and bailing twine (“a message to my parents that I really wanted a real one”), his father gave him a student instrument, taught him some chords, and he was on his way.

“Ooh Wind,” 2019

Full length: 6 minutes 29 seconds
Work sample: 3 minutes 59 seconds

Instrument: guitar, vocal, shaker

“Then I Knew,” 2019

Full length: 4 minutes 33 seconds
Work sample: 4 minutes 33 seconds

Instrument: guitars, flute (Irish), shaker

In 1979 Lam formed his own band, and in 1985 he joined his father’s bluegrass group. “I had come full circle,” citing those performances as some of his most gratifying. In 2001, he moved to Florida, working for 13 years to forge a gratifying solo career. But in 2013 the circle came back around – Lam returned to Delaware and began to again play with his father’s band.

As a musician, Lam is clearly rooted in tradition, his lifelong inspiration being “boiled down to one word, that being ‘family.’” But he’s also a product of his generation. “Pop music has given us some tricks and tools that can be used for other forms,” and as a player, Lam brings modern styles into his acoustic work, always seeking progress toward “a balance of acoustic and pop techniques.”

Now splitting his time between gigs with his father’s bluegrass group and building a local solo career, Lam is exploring the use of a looping pedal “to create backing tracks performed and created live during the performance.” And he continues writing songs, always working to craft and play music “that infuses poetry and music into the world at a cellular level,” in the belief that we are “our best selves when allowing art to fire our imaginations.”

Artist website: reverbnation.com/ralphgreshamlam

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