That Old-Time Sound: Chad Fadely, Montana Mandolin Master

By MARK VOSBURGH

When Chad Fadely was about 15 his dad, Phil Fadely, picked up his fiddle and returned to playing old-time music. Predictably, for a teenager, Chad “absolutely hated” it.

“About a year later, dad drug me to the Old-Time Fiddle Competition in Polson, and I just got hooked on the music,” he said in a recent interview.

Not only was he hooked, but his father had steered Chad’s life in a new direction, one that continues today with the recent release of his new album Amity Road.

Named for the road he grew up on as a boy in Hot Springs, Arkansas, it is his fourth solo mandolin project. The CD fulfills Chad’s long time goal of recording an album of all original compositions. To keep a consistent sound, Chad used the same musicians for all the tracks. While Chad’s mandolin is highlighted throughout the album, not all of the songs are hardcore mandolin and fiddle tunes.

“I knew when I was writing them that a some of the tunes would be great for dobro and a couple would work really well for banjo,” he says. By the end album’s first three songs, all of the bluegrass instruments have had their chance to shine.

The cover of Chad Fadely's new album, Amity Road.

The cover of Chad’s new album, AmityRoad.

In the modern recording way, talented musicians added their work from studios across the western US with fiddle by Isaac Callender in Oregon, and banjo by Larry Chung in San Francisco.

In Chad’s Missoula studio, he recorded his own tracks along with bass by Ted Lowe and dobro by Andy Dunnigan. Chad’s long time musical collaborator Richie Reinhold played guitar and mixed and mastered the project. Photography and artwork for this and all of his previous albums was done by his wife and music partner Vickie Bodfish.

Chad jokes that he broke new ground because an unaltered picture of him appears on the album cover for the first time. Don’t let his humor fool you about his marketing savvy. Just type “Chad Fadely Mandolin” into your search engine and you’ll see an impressive Internet presence and music distribution network.

Chad’s solid and tasteful playing has made him the “go to” mandolin player in the region. He currently plays in five bands in the Flathead, Missoula, and Idaho Falls. Chad says, “I like to say that there are more bands than musicians in Missoula, and it’s always been that way for this style of music. Players commonly perform in multiple bands at the same time.”

His music and life endeavors keep him on the road. As an adult, Chad says, “I’ve basically always been a dual resident of the Flathead and Missoula.”

In Missoula, he manages Greg Boyd’s internationally known House of Fine Instruments. In Kalispell, he performs with Porter Creek (along with is wife Vickie), and Flathead area favorite, the Leftover Biscuits.

One of his current gigs is with Missoula bluegrass institution Pinegrass. Chad remembers first seeing the band.

Chad playing with the Idaho band, New South Fork.

Chad (far right) playing with the Idaho band, New SouthFork.

“I was too young to get into bars so my dad took me down to the Top Hat one weeknight to hear them play. I remember looking up at those guys and wondering ‘Could I ever, maybe, possibly, get up there and play with them someday? No, there’s no way!’ It might sound kind of corny, but playing with Pinegrass is really a dream come true. And I really mean that. It’s been an honor to be able to play with those guys who I looked up to.”

Chad’s proven adept at making musical dreams come true since being asked by Bill Neaves to join the band Long Overdue.

Long Overdue performed together for about 5 years and gave Chad his first band and recording experience. “I was really under-qualified for the job when they asked me, but I feel really privileged that they did. It was a great experience.”

His collaboration with Neaves led to Breakfast with Bill and Chad, a guitar mandolin duet project in the style of the classic bluegrass Skaggs and Rice recording.

Chad cites local fiddling legend Jimmy Widner as one of his early influences. When he was just starting out, Phil took his son to play backup guitar to Phil and Jimmie’s fiddling. “I knew the chords to about two songs and Jimmy very patiently taught me how play,” he recalls. “I think the world of Jimmy Widner.”

Chad listened to country music growing up and says it was Marty Stuart that bridged the gap from country to bluegrass for him. He excitedly remembers an “incredible concert” when Marty Stuart and Travis Tritt played the U of M Adams Center in the mid-’90s.

As for advice to beginning musicians, Chad advises, “It’s all about tone, tone, tone. That’s what I strive for when I play. That and good timing. You really can’t do anything without good timing.”

Chad Fadely plays with Rick Ryan and Bill Neaves.

Chad Fadely plays with Rick Ryan and BillNeaves.

He cites mandolin master John Reischman for inspiring great tone and Martin guitar sales manager Larry Barnwell for demonstrating great rhythm. “Larry lived in Missoula, owned a music store and played in the band Poor Monroe. Larry’s the real deal when it comes to bluegrass rhythm guitar.”

I asked Chad about both the future of bluegrass and his own musical future. About bluegrass, he says that a lot of bluegrass is heading towards the modern country music sound and “I’m not a real fan of that.”

As for himself, Chad is planning to stay true to the music his dad introduced him to years ago. He’s kicking around the idea of recording an album of his favorite traditional tunes and playing them as “straight” and authentic as he can.

Somehow, I can’t help but think that Phil knew exactly what he was doing when he drug Chad to that Polson festival full of the traditional music his son “absolutely hated.”

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Get another dose of the Missoula bluegrass music scene in these posts: Bluegrass Music Growing in the Garden CityA Marriage of Music, and Missoula’s Own David Boone.

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Mark Vosburgh is a fourth-generation Montanan who has lived in Missoula for 26 years. He’s worked as chemical engineer, backcountry ski guide, and wildfire scientist. He started playing mandolin and attending bluegrass jams a few years and has just started performing with local bands: The Black Mountain Boys, Alley Cats Bluegrass Band, and The Flaming Wheelbarrows. You can follow him on Tumblr.