march 2011
border crossings



Bluegrass, Portuguese Style

The Stonebones & Bad Spaghetti bring the ancient tones to their native land

By David McGee

The letter arrived inauspiciously in’s gmail In box in mid-July. Its text:

Hi Bluegrass Special,

I've seen your article about Deolinda and I just wanted to let you know that there is a bluegrass band in Portugal, the only one.

The Stonebones & Bad Spaghetti appeared in the middle of 2009, after a concert given by the great Tony Trischka in Lisbon. Composed by a group of musicians led by the banjo player Andre Dal, the band started to play traditional american music, from the early ‘20s, Jazz, Blues, fiddle tunes as well as all time classics.

They've played at one of the biggest festivals in Portugal last year, Festa do Avante, and at the Bejar International Blues Festival in Spain, this year.

Here is their version of the classic ‘Big Spike Hammer.’ I hope you like it.

The Stonebones & Bad Spaghetti, ‘Big Spike Hammer’

Thank you very much,

Andre Lentilhas


It turns out Mr. Lentilhas had been reading our May 2011 issue, specifically the Border Crossings department, featuring the wonderful Portuguese band Deolinda. About his claim of Stonebones & Bad Spaghetti being the only bluegrass band in Portugal, well, an extensive Internet search came up with nothing to disprove his assertion. A contact in Portugal said Mr. Lentilhas may well be right because “not only have I never heard of another bluegrass band here, I’ve never even heard of this band!”

The Stonebones & Bad Spaghetti at the ArtKafe: (from left) Andre Lentilhas (banjo), Nuna Paulo (guitar), Gil Pereira (upright bass), Bruno Lourenço (mandolin), Hildebrando Soares (vocals, guitar)

With that an email exchange ensued in which we sought to learn more about Stonebones & Bad Spaghetti. Several YouTube clips show the quintet to be quite impressive in their mastery of traditional bluegrass, both in singing and playing the music. In many respects the band seems like the Portuguese counterpart to our friends from the Dutch Delta, Champagne Charlie, whose mastery of American blues and folk tunes from the ‘20s, ‘30s and ‘40s would make them one of the States' top roots bands if they weren’t from the Netherlands. (Champagne Charlie has been featured twice in these pages, first in May 2009, and this year in our February issue.)

Failing in our efforts to find any background info at all on Stonebones & Bad Spaghetti, we wrote back to Mr. Lentilhas asking him to fill us in on his group’s history. His response arrived a couple of days later.


The Stonebones & Bad Spaghetti, ‘Blue Moon of Kentucky’

Hi David,

Actually, I'm the banjo player of the band. First, I would like to thank you the attention you gave the email I wrote.

I can tell you how the band started and what's going on in Portugal on the bluegrass scene.

I started to learn banjo in 1999 (from a Portuguese guy) and I had a lot of trouble finding people to play with and people that I could learn from. And it lasted until 2006 when I met Gerry Rolph in Algarve (south Portugal). He was one of the first banjo players in England, back in the sixties, and fortunately for me, he decided to move to Portugal. I started to have lessons with him and eventually I bought one of his banjos, the Gibson RB-75 J.D. Crowe model.

In 2007 I started to go every year to the European World Of Bluegrass festival in Holland and became the only Portuguese member of the European Bluegrass Music Association. As correspondent of the association, I started a Newsletter called Bluegrass--Portugal, where I write the latest news about bluegrass in Europe and in Portugal (actually, I send emails to people that are on the list).

When I met Tony Trischka in 2008 at the Johnny Kennan Banjo Festival in Longford, Ireland, he told me that he was coming to Portugal for a show, and in 2009, after his show, people got more interested in bluegrass. I met some musicians who were not bluegrass musicians but they wanted to learn. So we started a band called Stonebones & Bad Spaghetti, which refers to two places around Lisbon where I work and where the guitarist lives.

The Stonebones & Bad Spaghetti perform an original song, ‘O Carteiro,’ at Spain’s Bejar Festival

It's been a bit difficult to maintain the band as this is a style of music almost unknown to the Portuguese people and the Portuguese musicians. So, in the two years we've been playing, we've already had a lot of musicians in and out of the band. Some that couldn't learn the style, others because they had different bands and others that simply went away.

The band started to play some bluegrass classics like “Old Home Place,” “Nine Pound Hammer,” “Blue Moon of Kentucky,” “Heavy traffic Ahead,” “Big Spike Hammer,” “Rocky Top” as well as some jazzy stuff like “Little Rock Getaway” and “Caravan,” some fiddle tunes like “Orange Blossom Special,” “Dixie Hoedown,” “Whiskey Before Breakfast,” “St Anne's Reel,” and also some original stuff.

The band started to play at a more regular basis in bars, events and parties and I can say now that the bluegrass scene in Portugal is finally starting to appear. As I always say, we have time. Slow but steady.

We also started, at the end of 2010, the Bluegrass Sessions of Lisbon, an event that happens once a month, normally at the first Thursday of the month (but not always), open to other musicians that want to play bluegrass music.

The Stonebones & Bad Spaghetti are currently working on some new original songs and may record an album next year (we'll see), singing in English and Portuguese.

Thank you very much for your attention. Let’s keep talking. -–Andre


The Stonebones & Bad Spaghetti, ‘Old Home Place, live at Spain’s Bejar Blues Festival

Andre having mentioned that he was preparing to leave on an extended vacation, we sent back a brief list of questions in hopes of fleshing out the Stonebones & Bad Spaghetti bio a bit more. Almost immediately he returned his answers. The email Q&A went thusly:

How did you get interested in bluegrass music in the first place? It's one thing to like a certain style of music, another to go the extra step and actually learn to play it. Which artist or artists did you hear that inspired you to (a) play the banjo and (b) go deeper into bluegrass than merely listening?

I first got interested in bluegrass after listening to the Deliverance soundtrack and watching the movie. I was amazed by that sound. I didn't know music could be so fun and so hard driving. I tried the guitar a little bit but when I heard the banjo I was immediately addicted to that sound. I could not stop listening to it. A couple years later my grandfather gave me a banjo for my 20th birthday. That instrument was so strange to me that I could not tune it for three years. In 1999, when I was 24, I had one year of serious banjo lessons from a Portuguese musician. That was my first real approach to three-finger picking technique. In 2006, I met Gerry Rolph in Algarve (south Portugal). He was one of the first banjo players in England, back in the Sixties, and fortunately for me he decided to move to Portugal. I started to have lessons with him and eventually I bought one of his banjos, the Gibson RB-75 J.D. Crowe model. He showed me a lot of bluegrass albums and I learned a lot from him. That year, playing with my new banjo, I improved my technique as I never did before. And after that, I knew that I would play the banjo for the rest of my life.

The artists that inspired me most on my playing (and they still do) were Earl Scruggs, Eric Weisseberg, J. D. Crowe, Ralph Stanley, Bill Keith, Tony Trischka, Bela Fleck, Scott Vestal, Jim Mills, Keith Arneson, Ross Nickerson, and a lot more. I must say that the bands that made me go deeper into bluegrass were the U.S. Navy Country Current band, the Del McCoury band, Ricky Skaggs, John Hartford, Doc Watson, Flatt & Scruggs, Bill Monroe. I could go on all night.

The Stonebones & Bad Spaghetti, ‘Nine Pound Hammer,’ live at Spain’s Bejar Blues Festival

Is there any kind of bluegrass "scene" in Portugal?

No. The bluegrass scene in Portugal is me and my band only. I hope some day we'll have more musicians and more bands, but for now, there's not. I wish I could have someone to keep teaching me how to improve my technique, but there's no one in Portugal.

Does your band's repertoire include both original and traditional bluegrass numbers? If you do original material, who are the band’s writers?

My band's repertoire is basically traditional bluegrass numbers, fiddle tunes, some jazz and blues stuff ,but we do have some original songs sung in Portuguese. I'm not very good with writing lyrics, so the guitar player, Nuno Paulo, writes the lyrics and either him or me write the music. I always try to put a little bit more bluegrass into it.

Dopes your take on bluegrass includes bluegrass renditions of songs from traditional Portuguese folk music? Do you draw on your own country's musical traditions in crafting your own music?

To your first question, no, it does not. My favorite style of music is bluegrass and only now I see that in order to get Portuguese people to listen to bluegrass music we need to pick our traditional stuff and play it in bluegrass style. We're trying to do that with my band now and I think people will really enjoy it.

The Stonebones & Bad Spaghetti, ‘Orange Blossom Special,’ live at Spain’s Bejar Blues Festival

Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Laura Fissinger, Christopher Hill, Derk Richardson
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