Bluegrass pioneer Rex Yetman, a founding member of Canada’s first bluegrass band the York County Boys, passed peacefully away after a long illness, fought with courage and dignity, on Friday, December 18, 2009, one day before his 76th birthday.
For nearly 60 years, Rex played mandolin and sang bluegrass music. Born in Jamestown on Newfoundland’s Bonavista peninsula, he first heard bluegrass music as a child from the Grand Ole Opry on his family’s radio, but it wasn’t until he left Newfoundland that he started to play
Moving to Toronto in 1950 Yetman met Nova Scotian John McManaman and began learning bluegrass. In 1954 with McManaman on banjo, guitarist Mike Cameron, fiddler Brian Barron and bassist Fred “Dusty” Legere, they formed The York County Boys. The group appeared on shows like Pick The Stars and Country Hoedown, and toured the Maritimes. In 1958 they were featured on Canada’s first bluegrass LP, Bluegrass Jamboree (Arc 502). They appeared at the first Mariposa Folk Festival in 1961 and once opened for Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash at the CNE.
During the sixties Rex and John appeared on The Tommy Hunter Show and were cast members of Carl Smith’s Country Music Hall. During the 1970s and 80s Rex played with Brian Riseborough, Larry Miller and John Perkins in The Toronto Bluegrass Band. After retiring to the old family home at Jamestown in the 1990s he joined Crooked Stovepipe. In 2006, Rex played on their album “Just In Case” which won an East Coast Music Award for Bluegrass Recording of the year.
Rex purchased his first mandolin, an early 1900s Gibson F2, at a pawnshop. After playing it for about a year the shop called to tell him the mandolin had been pawned by a youngster who’d taken it from his family without telling them, and they wanted it back. They offered to trade a 1951 Gibson F5 for it. Rex tried both mandolins, sought the advice of his musical friends, and accepted the offer. The F5 was and is Gibson’s top of the line model. Very few were made in the 1950s. Rex played and treasured his unique mandolin for the rest of his career.
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