Ed Schaeffer & Rattlesnake Hill
The History of Rattlesnake Hill

This view looks south, toward the Appalachian ridge called Rattlesnake Hill as you approach the ridge, beyond this field, in the valley before the ridge itself, the Manatawney Creek flows east to the Schuylkill, then southeast to Philadelphia & the Atlantic. You may be able to see, near the slight raise in the ridge, an old quarry, a black stone gouge interrupting the forest cover. Appalachian ridges to the north, in hard coal country, fared much worse. This field near Pine Forge, Pennsylvania, is along the dirt road back to the Schaeffer family homestead. This is where Ed derived the name "Rattlesnake Hill" for his Bluegrass band.

Rattlesnake Hill band traces its origins to the performing arts community of Takoma Park, Maryland, just outside our nation's capital, where transplanted Pennsylvania native, guitarist/singer/songwriter Ed Schaeffer formed Rattlesnake Hill early in 1980. The personnel of that group moved around a bit, but most often featured Ed on guitar, Cecil County's John "Roscoe" Bruce on banjo, Tom McLaughlin on mandolin and bassist Willie Oldes. We loved entertaining audiances with our music!

In 1981, Ed did two recording projects featuring completely original bluegrass material, and featured some of the very finest musicians in the genre, including Phil Rosenthal, Fred Travers, Mark Vann, Ben Eldridge, Carl Nelson, and Lou Reid.

The first CD, 19th Century Man, featured Fred Travers (dobro), Willie Oldes (bass), Mike Phipps (mandolin), Mark Vann (banjo) joining Ed to do a CD totally of Fred Moore songs. 19th Century Man has become somewhat of a bluegrass cult-classic.

Fred went on the play decades with the Seldom Scene. Mike Phipps went on to play with Jay Armsworthy & Eastern Tradition, and also known for his Charlie Waller vocals. Mark Vann went on the the jam band Leftover Salmon.

The second CD, High Lonesome Sound, was another mix of originals, six from Ed, two instrumentals from Phil Rosenthal, one instrumental from Ben Eldridge, and one Fred Moore song.

These recordings and others served as a springboard for the band, garnering some attention and landing them a regular spot on the Appalachian Jubilee syndicated radio program broadcast out of the Capital Theater in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. There, Ed and the band got the opportunity to reach out over the airwaves to a much broader audience throughout the Mid-Atlantic region. Rattlesnake Hill kept their regular spot on the Jubilee stage for over 6 years.

Meanwhile, Ed made the most of these radio broadcasts to produce an excellent series of "Live at the Jubilee" albums that featured different instrumental and vocal combinations, as well as a spontaneity usually lacking in studio-produced projects.

As the years rolled by, Roscoe moved to Richmond, Va., and banjo duties were filled by Jack Sanbower, after his band of 15 years, No Leeway, disbanded. Much to everyone's dismay, Jack was diagnosed with cancer, and in November 2007, Rattlesnake Hill commenced recording on what was to be Jack's last album. The product of these sessions was Ride Out the Storm featuring one of Jack's original tunes: "Oh Oh". Band Mates during that era included Heather Twigg on fiddle and vocals, Kevin Conroy on lead guitar, and Frank Solivan II on mandolin.

Other Rattlesnake Hill banjo pickers evolved through Joe Zauner, Terry Wittenberg, John Brunschwyler, and back to John Bruce ("Roscoe").

Bass players also evolved, from Willie Oldes through Kathy Willis, to JB Hittle, to Carolyn Kellock, to Beardy Bassman (Doug Moats), and to current bassist Barb Diederich.

Mandolin pickers evolved from Tom McGlaughlin to Mike Phipps, Dick Smith, Garrett Wren, Tara Linhardt, and back to Tom McLaughlin!

Rattlesnake Hill recently recorded another live CD Live at Cactus Flats, with John Brucschwyler on banjo Garrett Wren on mandolin, and Barb Diederich on bass.

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