A professional cartographer would most likely be someone who knows exactly where they are all the time. If, on the other hand, an example was required of someone who never knows where they are, some experienced musicians would suggest a bass player. Tom Gray is an example of the two professions coming together, with wonderful results for bluegrass society as well as for the National Geographic Society, which has continued to employ him over the years, sometimes gushing about his musical activities in a sidebar. Of course in the "yee-haw!" world Gray is particularly known for his affiliations with the Seldom Scene and the Country Gentlemen. Add to that a long string of other sideman and guest affiliations and the result is a discography that might even dominate a household cache of old National Geographic issues.
Despite this massive testament to his personal accomplishments, Gray sometimes gets mixed up with several rock musicians with the same name. The bluegrass bassist has no connection with the British alternative rock combo Gomez, nor the Atlanta indie rock veteran who wrote at least one hit for Cyndi Lauper. Bassist Gray has backed up female vocalists, however, including Linda Ronstadt as well as the wonderful duo of Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerrard. Gray's day seemed to dawn when he replaced Jim Cox in the aforementioned Country Gentlemen in 1960. Thus was born a line-up of Eddie Adcock, John Duffey, Charlie Waller and Gray that many fanatics of this genre believe represents one of the best small combos to ever pick a lick.
The relationship with Duffey continued in the following decade with the Seldom Scene, considered one of the most influential bluegrass bands of the '70s. Philosophers who believe that only full-time musicians effect change of that magnitude should take a look at this ensemble, in which the bassist's map-making skills were not the only profession outside the world of music that was putting bread on the table. Lead singer and guitarist John Starling could have potentially fulfilled the desire of every performing musician to actually slice into the flesh of the audience--he was a surgeon. The group's banjo picker Ben Eldridge was employed in the corporate world as a mathematician. In the early days of the group, singer and dobro legend Mike Auldridge was a newspaper graphic artist.
Count in cartiography and the summation is also a strong argument against the concept that great players in this genre also have to wander in from a farm chewing their cud. Repertoire choices and a move away from certain required onstage bluegrass options helped endear the Seldom Scene to a new generation of sophisticated listeners. Contrary to the obnoxious opinion suggested at the beginning of this biography, Gray was once described by Duffey as ". . .the only one of us who always knows exactly where he is." One of the bassist's trademarks is a slap technique cleaner than a freshly sanitized hotel bathroom, or at least as much can be hoped for Gray's sake. He often displays this on solos, most notably his feature "Grandfather Clock".