One of the top mandolin players in bluegrass music since the early days of his career in the 1960s, Doyle Lawson incorporated traditional gospel quartet singing into his music after forming his own band, Quicksilver, and honed his unique bluegrass-gospel sound to a remarkable intensity. Lawson was born in unincorporated Ford Town, Tennessee, near Kingsport. Several members of his family sang in local gospel quartets, but the Lawsons also listened to The Grand Ole Opry on the radio during the years when Bill Monroe was creating the music that took the name of bluegrass. Monroe inspired young Lawson to take up music and to learn the mandolin. He borrowed his first one at age 11 from a member of his father's gospel quartet and eventually taught himself the five-string banjo and guitar as well. In 1963, Lawson began playing banjo with Jimmy Martin & the Sunny Mountain Boys. He moved to Kentucky and played with various groups before joining J.D. Crowe & the Kentucky Mountain Boys in 1966, first on guitar and then on mandolin. Lawson made his recording debut with Red Allen on the album Bluegrass Holiday and temporarily returned to Martin's band in 1969 but otherwise stayed with Crowe until 1971 and recorded two albums with him.
In 1971, Lawson joined the Country Gentlemen and toured Japan with them the following year. He remained with the Country Gentlemen for eight years, recording ten albums with the band. Lawson also recorded an album of mandolin instrumentals, Tennessee Dream, in 1977; the album also featured Crowe, Jerry Douglas, and Kenny Baker. In 1979, he put Quicksilver together, including banjo player Terry Baucom, guitarist Jimmy Haley, and electric bass player Lou Reid. In 1980, Quicksilver released their eponymous debut album and followed it up with Rock My Soul. In 1981, Quicksilver Rides Again, featuring Douglas, Mike Auldridge, and Sam Bush, came out. The group also released a gospel album, Heavenly Treasures, which sold better than the group's initial secular LPs, and Lawson himself proclaimed in 1985 that he had rededicated his life to Jesus Christ.
Lawson's next album, Once and for Always, appeared that year and featured both bluegrass and gospel tunes. In 1986, Lawson recorded the all-gospel Beyond the Shadows with new players Scott Vestal on banjo, Curtis Vestal on electric bass, and Russell Moore on guitar, and the following year brought the first of several a cappella gospel albums, Heaven's Joy Awaits. Lawson & Quicksilver gained a reputation for razor-sharp gospel harmonies that incorporated virtuosic vocal moves drawn from the African-American gospel tradition as well as from white quartet singing (some of it already rooted in black styles). Lawson recruited new members into Quicksilver but maintained consistency in the group's style. Continuing to record mostly gospel music, Lawson explored styles and presentation modes of the past in such albums as Gospel Radio Gems (1998), which was recorded with only a single microphone.
Several of the 1980s Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver LPs were re-released in pairs on CD in the late '90s by the group's longtime label, Sugar Hill. Lawson resurfaced with the new gospel albums Just Over in Heaven and Gospel Parade in the early 2000s, and in 2002 Lawson released the masterly Hard Game of Love, his first secular disc in some years. He bounced back from coronary problems later that year and continued to perform. In 2005 he put out the impeccably played/produced You Gotta Dig a Little Deeper, once again with Quicksilver, followed by More Behind the Picture Than the Wall in 2007. Lonely Street and Light on My Feet Ready to Fly appeared in 2009 and 2010, respectively. Lawson released two albums for Crossroads -- 2011's Drive Time and 2012's Sing Me a Song About Jesus -- before moving to Mountain Home for 2013's Roads Well Traveled. He stayed at the label for 2014's Open Carefully, Message Inside, 2015's In Session, 2016's Burden Bearer, and 2017's Life Is a Story.
Married and the father of three children, Lawson is the longtime host of his own Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver bluegrass festival in Denton, North Carolina. ~ James Manheim