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Nashville meets Norcross

Six decades of traditional country

    With his diminished white pompadour, he resembles something of a cross between Conway Twitty and George Jones. Dwaine Bristling (stage name Duane Carter) has been playing professionally for six decades now. He is a bit of a throw back, refusing to cover anything but root and traditional country. “I lost some gigs because we wouldn’t play Elvis,” he recalls. He occasionally will cover an occasional contemporary  artist who sticks to a traditional country sound, such as Alan Jackson, but he prefers the likes of Johnny Cash, the Statler Brothers or Hank Williams, whose early and sudden death he remembers vividly. “I had a ’48 Plymouth with a big Philco radio. I was up to pick up a date when they announced it. It came as a real shock. It was New Year’s Eve 1952.” He spent his early years in Clarissa, Minn., outside of Browerville. He grew up in a musical family. His mother, an accomplished pianist, played organ in the family’s church  for 38 years. He played accordion with family members in an old-time dance band as a teenager. He moved to Minneapolis in 1953 and worked for the Soo Line Railroad for nine and a half years. He began playing music professionally in 1955. He started live music in several metropolitan area establishments, including “The Music Bar,” “Billy Bud’s,” “The Valley Lounge,” and “The Velvet Coach.” In 1958, he recorded “Your Past,” which placed on the Billboard chart. In 1966, he recorded a full-length album with The Country Briars. Although his band D.C. and Hawk began as a four-piece band in 1977 and toured as far away as Canada and Wyoming, it eventually whittled down to just himself and his wife, LaVonne. He plays guitar and sings. She “plays” every other instrument through a soundboard where she uses a karaoke-type CD and balances and adjusts the levels. He has opened for the likes of the Statler Brothers, George Jones and Johnny Cash (“I never had the chance to really talk to him,” he says. “Those were the days when he was rushed onto the stage, did his performance, and was rushed right back off again. His crew kept him in his hotel room, so he’d stay  away from the booze. But he knew how to transform a room and get everybody  singing along”). In 1994, he and LaVonne, moved from Ramsey, Minn., to the small town of Norcross. Does he miss the “action” of the city? “If we need anything, there’s  always Alexandria or Fergus Falls,” says LaVonne. “Fargo is only 80 miles away.” Another advantage of small town living is Dwaine being something of a shade-tree mechanic, “I like working on cars. In the Cities my parts were always getting stolen. When we moved to Norcross, we bought this lot. No building on it, just a lot. So, I asked the mayor about building codes because down in the Cities  there’s always these codes for this and that. He just gives me this funny look and says, “just build it so it don’t fall down.” He plays guitar, drums, piano, accordion and bass (at past concerts he has pounded piano chords with his right hand while playing the electric bass with is left – using the “hammer-on” technique to ring out notes). In 2007, he became a member of the Country Music Association Hall of Fame, where regionally-known country gospel star Sherwin Linton personally presented him with a Lifetime Achievement Award. D.C. and Hawk perform on average 12 to 17 times per month, mostly focusing on community centers and retirement homes. Duane calls their present performing “the most rewarding phase of my music career.”

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