Mike Auldridge, a bluegrass musician whose broad knowledge of many musical forms helped redefine and modernize the steel guitar known as the Dobro, died Saturday at his home in Silver Spring, Md. He died a day before his 74th birthday.
He had prostate cancer, said a daughter, Michele Auldridge.
Auldridge was a founding member of the Washington-based bluegrass group the Seldom Scene and, in a career spanning six decades, he recorded with Linda Ronstadt, Lyle Lovett and Emmylou Harris, among others.
He was renowned for his mastery of the Dobro, a guitar with a metal resonator instead of a sound hole. The Dobro, a trademarked name for a resophonic guitar, is held flat and played with a slide over the strings. Unlike other types of steel guitars, it does not rely on electric amplification. The resonator functions as an amplifier and gives the instrument a distinctively warm tone.
Although the instrument was popular in bluegrass music — Dobro player Josh Graves was a featured soloist in the group Flatt and Scruggs — Nashville musicians regarded its sound as clunky and archaic.
Auldridge's work in bluegrass helped change that perception as he borrowed ideas from other musical idioms, including blues, jazz and rock, and helped design and pioneer a model of the instrument with eight strings instead of the usual six.
"He phrased differently," Jerry Douglas, a Dobro player with Alison Krauss & Union Station, said of Auldridge in a 2011 Washington Post interview. "He was the first guy to use the Dobro in a more modern way, to phrase it more like a saxophone or some other instrument."
In 1971, Auldridge formed the Seldom Scene with banjoist Ben Eldridge, guitarist John Starling and two former members of the Country Gentlemen, mandolin player John Duffey and bassist Tom Gray.