Hooked on Bluegrass

Steve Gulley

My story about how I came to love bluegrass music is probably a little different than most, but nonetheless led me to my life’s work. I was born into a musical family. My dad, Don Gulley, was and still is a great musician and singer. Dad founded the group, “The Pinnacle Mountain Boys”. This group was very popular regionally and even performed at the Ryman Auditorium in 1961 as finalists in a national talent search. The group included such renowned musicians as Larry McNeely, of Glen Campbell fame, on banjo and Charlie Collins, of Roy Acuff’s Smoky Mountain Boys and longtime Opry performer, on fiddle just to name a couple. My dad was also a radio broadcaster and program director in East Tennessee for 40 years. I guess my point is that I grew up with bluegrass music in my living room and it’s always been a part of who I am.

My mother is also a fine singer who still sings in area churches. I grew up in a home where labels weren’t as important as substance when it came to music. When I was small, dad made the move from bluegrass to country music. It wasn’t that big a deal since, in our home, it was as acceptable to listen to Don Rich and Buck Owens as it was Lester and Earl.

When I was learning to play and sing, I started out doing country music with my dad. George Jones, Merle Haggard, etc. ... Then in the mid-seventies bluegrass was making a strong comeback nationally and our area in and around Knoxville, TN was a hotbed for the music during this resurgence. I was drawn to it from my memories of all the music of my early childhood. The harmonies, instrumentation, drive and overall feel of the music consumed me.

I talked dad into playing some bluegrass again and I loved it. I really wasn’t about the direction of my music though until I heard the famed 0044 J.D. Crowe Rounder album of 1975. I was probably 12 or 13 years old and it absolutely floored me. I had never heard bluegrass music like that before. It was, to me, the most complete musical work I had ever heard and it remains my favorite album of all time. The singing and playing of Tony Rice, Ricky Skaggs and Crowe was unbelieveable. I had never heard tenor vocals like that before. Ricky sang with all the emotion and dynamic of a lead singer. It was such a big thing for me to hear it. I knew from then on that I wanted to sing bluegrass in some form for the rest of my musical career.

Even though I loved and played country music for a living for many years, bluegrass is where I felt most at home and it was the music I always came back to. For many reasons, bluegrass is who I am musically and personally. But I have to say, no single event was bigger in shaping me as a bluegrass musician than hearing Crowe, Rice, Skaggs, Douglas and Slone on that recording for the first time. It got me hooked on the music for a lifetime.

(posted 5/2/2009)

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