Hooked on Bluegrass

Mike McKinley

My bluegrass journey began in St. Joseph, Michigan in 1971 when I heard Doc Watson sing Tennessee Stud on "Will the Circle be Unbroken". I was 15 and already owned a couple bluegrass albums- Flatt and Scruggs' ubiquitous Foggy Mountain Banjo and the Dilliards LIVE (almost), but it really took off for me from the Circle album.

A couple years later I was hanging out with my friends the Willey Family who had a band called Hickory Creek, featuring Rick Willey on the mando. I got a thing for the mandolin and got one. I took lessons from Joel Mabus at Elderly Instruments in East Lansing. I started a band with my friend Dan Pavlides called the Knights of the Range, after a Zane Grey Book. We concentrated on the Stanley Brothers, Monroe Brothers, and vocal duets from country music as well as the odd tunes that we worked up from other sources like Gram Parsons and Johnny Cash. The East Lansing Bluegrass community was full of college age pickers as well as southerners who moved to Lansing to work at Fisher Body. There were lots of bluegrass Festivals and places to pick, and the Knights of the Range morphed into a more robust bluegrass quartet, the Art Gomperz Band.

I moved to Grand Rapids where I was lucky to take lessons from Bill Napier, mandolin and guitar player for the Stanley Brothers and composer of Daybreak in Dixie. I became sort of a special friend to Bill and continued to learn from him for a couple years before we I left town in 1982 to move to California to find plenty of great pickers, bluegrass lovers, students, bands, and groups like the CBA, to which I am a proud member.

(posted 2/13/2009)

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