Hooked on Bluegrass

Tim Mullins

How did I get hooked on bluegrass? Thanks for asking. Several people have a share in the blame.

In high school in San Carlos, my best friend Bob Hammond was already a professional drummer with a string of R & B and blues bands and was having a ball. I knew then that being a musician was something I aspired to. When my brother Mike was ten and I was seventeen he was smitten with the Beatles and took up guitar. I thought if *he* could do it, I could, too. Looking back, I wish I had started when I was ten, too. Mike quickly became a terrific guitarist and mandolinist.

In 1965 I went off to college at the University of Hawaii, where I had a roommate from Texas named Kelly Van Chance who flatpicked bluegrass lead guitar. I was amazed by his ability to effortlessly play circles of notes around any progression. If anybody knows what happened to him, I sure would like to see him again. He was the first person I knew who was into bluegrass.

My sophomore year I transferred to San Jose State and taught myself to play open-tuning finger-style guitar after the styles of John Fahey and Leo Kottke. In the summer of 1967 I journeyed to Portland, OR where a fellow living in the house next door was breaking up with his girlfriend, who had taken up with a dubious cult leader, and he was moving back to New York. He knew I played guitar and said that if I wanted his banjo, I could have it.

Upon returning to SJS in the fall I started playing with informal circles of acoustic musicians and acquired a series of better instruments. I wound up in Santa Barbara teaching myself bluegrass banjo and dobro. The epicenter for folk and bluegrass in Santa Barbara was the Bluebird Cafe, opened by Peter Feldmann in 1971. Peter brought a string of excellent acts to town and supported many neophyte musicians. Having a regular weeknight gig at the Bluebird was our idea of heaven. Peter also founded the Old Time Fiddler's Convention, now in its 36th year. Other highlights were the 1972 release of the "Will the Circle be Unbroken" album, followed by attending the first Golden West Bluegrass Festival at Norco in 1973, where I saw Bill Monroe perform and Jimmy Martin harangue the crowd, bellowing "I'd sooner Reaaaaaaaaagan!"

Over the years I've been a member of the Cache Valley Drifters, Western Flyer, Jimmy Adams and Friends, the Floyd County Boys and the Salt Martians, among others. Through these years, bluegrass has been the glue that has held my friends, the spark that fired my enthusiasm and a central thread through my life. And I've never enjoyed it more.

(posted 2/19/2008)

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