Hooked on Bluegrass

Bill Meiners



My grandmother gave me an AM radio when I was seven years old. My two favorite shows were Johnny Rion on KSTL and Skeets Yaney on WEW in St. Louis, Missouri. Johnny Rion introduced me to the Stanley Brothers, Bill Monroe and Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs. In the early fifties I didn’t know the term “Bluegrass” except for Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys. Skeets Yaney introduced me to Web Pierce, Hank Williams, Ernest Tubb and a whole host of country singers and musicians. My favorites were the Stanley Brothers (Rank Stranger, Maple on the Hill) and Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs (Cryin’ My Heart Out Over You, I’ll Go Steppin’ Too).

When I was fifteen, my Aunt Louise got my Uncle Barney a guitar for his fortieth birthday. He brought it over to our house and played and sang. I asked him if he could show me how to play it and he showed me how to play two chords with one finger (C and G7). I had his guitar for most of the next six months until my mom finally got a guitar for me. It was an old Kay arch top that a chair leg had gone through and was patched up with a piece of Formica.

At seventeen I graduated from high school and bought a new Gibson Country and Western guitar. I really wanted a Martin, but they were about $400 and the Gibson was only $330. I went to work at McDonnell Aircraft Company and my boss played mandolin. Our department secretary’s husband played a 5-string banjo and he had a friend that played the fiddle. We jammed about once a week. It was really great, but ended when I went into the Air Force two years later.

In the service, I was stationed at Beale Air Force Base near Marysville, California where I met Ardell Christopher, a senior master sergeant, who played the fiddle. He had won several state fiddle contests. He also played the mandolin. We jammed together often and played for some events in town and on the base entertaining in the mess hall. He taught me a lot of old time fiddle tunes.

I started working in San Jose, California after the service and my wife and I would go to Oroville to the California State Old Time Fiddle Contest every year. It was great jamming and I met some really nice people. It was at Oroville that I first saw Ray Park, Ron Hughey, Jay Belt, Virg Evans, Roscoe Keithly, and jamming in the parking lot were Pat Enright, Robbie McDonald, Paul Shelasky and Darol Anger.

Around 1974 I heard about a new organization called the Santa Clara Valley Fiddlers’ Association that was going to hold a monthly jam in San Jose. I joined that association and began going to the jams. It was there that I met Jake Quesenberry and Jack Sadler. I am still a member of that association.

I met my good friend Dave Hixson and he was a flatpicker and banjo player. We would go to Capitola to listen to the Bear Creek Boys and to San Jose to listen to the Sweetwater String Band. Tony Rice and David Grisman used to come down and sit in with Sweetwater while Grisman was working on the David Grisman Quintet album.

Dave Hixson moved to Albuquerque to work for Seymour Cray. Shortly after he moved, I met John Williamson who said he played guitar. He played classical and jazz guitar. I asked him if he was familiar with flatpicking. He said he wasn’t, so I gave him a tape I made of Doc Watson, Clarence White, Dan Crary and Tony Rice. He really liked it and within a couple of weeks he was flatpicking. We are still jamming. We still work together and we jam during our lunch hour. He is one of the best guitar players I have ever accompanied.

In 2004 I saw an ad in our local paper for a bluegrass concert at the Morgan Hill Grange Hall. I called the number in the ad to inquire about tickets. A man answered and asked me where I lived. I said that I live in San Martin and he said he would bring the tickets to my house. This was a new experience for me. The man came up in his work truck with the tickets. I asked him, “Do you play an instrument?” He said, “I play the banjo.” I asked him “Why don’t you come to my house this Thursday evening and jam?” He said, “Okay.” That was the first time I met Tim Edes. He came, we jammed with Reid Fisher on fiddle, and we’ve been good friends ever since.

Tim kept asking me to go to Grass Valley for the Father’s Day Bluegrass Festival and I kept telling him that my tent camping days were over and that I didn’t like big crowds. Well, he kept bugging me to go. I didn’t go to the festival that year, but he kept telling me that I would like it. One Friday in March of 2005, I asked my wife if she would look at travel trailers with me. She agreed and so we went to Bonessa Brothers RV in Gilroy. A very good friend of mine works there and he showed us some fifth-wheel RVs. We were in one that looked like you could get five people inside for a jam. My wife suggested we buy it. I couldn’t believe what I had just heard her say. We bought the RV that day.

The next day was the second Morgan Hill Grange Bluegrass Concert that Tim was putting on. I had bought eight tickets for friends. During the concert, Tim gave away door prizes and the grand prize was a pair of tickets to the 2005 Father’s Day Festival. Tim called the number of the winner and nobody came up to claim the prize. Another number was drawn and it was mine. I thought about buying the trailer yesterday and winning the tickets today that God wants me to go to Grass Valley. I went to Grass Valley that year and had a great time.

I’ve only been a CBA member since 2004 (I became a member at Tim’s first concert), but it has been one of my life’s most rewarding decisions. I am hooked.

(posted 2/3/2008)


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