Hooked on Bluegrass

Jack Tuttle

Some of my earliest memories are of my father, a farmer in Illinois, playing guitar and singing old-time country songs. Some were old Carter Family type songs and some were from Hank Williams.

When I was about six I started playing guitar, mostly just learning how to chord songs. The first song I ever learned was Old Shep. Around that time, we took our only real vacation of that decade (the 1960’s), to the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville. Unfortunately, I have only vague memories of that Saturday night show, and was too young to know one performer from the other.

A couple of years later my father started learning banjo. We already had some Flatt & Scruggs and Stanley Brothers recordings, but suddenly they started getting played a lot more around the house. Curiously though, when I was a kid, we never had a single Bill Monroe record. My dad took me along to his banjo lesson occasionally, but what I remember most about that was that his teacher never wrote anything down and could only play at full speed.

Over the next few years, I learned how to pick tunes on the guitar and play the banjo, mostly from hearing my dad play. But looking back, it was all somewhat in isolation until my parents took me and my sister to a regional bluegrass festival in 1975. That’s the first time I was around live groups that could really play and sing bluegrass. One of the best singers at that festival was a thirteen year-old, Rhonda Vincent. I guess that festival would be the hooked moment.

I immediately got a mandolin and then a fiddle and started playing with the local bluegrass players. My sister was hooked too, so we started a family band, the original Tuttle Family Band, with my dad and two guys from town.

After graduating from the University of Illinois, I moved out to California, due a lack of any idea of what to do with my life and shortly thereafter wandered into Gryphon Stringed Instruments in Palo Alto. As it happens, they were looking for a bluegrass teacher. I decided to give that a try and I’m still there full-time, twenty six years later, fully hooked, I guess you could say.

(posted 9/19/2006)

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