Author: Varner, Mark

Dear friends,

Y’all should be getting your February Breakdowns by now and you may have noticed that the CBA’s paper is missing our usual missive from “Bluegrass Folks” Bill Willhelm. He’s been having all kinds of adventures that got in the way of getting out that column recently, but how bout if we catch up with him right here on ye olde website? This edition features our new Area VP, Henry “Big Hank” Zuniga and his redoubtable mate, Nancy.

By Bill Wilhelm

Once upon a time there were two musicians. One’s name was Nancy and the other’s name was Henry. These two musicians were not only from two different cultures, but also from two different cities, miles apart. Some of the songs they played and sang were the same and of the same style. The odds were great against their ever even meeting. How they did is a happy story I’d like to share with you bluegrass folks.

Being exposed to the Spanish language in college, Nancy learned to speak and sing in Spanish. In recent years this led to her being asked by a friend to play and sing at a birthday party to be held some time later for an elderly Mexican lady in Delano, California, several hundreds of miles from her home in Auburn. As Nancy was making plans to do so, the lady died. Then Nancy was asked to go there and sing for the wake and the funeral. She graciously accepted and off she went to Delano.

It was a big affair. A large crowd had gathered for the wake. With her guitar and mandolin, Nancy then was playing and singing for a group inside the house. In each of her breaks, she could hear a man singing for a crowd outside the house. She wondered who it could be and said he was singing in English and Spanish, much the same as she. She said he had a beautiful voice.

"In one of my breaks, I excused myself and went outside," says Nancy. She saw the man then putting his guitar into his car. People were beginning to leave to go home for the night. It was getting late, so she decided this was a good time to put her mandolin away. The man saw her and asked, "Hey - where are you going with that mandolin? Will you play a tune for me?"

This led to a little jam session of just the two of them. The remaining crowd gathered around to hear them.

"We found we knew a lot of the same songs and our voices blended great together. The remaining crowd kept us there for about an hour. At one point we were asked how long we had been playing together. Well, we’d actually not even met each other yet! Right then the man reached his hand across the table to her and said, ‘Hi, I’m Henry.’"

"It was a musical connection like none I had ever experienced!" said Henry. "I was blown away that she could sing in Spanish and also knew bluegrass." Nancy left and drove on to where she was staying. She later found out that then Henry had then gone into the house and was asking the ladies in there everything he could find out about her.

Several years ago I did a column on Nancy, but never anything on Henry before.

He is of Mexican descent and was born and raised in Los Angeles. At high school age, along with his family he moved to Delano. He comes by the music naturally as he is one of a long list of musicians, some of whom even taught music at The University of Mexico. His father and grandfather were good musicians.

"One of the greatest surprises in my life was my father sat down at a piano when I was teen age. I had never heard him play a piano nor even know he could. As he began I could not believe it! He could really play! He was so good, he sounded like Jerry Lee Lewis," said Henry.

Nancy and Henry’s music together have led to making happy changes in their lives. One was at the alter the day Nancy became Mrs. Zuniga. Henry has come into a very large "bluegrass family." They have started a bluegrass jam session at their home on a regular basis. They are both so impressed with "Kids on Stage" that they have even collected instruments for them.

So, just like in any worthwhile nursery rhyme that begins with "Once upon a time," Nancy and Henry, along with their music are now in the process of "Living Happily Forever After."

Get out and see some bluegrass, folks. SFBOT is in full swing with some fine artists at some fine venues in the SF Bay Area. Info at

Your pal,
Mark Varner
Posted:  2/4/2008

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