Author: Little, Cameron

Bluegrassian Questionnaire with Pete Hicks

Fiddle. Check. Mandolin. Check. Ukelele. Check. Traditional bluegrass, old country, Hawaiian slack key and everything in between. Check. Fiddle and mandolin luthier. Check. Soon-to-be ukelele luthier. Check. One of the rebel instigators of the annual Hicks/Dabney Bluegrass Campout and Festival. Check. Says he can “finally play ‘Radio Hula’ without speeding up” (google youtube for Ledward Kaapana and you’ll see why I think Pete’s slow is everybody else's fast!). Check on all counts.

In case you haven’t already guessed, I’m talking about Pete Hicks. A musician’s musician, and newest member of The Central Valley Boys who, upon donning the day-glow suit, sounds and seems as though he’s been there since the start. Pete also plays with Bean Creek, Larry Hosford Quartet, and The Courthouse Ramblers. Pete delivers with his virtuosic command of his instruments of choice.

Here’s a little inside view of what makes Hicks tick.

Question: What was your first instrument and when did you get it?
Hicks: My first instrument was a Spanish guitar I bought while walking up to visit the Alhambra [the famous 10th century palace and fortress complex - a gem of Berber Islamic architecture] in Granada, Spain , in 1971. The street leading up the hill had many guitar shops, and I was so impressed by the local kids’ playing that I got inspired to buy one. It cost $15 new.

Q: What bluegrass event or recording first “blew your mind”?
Hicks: The Flatt and Scruggs at Carnegie Hall record, and The Union Grove Fiddlers Convention and bluegrass fest in 1972.

Q: What was it that made you want to try your hand at building instruments?
Hicks: I started building violins with my Dad during the last ten years of his life. I got into it and he helped me make parts and jigs. He also learned to play some in his eighties. I have had invaluable assistance from my violin and mandolin maker mentors, including David Morse, Dennis English, Leroy Deeg, Cliff Sargent, Michael Lewis, and Roger Siminoff.

Q: What’s the best part of the art of luthiery?
Hicks: The moment when you play the first notes on a new or restored instrument and it sounds good, is magic.

Q: What’s your idea of perfect happiness?
Hicks: Playing in a tight bluegrass band.

Q: What’s your greatest fear?
Hicks: Playing the fiddle with bad intonation at a big show.

Q: What is your greatest extravagance?
Hicks: At the moment, my greatest extravagance is ukeleles. I am developing a nice collection, and I will start building some soon.

Q: Which living bluegrass person do you most admire?
Hicks: That would have to be Ralph Stanley.

Q: What bluegrass memory makes you smile?
Hicks: I was once in a jam with Danny Paisley, the Lundy brothers, Jim Carr, Del Williams and others, with Bob Paisley looking on. It was wonderful.

Q: Is there one bluegrass player tip or secret you’d like to share?
Hicks: Concentrate on the right hand, the one with the pick or bow.

Q: What was the best advice you’ve ever been given?
Hicks: Play the melody.

Q: What is your most treasured possession?
Hicks: My most treasured possession is not a possession at all. It is music, and everything about it.

Q: What is your motto?
Hicks: My motto is, “Keep you instruments out of their cases and ready to play at home.” That way you practice more.

Q: Who is sitting there in your dream jam?
Hicks: My dream jam would be composed of all my dear picking and singing friends who have passed from this world, including Jake Quesenberry, Walter Dodd, Shirley Tudor, Tom Tworek, and Ken Orrick, among others. Cliff Sargent would be there showing us his latest F5 mandolin.

- - - -

Central Valley Boys:
Bean Creek:
The Courthouse Ramblers:

(Cameron Little is a teen musician living, at least for a little while longer, on a 160-acre off-the-grid ranch in the Sierra. He is very glad that sore snowboarding muscles don’t interfere with playing bluegrass.)

Posted:  1/19/2013

Copyright © 2002 California Bluegrass Association. All rights reserved.
Comments? Questions? Please email