Every time I have played in public over the past forty years someone has come up to me afterward and asked, "Do you have
any recordings?" At first I was flattered, after all, the only people I knew who had recordings were Big Stars. Then,
on reflection, I was slightly offended, "What sort of sell-out do you think I am? I'm an honest musician." As years
passed and more and more average people put out recordings I realized I wasn't the sort of musician someone else would record,
I would have to do it myself. But there was the problem of money. I didn't think money was a problem, I got along just fine
without it. However, putting out a record required it, so I just resigned myself to doing without. But it did get old, constantly
having to say, "No, I'm sorry, I don't." As computers arrived, people began to say, "You know, with the right
software you could make your own. Anybody can do it." But I wasn't Anybody and computers seemed the spawn of Beelzebub.
But then came writing my dissertation with two fingers and a Kaypro and the Modern Age began, ever so slowly, to dawn.
Several years ago, at the San Diego Folk Festival (for the past decade or so, called the Adams Avenue Roots Festival) a fellow
came up to me before a scheduled performance, introduced himself, "Adam Miller," and asked if he could record my
hour of music. I assured him it was fine and paid no more attention to it. Afterwards he told me that a friend of his was
interested in recording "everything I knew" because he had been a fan of mine from the 1970s in San Diego. This
was sounding "curiouser and curiouser." The friend--whose name he mentioned, but didn't sound familiar--used to
come to Lou Curtiss' concerts at his shop Folk Arts. When I got home I looked up "George Winston" on the internet.
I must have been the only musician on the planet who didn't recognize his name. My sister-in-law practically wrung my neck
over the phone when I admitted I hadn't known who he was. She had been a big fan for twenty years.
The deciding factor, however, was not the fact that George was famous, nor that it was tremendously flattering to be asked
to be recorded, but that I learned of George and Adam's first (then current) project. The reason my recording had to be delayed
for a year or more is that they were busy recording everything that Sam Hinton knew. For those of you who have never heard
of him, I can only urge you to remedy that lacuna. For those of you who know and love his music, from "Old Man Atom,"
to "Whoever Shall Have Some Good Peanuts," to his amazing harmonica playing and his years of school assemblies and
folk festival appearances, you know how I felt to be associated with him. He has been a great influence on my musical life,
traditional and otherwise, for over forty years. Eagle's Whistle Music's first issue was of Sam's harmonica music, their second
is mine. I am honored.
Eventually, Adam and George and I spent wonderful, long hours in the recording studio of Dan de la Isla (another sympathetic,
kindred spirit) and even managed to get some tracks laid down. I am greatly indebted to George's continuing compassionate,
supportive attitude as well as Adam's insightful encouragement. Without the loving, creative synergy of all parties, these
CDs would never have happened.
My first CD
Down the Road I'll Go
Read a review of this CD by San Diego's own Folk Guru & Festival Founder, Lou Curtiss.
Read a review from Moonshine, a Southern online journal of the arts.
Read a review of the CD in Dutch, and Babelfish English.
For a review from the French magazine Le Cri du Coyote, click here.
Click here for extensive notes on the songs from Down the Road I'll Go.
I come from a long line of country preachers on both sides of my family. My mother's people are Hargis' and Lee's from East
Tennessee. My paternal grandfather came to America from Zeeland, and the Dutch know that Zeelanders are Really Country. Grandpa
Bouterse was in the Salvation Army for many years, then a Methodist minister, founding several churches in South Florida.
Becoming a Baptist minister, he started several more churches in the same area. My grandmother, a Rijskamp from Groningen,
was a Salvation Army lassie on skid row in Chicago at the age of 16.
My father's first pastorate was Carlisle, Kentucky, in the edge of the Bluegrass, and there I was born. Music was
always a part of our family; Mom and Dad both had beautiful voices and played instruments. I probably would have remained
a country boy, perhaps following my father's footsteps into the family business, but the Japanese Imperial Navy bombed Pearl
Harbor when I was seven months old and Everyone's world was changed.
My father joined the Navy as a Chaplain and our family began to move. While my father was in the South Pacific during
WWII, my mother went to be with family in East Tennessee when my sister, Lee, was born. Then we moved to Central Florida where
my parents were originally from. When my father returned from the war, the Navy began shipping us all around the world: California,
Florida, Italy, Tennessee, California again. I attended three different schools in 3rd grade: I learned to expect change if
not embrace it.
In the early 1950's, while we lived in Naples, Italy, I heard music on the radio from all over Europe and around the
Mediterranean, and I was entranced. On returning to the States I went to junior high school in Clarksville, Tennessee, where
I discovered rock and roll and, more importantly, old-time music. Between the farm reports, one of the local radio stations
played country fiddlers and bluegrass bands. I listened every day.
After we ended up in California again, my father brought me a yang qin, a Chinese hammered dulcimer, from Hong Kong
when I was 16. Though I had always considered myself a singer, I had trifled with instruments before but this was of a completely
different order: to begin with there were 96 strings to tune. I can't remember if I had actually ever heard one before but
I knew they could play the kind of tunes that banjers and fiddles played and I began the long process of trying to figure
out how to do it.
In just a few years, after I graduated from high school, the general public "discovered" folk music, the
good and the bad. Hearing this oft-familiar music reinforced my love of American music and sharpened my perception of tradition
and change. I think my mother was slightly amused by the sudden atention that was paid to the kind of music she had grown
I met Sam Hinton and Stu Jamieson, who both lived locally, about 1962. Sam became my general Folk Guru, introducing
me to Sacred Harp music and encouraging my playing. Stu opened up the world of the fretless banjo around the time I first
began becoming interested in banjo. Thus, I started off fretless and never worried again. The next year I built my first fretless
(a box banjer that fit into an old wooden fiddle case), along with an Appalachian dulcimer (taken from pictures, before I
had ever seen one in person). Our family never had many material things, and what we had was divided among five children,
so everyone was a do-it-yourselfer, and making musical instruments has been a joy for me ever since. I've made numerous medieval
instruments to complement my studies of early music. And, recently, I've begun creating gourd fretless banjos, some of which
are featured on this recording.
[I suppose I should say something about my banjer playing style. I don't frail. I know how to do it, in theory. I even
taught my brother, Mark, how to do it, but my hand just doesn't want to go like that. Somehow, at the very beginning of my
interest in banjers, I learned a two-finger (or, strictly, one finger and thumb) picking style. I remember hearing it called
"up-picking," and that it was a North Carolina style, but I have no idea from whom I learned it. I have recently
asked all my friends who were around at the time and no one remembers anyone else playing like that. I am fairly certain I
didn't get it out of a book but, other than that, I'm stumped. I know it didn't take me long to get the hang of it: my fingers
really liked the motion and I've been picking ever since. For those who are unfamiliar with it, the rhythm is the same as
in frailing: bum-diddy, boom-chicka, dum-takka. The index finger picks up, then strums up, and immediately the thumb picks
downward. The complementary, melodic, figure is takka takka: the finger picks up followed by the thumb plucking down, alternating.
The style which, in my case at least, doesn't seem to want to go very fast, has determined much of my banjer style and even
choice of tunes.]
I have also made a number of songs and tunes in traditional style, some of which have become popular in folk music
and dance circles: the two most frequently played are "Waiting for Nancy" and "Nixon's Farewell." I have
played on the soundtracks of several motion pictures, the most famous being "The Long Riders," with music by Ry
Cooder, as well as on David Lindley's album, "El Rayo X."
I have degrees in anthropology(archeology), history, art history, musicology, and ethnomusicology. My ethnomusicological
work has included extensive studies of Balinese gamelans, African music and drumming, and Southwest American Indian singing,
in addition to medieval Spanish music, the American shape-note tradition, and the effects of oral and literate societies on
I believe that intellectual curiosity is a virtue, not a cause for suspicion, repression, or accusation of heresy. I believe
creating brings us closer to our fellows and to God, that knowledge is power, the truth will set us free, and love is the
thing, without which, as Bernard de Ventadorn said almost 900 years ago, life is not worth living. I still haven't given up
on finding love or a job. One of my favorite quotations is from the Japanese writer Zeami, "Never lose the heart of the
Beginner, not even occasionally, not even in old age."