(bluegrass music) - [David] Becky Buller has been playing fiddle and singing bluegrass her whole life.
Straight out of college, She went to work writing songs and playing in bands before venturing out on her own as a solo artist.
Now with her own band, she's a headliner in our business.
Her music conveys her personal values with humor and humanity.
I thought you should know about her.
("More Heart, Less Attack") ♪ Be the light in the crack ♪ ♪ Be the one that's been there on the camel's back ♪ ♪ Slow to anger, quick to laugh ♪ ♪ Be more heart and less attack ♪ ♪ Be the wheels not the track ♪ ♪ Be the wanderer that's coming back ♪ ♪ Leave the past right where it's at ♪ ♪ Be more heart and less attack ♪ ♪ Ooh ♪ ♪ Ooh ♪ ♪ The more you take the less you have ♪ ♪ 'Cause it's you in the mirror that's staring back ♪ ♪ Quick to let go slow to react ♪ ♪ Be more heart and less attack ♪ ♪ Ever growing steadfast ♪ ♪ And if need be the one that's in the gap ♪ ♪ Be the never turning back ♪ ♪ Twice the heart anyone could have ♪ ♪ Ooh ♪ ♪ Ooh ♪ ♪ Be the wheels not the track ♪ ♪ Be the wanderer that's coming back ♪ ♪ Leave the past right where it's at ♪ ♪ Be more heart and less attack ♪ ♪ Be more heart and less attack ♪ ♪ Be more heart and less attack ♪ ♪ Ooh ♪ ♪ Ooh ♪ ♪ Ooh ♪ ♪ I stuck my hat out ♪ ♪ I caught the rain drops ♪ ♪ I drank the water ♪ ♪ I felt my veins block ♪ ♪ I'm nearly sanctified ♪ ♪ I'm nearly broken ♪ ♪ I'm down the river ♪ ♪ I'm near the open ♪ ♪ I stuck my hat out ♪ ♪ I caught the rain drops ♪ ♪ I drank the water ♪ ♪ I felt my veins block ♪ ♪ I'm nearly sanctified ♪ ♪ I'm nearly broken ♪ ♪ I'm down the river ♪ ♪ I'm near the open ♪ ♪ I'm down the river ♪ ♪ To where I'm going ♪ - You grew up in Minnesota, that which is not exactly a hot bed for bluegrass, I wouldn't think.
- No, but there is a really strong bluegrass community up there.
They have the Minnesota Bluegrass Old-Time Music Association out of the Twin Cities that puts on lots of great festivals.
- Were you in a band?
- I was with my mom and dad and another couple, Gordy and Roxy Shultz.
- So, were you a little kid playing?
- I was about 11 when I joined their group.
I wanted to sing a band and they said, well, you gotta play something 'cause that's how bluegrass music works, that's the economics of a bluegrass band.
Everybody plays something, you don't just have a standalone singer.
And so I said, okay, you don't have a fiddle, I'll play the fiddle.
Just get me fiddle lessons 'cause I wanna be in your band.
And so, I feel like the fiddle chose me.
- Did you get a little half size fiddle?
- I started with a three quarter size 'cause I was 9 or 10 when I started.
- And then how did you say, hmm, I think I'd like to be a professional?
How did that transition take place?
- That just sort of happened.
I feel like I've just kind of stumbled my way through all this.
I heard about East Tennessee State University when I was 16.
I read about it on an album cover, the album "Carolina Moon" by Lou Reid, Terry Baucom and Carolina.
And they got Jack Tottle, the head of the bluegrass program, to do the liner notes for that record.
And I was just so excited when I saw there was a place that I could go to get credit for playing bluegrass music.
So I told my parents I was going there and they said, yeah right.
You're gonna go that far away from home, you're such a homebody.
And I said, no, I'm gonna do it.
I'm gonna go get credit for playing bluegrass music.
And I did.
I studied at East Tennessee State from '97 to 2001.
- Well obviously it worked for you because you're so professional about the way you play and the way you present yourself.
You ended up with a degree in publicity?
- Public relations, yes.
- And do you still use that?
- Oh, every day.
- You were a side man for about, as I read, about 12 years.
I'm a reluctant band leader, and I kind of stumbled into that too.
I didn't think I could handle the stress of being the band leader.
And so, I was happy to be a side person.
I played with Appalachian Trail with Valerie Smith and Liberty Pike for 10 years, and then with Darin & Brooke Aldridge for a couple years.
- Oh, yeah.
We know them.
We've had 'em on the show.
Well so, what did you know learned from being a side man that you used when you became a band leader?
- Oh, well I, you know, I just try really hard to treat everybody the way I wanna be treated, and I don't want anybody to feel like they're not appreciated.
So, I work really hard at that to try to make it a really fun environment for everybody.
- Good for you.
- And no drama.
Just absolutely no drama.
- That is super important.
Maybe the most important thing.
- [Becky] Yeah ("The Barber's Fiddle") ♪ Mr. Gene's barbershop ♪ ♪ State Street, the Virginia side ♪ ♪ I walked in hand in hand with Pa ♪ ♪ 5 years old and terrified ♪ ♪ Mr. Gene smiled at me ♪ ♪ Helped me up into the chair ♪ ♪ In the mirror I could see ♪ ♪ An old red fiddle hanging there ♪ ♪ The gray-haired barber caught my gaze ♪ ♪ Said that's a tale I like to tell ♪ ♪ Of a young man who came in one day ♪ ♪ With a fiddle and a dream to sell ♪ ♪ He tried to live out on the road ♪ ♪ Thought music was where he belonged ♪ ♪ Well it broke his heart and it broke his soul ♪ ♪ Made him sing a different song ♪ ♪ Fiddled up high ♪ ♪ Fiddled down low ♪ ♪ Fiddle most everywhere I go ♪ ♪ I'd fiddle until my dyin' day ♪ ♪ If I could make a life on a fiddler's pay ♪ ♪ He sat in this very chair ♪ ♪ Scared of what his folks would say ♪ ♪ His hope was gone, his pockets bare ♪ ♪ They warned him it would end this way ♪ ♪ He returned to start anew ♪ ♪ No money for a shave and trim ♪ ♪ He asked, would this fiddle do?
♪ ♪ Said it wasn't any use to him ♪ ♪ Fiddled up high ♪ ♪ Fiddled down low ♪ ♪ Fiddle most everywhere I go ♪ ♪ I'd fiddle until my dyin' day ♪ ♪ If I could make a life on a fiddler's pay ♪ ♪ Mr. Gene swept the floor ♪ ♪ Spun me 'round and said you're done ♪ ♪ I begged him to tell me more ♪ ♪ What happened to the wayward son ♪ ♪ Turns out it was Mr. Gene ♪ ♪ Hung his fiddle up that day ♪ ♪ And now I'm living out his dream ♪ ♪ Because he taught me how to play ♪ ♪ I fiddled up high ♪ ♪ I fiddled down low ♪ ♪ I fiddle most everywhere I go ♪ ♪ I'm gonna fiddle until my dyin' day ♪ ♪ If I could make a life on a fiddler's pay ♪ ♪ Fiddled up high ♪ ♪ Fiddled down low ♪ ♪ Fiddle most everywhere I go ♪ ♪ I'm gonna fiddle until my dyin' day ♪ ♪ If I could make a life on a fiddler's pay ♪ ♪ Living my life on a fiddler's pay ♪ - Now, you love to write songs and you've written some great ones that "The Barber's Fiddle" is really a fantastic song.
- Thank you.
- Tell us about that song and how it was written, and what part of it's true.
- There's a whole lot of truth to it.
And I wrote this with my friend, Linda Dawson, from over here in Raleigh, North Carolina.
And the initial idea for the story came to me when someone walked up to me at Dollywood and told me this story about a fiddle and barber in his hometown that had tried to make a living on the road as a musician and it didn't work out so he came home and he hocked his fiddle for a haircut.
So, you know, I had that story in the back of my mind and we used the real life, Mr. Gene Boyd, from the Star Barber Shop in Bristol, Virginia, as our character for the song and our setting for the song.
And then it was also inspired by Mr. Billy Womack from Woodbury, Tennessee, fiddle and barber that really influenced the music of my Tennessee family.
Taught my brother-in-law how to play guitar, played in a band with my father-in-law.
- So you have a lot of connections to that song?
Yes I do.
- Did it just sort of roll out or was it one of those that you had to really labor with each word?
- I remember it really rolling out once Linda and I got together and started working on it.
- Are you mostly an inspired songwriter?
- Yes, I am not disciplined.
I really should be.
And during the pandemic, I have done a lot more co-writing.
I mean, I've always done a lot of co-writing, but especially during the pandemic, I've worked really hard to get lots of writing sessions in so that I'll have lots of material once we come out on the other side.
- When you're co-writing with a writer, do you hear that person like Molly Tuttle and say, I'd like to write a song with her or do you say, I have this song that would be great to write with her?
- Both, actually.
I have a running list of song ideas on my phone, and some of the ideas I'll put a name next to, like I wanna write this with Tim Stafford or I wanna write this with Rick Lang, or Donna Ulisse.
And then sometimes, it's just like, I love Molly's work and I just wanna write with her.
So, I've gotten to do that a couple times now.
Got to, I mentioned before, I got to write with Sierra Hull during the pandemic here, really loved the way that song turned out.
So, it just depends.
Graham Sharp from the "Steep Canyon Rangers" I just wanted to write with him 'cause I know he's a fantastic writer and we came up with a song that day.
Got it all done and it turned out to be a really cool tune.
- Does somebody usually come with an idea or do you make up the idea as you start?
- Well, again, it's both.
So, sometimes the song will come out of something that we've just been chatting about, you know, at the beginning of the session.
I always try to bring some song ideas to the table, at least have three or four.
I feel like I'm prepared that way as opposed to just coming into a session cold.
- You've had a lot of songs recorded.
- Right, Aoife O'Donovan, Molly Tuttle, Sierra Hull, Tim Stafford.
- Is there a method that you guys use when you sit down or is every person different the way you deal with it?
- Every person is different and every co-writing session is different, even with writers that I've written with, you know, for years, because everybody's different on a given day.
You just don't know what somebody's bringing to the co-writing session that day, so I just view each of them as their own thing.
- You know, when I've co-written with people, you don't always finish the song, you just get it going or get an idea going.
- Right, and then you run outta time.
And so, I have a few songs hanging out there that I need to get back with folks to finish up.
- How many times do you think out of the sessions you get together that nothing comes of it in terms of a song that you can use?
- Oh, you know, mostly I really love the songs that I've come up with.
And some of them, I will save for myself.
And others, I like 'em, but I don't like 'em well enough to record myself.
I think I can hear another artist recording them, so I'll put that in the pile to pitch.
- I love that song "Don't Look Back".
Any story behind that?
- Yeah so, it was inspired by a greeting card that my co-writer, Valerie Smith, found in a thrift store, and it has a cartoon of a little girl on it.
She's got a pack on her back and she's at a crossroads in the woods and she's headed down a road that says, your life and the other direction says, no longer an option.
And it says, don't look back.
("Don't Look Back") ♪ Walkin' through a lonesome town ♪ ♪ Rain came a fallin' down ♪ ♪ And it drove me in here ♪ ♪ Feelin' a little used ♪ ♪ Broken and bruised ♪ ♪ Like I belong here ♪ ♪ But wanderin' through the second-hand clothes ♪ ♪ And tarnished treasures no one loves anymore ♪ ♪ I found a quarter's worth of wisdom ♪ ♪ In this local bargain store and it said ♪ ♪ Don't look back ♪ ♪ Don't look back ♪ ♪ The road you're travelin' is a one-way track ♪ ♪ Gotta look to the future ♪ ♪ 'Cause you can't change the past ♪ ♪ Make the most of what you're livin' ♪ ♪ And don't look back ♪ ♪ Just a greeting card in a purple frame ♪ ♪ Swore it had my name ♪ ♪ Written on the inside ♪ ♪ I whispered a tearful prayer ♪ ♪ Grateful God had met me there ♪ ♪ To comfort and remind ♪ ♪ That though we long to rewrite history ♪ ♪ We only have power in the present tense ♪ ♪ Better learn from our mistakes ♪ ♪ Not take them up around the bend ♪ ♪ And He said ♪ ♪ Don't look back ♪ ♪ Don't look back ♪ ♪ The road you're travelin' is a one-way track ♪ ♪ Gotta look to the future ♪ ♪ 'Cause you can't change the past ♪ ♪ Make the most of what you're livin' ♪ ♪ And don't look back ♪ ♪ Gonna hang that picture by my front door ♪ ♪ So every mornin' just before I leave ♪ ♪ It'll say there's a new day ♪ ♪ Waitin' out there for me ♪ ♪ So don't look back ♪ ♪ Don't look back ♪ ♪ The road you're travelin' is a one-way track ♪ ♪ Gotta look to the future ♪ ♪ 'Cause you can't change the past ♪ ♪ Make the most of what you're livin' ♪ ♪ And don't look back ♪ ♪ Don't look back ♪ - I have heard that you keep a picture of Aubrey Haynie, the great fiddler, Aubrey Haynie, of his bowing arm in your case.
- Well, I heard that banjo players often keep a picture of J.D.
Crowe's right hand in their cases.
And so I thought, well, Aubrey has my favorite bow arm in all of bluegrass music, so.
- Which is what?
- His right arm, it's just so fluid.
He just looks like he's hardly doing anything.
- I know what you mean now.
- And he sounds incredible.
So yes, I have a picture of Aubrey Haynie's right arm in my fiddle case for inspiration.
- Does he know that?
- I don't know.
- He will now.
(laughing) - Well, you have a family and you have a husband who's also a musician.
How do you make that work?
- Yeah, so my husband has the day job that allows me to get out and do this.
So, he's an electrical engineer, and we have a daughter, her name's Romy.
- Does your daughter play music now?
- She does.
She plays piano and she's doing really well with it, but she hates practicing.
So now I'm on the other side of this.
I teach private lessons and I have parents that come up to me and say, how do I get my kid to practice?
My kid is hollering and screaming and doesn't wanna practice.
What do I do?
And now I'm on that side of it.
- Yes, and what do you say?
- Just keep at it.
Just keep trying different stuff.
I've resorted to bribery, actually.
- Oh, excellent choice.
- Yeah, we have a treasure box and if Romy gets through a whole week of practicing piano without growling at me, she gets to go in the treasure box after her lesson.
- Oh, that's a good idea for anything.
("Inglewood Upon Stratford") (logo falling in)