20:20 — 20 Questions, 20 Answers
The First Ladies of Bluegrass Special Edition | Fiddle
Published November 20, 2020
In Part 12 of our series,
Becky Buller —of The Becky Buller Band, as well as member of the prestigious First Ladies of Bluegrass—
two-time Grammy Award winner, chronic International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) award winner, singer-songwriter, bandleader, music instructor, and more answers queries from inquiring minds with the perfect mix of fun and sincerity that is her life and brand.
Join us as Becky tells us about being in Steve Martin’s backup band earlier this year during a brief run of Martin’s comedy show with Martin Short, describes her early denial regarding the consequences of COVID on her life’s work, and solves the mystery of the difference between violin and fiddle music.
Becky Buller | Photo by Jason Myers Photography
20:20 with Becky Buller
Becky: My name is Becky Buller. I’m a Christ follower, Jeff’s wife, Romy’s mama, and fiddler, singer and songwriter.
NWM 2): By unanimous vote of all NoteWorthy Music staff members who were present, the First Ladies of Bluegrass—the all-female bluegrass super-group, which includes all the first women to win in their respective categories at the IBMA awards: Alison Brown (banjo, 1991); Missy Raines (bass, 1998); You (fiddle, 2016); Sierra Hull (mandolin, 2016); Molly Tuttle (guitar, 2017)—was our favorite set at the 2018 RockyGrass.
The First Ladies were also part of a historic all-female Saturday-night headline set at the 2019 Newport Folk Festival, which included Dolly Parton and was curated and hosted by Brandi Carlile. Tell us something about that July night in Rhode Island.
Becky: Thank you! We had so much fun at RockyGrass.
It was absolutely magical and insane getting to perform for that sea of people.
The First Ladies of Bluegrass were invited by Brandi Carlile to perform our cover of “Sisters are Doin’ it for Themselves.” It was a thrill to be representing bluegrass music that night. Brandi, Yola, and Bonnie Paine of Elephant Revival joined us. It was absolutely magical and insane getting to perform for that sea of people. The rest of the set included the likes of The Highwomen, Sheryl Crow, Linda Perry, and, of course, Dolly.
Dolly brought everyone back onstage for “9 to 5.” I had Romy along with me and I brought her out on stage. Dolly ducked out just before the song ended. But before she left, she made a point to hug the two kids on stage, Mercy Isbell and my Romy! Fortunately, someone in the wings caught a video of it.
NWM 3): Name three things that make you smile.
Becky: Aunt Susie’s chocolate oatmeal cookies, Romy’s stories, a good fiddle tune.
NWM 4): The Grateful Web calls your new album, Distance and Time, “poetic and vivid.” Not a combination every artist can achieve. Please describe your record’s concept and vision.
Becky: With Distance and Time, we aimed to stay rooted in the bluegrass tradition while reaching a little further forward toward the more progressive side of the music. The result was a wide variety amongst the tracks that will, hopefully, keep the listener engaged and excited ’til the end.
Becky Buller and The Becky Buller Band | L-R Nate Lee, Daniel Harden, Becky, Dan Boner, Ned Luberecki | Photo by Shelly Swanger Photography
NWM 5): What are your non-musical gifts/talents?
Becky: I love to bake cookies, and I can knit lopsided washcloths and endless scarves. I’m also a good listener.
NWM 6): Where were you and what were you doing when you realized COVID-19 had just changed your life as a performance artist?
Becky: I was in the studio with Jerry Douglas cutting “Woodstock,” our final tracking session for the new album, the day before the world shut down. Honestly, it was into July before it really sunk in just how completely life had changed for me. Until then, I was fighting against it.
NWM 7): What’s a favorite Becky Buller song?
Becky: This changes daily. Today my favorite is “I Dream in Technicolor.”
NWM 8): Who might we be surprised to find on your playlist?
Becky: Jesus People rocker Larry Norman, the 2nd Chapter of Acts, Foreigner and ELO [Electric Light Orchestra].
Becky Buller and The Fairfield Four | Photo courtesy of The Huckabee Show
NWM 9): You have not only received 10 International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) awards, you made IBMA history in 2016 by becoming the first artist ever to win in both instrumental and vocal categories as well as the first female to win Fiddle Player of the Year.
What does it mean to you personally to receive such deep recognition of, and appreciation for, your work from your peers?
Becky: I’m honored and stunned by it all; I don’t take it for granted and strive to live up to it all.
I’m honored and stunned by it all …
NWM 10): Strangest road story?
Becky: We were in Arizona a few years back playing at a rodeo grounds. I was backstage, talking to the MC, about to hitch a ride up the hill to the workshop tent. Our bass player, Daniel Hardin, was trying to get my attention.
“Becky!” he kept hollering.
I got away from the MC as fast as I could and went over to where Daniel was standing, near the gate with bass in hand.
“Watch out!” he said.
There was a coiled rattlesnake just a few feet away from him.
“I stayed here to keep him mad so he wouldn’t slither off,” said Daniel.
I went to get the MC, who calmly killed the snake with a shovel and said, “In all these years we’ve had the festival, that’s the first rattlesnake we’ve ever had backstage.”
NWM 11): Your bio info tells us you grew up with music, playing the violin, but that your heart was drawn to being a fiddler. You won the Junior Division of the 1996 Minnesota State Old Time Fiddle Championship. Tell us about the differences and similarities of the violinist and fiddler who dwell in you.
Becky: The violinist in me is obsessed with creating impeccable tone and intonation. The fiddler in me just wants to have fun.
NWM 12): Who does a favorite cover of a song you wrote?
Becky: Rhonda Vincent’s “Fishers of Men.” Of any of the songs I’ve written, this one has gone the furthest and has been covered the most.
Becky Buller and Sam Bush | Photo by Shelly Swanger Photography
NWM 13): In addition to performing, you have more than 20 years experience as a music educator. You have said you are passionate about passing the music on. Tell us about that. How does that passion present itself to the world and how does doing so feed you personally?
Becky: There’s nothing better than seeing the light go on when a student really connects with the music and gets what I’m trying to show them. So many wonderful folks have shared their music with me along the way; I’m grateful to be able to do the same.
There’s nothing better than seeing the light go on when a student really connects with the music …
NWM 14): What in particular fuels your inspiration? Tell us about your space or what is most necessary for your writing.
Becky: These days I do a lot more co-writing. It helps me to have those appointments, they get me away from my other responsibilities and into a creative headspace. I find that after a co-write, I’m more jazzed about writing on my own, too.
NWM 15): What song/album could you play on repeat?
Becky: Tony Rice’s Native American.
NWM 16): What not-so-obvious aspect of your life has been changed by the pandemic?
Becky: Okay. This is kind of vain and ridiculous. For a while it was impossible to find plastic gloves. I wear plastic gloves to do my hair because the pomade I use to define my curls won’t come off of my hands and makes it hard to fiddle. I tried to use cotton gloves, but the pomade came through them.
Becky Buller and The Becky Buller Band | Photo by Shelly Swanger Photography
NWM 17): What are your before-you-go-on-stage rituals?
Becky: I get really nervous and play things over and over again. Our bass player, Daniel Hardin, always yells at us like a football coach, “Are you ready to do this?!?”
NWM 18): In addition to your own top-shelf band, you have worked with so many big names of bluegrass—Ricky Skaggs, Rhonda Vincent, Doyle Lawson, and many more. What has been a particularly rewarding bill, performance, or studio gig?
Becky: Back in January, the First Ladies of Bluegrass was the backup band for Steve Martin during a short run of his comedy shows with Martin Short in Florida. 2020 has been a year of incredible highs and lows.
The First Ladies of Bluegrass was the backup band for Steve Martin …
NWM 19): If you could see anyone from throughout history perform who would it be?
Becky: Beethoven and The Beatles. Not necessarily together, but that would be interesting!
NWM 20): What is one thing you would want our readers to know about which we might not know to ask?
Becky: The biggest news in my world right now is the release of Distance and Time on Dark Shadow Recording. I hope folks will give it a listen, either digitally here: https://sc.lnk.to/BBdt-lp or order a CD here: https://beckybuller.com/product/distance-and-time-physical-copy/
“Life Gets Up And Gets Gone”
Becky Buller, Goodnight Sparky Music, BMI
Donna Ulisse, Uncle Hadley Music, ASCAP
Becky Buller is a multi-instrumentalist, singer, songwriter, and producer from St. James, Minnesota, who has traversed the globe performing bluegrass music to underwrite her “insatiable songwriting habit.”
Becky was the Junior Division winner in the 1996 Minnesota Old Time Fiddle Championship. The first of 10 IBMA awards came in 2015 when she was honored with three of them: Emerging Artist of the Year, Songwriter of the Year, and the Recorded Event of the Year for the song, “Southern Flavor.” In 2016 she became the first artist ever to win IBMA awards in both instrumental and vocal categories, as well as the first female to win Fiddle Player of the Year.
She currently serves on the board of the IBMA Foundation.
To learn more and find more stuff to buy, go to: https://beckybuller.com/
You may enjoy our previous 20:20 with Ron Block.
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