Featured artist – Tony Furtado

Richard Holland writes:
Back in the early days of my exposure to Bluegrass I borrowed a tent and went to The IronBridge festival and there I came across a band – Sugarbeat …….. when the banjo player wore his cap backwards you knew something special was going to happen! My first introduction to Tony Furtado. – Sugarbeat was pushing the boundaries then – with a great ‘musical drive’ and a number of songs written by the band. Notable tracks for me from their recordings were ‘Drive South’, ‘Only for a Little While’ and ‘By the Time it Gets Dark’ – and then the outrageous ‘Fry The Trout’. These tracks can be found on the album ‘Sugarbeat’ recorded in 1993 . Tony’s playing, and the band left a lasting impression creating both a drive and a groove that was new to me. Sugarbeat also introduced me to `Matt Flinner (mandolin), Sally Truitt (bass) and Ben Demerath (guitar)

Tony was born in Pleasanton, California, and got interested in music and the Banjo at an early age. He went to College at California State, Hayward as a Fine Arts Major, and whilst there he won the Grand National Banjo Championship in Kansas. He was to win the Winfield competition twice in 1987 and later in 1991. Tony’s debut album was released in 1989 (Swamped / Rounder records) — and he toured with Laurie Lewis and The Grant Street String Band – including Tom Rozum (mandolin), Scott Nygaard (guitar) and Tammy Fassaert (bass). Tony got to play with a number of the greats of Bluegrass including Tim O’Brien , Jerry Douglas and Alison Krauss among others. The Alison Krauss track ‘I Will’ has Tony playing the Banjo introduction – the track can also be found on Tony’s album Within Reach.

Tony has recorded 16 Albums for various labels, but his latest recordings – ‘The Bell’ and Cider House Sessions are out on his own label and he describes “The Bell” as his most personal of his career. A project that he retained complete artistic control.

As a Banjo player his roots are set in Scruggs, but were quickly influenced by bands like the Eagles and The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. Watching the development of Bela Fleck helped Tony realise the potential of his playing and expand his own ideas. His technique encompasses Scruggs, Melodic and Single String playing to make him a complete master of the instrument.


Eventually Tony was drawn into playing Slide Guitar and that now plays a big part in his one man concerts, and his various musical collaborations. Writing songs and tunes came from his interest in literature and poetry – and there are many examples in both his recordings and live shows.

From Tony about his other life as a sculptor – “ I’m a musician and sculptor based in Portland, Oregon. For most of my life I’ve been balancing my passions between making folk music and creating ceramic sculpture. When I’m not on tour playing music in theaters and folk clubs around the world, I can be found in my sculpture studio with my hands in wet clay making things I’ve been seeing or dreaming about while on the road.

The number one inspiration for my art is the natural world and finding expressive and engaging ways to portray what I see and feel. Whether it’s an accurate biological rendering or a stylised and surreal statement, my process almost always begins with me imagining a creature, person, or structure (sometimes all three at once) somehow differently. I try to capture the duality of what is fierce and fragile in the form – the tension between survival and surrender, something we all endure as part of this wildly changing planet.”

‘Bill the Otter’

Tony’s sculptures can be viewed at his website https://tonyfurtado.com/sculpture-gallery A few items can be purchased online – https://www.etsy.com/shop/tonyfurtado

Married to Portland Singer / Songwriter Stephanie Schneiderman Tony is a real family man, and never out of contact with his son Liam in spite of the amount of travelling involved in his career. Stephanie is also a professional musician – so you can imagine, there is some careful juggling goes on to ensure all the diary dates work out.

We have been lucky in the UK to have Tony visit on a number of occasions – the last visit involved gigs with Ron Block – for me, two of my favourite Banjo players…..a real treat! Tony has also worked on the Sorefingers Staff so will be a familiar name to a large number of British Fans. Tony is also happy to answer any questions we might like to ask! Questions should be sent to me at r.l.holland@btinternet.com


Jan Jerrold Award – 2020/21

Nominations are now open for the Jan Jerrold Award. This is the BBMA’s premier award for the person who has made the most significant recent contribution to the Bluegrass music scene in the UK.

Your nominee doesn’t have to be a member of the BBMA but all nominators must be members so please include your membership number with your nomination.

Nominations will close at the end of May and the award will be announced at the BBMA AGM.

Who do you think has made a difference? Please send me their name and your reasons for nominating them. And please do it now, while you are thinking about it!

Thank you.

Les Packer
email: committee@britishbluegrass.org

PS Past Winners
Pat Francis, Gary Payne, Roland Emmanuel, Stuart Williams, Richard Holland, Kevin Garratt, Dave Bresnen, Rick Townend


BBMA featured artist  – November 2019

Nick Hornbuckle

Nick Hornbuckle knows a bit about coffee – oh and he knows a bit about playing the banjo!  Using just the thumb and index finger, he has developed his own picking style to produce pretty much all the usual banjo stuff and a number of original effects.  You might expect the single string Reno style to dominate, but what you get is a genuine Scruggs feel, with tasteful melodic interjections.  What makes this musician so special is not just his ability to create unusual rhythms, but his ability to bridge the gap between the  Old Time sound and straight ahead Bluegrass.  This is clearly reflected when he plays with John  Reischman and the Jaybirds.  Using a number of different tunings, he is probably the best exponent of the Two Finger style currently playing today.  His talent doesn’t stop there … he has written a lot of original material, and his latest album “13 or So” contains his own compositions – more of that later!  Many of us were fortunate enough to catch him on tour with the Jaybirds this year in the UK – if you missed him, then the new album is a chance to connect.
Nick’s move to using the two finger style came about in 1998 when he was recording “Up In The Woods” with John Reischman (one of my favourite albums)  when he noticed his middle finger wasn’t working as it should. Numerous visits to medical practitioners left him with the problem and no cure …. The end result was a move to using just the thumb and index fingers.  More information on Nick’s transformation to the two finger style can be found in an interview he did with Pete Wernick (Banjo Newsletter).
Like many musicians with such talent, Nick is just a nice guy who happens to be really good at what he does.  If you just like good music, or if you are a banjo nerd like me …. this player is worth listening too, and worth a study.
Nick has agreed to answer any questions we might have. Please send your questions to me, Richard Holland at secretary@britishbluegrass.org and they will be sent to Nick for his reply.
A quote from his web site described where he comes from … “A man possessed of two diametrically opposed, yet equally febrile, obsessive and irreverent musical minds. A man at once reaching back to the misty past, coaxing ancient melodies from a centuries old African rhythm stick while with the same hands, the other half of his brain, and a dash of 21st century digital jiggery-pokery, conjuring music of such Ultracrepidarian heaviness that when one looks up ‘Ultracrepidarian’ in the dictionary, you see his photograph.
And that’s all.”
The new album “13 or So” features  Trent Freeman, John Showman, Eric Wright, Ivan Rosenberg, Andrew Collins, John Reischman, Chris Coole, Darryl Poulsen, Patrick Metzger, Joseph Phillips and Todd Phillips.  We have seen many of these names in the UK, and this collection of musicians will give you a clue as to the quality of the album!
The first track on the album starts with fiddle and mandolin playing the tune – suggestions of Old Time – when the banjo and bass kick in that unmistakable Bluegrass groove takes the tune to a new level. 
Wellesley Station has a great melody that cracks along at a good pace.  Nick – always in control, and handling those tricky triplets in perfect time …how does he do that!  After a couple of times listening, I found the tune going around inside my head – always a good sign.  Mandolin (John Reischman) and Guitar  (Darryl Poulsen) support the Banjo – the playing of the highest quality – tone, taste,  and timing impeccable .
On to track two – The South Road.  The track starts with a solo Banjo – could almost be Old Time frailing but isn’t!  Nick has produced yet another melody that sticks in your brain.  No surprise then when the Old Time banjo (Chris Coole) is added seamlessly to the mix. Twin banjo’s in harmony go on to develop the melody line.  I can see this track having appeal to Old Time and Bluegrass alike. 
The Crooked Man in contrast to the first two tracks is a typical modal offering in true Bluegrass style, and if you like your stuff with groove and bounce, then this is going to appeal. The inclusion of the bass in the melody line at the very beginning  kicks everything off to a great  start, and with the addition of the Dobro from Ivan Rosenberg  creates a completely different feel to the opening tracks of the album. Ivan Rosenberg has been across to the Uk on a number of occasions with Chris Stuart and also to teach in Sore Fingers. The Mandolin part is taken by Andrew Collins another Sore Fingers tutor – playing of the highest quality.
Harvey is a cat – and the inspiration for the next track –  Hopping Harvey.
John Reischman provides the rhythm for the Banjo to play the melody.  The Banjo with the low C tuning provides that distinctive tone  of melodies played in that key.  With just two instruments Nick and John between them provide a full and complete sound – nothing else needed!
I quote from the sleeve notes available on Nick’s web site – Fleetwood’s Ford – Houston ‘Hewes’ Fleetwood, my paternal great, great grandfather’s brother, founded a store and ferry crossing on the Red River in the Terral Indian Territory, OK in the 1880’s. He grubstaked half the neighbourhood and his financial support was crucial to the success of many prosperous farmers, ranchers and businessmen in the area. Special kudos to Ivan’s evocative, Knopfler-esque solo.  The banjo and dobro work together beautifully supporting each other in lead and back up. Patrick Metzger  does a great job on the bass and is supported by a subtle John Reischman on mandola.
Chausson de Ruby – Inspiration from a chance meeting – a short solo Banjo track in complete contrast.  An album of instrumental music always has the risk of sounding a bit the same – not so in this case, the tracks have been carefully constructed to provide plenty of interest. A different tuning for the b anjo, and a change of playing style  has resulted in a beautifully recorded melody.
A secret swimming hole where Nick’s daughter learned to swim – Cleo Belle,
Banjo chimes representing the splashes made by a little girl jumping into the water!  More of a straight ahead Bluegrass offering with plenty of space left to feature great individual breaks  (Guitar – Darrel Poulsen) (Fiddle – Trent Freeman) and of course (John Reischman – Mandolin) 
Family and History are part of Nick’s life and part of this album with the next track named after his nephew  –   Zebadiah’s Stomp.  Catchy tune that bounces along nicely!  The melody is enhanced with nicely improvised breaks from guitar, mandolin, dobro and the banjo itself.
13 or So  –  The title track of the album, different again – a haunting melody with the banjo and fiddle taking centre stage. Trent Freeman provides a sympathetic back up before seamlessly interweaving with the melody.  The 13 is a reference to the beginning of maturity and not the number of tracks on the album!
A Farewell (to the Cowgirl with the Pigtails) – Another quote from Nick’s sleve notes …. “My mother was endlessly loving and supportive of my brother and I. She encouraged me to ‘just stick with it’ when I was struggling to make something, anything, close to music emerge from my banjo. She and my dad Chuck were instrumental in my success. She passed away suddenly, unexpectedly, September 9, 2015, the same day I was nominated as Instrumental Solo Artist of the year by the  Canadian Folk Music Association. I’m sure she would have appreciated the O. Henry-ness of it all. I love you Zana.”   Another track to feature the Trent Freeman fiddle – beautifully recorded with just the right amount of reverb to give it atmosphere.
Some years ago I was lucky enough to visit Vancouver Island, and indeed the love of the Island sparked the next tune Sooke.  Fiddle and banjo always 
work well together, and Sooke provides an atmospheric track – you can almost imagine the countryside ……
When the Black Dog Came Around –  The final track on the album, a brisk melody again with some great supporting breaks.  Nick like a lot of our top players manages to make it sound easy – most of it would be hard enough to play using conventional methods – his two finger approach generates all the melodic sounds you will ever need with as much syncopation as found in the Scruggs style.  
The album can be obtained through Nick’s website  – Nick Hornbuckle