Bluegrass Music

Why I Respect Billy Strings

I don’t buy too many CDs any more. Mainly because I don’t get around to seeing/hearing who is out there. However, I do try to keep my ear to the ground when it comes to bluegrass. And I have been pretty vocal in my previous blogs about my admiration of Billy Strings.

A few days ago, I went out and purchased a copy of Me/And/Dad, Billy’s latest release that he recorded with his stepfather Terry Barber. Terry was the man that got Billy into playing guitar. Granted, there were some demons in both men’s lives over the years, namely addictions, that have had an impact on their lives’ direction. As for Billy, growing up in a drug-infused part of Western Michigan didn’t help, but his love for music helped him overcome much of those demons along with an understanding patriarch.

We all know how Billy has become a rising star, not only in the bluegrass community but in the live music spectrum, drawing humongous crowds from traditionalists to Deadheads. One of the things that I admire about him so much is that, to paraphrase Lester Flatt, he never got above his raisin’. His humility has always shown through, and this album is just a sample of that. He recorded a number of bluegrass and old-time country standards with Terry, and share vocal duties throughout. The album has a stellar cast of backup musicians, including Ronnie and Robbie McCoury, Michael Cleveland, Mike Bub, Jason Carter, and Jerry Douglas.

You can feel the family warmth throughout the song selection. It truly feels like Billy and Terry jamming with some friends in the living room on a Friday night. With all of the flash that Billy can have on stage at one of his sold-out shows, one can tell that this is where he is most comfortable.

I talked briefly a few weeks ago that Billy was at SPBGMA in Nashville last month (and how I missed it). You can take it for granted that he drew an amazing crowd. However, what I failed to mention is that he went there with a 13-year-old mandolin player named Wyatt Ellis. Billy knows that people come to see him play his chops, but he is very giving in wanting to showcase other talent, especially young kids coming up in the bluegrass community. Perhaps he is serving as a big brother/mentor to Wyatt, and hopefully he can keep Wyatt on the right track in life as well.

Cheers to you, Billy, it is an attitude such as yours that helps keep bluegrass going!

Chew on it and comment.


By Matt Merta/Mitch Matthews

Musician and writer (both song and print) for over 30 years. Primarily interested in roots music (Americana, bluegrass, blues, folk). Current contributing writer for Fiddler Magazine, previous work with Metro Times (Detroit), Ann Arbor Paper and Real Detroit Weekly, as well as other various music and military publications. As songwriter, won the 2015 Chris Austin Songwriting Contest (Bluegrass Category, "Something About A Train," co-written with Dawn Kenney and David Morris) as well as having work performed on NPR and nominated for numerous Detroit Music Awards.

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