A true traveling musician, old-time fiddler Bruce Molsky had to call me back right after I contacted him last week — he was driving down a Virginia Highway, keeping both hands on the wheel as he safely pulled into a rest stop.
“The band just played a festival right outside of Washington, D.C., in Clark County, and now we’re heading up to New York City and Boston,” Molsky said.
His band, Molsky’s Mountain Drifters, is a guitar/banjo/fiddle trio that has been playing their take on old time mountain music —with some modern songs and a few things they’ve written, thrown into the mix — but it’s just one of three projects that has come to fruition for Molsky this year.
“I did a project with a really interesting guy, David Bragger, in Los Angeles. He’s documenting his favorite old-time musicians in a series called the ‘Old Time Tiki Parlor,’ and I’m really glad to be part of that. My third project was a collaboration with some Scandinavian musicians that I’ve worked with over the years, and we produced a recording called ‘Rauland Rambles,’” Molsky said.
Molsky has scheduled a solo NW tour this month that includes Springhouse Cellar on Thursday, Oct. 6.
He promised his solo show would keep up the energy normally present with his band.
“Well, I play all the instruments myself (laughs) and I sing. In my solo shows I’m very personal about the music. I learned this music travelling around the South, and meeting older people years ago, and all that travel gave me a window into something that’s been in my heart ever since.
“I like to talk about the sources of the music and give it some context, I play a lot of old fashioned songs in a slightly more modern setting, so it’s kind of like taking a journey, and I want people to go there with me. That’s the goal, and it usually happens,” Molsky said.
Songs on the set list will include some music from other countries, and if he can twist people’s arms to sing along, he says the experience will be even better.
“This music kind of lives in the aural tradition, and although a lot of it has been written down, I don’t believe in playing it that way, I never have. I learn music in a social way. I’ve learned a lot from people I’ve actually met, and they learned from folks, and a lot of it comes from listening to old recordings and self-study and sharing information.
Before the days of the internet we actually had phone conversations and wrote letters to each other in order to learn. It’s a wonderful community of people, and I like my audiences to know that this music is really studied and supported. I love music and I like playing it, and I love that I’ve found a way to make people happy with it,” Molsky said.
It’s worthwhile to note that some of the “people” that can be put in the “happy” category by this music are folks like Mark Knopfler, who sought out Molsky for his last album, “Tracker.”
“I played guitar, fiddle and banjo on a bunch of tracks, and that was really fun. He’s an incredible player and really nice person to be around. The recording was a nice social time, and he’s got a beautiful studio and he does it right (laughs).”
Although the tones from Molsky’s fiddle sound like a lifetime of practice, music is actually his second career that began around 1997.
“I grew up in the Bronx, N.Y., and surprisingly, there was more old time country and folk music happening in the ‘60s and ‘70s when I was growing up than most realize.
“As a kid I loved the guitar, and I wanted to be Doc Watson, and I wanted to be Mississippi John Hurt and I wanted to be Jimi Hendrix. I went to every show that I could get to on the subway. One thing led to another, and I discovered old time mountain music. When I was 19, I actually moved to Virginia so I could be around it, and that was the beginning of the really serious journey of learning about the stuff that I do these days.
“But I haven’t always done this for a living. I worked in building construction and was a mechanical engineering consultant for years. In 1997 I decided I would take a year off and play music full time, just to see what it was like. It was just something that I had thought about and I basically never went back.”
Molsky said he booked a bunch of shows, hit the ground running and that he’s been doing it ever since. He said it’s one of the best decisions he’s ever made.
“Life is all about following your nose sometimes, and I never knew that this was going to happen.
“People come hear music because they want to change their physical or emotional surroundings and this old music is really visceral like that,” Molsky said.