There are very few all-bluegrass radio stations these days, and the ones that do exist are mostly on the Internet. That means bluegrass DJs must carve out a space of their own on a radio station with a somewhat different format. Jerry Mills, who currently hosts several bluegrass shows in the Cheyenne, Wyoming area, says he’s been fortunate enough throughout his 35-year career to find stations that are welcoming of bluegrass music.
Mills says that the idea of bluegrass or Americana shows are more akin to public radio, which is actually where he got his start while in college at the University of Denver. While working at a National Public Radio station, he had the opportunity to get on a country station that let him host a bluegrass and folk show on Sunday nights. “A little creative freedom never hurt,” he says. He’s been doing similar shows ever since, thanks to commercial stations that have seen value in the kind of music he likes to offer.
Mills also takes advantage of the Western bluegrass scene, playing music that stretches the boundaries of bluegrass music. In addition to more straightforward bluegrass shows, he also hosts Picker’s Choice, a weekly show he describes as “twang/Americana.” Mills says, “Our scene out here is wide open, and listeners expect some adventure in our programming. It’s really a great place to do these radio shows.”
In addition to his DJ duties, Mills is also the mandolin player for Colorado-based band Southern Exposure, a post he has held since 1981. “We’re still fired up,” he says. “Amazing how playing bluegrass music has no expiration date.” The group has played at several notable western festivals, including Telluride and Rocky Grass, and has released three albums throughout their time together. Mills says that his background as a musician has often played a role in his broadcasting career, giving him more of an appreciation for the musicianship on the songs he spins.
Mills recently took the time to answer a few questions for us, letting us see his views on bluegrass music.
How would you define bluegrass music as a genre?
“Highly charged acoustic music with an emphasis on instrumental prowess, great care taken in vocals, and some of the most unique songwriting in music. Sometimes at its best when just being improvised and jammed.”
What form of bluegrass do you most enjoy? What artists do you consider examples of that form?
“Contemporary. Lonesome River Band, Dale Ann Bradley, Claire Lynch, Laurie Lewis, Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver, The Gibson Brothers.”
If you could only listen to one album for the rest of your life, which one would it be? Why?
“Jesse Winchester, Gentleman of Leisure. I know it’s not bluegrass but he was the consummate singer and songwriter. Jerry Douglas produced a beauty. Never get tired of it.”
What album is currently in your car stereo?
“Carl Jackson, Grace Notes.”
Artists who are interested in sending their music to Mills for consideration for his radio shows can mail CDs to him at:
Rocky Mountain Bluegrass
P.O. Box 485
Lafayette, CO 80026
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