After 65 plus years of living the life of a musician, you would think that it would be time to hang your bow up. But not for Byron Berline, who some might refer to as a TIMEX – takes a licking and keeps on ticking.
In Byron’s case, he has not slowed down since he moved to the Victorian style, quaint, little town of Guthrie Oklahoma. April 1, 1995, The Berline’s packed up their belongings and moved from California back to their roots. Although Berline was born in Kansas, his roots were transplanted also in Oklahoma.
You may have read or heard that Berline played football at Oklahoma University, but it was the background of Bette, his wife, that brought him to Guthrie. Bette had grown up in Guthrie where her father was a medical doctor, and upon his passing away they yearned to return home. While living in California, Byron was inspired by the local music store, McCabe’s Guitar Shop, and their live concert series. It fathered inspiration for Byron, and that inspiration is the fuel that landed Berline and his family in Guthrie.
He immediately started hunting for that special place in town, where he could spark up his own music hall, and where he now continues to play and amaze. What he found has evolved into a bi-weekly concert series, as well as The Double Stop Fiddle Shop.
Appropriately named, the shop (opened in May 1995) is home to a retail business and what I would refer to as a museum. But one thing you always find is Byron and someone jamming daily. At the present time, Byron can be found on social media talking about the “history” that lines the walls of his own slice of paradise.
The first Byron Berline Band was made up of the following line-up: John Hickman (banjo), Jim Fish (guitar and vocals), Eric Dalton (drums) and Greg Kennedy (keyboard). Dalton left the band in 1996 (after the music hall opened) because he had a business to run and simply couldn’t play music as often as the BBB were playing.
Bob Woods, well known musician and music store proprietor from Del City, OK, invited Byron and Hickman to play at one of his country shows. That is the meeting place where Byron heard Steve Short and Richard Sharp for the first time. Berline states, in his book (Byron Berline A Fiddlers Diary), “Steve Short is the best drummer in Oklahoma.” However, this was not the first time Short and Berline’s paths had crossed. Short had engineered a project at Christian World Studio with Ken Munde, and Berline had been in that band at that session in 1982. Greg Kennedy soon left the group and was replaced with Richard Sharp on bass, another outstanding musician who became a Byron Berline Band member in 1997.
One would think that Byron and his band would be busy enough playing all of the gigs they were booking; however, they took on another task. In October 1997, Oklahoma International Bluegrass Festival sprang from the red clay dirt, organized ad launched through the efforts of Berline and Joe Hutchinson. The OIBF is home to a 3-day bluegrass festival, where the campgrounds ring with the sound of banjos and mandolins just as much as the stage. In 2017, OIBF will celebrate 21 years and shows no signs of slowing down.
While there have been changes in the band, adding Greg Burgess, joined in 2002 (champion fiddler), Billy Perry came on board in 2013 (on banjo), and Thomas Trapp joined the band in 2016 (on guitar), the impact of the change has been positive.
Berline doesn’t work in front of his band, but with his band. That’s why the name is The Byron Berline Band, or as people refer to them as BBB. BBB is out on touras they have been in the past, with trips to Germany, NYC and other far-flung spots. Byron has even been on the HBO series Deadwood, all since he left Los Angeles. The Byron Berline Band has over 300 years of experience when you add up all the band members. That’s quite a number and I would figure that there aren’t too many bands still playing today with this kind of talent.
So when, you think Byron Berline is in retirement, you should head to Guthrie, OK and make a visit to the Double Stop Fiddle Shop & Music Hall where The Byron Berline Band record live.
Byron writes new songs almost daily, and even takes the time to dance a jig with his granddaughters. Retired, is not in Byron’s vocabulary, but I tell you what is… GIG after GIG.