Having a Coffee with …… Allan Spinney 

Having A Coffee With… is a fun series in which we ask bluegrass music personalities, some famous, some not so famous, about some of their interests, as well as about the music that they love.  

Allan SpinneyAllan Spinney is the older of the two Spinney Brothers who come from Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, although he prefers to be known as a Nova Scotian (he spent many of his early years in Wolfville NS).

He was raised in the midst of a musical family, with country and bluegrass music playing the largest role in his musical up-bringing. At a very early age, Spinney demonstrated the desire to be a performer. Home recordings have documented his vocal abilities, as early as age six. Shortly after, he took a strong interest in the organ.

At the age of 14 he acquired his first guitar and began the journey towards a life of playing music full-time and appearing on stages not only in his home country but beyond. He began studying the guitar works of Canadian country music singer, songwriter, and musician Smiley Bates, as well as the sounds of Bill Monroe & Flatt & Scruggs.

However, it was the vocal harmonies of the Stanley Brothers that really appealed to him.

He strongly encouraged his brother Rick to explore the music as well.

 

What would you like to drink?

“Well, I indulge in a lot of various beverages. However, I do enjoy a glass of fresh pressed apple cider that I make each fall with our very own Nova Scotia apples.”

Do you want anything to eat as well?

“Yes, of course, being from the Maritimes, it’s hard to pass on seafood such as lobster scallops, clams etc…”

What’s your favorite food?

“I’m an old fashion kind of guy, so although I’m not at all fussy, I would have to say a good ole sugar-cured smoked ham dinner with all the fixins would be my favorite food.”

And what would you have to drink with that?

“All I would want with my ham dinner would be a tall glass of cold spring water.”

What’s the nicest meal that you have ever had?

“I was very fortunate to have been raised next door to my grandparents, and my grandma cooked everything homemade from scratch, so I have enjoyed the very best of meals at their dinner table, too many to mention.”

Let’s talk bluegrass…..

Where/when did you first hear bluegrass music?

“My brother Rick and myself were introduced to bluegrass music, that is ‘traditional bluegrass’ while working in the mountains of British Columbia. There were only cassette tapes to listen to so, thanks to our dad who had tapes of Flatt & Scruggs, Stanley Brothers Reno & Smiley etc, we were able to have an introduction to a great genre of music.”

Which of your own songs do you have a particular liking for?

“I would say one song I have a liking, or bit of a soft spot for, would have to be a song I co-wrote with Paula Breedlove called She Doesn’t Mourn Anymore. It’s a very emotional song that talks about seeing the illness of Alzheimer’s from a more comforting and not so sad perspective.”

What about a song written by someone else?

“I really like sad songs, so songs with a heartfelt story, melody and good tight harmonies really catch my interest. For example, The Model Church by the Bluegrass Album Band is a song I really like.”

Which particular album do you like best and why?

“There are way too many albums that I like equally, from anything Vern Williams ever put out to the Osborne Brothers and Jimmy Martin. I simply LOVE TRADITIONAL bluegrass music.”

You play a guitar  ….

“The model of guitar that I usually perform with on our stage shows is either a Martin D-28 or a D18. Both are from the vintage year of 1953. But when I am home just playing or rehearsing by myself, I favor my 1945 Gibson SJ. It is just such a pleasure to play; its tone truly helps me relax.”

What’s your favorite bluegrass memory?

“After being around bluegrass for nearly 30 years I have many fond memories, but I would have to say my favorite memory of all would have to be the very first time a stand-up bass accompanied us in a jam at a festival. It just filled the void that had been missing.”

How do you keep fit and healthy when you spend so much time on the road?

“I’m not as fit and healthy as I would like to be. However, I do try to be disciplined and eat salads, fish and chicken as often as possible, and I drink a lot of water, NO SODAS. Just the odd indulgence of a cold beer on a hot day or a social glass of wine.

I believe most things in moderation are fine.”

Are you a sports fan? Who do you follow?

“Actually I don’t follow sports much at all, but have been known to watch some basketball back in the days of Michael Jordan.”

What hobbies do you have?

“My hobbies are of the simpler things in life. Like outdoor activities such as cutting logs in the woods, and hunting and fishing. I also like to collect old currency.”

What is the last movie film that you watched?

“The last movie film I watched at the theater was called God’s Not Dead. Very inspirational…

But my all-time favorite film would be a documentary series called Alaska: Silence and Solitude. The Life of Bob Mercer. It’s about a man who in the 1950s, decided to move to the wilderness and live off of the land in total isolation. 5*****”

Do you get much time to watch TV?

“As a matter of fact I do get time to watch TV as I am not much interested in computers or social media. National geographic programing is great, as is crime solving shows.”

What would you be doing if you weren’t involved in bluegrass music?

“If I wasn’t on the road full time performing bluegrass music, I would be farming on my farm that I owned and very recently sold in order to keep up with our busy performance schedule.”

 

In 1989, Allan Spinney co-founded his first bluegrass band – Bluegrass Student Union – with his brother Rick and their good friend, Steve Jackson. The trio performed at various school functions, variety shows and benefits.

Two years later, the brothers were ready to put together a full bluegrass band. Allan Spinney’s dream was realized in the creation of The Spinney Brothers Bluegrass Band.

They released their first album in 1993.  Since then the brothers have released six independent albums and three for Mountain Fever Records. The latest is Tried & True, released in August 2014.

Allan Spinney now makes his home in Grand Pre, just outside Wolfville, Nova Scotia, with his wife Lynn and step daughters Lindsey and Jennie, and grandson Ethan.

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About the Author

Richard Thompson

Richard F. Thompson is a long-standing free-lance writer specialising in bluegrass music topics.

A two-time Editor of British Bluegrass News, he has been seriously interested in bluegrass music since about 1970. As well as contributing to that magazine, he has, in the past 30 plus years, had articles published by Country Music World, International Country Music News, Country Music People, Bluegrass Unlimited, MoonShiner (the Japanese bluegrass music journal) and Bluegrass Europe.

He wrote the annotated series I’m On My Way Back To Old Kentucky, a daily memorial to Bill Monroe that culminated with an acknowledgement of what would have been his 100th birthday, on September 13, 2011.