Having a coffee with…… Becky Buller

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

Becky Buller is a multi-instrumentalist, singer, and producer from St. James, MN, who has traipsed the world over performing bluegrass / Americana / roots music to fund her insatiable habit of songwriting. She is currently in studio putting the finishing touches on her third solo album, ‘Tween Earth And Sky, which will be released this summer on the Dark Shadow Recording label. And you can catch on the road with Darin and Brooke Aldridge.

What would you like to drink?

Not too picky, unless it’s a glass of warm milk and cat hairs.

Do you want anything to eat as well?

No. Lost my appetite after typing that. ☺

What is your favorite food?

My very favorite meal is verenika. It’s a noodle pocket with dry cottage cheese inside, the Ukrainian version of the Polish pirogues. Mom fries them up with venison ring bologna and gravy. Mmm! Grandma Buller taught her to make them along with several other tasty traditional Mennonite dishes and breads.

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

I spent Christmas in Amsterdam with my cousin Lynn’s family a few years back. Lynn grew up in Minnesota and moved to Amsterdam in the early 1970s where she met and married Avo, who is Palestinian Armenian. They have some of Avo’s family close by, but most of Lynn’s family, with the exception of their children, are still in the States, so at Christmas they get together with a group of very eclectic international friends. It’s always a several course potluck meal.

Avo is always in charge of cooking the meats according to delicious traditional Palestinian recipes. Between courses, everyone takes a turn washing dishes. Only when the dishes are washed do they move on to the next course. Conversation flowed seamlessly in and out of several languages: English, Dutch, Arabic, German, etc.

Lynn and I played some tunes, me on fiddle, her on piano. Her dad, my Great Uncle Victor Buller, was the violinist in the family; my Grandpa Walt was the fiddler. Still, Uncle Vic had passed some fiddle tunes down to his kids, so Lynn and I had those in common. She gave me the biggest hug at the end of the evening, saying, “You don’t know what it means to me to have family here during the holidays! Thank you for coming!” It was a sweet time.

Let’s talk bluegrass….. Where/when did you first hear bluegrass music?

My parents play bluegrass and have since I was a little kid. I don’t remember a time without it. They had a group called Prairie Grass that played all over Southern Minnesota and Northern Iowa the whole time I was in school. We “toured” as far as the geographical center of South Dakota. I joined the band when I was about 13 and played until I graduated high school. They’re now both playing with a band out of Mankato, MN, called The Bully Pulpits. Mom sometimes has music at the community center/movie theater she runs for the city of St. James, MN, my hometown. She also includes a bluegrass band during the town’s summer concert series in the park.

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

I’m pretty psyched about how well The Windowsill Song is doing. I wrote it with Tom T. and Miss Dixie Hall for the new Daughters of Bluegrass album, Pickin’ Like A Girl,and performed it with fellow East Tennessee State University Bluegrass Program album Megan Gregory, Beth Lawrence, and April Steven Sieber.

And I’m really excited about a song called Love Speak To Me that I wrote with Jeff Hyde and Jimmy Fortune. Darin & Brooke Aldridge (with whom I’m running up and down the roads these days). It’s on their current album, Flying, which came out on the new Organic Label last fall.

Can I do one more? The newest tune of mine that I have out there is Nothin’ To You, which is the first single from my new record, ‘Tween Earth And Sky. I’m super psyched that it’s doing so well on the radio right now. Barry Bales, Ron Block, Jesse Brock, Rob Ickes, and Kenny and Amanda Smith joined me on that cut.

What about a song written by someone else?

Can I pick three? There’s so many I like! But I’m especially fond of good story songs like John Wilkes Booth by Mary Chapin Carpenter as performed by Tony Rice on Native American, Frozen Man by James Taylor, and And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda by the Krueger Brothers with Moondi Kline. And anything by Gillian Welch and David Rawlings.

Which particular album do you like best and why?

Again, I have so many favorites and there’s a different album as soundtrack for every important event in my life. So today I’ll pick Native American by Tony Rice. I’ve been known to leave that one in my car stereo for several months at a time; I never tire of it. It’s a beautiful collection the performance is just perfect.

You play a ……

I play a circa 1700 no-name German Steiner model violin that Aubrey Haynie brought into Universal Chevrolet in Cleveland, GA, with a bunch of other instruments on trade for a Tahoe for his wife. I came in the next day to play at the festival they used to have on the back lot there, played that fiddle about 10 minutes, and had to have it. Still love it all these many years later. My fiddle’s name is “Leopold” but the band has dubbed him “The Old Man”. My bow is a Garner Wilson.

I also play a Becky Buller model DP Hopkins clawhammer banjo. David and Paul Hopkins put incredible craftsmanship into each of their instruments. I love the tone; it has a little more gumption that a regular clawhammer, which suits me and the stages I’m playing on just perfectly.

And I love my custom built LaPlant guitar…Adirondack spruce top, African mahogany back and sides, tortoise shell binding and inlay. Lloyd LaPlant’s instruments aren’t well known outside of Minnesota, but his guitars are well-loved amongst the entire acoustic music community up there.

What’s a favorite bluegrass memory?

I recently got to record tracks that will be featured in the new Earl Scruggs Museum in Shelby, NC. It was really an honor to be part of that project. They should be opening that exhibit really soon.

And I just got to cut Bill Monroe’s tune Southern Flavor with an all Blue Grass Boy back-up band…Michael Feagan, Peter Rowan, Buddy Spicher, Ernie Sykes, Roland White, and Blake Williams. Talk about some tall cotton!!! Guy Stevenson and DeWayne Mize wrote lyrics to Monroe’s melody and they’ve not been recorded before this cut. I’m about to jump out of my skin, I’m so excited about getting the chance to work with these guys!

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

I do try to eat healthy as much as I can, which is so hard to do while on the road. I love burgers, French fries, and pizza as much as the next person. And I’m a chocoholic. I try to get even a short walk in during the day and do some yoga. Try to keep up with my vitamins. And for mental health I keep my James Taylor collection on my iPod, a good read, and the Good Book nearby.

Are you a sports fan? Who do you follow?

Not really. I have a stunning lack of coordination when it comes to sports. I do love to watch figure skating during the Olympics (my own ankles were always too weak), and synchronized swimming, and I find Sumo wrestling fascinating. I’m curious about curling as well. I hear that Chris and Sally Jones are expert curlers. Maybe they’ll let me sit in on a match sometime? (Do they call them “matches” in curling? I don’t even know that! Pitiful!)

What hobbies do you have?

As a kid, I collected stamps. It was something Dad did as a kid so he tried to get my brother and me into it. I cried when I got a stamp book the Christmas I was ten; said it was like getting underwear or something, ingrate that I was. I ended up loving it! Through a philatelist newsletter for kids, I acquired pen-pals all over the world with whom I traded stamps. I learned a lot about artwork, history, geography, politics, etc. As I got deeper into high school, I didn’t have time to mess with it any more, but Mom and Dad still have my books up there.

About once a year, usually in the winter, I take a fit to knit. I can only seem to make endless scarves and lopsided washcloths. It never holds my interest for very long.

I enjoy cooking and baking and gardening a bit. And I like “loafin’” with Jeff and his family, which, in Haley-speak, means “antiquing.”

And I’m an avid reader. Right now I’m re-reading all the books I loved as a kid. Romy and I are a few chapters into Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White.

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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.