You never know what he'll do next.
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[Our conversation began in an offhanded way, about rehearsal for a gig that night and his friend Dirk Powell with whose music I'd recently become acquainted. He described some soundtrack work that Dirk was getting up to. I said that I'd recently picked up a copy of a David Grier record that Tim and Dirk were the other two players on called Hootenanny. This is such a fantastically funky old timey record that we will have to include a clip of "Ragtime Annie" on our Listen page.]

Tim O'Brien: David Grier, yeah. He just released a solo record that's really good. You can get it at his website.

Puremusic: Nice guy?

TO: Oh yeah, he's a great guy, eccentric.

PM: Now you shock me.

TO: Yeah, sure. His dad was a great musician, too. Lamar Grier. He played banjo with Bill Monroe in the same period as Richard Greene and Peter Rowan, then he played with Hazel Dickens and Mike Seeger.

PM: When I checked out your website, I couldn't help but be shocked by the breadth of your discography. Over 20 records on your own steam, not to mention all the work on other people's records.

TO: Well, I've been doing it for a while. I haven't been sitting here twiddling my thumbs. [laughs] That's just how it is in bluegrass world, you gotta do one every year. There are only so many fans of this music, and the only way to keep selling records is to keep making them. You got to have a new one up on the card table every festival season. That's the circuit.

But that's not all. There are a lot of records to make. I certainly don't suffer from a shortage of ideas. I draw from a lot of different sources. I don't have to write all the stuff, that's not really important at all. There's so much good traditional material. It's just about getting the vibe going with a group of musicians.

PM: More of a player's thing than a writer's thing.

TO: You know, it's just a music thing.

PM: I sure liked that record that you did with Darrell Scott, Real Time. That's a deep association.

TO: Well, we've played together a lot on stage. The songs that are on that record we hadn't played a lot. We had to go find new material. But we got to this idea of being able to play without really knowing songs, you know? It's a lot easier to get a bunch of material together. And every day you play something with Darrell, it's a different song. He'll play it in a different key, or on a different instrument, a different tempo or arrangement. It's great, I love that.

PM: I ran into an old crony at the video store last night and talked about this month's interviews. He said that Darrell Scott was the most talented person he'd ever run into.

TO: He's really scary. Sugar?

PM: No thanks, just milk. [I was ogling a few instruments while Tim took a call.]

TO: Yeah, I got that mandolin from a guy in Italy. That's the first one of those he made. It's a really nice piece, an octave mandolin. We were just over there in October.

PM: Who books you over there?

TO: There's a bluegrass band over there called Red Wine, they've been friends of ours for years. They put it together. They always said, "Come to Italy." So we finally said, "Okay, let's block out the days." And we did it so that there would be a lot of free time. Darrell brought his wife, Sherry, and I brought my wife, Kit. We had 10 days and only four gigs, it was great. They really know how to live; it was very similar in that way to going to Ireland. They're really engaging, and enjoy coming out after work for food and drink, to see some music and go home. They work hard, but they play hard.

PM: What are the gigs like over in Ireland, are they rambunctious, can you hear a pin drop, or somewhere in the middle?

TO: Well, it depends. I played concerts in art centers that were silent, and pubs that were loud. Mostly they're reverent but responsive. There are the pub sessions, where people are drinking and talking, and there's no P.A. But we haven't done much of that, just for fun. But if people pay to come in, they're checking it out. In many countries, sometimes people come out like stamp collectors, you know, they're sizing you up and comparing your version of "House Carpenter" to someone else's, as opposed to just enjoying the music on a more basic level. And that can happen anywhere, but it's a little more rare in Ireland. continue

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