Wallace Pryor playing mandolin, violin (fiddle) and guitar. Instrumentals and songs in the American/Celtic tradition. The best description for the music I play would be Old Time Country. A lot of people would call it Bluegrass, which is really a distinct form of Old Time Country with a driving rhythm--some of what I play is Bluegrass, but I'd have to say I lean more towards pre-Bluegrass Old Time. My perenial music partner Dan Bayne is here to fill things out with rhythm guitar and to sing lead on a few songs.
I've been playing this kind of music for fun since about 1975. I started guitar lessons when I was about nine years old with an old man named Frederick Dahlberg; who also played mandolin and gave trumpet lessons to my brother. My grandfather Fred Wallace was a musician and chef from Liverpool England who was actually an illegal immigrant to the USA; he played mandolin, guitar and concertina. I was really little when he died
and I barely remember him, but I feel like
he had some kind of influence on me; maybe
it's a genetic thing? Anyway, I got tired of playing the quitar because it seemed like everbody was playing them; started thinking mandolins were pretty cool and I got my first one when I was about 16-it was a Lyle, and I think it cost $35. I got my first fiddle about a year later after I found out they are tuned the same as a mandolin; it cost about $25 from a Salvation Army store. My brother said "it's really hard to play, you'll never learn how" so I tried really hard and got to be good enough that at least some people think it sounds good. I got into Bluegrass and Old TIme music when I saw a bluegrass gospel band on TV singing the Hank Williams song "I Saw The Light." The mandolin player took a short solo and I was hooked; I must have been about 17. I have no idea what the band was called.
Yes, usually it's pretty informal, I used to play in bars and stuff but I'm not doing that very much any more. Bars are kind of a drag, too much smoke--gee, that's almost a pun--and carrying equipment and trying to get a decent sound can be a hassle. I like it when the conditions are right, but they usually aren't, at least in my case. At my last gig last summer, we had to wear neck ties and long sleeve shirts in the hot sun, at least it was open air and we didn't have to use amps. Special moments? The only one that comes to mind is in about 1980; I was playing the fiddle on the street at this outdoor festival in St. Lous City. I wasn't a scheduled performer, I was trying to see if people would throw money. A black guy started doing square dance calls and this large number of people were dancing around. Two girls asked me if I was John Hartford, even though I don't look anything like him. Then a cop came up on a horse and said "this is the last song." The crowd booed him loudly, and the cop actually looked apologetic but said "I'm just doing my job" or something like that. One of my friends said I should have picked up both of the girls who thought I was John Hartford, but I didn't even think of that--I was just surprised anyone would say such a thing, and I guess I'm not into taking advantage of somebody under false pretenses; not much of a rock star, I guess. But it is a pretty funny story, whether you believe or not.
All of these artists have influenced my music: Norman Blake for his clean and stately form of old timey music, David Grisman influences almost every mandolin player in the world, San Bush is a great modern bluegrass mandolinist and fiddler, I can't come close to playing like him, Kenny Hall is a blind mandolin/fiddle player who uses his thumb nail for a pick, he plays straight ahead Old Time music, Jody Stecher plays beautiful music on mandolin, guitar, banjo and fiddle, and how can I forget the influence of the late great Father of Bluegrass, mandolinist/singer Bill Monroe.
Gibson A1 mandolin made in 1918; a great vintage instrument. Fender 5 string electric mandolin, hollow body--I was looking for one of these, they're not easy to find, but I happened on it at a local music store. I remember asking about solid body electric mandolins at a music store, and some guy butted in and gave me a lecture about electric mandolins being "horrible things." Some folks are just too opinionated, I guess. I have a "German Conservatory" violin, I don't know how old it is. It's not anything special, but it was always nice and loud and it cuts through well with a pickup. I've had the same one since about 1980. Alvarez acoustic guitar with a cutaway. I have also had this since about 1980--it's not a Martin or a Gibson, but it's a pretty nice guitar. Those Japanese companies make some good instruments. Alvarez acoustic bass--it's kind of a sister instrument to my guitar.
I always wanted to play a really loud and long rendition of "Orange Blossom Special" in a bar and smash the fiddle at the end, like Pete Townsend. I almost did it once, I had an extra fiddle that was really beat up and sounded terrible. One of my band mates talked me out of it; mentioning respect for instrument makers and so on. I wish I did it, it would have been a ridiculous bit of theatre. I think that old fiddle wound up as a wall decoration or something. Oh yeah, if any has a copy of a book called "Old Time Fiddlers Repertory" by R. P. Christensen, I want to buy one. I'm talking about volume 1, I have volume 2.