Veteran bluegrass man Galloway gets his due
Aspen Times Staff Writer
When Yonder Mountain String Band arrived in Colorado from Illinois, trying to make its name in the bluegrass world, they needed a friend who knew the ropes. Benny Galloway was their man.
Galloway had been a part of the Colorado acoustic-music scene since moving here from the New Orleans area in the mid-’70s. Galloway had the wealth of experiences and contacts that Yonder Mountain was short on some four years ago. A singer, songwriter and guitarist who also dabbled in dobro, bass and piano, Galloway had led his own bands, played bass in the Front Range group Fret Knot, jammed with the members of Leftover Salmon and Runaway Truck Ramp.
“I was the guy who, after they got off tour, they’d come over and share war stories and lick their wounds and we’d barbecue and have beer,” said the 45-year-old Galloway, who has lived in Durango the last two years, after stretches in Boulder and Ouray. “And they’d grab some of my new songs and learn them.”
Over those sessions, the Yonder Mountain String Band learned some 30 of Galloway’s songs, two of which found their way onto the band’s studio albums. Now that Yonder Mountain is a darling on the bluegrass circuit, they are in a position to pay back Galloway, who is known to the band as Uncle Burle. And what better way than to give Galloway and his songs some major exposure?
Last month saw the release of “Old Hands.” Credited to both Galloway and Yonder Mountain, the CD comprises 13 Galloway originals. Each member of Yonder Mountain – guitarist Adam Aijala, mandolinist Jeff Austin, banjoist Dave Johnston and bassist Ben Kaufmann – selected two Galloway tunes to sing lead vocals on. Galloway picked the remaining tunes and sings lead on those, with Yonder Mountain backing him. “So finally, it came time to make Uncle Burle this record,” said Galloway.
Working with the now-established Yonder Mountain was only the beginning of the treat for Galloway. On “Old Hands,” Yonder Mountain brought in several of Galloway’s musical heroes, including dobroist Jerry Douglas, fiddlers Tim O’Brien and Darol Anger, and Sally Van Meter, who produced the album and adds guitar and vocals.
“This is the big time for a songwriter,” said Galloway, the Colorado Bluegrass Society’s 1997 Songwriter of the Year. “To have four excellent songwriters cover another songwriter, from A to Z? That’s almost unheard of.”
Yonder Mountain has also brought Galloway to the big stage. A resident of Ouray for six years before moving to Durango, Galloway had never played the main stage at the nearby Telluride Bluegrass Festival – until last month, when Galloway and Van Meter joined Yonder Mountain for several songs.
“A dream come true. Literally,” Galloway called the experience. “To play with that caliber of musicians in front of that many people.”
Galloway will perform at Steve’s Guitars in Carbondale on Saturday, July 19, with Yonder Mountain’s Aijala sitting in.
From rocker to writer
Music has long been in Galloway’s blood. A native of La Jolla, Calif., Galloway moved to Michoud, La., as a child. The sounds of neighboring New Orleans were intoxicating.
“Just hearing the music in the streets as a kid – I was influenced by that air as you walked through town,” said Galloway, who still has the piano he learned on in Louisiana.
Galloway was a rocker early on, but a visit to Nashville changed that. “I met a songwriter, Sidney Campbell,” he said. “All my friends were into rock ‘n’ roll, and he introduced me to the people who were into country at the time. That put the fire under my butt, and I started writing.”
After playing in a series of Colorado bands for more than a decade, Galloway, a self-described hermit, decided he liked writing more than playing. He moved from Boulder and focused on his other passions: butchering, making up songs and, especially, fishing.
“I’d had enough, enough of playing the bars,” said Galloway, who still played the occasional gig with his band, Burlegrass.
“I decided I wasn’t going to play `Fox on the Run’ all night. I wanted to stay home and write songs.”
With the recent recognition, Galloway is shooting for a higher profile. He hopes to record again with Sally Van Meter, using mostly Durango musicians. Of course, the Yonder Mountain boys are welcome to sit in.
Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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