Butch Ross can't do anything right.
He plays the mountain dulcimer.
He plays it standing up like a guitar.
He holds it upside and strung backwards.
And Butch Ross plays rock n roll on it.
Despite all this wrongness, somehow it all sounds just right.
Okay, sure, he plays his own funny, poignant songs and some traditional mountain tunes, but somehow, in Butch's hands, they rock, too.
Besides, it's pretty clear that Led Zeppelin always intended for "Stairway to Heaven" to be played on the dulcimer. It just took Butch to figure it out.
Butch Ross was given a mountain dulcimer for his birthday a few years ago, at the time the regionally touring singer/songwriter had no idea of the impact the instrument would have on his career. "I thought it's be cool to have one around the house, but I found myself playing it more and more. It had made music fun for me in a way that I hadn't felt since I first picked up the guitar."
More than "making music fun," this primitive mountain instrument began to open doors for him too. Not long after adopting the dulcimer he met Robert Force a musician, producer, independent label owner, who had once written a best-selling book on the mountain dulcimer. He saw in Butch "a spirit, talent and vision" that he last saw in his own idol; 60's folk-icon Richard Farina. Almost immediately, he offered to sign him to his Blaine St. Records and produce, for free, his debut CD "the Moonshiner's Atlas."
The dulcimer has quickly earned Butch a reputation amongst the dulcimer community as one of the most innovative and exciting players on the scene, He's opened for wide variety of performers from bluegrass comedy artists like Hayseed Dixie and the Cleverlys to folk greats like Small Potatoes, Bill Staines and Jean Ritchie to instrumental masters like Orrin Starr and Jake Shimabukuro, who said, "Now I know what a dulcimer is supposed to sound like." Additionally the dulcimer has found him invited to play festivals and clubs in England, Scotland, Ireland, Sweden, Belgium, Germany and most recently Budapest, Hungary.
Sean Phipps of the Chattanooga Times Free Press says, "His set consisted of folk songs and various instrumentals, including blistering version of Richard Thompson's '1952 Vincent Black Lightning' and The Beatles' 'Eleanor Rigby.' We're lucky to have such a talented, interesting musician living in Chattanooga."
And the Bottom of the Glass Blog quips, "Ross is a guitarist turned mountain dulcimerist who also takes his instruments in directions that others have not considered (or were not capable of). ...his songs were stunning."
Butch Ross -- voice, mountain dulcimer, loop pedal.
occasionally plays guitar as a drum.
2012 "GONE" (coming 2012)
2011 "The Dulcimer Christmas Card 2"
2009 "A Long Way From Shady Grove"
2007 "The Dulcimer Christmas Card"
2006 "Here to Play" (with Christie Burns)
2005 "The Moonshiner's Atlas"
2000 "Selected Works of Friction"
I Like Singing Folk Songs (live)
Eleanor Rigby (live)
Jello Suspention (between song banter)
"sweet" spotted pony
bladder-based instruments (between song banter)
1952 Vincent Black Lightning (live)
Old Art in a New Frame
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The new album by mountain dulcimer player Butch Ross, A Long Way From Shady Grove, opens with someo... The new album by mountain dulcimer player Butch Ross, A Long Way From Shady Grove, opens with someone nervously twisting the tuner on an old radio with a very scratchy little speaker. Each stop, it turns out, is a brief snippet of the original songs Butch used as a starting point for the tracks on the album—everything from an unaccompanied traditional folk singer to The Beatles.
After tuning through the songs, the unseen listener settles on Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama.” The song’s opening chorus, with its rangy guitar and languid swing, slowly morphs into the old-time fiddle tune, “Spotted Pony.” Ross picks out the simple, circular melody against the steady pulse of a sampled drum and bass, while the importation of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s lazy swing gives the tune an entirely different feel from the rather rigid pulse of the original.
Later on in the album, he takes The Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby” and turns it into a thunderous tour de force on the tiny instrument he once described as a “stretched-out violin.” If Eddie Van Halen had chosen the mountain dulcimer, he might well have played it this way: hammering on the strings, rigorously accenting the staccato rhythm of the original. It’s a refreshingly novel arrangement resulting from a range of influences, including the jazz guitarist Stanley Jordan, local hammer dulcimer master Dan Landrum, acoustic guitarist Leo Kottke (who used a similar technique on a tune called “I Yell At Traffic”) and “Roundabout” by Yes.
This is not your grandfather’s folk music.
“I have always been interested in re-contextualizing the traditional tunes,” Ross says. “This is all living music, vibrant music. Part of my job,” he continues with a wry smile, “is to put it in the now.”
Butch Ross is not the first person to take these ancient texts and gussy them up with contemporary production techniques. Moby is perhaps the best-known practitioner of the art, exemplified in his hugely successful album, Play, released almost 10 years ago now. In fact, a short clip from one of the songs on Play shows up in the opening collage on Ross’s album. Another influence is DJ Shadow, one of many so-called “crate diggers”—aficionados who wade through mountains of discarded vinyl records in search of the perfect melodic or rhythmic hook from a long-forgotten song. Those tiny little slivers of sound are then painstakingly combined to create an entirely new piece that retains the feel of the original, while adding a uniquely 21st-century sheen.
The album closes with Ross’s take on the ancient tale of “Shady Grove.” His arrangement of the gently lilting melody is anchored by a sample of the drums and bass from a song by Fiona Apple. The rumbling, repetitious rhythm is the electronic equivalent of a steam shovel. Over that he sets a nimble bass line and the dancing, tinkling strings of a zithera, a traditional Hungarian instrument that is the mountain dulcimer’s somewhat larger cousin. The result is akin to the sound of rain on a tin roof during a summer thunderstorm. In their way, these old tunes in new frames are equally unexpected and refreshing.
(Dr. Richard Winham hosts and produces a daily music and interview program for 88.1 WUTC- FM in Chattanooga weekdays from 2 to 4 p.m)
Butch Ross Rocks the Mountain Dulcimer
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Upon first viewing, the mountain dulcimer would appear to be one of the most mundane string instrume...Upon first viewing, the mountain dulcimer would appear to be one of the most mundane string instruments in existence. The mountain dulcimer looks more like a child’s toy than an actual instrument, but performer Butch Ross is trying to change this misperception. He’s only been a Chattanoogan for a year and already he’s performed multiple times at local venues. I saw his set this past Thursday night when he opened for Robinella at Rhythm & Brews. His set consisted of folk songs an various instrumentals, including blistering version of Richard Thompson’s “1952 Vincent Black Lightning” and The Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby.” We’re lucky to have such a talented, interesting musician living in Chattanooga.
DPN Review: The Moonshiner's Atlas
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Butch Ross’ new album, the Moonshiner’s Atlas was produced by Robert Force and recorded in Washingto...Butch Ross’ new album, the Moonshiner’s Atlas was produced by Robert Force and recorded in Washington, New Jersey and Killarney, Ireland. Butch is featured on vocals, mountain dulcimer, guitar, jaw harp, piano, harp and bass. While most songs feature solo dulcimer, he gets stellar support from Jeanie Murphy on banjo, Matt Sicerly on Mandolin, Maggie Marshall and Bruce Cannavaro on Bass, Larry Johnson, Ed McKenna and Mark Pearson on guitar, Christie Burns on hammered dulcimer, and Maggie Marshall, Christie Burns, Baila Dworsky, nad Mark Pearson on vocals. The program is an eclectic mix of traditional and contemporary music with seeming warhorses like Fly Around My Pretty Little Miss and 500 Miles coexisting nicely with likes of Richard Thompson’s 1952 Vincent Black Lightning, Gillian Welch’s Elvis Presley Blues, Rickie Lee Jones’ We Belong Together and Mary Chapin Carpenter’s Why Walk When You Can Fly, Butch’s treatment of song—including the old standards—is fresh and original. His take on tunes reminded meof the way the Crooked Jades approach traditional material, i.e. with an attitude. He makes the old songs sound new and the new songs sound old.
UF Review: The Moonshiner's Atlas
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Butch Ross The Moonshiner’s Atlas Ross, one of the first fellows in Philadelphia AntiFolk, left ...Butch Ross
The Moonshiner’s Atlas
Ross, one of the first fellows in Philadelphia AntiFolk, left his city and AF cred to move to Chattanooga and play mountain dulcimer with his wife, Christie Burns. Now he’s released his first folk album, The Moonshiner’s Atlas. You know it’s a folk album, because of the first track, “I Like Singing Folk Songs.” Though somewhat tongue in cheek (“Say I’ll never get rich? Shows how much you know / just yesterday I booked me a great show / 25 bucks for one night in Juneau”), the song admits to Ross’ recent romance with what he used to react against. He explains: “For a while now I’ve been of the impression that if I’m going to play ‘folk’ music, I oughta know what the fuck folk music is.” Only three songs on this album are written by Ross, the rest being covers. Well, covers and trad numbers. What’s the difference? “ 91 dollars,” Ross explained.
Probably the best traditional number is the second track on the album, “Moonshiner,” which uses a riff I swear I know from Tom Nishioka’s old “Up and Under.” Did Trad steal from him? Probably not. It’s a killer sound, though. Also great is “Atlas” by Russell Wolff, featuring the chorus, “I got my road atlas / I feel like Charles Atlas / though I’m not new at this / neither are you.”
Another original is “Lousy Boy,” whose lyrics suggest that it might be a transgendered tale, but probably is more about maturing, accepting inadequacy, and growing past it. It’s beautiful. It’s music that adults make.
The songs selected all sound sweet, and, while sometimes there’s additional instrumentation, mostly it’s this guy Butch and his mountain dulcimer. “A guy discovers me playing in Cork, Ireland and says ‘If you record an all- dulcimer album, I’ll produce it and put it out on my label.’ It is at once the path of least resistance and the opportunity to be the coolest kid at church camp,” he laughs, “I know, my point exactly.”
Someone once called Ross the Bela Fleck of the mountain dulcimer. I don’t know if that’s true, but I’m willing to say that he’s definitely the Debe Dalton. I don’t know if he should get this whole traditional thing out of his system, or if this is the best route for him to follow. But there’s a lot of good material here - even for the an Urbanite. (Jonathan Berger)
Ross tells about the Mountain Dulcimer
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Local mountain (or lap) dulcimer player Butch Ross will be instructing classes at the Chattanooga Du...Local mountain (or lap) dulcimer player Butch Ross will be instructing classes at the Chattanooga Dulcimer Festival next weekend. In the meantime, he answered some questions about the instrument and provided some tips for those wanting to learn to play it.
Q: What’s the best thing about the dulcimer?
A: I feel that the instrument picks you, that you don’t pick the instrument. I can’t explain what it is about the instruments that I like, but when I got one, it made music fun for me in a way that I hadn’t felt since I first picked up a guitar at 14.
Q: What advice would you give to somebody considering taking up the mountain dulcimer?
A: It’s a very easy instrument to get started on. It’s easy to learn some simple tunes, and I would encourage anybody who wanted to play music to try the mountain dulcimer, especially if you’re the type of person who doesn’t think they have any musical talent. I teach a lot of people at festivals who really never thought music was in the cards for them until they discovered the instrument.
Q: What are some good beginner songs?
A: Because it can be used as a simple instrument, then I would say to stick to the melody string and pick the simplest song you can think of like “Three Blind Mice” or “Twinkle, Twinkle (Little Star).” If you were trying to self-guide, you should just pick a nursery rhyme and use that to start getting your head around the way it works.
Q: Are there any negatives to the mountain dulcimer compared to other instruments?
A: The short answer, for me, is no.
The long answer is that the instrument has a pretty quiet voice, so it may disappear in a bluegrass jam session, but the ones they made in the hills were never meant to be used in a group. They were made to accompany yourself and your singing voice.
Q: Are there any misconceptions about the instrument?
A: Because it’s such an easy instrument to play, it’s really easy to make the assumption that it’s not a real instrument or that there are some limitations to what you can do with it. A lot of people come up to me and say, “I didn’t know you could do that on the dulcimer,” but the only difference between me and everybody else is that I try. I’m constantly surprised by what this instrument is capable of.
Spotlight: Butch Ross
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Local boy Butch Ross is but one in a long line of latter-day storytelling songwriters --one that inc...Local boy Butch Ross is but one in a long line of latter-day storytelling songwriters --one that includes everyone from Steve Wynn to James McMurtry. What he’s doing on anti-folkie Adam Brodsky’s label is anyone’s guess. Because sure enough, the songs on Selected works of friction are hand-worn, affable and warm, proving that Ross isn’t anti-folk --he’s just plain folk. Fleshed out by an all acoustic sound of violin, bass and drums that recalls nothing so much as the late, great Low Road. Ross spins his yarns in a tone that’s conversational and occasionally wistful --and literate in a way that explains the CD’s cover image: a lonely, forgotten old typewriter.
A combination of original songs and instrumentals, traditional tunes (500 miles, moonshiner, fly around my pretty little miss, etc.) and a cool, eclectic collection of covers like Radiohead's "High/Dry"; "Stairway to Heaven" and "Eleanor Rigby"
There are no upcoming dates at this time.
|Nov 1, 2009 Sunday||9:00 AM||Launde Abbey||Leicester, Not Applicable, GB|
|Oct 31, 2009 Saturday||9:00 AM||Launde Abbey||Leicester, Not Applicable, GB|
|Oct 30, 2009 Friday||8:00 PM||Launde Abbey||Leicester, Not Applicable, GB|
|Sep 27, 2009 Sunday||1:00 PM||Chattanooga Fair||Chattanooga, TN, US|
|Sep 26, 2009 Saturday||10:00 PM||Tremont Tavern||Chattanooga, TN, US|
|Sep 26, 2009 Saturday||5:00 PM||Wine Over Water||Chattanooga, TN, US|
|Sep 20, 2009 Sunday||9:00 AM||Harmony Harvest Dulcimer Festival||Lancaster, OH, US|
|Sep 19, 2009 Saturday||9:00 AM||Harmony Harvest Dulcimer Festival||Lancaster, OH, US|
|Sep 17, 2009 Thursday||8:00 PM||Purple Fiddle||Thomas, WV, US|