Bill Tells All

I’ve been playing in bands since I was in high school, and I’ve never worked this hard. Three things I’ve learned about playing with Temperance: practice, practice, practice!

Each of us kind of stumbled upon bluegrass. I grew up listening to blues and R & B and studied music in college, intending to be a high school band director. Working at the old Wright’s Music Company in Jackson, the lady in the record department gave me a very different kind of album for that era (1973), “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.” It was breakthrough in that it introduced solid bluegrass classics and artists to a whole new generation. I was hooked. 

By 1980—before Temperance was even born by the way—I was playing a hundred dates a year with The Vernon Brothers. My day job was in radio, starting out at the Country Colonel, and then I moved over to television and sales. Most bluegrass lovers know my name and voice from the Saturday night “Grassroots” show on Mississippi Public Broadcasting, which I’ve hosted since about the time Temperance took her first violin lessons. 

Playing in groups for so long, I had wished for a female duet partner: “If I could just find a girl who could sing harmony and play mandolin that would be perfect.”  I wanted the simplicity of that combination with my singing and guitar. Then, Temperance showed up with her fiddle. She played, and I thought, “That’ll do.” But could she sing? It took one song to realize we had a blend I associate with the tight harmony of siblings, like the Everly Brothers. Norm Stiles (of Sesame Street) heard us and assumed we’d been performing together a long time. We told him it was our first song, and he said, “You’ve got something there.”

We went to work on our repertoire of everything from hot fiddle tunes to gospel to ballads, from Bill Monroe to Old Crow Medicine Show to Dixie Chicks and Bill Ellison originals. 

It’s been fun getting more and more invitations to play around the state as well as our regular Jackson venue, Underground119. Right now Temperance and I are arm wrestling over material for our first CD and expanding performing schedule. We’re looking at songs from little-known writers and pushing beyond our comfort zones to keep it interesting for our audience. We’re so gratified by our loyal following and want to keep it fresh, even though we know they will always want to hear their favorites. Temperance has come into her own as a singer, with my coaching—and I say that with a laugh, of course. Now, if we can just work on her joke telling. 

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