Bluegrassian Questionnaire with Keith Little

Written by:

(A continuing series of interviews loosely based on the “Proust Questionnaire” – bluegrass style!)

So, give me a show of hands, people: can you name anyone in bluegrass who has NOT played with Keith Little? [cue ambient cricket noise]

That’s right. Virtually everyone in bluegrass has played with Keith, who’s a master multi-instrumentalist, vocal artisan, songwriter, popular music camp instructor, and bluegrass entrepreneur. Whether onstage with Keith Little and the Little Band, playing with Ricky Skaggs, touring with David Grisman, or performing on A Prairie Home Companion with Peter Rowan, Keith is bluegrass personified. A humble philosopher with a playful wit and secret sweet-tooth, let’s see what Keith has to say:

1. What’s your idea of perfect happiness?
World peace.

2. What’s your greatest fear?
That ordinary people the world over will abandon believing they hold the key to the answer to question #1.

3. What was your first instrument and when did you get it?
A ukulele, given by my mother on my 6th birthday. She also taught me how to play “Ain’t She Sweet” on the thing.

4. What bluegrass event or recording first “blew your mind”?
“Ground Speed”, side A, cut 1, of the “Foggy Mountain Banjo” album by Flatt & Scruggs. I remember what I was wearing, and what the room looked like when the needle cut down on that song. I had just turned 13, and it was my first exposure to recorded bluegrass music. My father had recently fallen under the spell of Earl Scruggs style banjo, and we ordered the album from Palm Music in Auburn, CA, on a recommendation published in a little red book entitled “How To Play The 5-String Banjo” by Pete Seeger.

5. Which living bluegrass people do you most admire?
Who are bluegrass people anyway? OK…here are a few from the artist category: Del McCoury, Paul Williams, Buck White, Roscoe Keithley, Tim O’Brien, & Lynn Morris.

6. What is your greatest extravagance?
Chocolate…don’t really “need” it at all. Sure is mighty good, though.

7. When and where were you the happiest?
Pretty much all of the time, and just about anywhere. I’m basically a happy camper, especially when music and chocolate are involved.

8. If you could choose a superpower, what would it be?
What is superpower anyway? I mean, we all have it…we just don’t know how to use it as such.

9. Who would be sitting in your dream jam?
Hard to tell who’d be sitting in the jam…I’d be standing up.

10. Who are you listening to these days?
From my latest trip to the discount bin at Armadillo Records in Davis…Bill Withers, Linda Ronstadt.

11. If you could hear any non-bluegrass tune done bluegrass, what would it be?
What is a “non-bluegrass” tune, anyway? OK, how about “People Get Ready”…guess we’ll have to wait for the “Pickin’ on Curtis Mayfield” album to be released.

12. What song hits your heart every time?
Claire Lynch, singing her composition “Friends For A Lifetime,” recorded in the early 1990’s. It’s a riveting performance, and the chorus line, “When it’s all been done and said,” never fails to bring tears of joy to my eyes.

13. What bluegrass memory makes you smile?
What’s a bluegrass memory anyway? OK then, how’s this…Nearly all of them.

14. If you were reincarnated as a person or thing, who or what would you want to be?
I wrote a song awhile back entitled “I’d Like to Come Back as a Song”. Some good choices in that vein would be: “Amazing Grace,” “Oh Freedom,” “Keep On The Sunny Side.”

15. What is your most treasured possession?
Health and well-being.

16. What was the best advice you’ve ever been given?
Among the best musical advice came from Vern Williams: “We can’t expect everybody to like our music, but if we love performing it, those who may not appreciate it at first, will eventually give way.” (note: I edited this quote to be G-rated, for public consumption).

17. What is something about you that most people don’t know?
I don’t consider myself to be particularly well-known, and as such would think that most people would not know my name, or that I’m a guitar player and singer, and have a band. If they know that…and perhaps they might also know that my band is performing at the 40th annual CBA Father’s Day Festival in June…then perhaps they might not know that I was a CBA board member in 1975, and was on the site selection committee that chose the Nevada County Fairgrounds as the site for the first CBA festival. I also performed there with the Vern Williams Band.

18. Do you have a favorite music joke?
Not really…but here’s a couple that are in the running. 1st: What is the difference between a banjo and a chainsaw? A chainsaw has dynamic range. 2nd: What is the difference between a viola and a violin? A viola burns longer.

19. What is your motto?
Don’t really have a motto as such…but if I had one, it would probably be something akin to the title of a Wayland Patton song…“We should only have time for love.”

Bluegrass Today published an excellent in-depth interview with Keith (great minds think alike) on March 19th, and you can find the article here: http://bluegrasstoday.com/keith-little-band-leader/

Read about: