Nine time winner of IBMA Fiddle Performer of the Year Award. Scorching hot fiddler with a knack for blowing the audience into a different spectrum. Known cohort of Bluegrass luminaries like Bill Monroe, Rhonda Vincent, Jim and Jesse, Mac Wiseman, Doc Watson, Ralph Stanley, and J.D. Crowe. When I first heard Michael Cleveland & Flamekeeper live at the CBA Father’s Day Festival, I felt pulled up by my shirt front, and knew that I was witness to an immense talent.
Recently, Michael took the time to fill out one of my questionnaires. Let’s see what he has to say:
1. What’s your idea of perfect happiness?
My idea of perfect happiness would be, to have enough work that the band and I could be financially secure, to be in perfect health, and for the band to become a household name.
2. What’s your greatest fear?
My greatest fear is not being able to play music.
3. What was your first instrument and when did you get it?
My first instrument was a 16th size violin that my parents bought from a local music store when I was four years old.
4. What is your earliest and/or favorite bluegrass memory?
My favorite bluegrass memory would have to be the first time I met and played with Bill Monroe. Bill was always known for giving kids quarters, because a quarter was big money and hard to come by when he was young. He must have been out of quarters that day, because he gave me a dollar bill. The guy standing in line behind me said, “Boy, you’d better frame that!” I still have it to this day.
5. What is your greatest extravagance?
My never ending collection of mystery and western novels.
6. When and where were you the happiest?
1993. The year I was invited by Alison Krauss to play the Grand Ole Opry for the first time.
7. What are the details of your home stereo system (makes, models, etc.)?
I really don’t have an elaborate stereo system. Mostly I listen to music on either my iPhone, or the stereo system in the van. We do have an RCA component system, but most of the time when I want to listen to music, I use my phone because it’s more convenient.
8. Who would be sitting in your dream jam?
My dream jam would be: Jeff Guernsey and Jeff White guitars, Sam Bush on mandolin, Lloyd Douglas on banjo, Mark Schatz on bass, Larry Eagle on drums and Brent Mason on telecaster.
9. Who are you listening to these days?
Andy Abraham, Ray Price, Asleep At The Wheel, Billy Contreras, Cheech and Chong, Eric Clapton, Bill Cosby, The Del McCoury Band, and Lester Moran and The Cadillac Cowboys.
10. If you could hear any non-bluegrass tune done bluegrass, what would it be?
“Hot Wired” by Brent Mason.
11. What song hits your heart every time?
“Sweet Memories Sang” by Dawn Sears and the Time Jumpers.
12. Please share one of your favorite/most embarrassing on-stage blunders.
We were playing at Dollywood a few years ago and I broke a fiddle string in the middle of one of our shows. The guitar player at the time, Charlie Lawson left the stage to change it. I played his guitar so we could continue the show without a lot of dead time. Charlie comes back out on stage a few songs later and says to me and the crowd, “Hey Mike! Did you ever think that it might be nice to put some extra fiddle strings in your case?” I didn’t have a single string and we had two more shows that day and two the following day. Luckily, someone had the string we needed and we made it just fine. Needless to say, I always have plenty of fiddle strings these days.
13. If you were reincarnated as a person or thing, who or what would you want to be?
I’d love to come back as a fly.
14. What is your most treasured possession?
My instrument collection.
15. Is there one bluegrass player tip or secret you’d like to share?
Do not be afraid to play with better musicians. Any time you play music, record it and listen back later.
16. What is some of the best advice you’ve ever been given?
17. Who are your heroes in life?
My Dad, Bill Monroe, and Louis L’Amour.
18. What was the scariest or most unique venue you ever performed at?
The weirdest festival was the gig I played with Rhonda Vincent in Lubbock, Texas. There was absolutely no one in the audience, but everyone, bands and promoters just carried on as though this was totally normal.
19. Do you have a favorite music joke?
How can you tell when a fiddle is out of tune? When the bow is moving.
20. What is your motto?
Wear it out!
If you want to learn more about Michael Cleveland & Flamekeeper, you can visit there website at: http://flamekeeperband.com/
They can also be found on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/mcflamekeeper