News/Thoughts

A Passion For The Craft

By Greg Tutwiler
Perhaps you’re lucky enough to listen to WAXM FM Bristol TN, “The Bluegrass Show” every weekday from 3:00 to 6:00 PM. Or maybe you’ve tuned into the popular public television broadcast series, Songs Of The Mountains on PBS. Or, perhaps you get your fix by listening to the syndicated radio show, The Tim White Bluegrass Show, on one of 60 plus radio stations across the country. Regardless, the voice you hear is none other that of Tim White.
I first met Tim  a few years ago at an event in Virginia where he was co-producing a music gathering called Acoustic Uprising. Although our paths had crossed professionally a few times prior, it was at this event where I became acquainted with the rest of the story. What fascinated me and eventually brought us to this conversation is the diversity that encompasses Tim’s professional life.
On many occasions, I have found myself in conversations where artists have expressed their frustration over how tough it can be to make it in this music business. I get it. There’s lot’s of competition for a smaller number of performance opportunities. But somehow Tim (and other folks like him) have found a way to carve a niche’ in this industry that affords them the ability to “make a living” doing what they love.
Mixing It Up
Upon posing that question, Tim’s immediate response was, “It takes more than talent – you have to have business savvy too. I’ve seen way too many talented bands starve because they didn’t understand the entertainment aspect, or how to run their band like a business. Unfortunately, talent alone doesn’t book you gigs. If you don’t understand that side of it, at least invest the money and hire someone who does.” For Tim, being content at just playing music was never enough. It was a passion that led to a life immersed in music.
Tim grew up in Roanoke, Virginia watching Don Renoand Red Smileyon the Top of the Morning Show as a kid. “That kind of planted the seed,” he said. “I remembered seeing Author Smith and Flats and Scruggs. And even though I listened to rock and roll in high school in the early 70s, when my family moved down to Bristol, TN in 1974, the music there was different, and I realized I wanted to learn more about it.” So he got his hands on a cheap banjo and started learning how to play. “My dad realized that I was starting to get pretty good at it,” he recalled, “so he bought me a real good Gibson banjo for my 19th birthday.”
He started learning about the history too, and places like the Carter Fold and where all this music came from. “I’ve always enjoyed the history behind this music,” he said. And as the journey goes, he eventually opened a sign shop, which led to an opportunity to paint a mural in downtown Bristol. If you’ve been there, you’ve likely seen it. This year marks the 30 year anniversary of that painting. “I didn’t really plan it that way, but I always believe that action creates reaction,” he said. “I didn’t plan on doing all this stuff. I just had a passion for it like everyone else that gets into the music business. We never get into it thinking ‘oh, I’m going to get rich,’ I really have a passion for it. And that’s what drives us all.”
Behind The Mic
Tim got his start in radio back in the early 80s from a guy named Joe Morrell. You may not know that name but it’s likely you know what he’s famous for. If you’ve ever traveled north/south on interstate 81 through Bristol, VA/TN you’ve probably seen what’s left of a giant guitar along side the road. In 1983, after years of planning, Joe built and ran what he called the ‘world’s only guitar shaped music museum.’ The 70 foot, three story structure (now empty and deteriorating) was home to the museum for many years.
Tim said that Joe had acquired a small radio station soon after opening the museum, and  asked him do a radio show. “He knew I had a bunch of bluegrass records,” Tim recalled. “So I took my collection down to the station, and that is where I started my first bluegrass show. I did it for free – I just wanted to get a chance to play my records,” he said. Joe approached Tim about two months later and said ‘if you sell ads on your show, I’ll give you half.’ “Well I liked that,” Tim said. “And I’ve been in the radio ever since.”
All of that eventually led to a syndicated two hour program that is now aired on over 60 radio stations across the country called The Tim White Bluegrass Show. “To be honest, I don’t really go out and solicit stations – they just seem to find me. I have some AM and some FM stations. We’ll lose a few now and then; that’s just the nature of radio, but we’ve maintained around 60 for a few years now.” Additionally, Tim hosts a live broadcast from downtown Bristol on WPWT 870 AM and 100.7 FM in the Tri-Cities six days a week from 3:00 PM to 6:00 PM Monday through Friday, and 9:00 AM to 12:00 PM on Saturdays. That show is also streamed live on www.TopGunRadio.com.
On The Stage
Adding to the diversification, Tim has also been the host of the widely acclaimed Song Of The Mountains PBS telecast since it’s inception in 2004. “I was approached to help with a project to bring the Lincoln Theater, in Marion, VA back to life,” he remembered. Built in 1929, the theater had been sitting idol for quite some time. “Actually, it was about ready for the wrecking ball,” he said, “but the people of Marion couldn’t stand to lose such a big part of their heritage. The folks behind the renovation knew I was putting on a bluegrass/Americana show and asked if I would come over and help stage something like that as part of the restored theater.”
That show was initially aired on the three local PBS outlets out of Roanoke VA. At the conclusion of the first season, they were being broadcast on 33 different public stations. “And now, in our 11th season we are on over 180 PBS affiliates across America. Song of the Mountains now reaches over 147 million people annually,” Tim said.
www.SongsOfTheMountains.org
While all of that sounds like enough to keep any one of us occupied, there’s more. For the past two decades Tim has fronted several bands including his current project, the VW Boys with fellow musicians Dave Vaught and “Fat” Albert Blackburn. The VW Boys feature a combination of music, magic and comedy. “I believe in laughing,” he said. “It’s great medicine for the soul. And we get to do a lot of corporate work because of our approach. We’re not pigeon-holed into one thing. I can put down the banjo and pick up a guitar and we can become an Americana band. Now we don’t have to bill ourselves exclusively as a bluegrass band – but we can turn audiences onto bluegrass that would probably never buy a bluegrass CD. I’ve seen it work. People will come up to us after a show and ask us about the music we were playing. They’ll say, “that was really good, what is it?’ We get to be ambassadors of bluegrass music that way, exposing new audiences to this music.”
Tim’s interest in music history has not gone to waste either. He recruited others of like interest to help organize the Appalachian Cultural Music Association
www.appalachianculturalmusic.org where he currently serves as president. The ACMA also helps to support the Mountain Music Museum, which Tim helped found, in 1999. The museum is dedicated to preserving the heritage of the music which was born in the Southern Appalachians.
“When you do what you love, it doesn’t feel like work,” Tim said. “I feel blessed to get to do this every day. I don’t think about it as being busy.”

 

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