Dix’s Photo Archive by Dix Bruce
© Copyright 2006 by Musix
I’ve always loved shooting photographs. I learned to develop and print my own photos in the mid-1970s. That skill came in handy when I started working for Mandolin World News in 1978. (Click here to see all 31 covers of Mandolin World News, 1876-1984.)
I’d often find my self conducting an interview, shooting the photos, renting a darkroom and printing them, editing and laying out the magazine, scheduling the collating parties and labeling and mailing the issues. Of course I had lots of willing helpers. It was a lot of work but I enjoyed every minute of it! I experienced and learned more than I can ever say. Thank you David!
In those pre-digital days I’d shoot a whole 36-photo roll of film hoping to get one or two good shots that we could print. The rest would end up filed in my negative books and forgotten. I recently realized I had several of these archives that I hadn’t looked through in over twenty years. Last summer I sifted through them and found hundreds of images I’d lost track of, most of them never published or even seen by anyone but me. I decided to include some of the shots in my “Parking Lot Picker’s Songbooks” — one each for guitar, mandolin, banjo (which I wrote with banjo player Bill Evans), fiddle, dobro, string bass. (All are available, published by Mel Bay, and each includes over 225 bluegrass and old-time songs.)
I never thought of myself as much of a photographer, but these photos are interesting to me now because they’re from a time long gone of people, places and things that affected me deeply.
I never kept very good records of dates but I’ll list what I remember. Most of the photos are black and white. I rarely shot color because we never printed in color. I hope you’ll enjoy seeing them. (Note: Some are now [Fall 2019] available as matted photos. Click here.)
l. to r.: David Grisman, Martin Taylor, Stephane Grappelli, Rob Wasserman. This was shot at Arch Street Studios in Berkeley, CA, ca. 1982 during the sessions for David Grisman’s “Dawg Jazz / Dawg Grass.” David let me come to the session where I met Grappelli and Taylor. It was a great thrill and the music inspired.
Lorraine Duisit performed a unique mix of old time and original music with the eclectic acoustic band Trapezoid. I photographed her playing her mandola in my Oakland backyard in 1984. Mandolin World News 9.1 Lorraine Duisit Interview.
Elizabeth Cotten and Mike Seeger. “Libba” was a guitarist who played the guitar left-handed and upside down. She worked as a housekeeper in the Seeger home. Mike and his sister heard her playing the guitar one day and were amazed at her style and mastery of the instrument. They encouraged her to play in public and she began a music career late in life continuing to tour well into her 80s. This photo is from the late 1970s and was taken at Lundberg’s Music Shop in Berkeley, CA. Mike was accompanying her on the tour. Mandolin World News 5.2.
I love old instruments. I think about the music that’s come through them and of all their players that enjoyed their company. Whenever I’d hear about a particularly beautiful or unusual instrument, I’d rush out and photograph it. I owned the blond A-model on the right and the F on the left was from Gryphon Stringed Instruments in Palo Alto, CA, who always have great vintage instruments.
Vern Williams, California’s master of traditional bluegrass, jamming in the mid-1970s. In this photo his eyes seem to penetrate the camera lens. He was actually a very friendly and soft spoken person, always willing to talk and jam with fans. See below.
In September of 1976 my friend Bob Schneider, who now makes the great Schneider mandolins, and I drove from the Bay Area to Winfield, KS, to compete in the National Flatpicking Contest. Bob is a mandolin builder and musician from Portland, OR. Ah, those were the days! Hop in the car, drive twenty-six hours, pick the guitar! What could be better? It was a great contest and festival. If my memory is correct, Orrin Starr took the top honors. I didn’t make the cut, but neither did Mark O’Connor. A highlight of the trip was getting to see one of my favorite groups, the New Lost City Ramblers, perform.
l. to r.: David Grisman, Buck White, Ricky Skaggs. Probably 1979 or 1980. Buck’s band was in the Bay Area with Ricky and Jerry Douglas. dawg and the boys are getting into an early version of the mandola / mando summit. Mandolin World News 5.1 Buck White Interview.
I met Tiny Moore, who played electric mandolin and fiddle with Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys and with Merle Haggard, in early 1978 at a fiddle contest in Redding, CA. I wasn’t officially affiliated with Mandolin World News as yet but I told him I was and asked if I could interview him. He was quite amused at the idea of a mandolin magazine and he graciously agreed. When I got home from the fiddle contest, I called Darol Anger and confessed my fib. Darol couldn’t have cared less and was excited at the possibility of meeting a man who was one of his heroes too. He asked to come along on the interview. So Darol, Bob Alekno and I drove from the San Francisco Bay Area up to Tiny’s music store in Sacramento and that’s where this photo of his custom built Bigsby five string mandolin was taken. Mandolin World News 3.1 Tiny Moore Interview.
After I’d talked with Tiny, I transcribed and edited the interview and handed it in to Darol. About a week later I got a call: ‘Hey man, this is David Grisman. Do you think you’d want to be the editor of Mandolin World News? It doesn’t pay much, probably just cover your rent, but if you want to do it, the job is yours.” I didn’t think twice! The chance to hang with these real musicians… MAN! Later David told me that he wanted to meet Tiny so we arranged a jam session and headed off to Sacramento once again. I have a recording of the event somewhere in my audio archive. Here’s David playing Tiny’s axe in the music store. David eventually produced a recording of Tiny with the great Jethro Burns called “Back to Back.” It’s currently available from Acoustic Disc. Mandolin World News 3.1 Tiny Moore Interview.
I shot some photos in the early 1980s of David’s quartet with Jimmy Buchanan on fiddle. It looks like I also shot some photos of their instruments though I have only a vague memory of every doing it. The photos were never used.
Every so often David’s manager and Mandolin World News staffer Craig Miller would call me up and say, “Do you want to interview so and so?” He’d hear about shows and would have the contacts to get our foot in the door. When he asked me about interviewing Levon Helm from The Band, I leapt at the chance. (Levon’s on the left on mandolin with Rick Danko on the right, about 1982, from The Keystone in San Francisco.)
The interview turned out to be one of my favorites and Levon said some amazing and insightful things. I asked him how he got into the mandolin, being a drummer and all. His answer was a bit of a turn around. He told me that he was inspired to play drums from listening to Bill Monroe play rhythm on the mandolin. He said that Monroe’s backbeat was what he was always trying to achieve on the drums. Of Monroe’s playing he said, “It flat out tattooed my brain.” Mandolin World News 7.2 Levon Helm Interview.
Here’s Levon, again with Rick Danko, backstage at the Keystone. I’d brought Levon a Mandolin World News T-shirt and he eagerly donned it. I was so tickled to meet both of them as I was a huge fan of The Band. Mandolin World News 7.2 Levon Helm Interview.
One more from backstage. Here Levon and Rick sandwich Wavy Gravy of Woodstock, Bay Area culture, and Camp Winnarainbow fame. Mandolin World News 7.2.Levon Helm Interview
Jim (right) and Jesse (left) McReynolds sing a trio with Jesse’s son Keith McReynolds in early 1979. Jim and Jesse were part of the second generation of bluegrass musicians that followed Monroe in the early 1950s. The duo was known for its smooth “brother duet” vocals and for Jesse’s phenomenal cross picking on the mandolin. Mandolin World News 3.3 Jesse McReynolds Interview.
I interviewed Jesse McReynolds before the show and this photo shows a little gizmo he had built into his mandolin — a kind of capo. You can see it on the third fret. He had three grommets installed on the side of the neck and he could plug the capo into each of these holes to fret the first and second strings. It gave the effect of different tunings. When not in use, the capo was stowed in a routed out space right behind the nut. Mandolin World News 3.3 Jesse McReynolds Interview.
l. to r.: Unknown, Vern Williams, Mike Laddon, Ray Park, me, me with my beard. I don’t know who shot this picture, obviously it wasn’t me, and I hope they won’t sue me for publishing it! This the jam session from the mid-1970s in Fairfield, CA.
Tony Rice in the late 1970s at San Francisco’s Great American Music Hall with the first David Grisman Quintet. Their music blew me away, turned my head around, showed me the future, made me want to play like they played. I’m still working on it.
I worked for Arhoolie Records from late 1989 until 1998. When the 25th anniversary of the company rolled around, owner Chris Strachwitz threw a three day party with performances by many of Arhoolie’s artists. He asked me to chauffeur some of them from the airport to their hotel and from their hotel to the concert sites. Guitarist John Jackson was a treat to be around. He was so happy to be alive and playing music that his joy was infectious.
I met Frank Wakefield in 1975 or so, walking down the street in Fairfax, CA. I’d heard his records and had seen him play live but had no idea he lived right near me in Marin County. I was shocked when I ran into him. I introduced myself, told him I was a big fan and a musician and he invited me up to his place to jam. I got to know him over the years and spent many hours with him.
He was always teaching and always patient. I eventually played in his band and recorded two lps with him. He remains a great inspiration. This photo is part of series I shot for Bluegrass Unlimited. One eventually made it to the cover of the magazine — finally a publication that used color! I believe I interviewed him for the Mandolin World News as well. He’s playing his then recently refinished Gibson Lloyd Load F-5. See the photos below. Mandolin World News 3.4 Frank Wakefield interview.
Here’s what Frank’s mandolin looked like before the refinishing job, which I think was done by Todd Phillips. Frank had experimented for years with ways of getting the mandolin to produce sounds closer to those he heard in his head. This involved scraping off red paint that had been sprayed onto the mandolin and also baking the instrument at a low temperature in an effort to dry the wood. Mandolin World News 3.4 Frank Wakefield Interview.
Here’s a closeup of the mandolin’s fiberglass bridge. Mandolin World News 3.4 Frank Wakefield interview.
The Mandolin World News staff, I’m guessing about 1980. l. to R.: David Grisman, Craig Miller )C.M.), Bob Alekno, Dix Bruce, Darol Anger, Jim Kirkland, John Pedersen. Almost every picture I have of Craig shows him on the phone. It’s his axe.
Bob Alekno, l. and Jethro Burns. Bob was a great pal and musical partner of mine. He was former student of Jethro’s and the finest rhythm mandolinist I ever heard. I’m so glad I got to know him and learn about rhythm from him. He was the first musician I met who believed that the ensemble rhythm was more important than anything else. He played with a groove and subtlety unmatched by anybody else. I miss him very much. You can hear him on my “Tuxedo Blues” CD and also on “BackUP TRAX: Swing & Jazz” and “BackUP TRAX: Old Time and Fiddle Tunes.”
What can I possibly say about Jethro? He was the guy. This photo was from his front yard outside of Chicago. Bob and I were on a cross country trek in 1978 to do some interviews and boost Mandolin World News’ distribution. We also interviewed Eldon Shamblin, Bob Wills guitar player and visited a young Don Stiernberg, among other adventures. Mandolin World News 2.2 Jethro Burns Interview.
Talk about your rhythm players, here’s ol’ Jim Nunally, a guy I’ve recorded and toured with for the past twelve years or so. He plays some lead too, boy howdy. I’d like to say that I taught him everything he knows, but it’s more likely that he taught me all I know! Another wonderful guy who’ll take the time to get the right groove, the right feel. This photo is from the late 1990s, taken in his Crockett, CA, recording studio. Wish I could have gotten him together with ol’ Bob. That would have been a groove!