- "Bruce Molsky is one of those great players who 'gets it': has all the links to the past but is happy not to be chained to it" - Mark Knopfler
- "Molsky is easily one of the nation's most talented fiddlers...he transports you ... geographically, historically, and most of all emotionally" - Mother Jones
- "It is no exaggeration to say that Bruce Molsky is one of the greatest American fiddlers of all time. His playing is mesmerizing and transporting, and best experienced live" - WBUR (Boston NPR)
- "An absolute master" - No Depression
- "An incredible power of history and tradition in his vocal" - Linda Ronstadt
- "One of the world's premier Appalachian-style fiddlers" - Bloomberg News
- "A mystical awareness of how to bring out the new in something that is old" - Mark O'Connor
He’s a self-described “street kid” from the Bronx who bailed on college and big city life for a cold-water cabin in Virginia in the 1970s. His mission? To soak up the passion that was dramatically upending his parent’s life plan for him – authentic Appalachian mountain music – at the feet of its legendary pioneers, old masters who are now long gone.
Today, Bruce Molsky is one of the most revered “multi-hyphenated career” ambassadors for America’s old-time mountain music. For decades, he’s been a globetrotting performer and educator, a recording artist with an expansive discography including seven solo albums, well over a dozen collaborations and two Grammy-nominations. He’s also the classic “musician’s musician” – a man who’s received high praise from diverse fans and collaborators like Linda Ronstadt, Mark Knopfler, Celtic giants Donal Lunny and Andy Irvine, jazzer Bill Frisell and dobro master Jerry Douglas, a true country gentleman by way of the Big Apple aptly dubbed “the Rembrandt of Appalachian fiddlers” by virtuoso violinist and sometimes bandmate Darol Anger.
Molsky digs deep to transport audiences to another time and place, with his authentic feel for and the unearthing of almost-forgotten rarities from the Southern Appalachian songbook. His foils are not only his well-regarded fiddle work, but banjo, guitar and his distinctly resonant vocals. From tiny folk taverns in the British Isles to huge festival stages to his ongoing workshops at the renowned Berklee College of Music, Molsky seduces audiences with a combination of rhythmic and melodic virtuosity and relaxed conversational wit – a uniquely humanistic, downhome approach that can make Carnegie Hall feel like a front porch or parlor jam session.
As 2016 unfolds, the ever-busy Molsky continues to pioneer new ground on several fronts. Summer will bring the debut disc by Molsky’s Mountain Drifters, the first band the legendary fiddler has fronted. In Bruce’s words, this release will “point to the future of traditional, rural music” powered by the far-ranging musical palates of his two youthful bandmates. Banjo virtuoso Allison de Groot of “The Goodbye Girls” and “Oh My Darling” met Molsky at one of his workshops at Berklee, where his interest was piqued when “she played Lester Young solos on claw hammer banjo.” The band’s third member, guitarist Stash Wyslouch, is one of bluegrass music’s true genre benders, a high-energy performer who cut his teeth in punk and metal bands before immersing himself in roots music with “The Deadly Gentlemen.”
The new “Can’t Stay Here This a-Way” is a unique CD/DVD collection recorded in Los Angeles for Dave Bragger’s Tiki Parlour series. Not a recording session in the traditional sense, Bruce just showed up, sat on a couch while the camera and recording device rolled – capturing all the spontaneity as he casually reeled off and provided insightful comments on traditional favorites and some new offerings. Also on the slate is, “Rauland Rambles” from Molsky and his Norwegian collaborators, Arto Järvelä and Anon Egeland. This distinctive recording, which fuses traditional American roots with Scandinavian folk, comes from an impromptu session set after Bruce performed at this year’s Rauland International Winter Festival in Norway.
In addition to his many live performances as a solo and with Molsky’s Mountain Drifters, Bruce will be kept away from his home in Beacon, New York, by his work as a Visiting Scholar at the old American Roots Music Program at the Boston’s Berklee College of Music, and through fiddling workshops and summer music camps he conducts for devotees here and abroad.
So how does a street kid from the Bronx with plans for a career in architecture and a passion for Jimi Hendrix become a pre-eminent performer and preservationist for a homespun musical idiom forged a world away?
“I grew up in the Bronx in the 1960s, and was glued to AM pop radio,” says Molsky. “I started playing guitar when I was ten, when Dr. Billy Taylor and his Jazzmobile program visited my school. I already loved the Beatles, Motown, and Bob Dylan, but Dr. Taylor did something to me that day, he made ME want to play. And that was the day I went home and asked my mom for guitar lessons. And like a lot of kids at that time, I tried to be Jimi Hendrix and played in a string of pretty awful rock bands. But I also became very serious about finger style guitar, and that has stayed with me all along.”
“Traditional music came into my life when I was 12, when my sister bought me the first Doc Watson LP and I was blown away by ‘Black Mountain Rag,’” continues Molsky. “I came up at the tail end of the folk revival in New York, catching concerts by people like Bill Monroe, Ralph Stanley and Curly Ray Cline as they came through for the Newport Folk Fests. I picked up the fiddle at 17, six months after I had started playing banjo.”
Through his teenage years, Molsky honed his skills at nurturing folk gatherings in New York and the Northeast, including the annual Fiddlers’ Convention at South Street Seaport. Hoping to please his engineer father, Molsky began studying architect and engineering at Cornell. A blow to these designs was the folk scene at and around Cornell, which only served to deepen his interest in, and ultimate pilgrimage to, the roots of early rural music.
“I left Cornell after two years and decided to follow the music,” adds Molsky. “I eventually moved to Virginia and got a job working in a carpet mill. But my main focus was weekly road trips to the mountains of Virginia and West Virginia, to learn from old masters like Tommy Jarrell.”
“As a teenager I loved the idea of living in the country, the notion of a simpler life, the romance that’s what the music represented to me and had a lot to do with my moving south," continues Molsky. “There are many regional styles of fiddling, but what I like is where the melodies are rhythm based, where the rhythm of bow is totally locked in with the melody,” he continues. “It’s a style that goes all the way from Virginia down to North Carolina, Georgia and Alabama.”
After his style-forging Southern pilgrimage, Molsky performed regularly in the U.S., but didn’t make the total chord-cut with 9-to-5 life until his 40th birthday.
“I had a good career as a mechanical engineer, playing music in the off-hours – playing festivals and giving fiddle and banjo workshops,” adds Molsky. “But when my father passed, I decided to see if I could make a go of it as a full-time musician. The plan was to take a year off and see how it went; that was in 1997. I never went back!”
Molsky’s recording career has been plentiful since his debut session banjoist with Bob Carlin in 1990, with nearly two dozen releases available via Rounder and Compass Records and his own Tree Frog Music. His discography includes seven solo albums, from his debut of fiddlers’ classics, “Warring Cats,” to his most recent, “If It Ain’t Here When I Get Back,” an “aural autobiography” paying tribute to the musicians who have shaped his musical life and his travels from Appalachia to Australia. There’s also the Grammy-nominated “Fiddlers 4,” with Darol Anger, Michael Doucet and cellist Rushad Eggleston, the debut of the world fusion ensemble Mozaik with Andy Irvine, and contributions to legendary guitarist Mark Knopfler’s “Tracker” and the Billboard chart-topping Anonymous 4 release, “1865 – Songs of Hope and Home from the American Civil War.”
Bruce’s live and recorded work has not only drawn raves from his fellow musicians but the media. No Depression calls Molsky “an absolute master,” while Mother Jones calls him “easily one of the nation’s most talented fiddlers… he transports you, geographically, historically and most of all emotionally. NPR says “his playing is mesmerizing, transporting and best experienced live,”
The life of a full-time musician and educator at Berklee and music camps far and wide keeps Bruce away from his Beacon home for half the year. Much of Bruce’s recent sojourning has been overseas, to the British Isles, Italy, Scandinavia and a far afield as Australia.
Molsky’s travels haven’t stopped him from taking on yet another passion project, an important organizational role in the American Folk Music Center in Beacon, New York. “Pete Seeger first moved to Beacon in 1949, and so a lot of folks consider our little city to be a sort of epicenter of American folk music,” he adds. “Getting this off the ground is important to me. All of us who are working for the center see it as a vehicle that will bring a deeper appreciation and interest in this music, today and for generations to come.”
“Performing and teaching traditional music is the biggest thing in my world,” concludes Molsky. “For me, being a musician isn’t a standalone thing; it informs everything I do in my life. It’s always been about being creative and being a part of something much bigger than myself, a link in the musical chain and part of the community of people who play it and love it.”