As far as banjo players are concerned, few are as innovative or stylistically diverse as is Joseph C. ("Butch") Robins. Butch's musical diversity is evidenced in the bluegrass world by his inclusion as one of the longest tenured banjoists for Bill Monroe and The Blue Grass Boys and bassist for the New Grass Revival, earning him the distinction of being "the one and only New Grass/Blue Grass Boy". He has been one of the busiest of Nashville's freelance banjo players and has performed with big-band leader, Harry James, and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member, Leon Russell.
Hailing from the Celtic-descended, southeastern United States, as a student of music and the banjo in the 1960's and 70's, Butch acquainted himself with and befriended many of the first generation bluegrass musicians at early festivals and fiddlers' conventions. As a teenager he won major banjo contests and participated in banjo workshops at both the 1969 Newport Folk Festival and also Carlton Haney's 1969 Camp Springs Bluegrass Festival in Reidsville, NC. While serving in the US Army in South Carolina, he was introduced to Snuffy Jenkins & Pappy Sherrill, and subsequently dedicated his album, "Forty Years Late", to Snuffy.
The 70's found Butch playing in various bands, including Charlie Moore, Jim & Jesse, Wilma Lee & Stoney Cooper and the New Grass Revival. It was during these years that he explored different banjo playing techniques and helped lay the groundwork for the progressive, melodic, 5-string banjo playing of today. As a self-produced, solo recording artist with interest in and attention to ensemble sound, Butch contracted with Rounder Records and released three landmark albums - "Forty Years Late", "Fragments of My Imagicnation" and "The Fifth Child".
In 1977, Butch became the banjoist for Bill Monroe and his "Blue Grass Boys". With Monroe, he traveled and performed throughout the United States, including the White House and Lincoln Center in New York City, until 1981. After the Monroe experience he founded the first incarnation of The Blue Grass Band.
Recognizing mental/emotional issues which, in the beginning seemed to be assets to the lifestyle of a traveling musician, but later on became part of the madness in the world of talent sales, Butch sought professional counsel. After nearly a decade of trying to adjust to the "real" world other than that of a musical artist, in the early 90's Butch helped start the Hay Holler Record label with 2 recordings sold through means of telemarketing. In 1995 he produced a masterpiece banjo-oriented bluegrass recording, "Grounded-Centered-Focused", featuring, amongst a magnificently talented supporting cast, Bill Monroe himself.
Since then, Butch has traveled to and performed in Japan, Australia and Europe. As a result of these travels, he assembled some of the world's finest bluegrass musicians into the World International Bluegrass Band in 2007 as "a musical statement of international cooperation and goodwill'. The band toured Virginia before performing at the IBMA Convention in Nashville, TN and taping a live TV performance for "Song of the Mountains".
Also noteworthy is Butch's role in preserving the history of Blue Grass music and keeping alive the legend of Bill Monroe. His autobiography & memoirs, "What I Know 'Bout What I Know" earned strong reviews and a nomination for the IBMA's Printed Media Personality of the Year in 2004. Butch has also been an instructor at several camps, including the Tennessee Banjo Institute, Jack Hatfield's Smoky Mountain Banjo Academy, Midwest Banjo Camp, Augusta Heritage Center and Camp Ausgrass in Australia.
In 2013, Butch recorded a series of videos for Radford University entitled "Butch Robins Presents- Blue Grass Music, its Origin and Development as a Unique and Creative Art Form." In this 5 part video series, Butch Robins explains the fascinating history of Blue Grass music. He uses both recorded and live music to set and illustrate the timeline, relates real life anecdotes of the musicians involved and tells personal stories of his life and relationship with Bill Monroe. Having had a working and friendly relationship with Monroe and many of the other musicians in this story, his insight and knowledge come together to form a unique perspective of this part of history. This presentation has received exceptional reviews and can be viewed by clicking the following link:
For the past decade, Butch has been in search of the quintessential banjo tune and recording with various artists. New projects in the planning and development stages include collaboration with Michael Cleveland, Yoshihiro Arita and Kathy Chiavola.
Butch currently lives near Pulaski, Virginia and is an avid golfer attached to the Great Oaks Country Club near Floyd, Virginia.
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