Jack Tottle, contributed photo.
JOHNSON CITY – A press release from East Tennessee State University reports internationally known bluegrass mandolin artist and composer Jack Tottle will perform songs from his new CD album, “The Eagle,” in a free concert at the Appalachian Cultural Music Association’s Pickin’ Porch at the Foundation Event Facility, 620 State Street, Bristol.
The concert will be held Monday, June 3, at 7 p.m.
After beginning work at ETSU as a part-time instructor, Tottle founded what was then known as the ETSU Bluegrass Program in 1982. For nearly a decade, he was the sole instructor and taught bluegrass band, guitar, and history of bluegrass and country music classes, as well as giving individual lessons.
“Finally, by the end of the 1990s,” he recalled, “the program had begun to garner the financial support to start addressing pent-up student demand. Growth began to outstrip what anyone could have predicted.”
By the spring of this year, 80 students had declared for the new baccalaureate degree – the nation’s first comprehensive major in Bluegrass, Old Time and County Music Studies – which is now offered through the Department of Appalachian Studies in the ETSU College of Arts and Sciences. There were 625 student registrations for an array of classes offered by the two dozen full-time and adjunct faculty members. Students received 278 individual instruction lessons every week, and a record 42 student bands performed in public at least three times throughout the semester.
Tottle, who retired as director in 2007, is pleased with the program’s achievements to date.
Now living on the Big Island of Hawaii, he says he finds more time for what he loves most – composing new songs and tunes, and performing in relaxed venues close to home.
“I’m very fortunate to have good friends living nearby on the island who also love bluegrass music and enjoy learning new skills and material,” he said. “However, it is a special treat to be back in East Tennessee, to enjoy the beautiful countryside, to reconnect with old friends and to play music with some of my all-time favorite musicians.”
Many bluegrass fans will recognize songs written by Tottle, including “Leavin’” recorded by Tasty Licks and by James King, “Cold Wind” by Mountain Heart, and “I’d Rather Be a Lonesome Pine” performed by Alison Krauss and Union Station and recorded by Blue Highway.
Tottle’s previous album, “The Bluegrass Sound,” garnered a “Highlight Review” in Bluegrass Unlimited magazine, which called it “one of the most significant bluegrass releases of any millennium, and a MUST for any CD player starving for classic bluegrass music.”
Performing with Tottle during the June 3 concert will be a cast of faculty and alumni from Bluegrass, Old Time and Country Music Studies at ETSU, including current director Daniel Boner on guitar, Glenn Rose on banjo and Bill Dunham on bass, along with well-known fiddler Kevin Jackson. In addition, Steve Ryan of Hawaii will make a guest appearance on banjo.
Some of the song titles from “The Eagle” that listeners might hear, in addition to the title track, include “Out of Luck Blues,” “First Name Basis With the Blues,” “Golden Leaf Tobacco,” “Wild Pony,” “Bluegrass Widow,” “Help Me Learn How to Live” and “Big Pig Breakaway.”
For more information or special assistance for those with disabilities, contact ETSU Bluegrass, Old Time and Country Music Studies at (423) 439-7072.