Tim White Loves Bluegrass
by Stephen Pitalo
When Tim White left Roanoke, Virginia in the 1970s and settled in east Tennessee, he pursued his careers as an artist, sign painter, and banjo picker. An artist first and a sign painter second, the banjo was a lifelong love, and led him down the path to a contribution to the culture of bluegrass that far surpassed his wildest dreams.
Tim’s interest in the musical heritage of the region, a region which stretched from Roanoke to Knoxville and cut a broad swath into neighboring states, led to his painting a mural on State Street in Bristol in 1986. This mural depicts the principal characters of the historic Bristol Sessions, which took place in Bristol, TN-VA in the summer of 1927.
Tim’s musicianship gained a following and he has fronted several bands over the past two decades, including Troublesome Hollow, The Beagles, and the VW Boys.
“My first serious band was Troublesome Hollow. I joined those guys in 1978 and we played together for over 20 years. After disbanding for 16 years we got back together about 5 years ago and rekindled our music. We are currently doing shows. Troublesome Hollow shows are laced with music and comedy as well.”
Tim’s interest in recognizing, preserving, and perpetuating the historic music of the area led to the recruitment of others of a like mind and organizing of the Appalachian Cultural Music Association.
Serving as ACMA president, White makes use of all his talents — artist, businessman, musician, and radio announcer — to organize concerts and contribute his time and efforts to promote the music and the message. White founded the Mountain Music Museum 1999, a museum dedicated to preserving the heritage of Southern Appalachia’s musical tradition.
White’s “Birthplace of Country Music” Mural became a local landmark and tourist draw that brought the story of Bristol to the world. Tuesday night pickin’ sessions, where musicians could come and play their traditional and contemporary music, much as has been done on front porches and around store potbellied stoves for the last two centuries. It is one of the reasons that White hosts Tim White Bluegrass Show, a syndicated radio program featuring the best in bluegrass and comedy, from Bristol. He hosts “The Bluegrass Show” on WAXM (FM 93.5) every Saturday from 9am to noon EST, and across the globe.
White is also the host of the PBS television concert series, Song of the Mountains, which has been featured on over 180 PBS affiliates and 52 million viewers across America and features bluegrass, old-time, Celtic, gospel and Americana music.
How did you form the VW Boys originally with Dave Vaught and Larry McPeak?
“Back in the early 1990s, I hired Dave Vaught to perform magic at a couple of matinees leading up to an evening bluegrass concert. I knew Dave was a professional magician. He had a reputation around Bristol for his magic shows. After working with him on these first matinee shows, I learned he was a guitar player and singer as well. We talked about getting together and working up a show to include music, magic, and comedy. That was in 1997. At first, we were going to work it as a duo but after working on some songs and routines we decided to bring in a third part harmony vocal and bass player. That turned out to be Larry McPeak.
Larry McPeak was our first bass player and lead singer. He sang tenor vocals also. Larry became sick around the year 2000. It was something pretty bad, I could tell. Larry went to a doctor and found out he needed a liver transplant. He needed to get on the transplant list and back then it cost $10,000 to get on that list. Larry was convinced that he was simply going to die. The VW Boys and other bands and individuals started a campaign to raise the money for Larry’s transplant and in 90 days the bluegrass community raised $30,000 and got Larry and two other people on the transplant list. Long story short, Larry received his liver transplant and rejoined the band. He lived another 10 years until his passing from other ailments on September 18, 2014. Larry was terrific to work with and was a fantastic songwriter.
Is that when Fat Albert Blackburn became your bass player?
Near the end of his life, Larry had to quit performing again due to his health situation. We looked for a replacement which was going to be hard to do. I was looking through my Rolodex one night and ran across Fat Albert Blackburn’s card. I knew he would fit if he was available. I called him and he was between bands and available. He came and rehearsed with us, and he was great.
What is it about music, comedy, and magic performance that makes them so appealing, and possible to combine into one show?
There are so many great musicians in the bluegrass and Americana world. The VW Boys are good too but we wanted to present something in a show that was different. We wanted to do a show that was more entertaining than just a musical performance. We have always believed that everyone should fill their life with music and laughter. It is “Music Medicine.” During a VW Boys show, you forget your problems for an hour or so…. well. so do we. Just good clean, family-style fun.
When did each of the band members first become interested in each discipline: music, comedy, and magic?
Dave Vaught is a professional magician and great guitar player. He played mostly electric music with a few southern rock bands in the past. Once he & I got together with the VW Boys idea, he switched to mostly acoustic music of course. Dave had also previously worked in the cruise ship business. His main vocation over the years has been his magic shows.
Fat Albert Blackburn played music in southwestern Virginia for over 20 years with a band named “Fescue.” They won the prestigious band competition at the Galax Old-Time Fiddler’s Convention twice. Albert is the bass player for the VW Boys as well as lead singer on most songs. He is a big jolly man on stage. He has a wonderful sense of humor. You can’t help but have a great time around Fat Albert Blackburn. Oh, and it is ok the call him FAT ALBERT. Some folks look embarrassed when we introduce him that way but he wears that title like a badge of honor.
VW BOYS: HIGHLIGHT PERFORMANCES:
Tom T. Hall’s “Artist in Residence Show” at the Ford Theatre at the Country Music Hall of Fame
The Carter Family Fold in Hiltons, VA (many times over the years)
Song of the Mountains nationally syndicated concert series on public television based at the Lincoln Theatre in Marion, VA
Smithsonian Folklife Festival, Washington, DC
Kennedy Center, Washington, DC
Mayberry Days in Mount Airy, NC for over 20 years now.
Mayberry Cruise on Carnival Cruise Lines
Song of the Mountains Cruise on Carnival Cruise Lines
Barter Theatre in Abingdon, VA
Dr. Ralph Stanley Festival in McClure, VA
Groundhog Festival in Punxsutawney, PA