Becky Buller is as recognizable for her songwriting as she is for her mane of curly red hair and retro chic, cat-eye glasses. And the bluegrass multi-instrumentalist, singer and band leader is measurably more recognized by the music community today than she was just a few short years ago.
As a side musician for a relatively low profile band, Buller’s name was best known as composer of songs recorded by others, including Rhonda Vincent and Doyle Lawson. She’d made only one album under her own name way back in 2004 and she didn’t seem inclined to do so again.
But things changed fast, and in recent years she made history, becoming the only musician ever to win awards from the International Bluegrass Music Association as an instrumentalist (the fiddle in her case), a vocalist and songwriter. Alison Krauss can’t claim that. Neither can Rhonda Vincent or Tony Rice or anybody. This kind of range is enviable in any artist and it is hard to crack into the IBMA Awards, where established stars tend to win year after year.
So now Buller is beginning to reckon with bluegrass stardom, with being out front, with running a band and with the attention and scrutiny that will inevitably follow her wins. And this spring the focus is on the first album she’s released since her award triple-play, out on Valentine’s Day, called Crepe Paper Heart.
In the conversation here, we talk about the patience it took to make the album and the rewards of waiting to work with the right people, including a slate of fellow IBMA Award winners. Rob Ickes lends his dobro. Rhonda Vincent sings scorching harmony on the song “Calamity Jane.” And her fondest memories stem from a long-sought session with the Fairfield Four on an a cappella gospel song she wrote with them in mind.
Buller will joke on stage about growing up in the bluegrass hotbed of St. James, Minnesota, but it was a hotbed for her, because her family had the band Prairie Grass, and she came of age juggling classical violin and bluegrass fiddle. The latter won out. And ever since attending East Tennessee State University, with its respected bluegrass music program, Becky has been pursuing a multi-faceted bluegrass career. She won the Merlefest song contest back in 2001. Now with an indie label behind her, an excellent band and those IBMA trophies on her shelf, she’ll be more visible than ever on the circuit this year.
BONUS CONVERSATION: STEPHEN MOUGIN
The independent label mentioned above, Dark Shadow Recording, is a vital part of Becky Buller’s recent history. It’s a home studio operation launched by Stephen Mougin in 2005 that grew into an indie label. Mougin is perhaps most readily recognized as the versatile and speedy guitarist in the Sam Bush Band, but he’s got multiple pursuits, including songwriter, educator and producer. He was an early believer in Becky Buller and has recorded and released two album on her, 2014’s ‘Tween Earth and Sky and the new Crepe Paper Heart. Here's a short conversation with Mougin: