Bob Minner: A Dancehall Doctor Steps Out
(Bob Minner and his Bourgeois Slope D guitar with LR Baggs Anthem pickup)
There & Back & Back Again, the debut CD from acoustic guitarist Bob Minner could refer to his 20 years on the road as a member of Tim McGraw’s Dancehall Doctors, trekking from show to show, heading home and then doing it all over again. Or it could be a reference to Minner’s musical evolution: from his childhood introduction to the acoustic guitar via Doc Watson’s bluegrass playing to his rock guitar teenage years, meeting Tim McGraw at a Nashville club and ultimately back to the acoustic sounds which resonate throughout the 11-song release. Either way, There & Back & Back Again is a wonderful musical potpourri showcasing traditional bluegrass, Celtic, pop, Latin and country guitar. And Minner’s journey to the top of the charts is a great story of how to get there and stay there.
A Missouri native, Minner was raised on old-time music and bluegrass. “My first influence for acoustic guitar was Doc Watson who I saw in concert with my dad when I was a kid. Right after that, there were Doc records in the house. I was playing banjo at the time and it was amazing to me that a blind man could play the guitar that well. Then I discovered Norman Blake. So those two were a great foundation. Dan Crary and Tony Rice followed after that.” A natural progression to the electric guitar followed as Minner hit his teenage years, but the acoustic always stuck with him. He began playing bluegrass festivals, eventually placing third in the National Flatpicking Championship two years in a row.
A phone call from a former bandmate solidified Minner’s career path. “In the early ‘90s I went on the road with my (now) wife in our band Awesome Possum, working rodeos, Holiday Inns, country clubs. Then our drummer Randy Davis quit and moved to Nashville. A year or two later, he called me about auditioning for a house gig on guitar in Nashville’s Printer’s Alley. I was retreading tires for a living in Missouri at the time so I gave it a shot and went down there. My wife and I stayed at Randy’s apartment on the floor for a few days. Randy had a new roommate who had just moved to town and who, like all of us, was looking to make it. His name was Tim McGraw. He came down and sang a few songs and I had my audition. I didn’t get the gig though. Tim and I exchanged phone numbers and my wife said to me ‘If that guy ever gets a chance, he’s going to make it.’ He just had the ‘It’ Factor. So my wife and I went back home and a while later we saw one of his videos on TV. I called him up and he pretty much gave me a job right there as his acoustic guitarist. The gigs weren’t as plentiful at first but when Not A Moment Too Soon hit, well then I was gone about 300 days a year. At that point (1994) it was time to make the jump to Nashville.”
The years on the road with McGraw enhanced Minner’s musical education and bonded him with the singer and band mates, nicknamed The Dancehall Doctors. McGraw is one of the few country artists who features his touring band on the studio recordings, and Minner has appeared on hits ‘Live Like You Were Dying,’ ‘Southern Voice’ and ‘If You’re Reading This.’ “I was a late bloomer in the songwriting game. But being around Tim, who records and picks great songs, enabled me to learn a lot, absorb the country influence and blend it with my bluegrass background.”
Much of There & Back & Back Again began on the road as late night and off-show writing sessions in hotel rooms. As the CD came to fruition, Minner pulled together an impressive roster of musicians to accompany him, including Rob Ickes (resonator guitar), Andy Leftwich (fiddle/mandolin), Mark Fain (bass) and Shawn Lane and Don Rigsby (vocals). “I’ve also been fortunate to write with Tim Stafford from Blue Highway, one of the most cutting edge bluegrass bands, as well as Ronny Bowman and the guys from Special Consensus.”
Save for the vocal cut “Now That’s A Song,” the CD is an instrumental record that effortlessly flows across the musical landscape and back again. “I wanted to make music that sounds like what I want to listen to, rather than just a flat-picking record. With the flat-picking instrumentals I tried to make them sound like they were traditional tunes that were written a hundreds years ago. And I think I accomplished that.”
(Video: Minner performs “Sulphur Dell’ from his CD: “For all you baseball fans, Sulphur Dell is a field here in Nashville built in 1869 where Civil War soldiers taught the Southerners how to play the Northerner’s new game of baseball.”)