People are often surprised to hear that as a piano tuner I don't play piano, even though statistically about half don't. I have, however, played guitar and banjo professionally for most of my life. I point out that those instruments have to be tuned regularly by the user and therefore have done much to train my ear for pitch.
Starting at the age of 15, I played guitar in a band called Con Brio, playing rock and country rock. Our highlight was probably the experience of winning first place at the Iowa State Fair's Battle of the Bands in 1971. Con Brio's story can be found at The Iowa Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame where we were inducted in 2009.
After Con Brio, I fell in love with bluegrass music and learned to play the banjo, which led to the formation of the band The Warren County String Ticklers. Our hook was that we played an eclectic mix of everything from traditional bluegrass to jazz, to rock, to classical, to you name it. Coming in with the popularity of country rock in the mid 70's, the band took off with as much work as we could handle, and we were fortunate enough to serve as the opening act for The Byrds, Bonnie Raitt, and George Thorogood. In 1980 we played a series of dates, taped a public TV show and recorded an album with the virtuoso jazz mandolinist Jethro Burns, better known as one half the legendary musical comedy duo "Homer and Jethro".
"The Warren County String Ticklers with special guest Jethro Burns" during taping for a public television series called "Country Music Time" in Champagne, Illinois.
From left to right: Dave Bunch, banjo - Mike Weeks, mandolin - Jethro Burns, mandolin - Terry Feldott, guitar - Bob Nible, bass.
As part of a cultural exchange program, the state of Iowa sent us to Yucatan, Mexico to tour the small rural villages, playing a style of music that most had never heard before. Playing "Foggy Mountain Breakdown" among the ancient Mayan ruins was a surreal experience, to say the least.
After the band split up in the mid 80's I played with Bob Cook, an act that could be described as Folk music in overdrive. During this time I also gave banjo and guitar instruction and served as a recording studio musician, laying down banjo tracks for everything from McDonalds commercials to seed corn companies and grocery store fried chicken. My most memorable session was when I was requested by the pork producers to play a banjo arrangement of Bach's Fugue in D minor for a film presentation that parodied the movie "Rollerball", while the camera panned across a large hog arena. Only in Iowa.
After a long layoff from bluegrass, I joined up with some new friends who just happen to be great musicians to form a new band called Blue Grit. Unfortunately it was too good to last, but here are a few videos from a couple of Blue Grit performances. From Left to Right are: Phil Smith- bass, Kris Alfstad- mandolin and vocals, Dave Alfstad- guitar and vocals, Greg Valentine- fiddle, mandolin and vocals, Dave Bunch- banjo.
Somewhere along the way I discovered solo guitar playing in the styles of Chet Atkins, Jerry Reed and Tommy Emmanuel. I would always seem to fall back on this music, especially when I didn't have a band together because the style would allow me to play a complete song all by myself.