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Exclusive Artist Interview: Bob Minner

Exclusive Artist Interview: Bob Minner

Musician Bob Minner has played for 40 years, starting at age five. He is an accomplished guitarist, winning major contests in the 80s, and along the way, has developed a unique sound that is entirely his. For the past 18 years, Bob’s served as the acoustic guitarist for country mega-star Tim McGraw, as well as recorded four records with McGraw in the acoustic guitar seat. Bob has played on numerous #1 hits by Tim McGraw, including the mega-smash "Live Like You Were Dying."

Bob released his first solo guitar project in mid-2011, entitled "There & Back & Back Again." It featured all original compositions for guitar, with special guests such as dobro genius Rob Ickes, mandolin, fiddle virtuoso Andy Leftwich, bass guru Mark Fain, and Bob's oldest son, Zachary on drums.

In 2016, Bob will release his second solo project titled "Six String Sanctuary", a stripped-down acoustic guitar album of spiritual standards. In addition to his tour schedule with McGraw, Bob is in the early planning stages of scheduling various solo / ensemble shows to support his new CD, as well as a string of guitar clinic appearances across the United States. 

RA: Hi everybody, this is RA with Weber Fine Acoustic Instruments, and we are honored to have Bob Minner chatting with us today.

Bob: My pleasure.

RA: Tell us, where are you right now? Are you on the road?

Bob: I'm actually in the car with my wife. We had lunch downtown in Nashville, and now we've been hitting some Goodwill's. Living the dream. So, I'm at home. We've only have about 25-30 shows with Tim McGraw this year, so I have a lot of time at the house. I'm enjoying it.

RA: That's great. How long have you called Nashville home?

Bob: We have called Nashville home for 24 years, as of this year. I've worked with Tim, for that entire 24, which in itself, kind of a rarity today to have the same job with the same musician, or the same act, for so long.

RA: Absolutely. How did you find yourself playing with Tim McGraw?

Bob: It's an interesting story. I'll try not to be too long-winded about it. My wife and I had a band, and we were traveling for about 30-40 weeks a year playing on the road, doing country clubs and stuff. We had a drummer named Randy Davis. Randy had quit our band to move to Nashville. Well, we traveled until my wife was 8.5 months pregnant, then we kind of came off the road. When our oldest boy was a year and a half, that was our first one, when he was a year and a half, Randy called me from Nashville. I was living in Missouri at the time. He says, "Hey, why don't you come down and audition for this job, it's called Rainbow Room. They're needing Banjo, Fiddle, Mandolin, that kind of stuff. A utility player, an electric player. And, I said, "Well, man, you know I'm settled back here. We're doing some stuff on the weekends, but I don't really feel like coming down there and auditioning." He says, "Well, just come down and try it out. It will be fun, and it will be great to see you. You and Ginger can stay at the apartment with me and my roommate." So, we're like, "Okay."

We left the baby with mom and dad, drove to Nashville, knocked on Randy's apartment door and he says, "Hey guys. great to see you. This is my roommate, Tim." It was McGraw, but it was only about 6 months or so after he had moved to town. He was just getting started in the business. One thing led to another and kept calling me to go on the road and do club gigs. Of course, I couldn't do that. Then, one day, I saw that he had a video, and had a label deal, so I called him back. He says, "I'd love to have you play for me. But, I don't need an electric player. I just need a Fiddle, and a Mandolin, and Acoustic player." I said, "Well, I can do that." We loaded up the car and moved to Beverly, so to speak, as they say. Moved to Nashville 24 years ago, and we've been here ever since. That's kind of how it happened. Just, from one phone call from a drummer that quit our band. So, there ya go.

RA: That's wild.

Bob: Yeah, it's crazy.

RA: Well, sometimes things just fall into place, right?

Bob: Oh, they sure do, you know. Of course, when we moved down here, we had no idea that Tim would be as big as he would eventually be. He just kept working, and the checks kept clearing (joking). So, we decided to stay.

RA: That's awesome. I'm curious, you've been playing everywhere for 24 years ... are there any shows, or venues, or concerts that stick out as favorites? That were just spectacular for one reason or another?

Bob: Yeah, you know, there's a handful of those. I would say that the high points ... we did two night years ago at Madison Square Gardens, and on the second night, Tony Bennett sat in with us, and he and Tim did a duet. That's kind of a high point. I would also say, that playing Red Rocks Amphitheater, that's pretty spectacular. Just visually, it is what it is. Then, of course, hometown Missouri, where I'm from in St. Louis, when we play there, of course, we're Cardinals fans still, even though we're transplanted to here, to see all the red jerseys out there, and have all the hometown people on your side, that's great.

Those are just some of the high points, I would say that really stand out. Every time you get to play a gig, and you're working as a musician, that's a great gig. I'd say, probably the best gig, is the one that I play before I get to come home and spend time with the family. I'm being a little facetious, but yeah those are the high points. There's plenty more that I could probably think of an hour or two later. It's been a pretty fast pace for 24 years. Seen a lot of crowds, seen a lot of people, and played a lot of music, and it's been a great ride.

RA: As a musician and from a players perspective, over 24 years in your long career, what things change, and what things kind of stay the same?

Bob: The things that change really are just the ... I would say the industry, it's always changing. I mean, if you were a road musician in the early 70's, and you're playing with Loretta Lynn, or Conway Twitty, if you have that job for a certain amount of time, by nature, younger guys move to town, different musical styles come about. Country music changes. I would say that the trend still happens. The trend of Country ... when I moved to town, Country music was just a totally different thing. It was reaching newer audiences. It had the new media of cable TV. You had CMT, and all those other outlets.

Today, a lot of the acts that I was listening to coming to Nashville, and getting here, those people are just either nonexistent in the business, or they've tapered off. The things that stayed the same is, just knowing how to do a gig like this. Just being ready for the gig. Make sure your stuff works, conduct yourself properly, know how to pack a bag, and be low maintenance. I think really you could be a monsterly great player, but if you're a high maintenance person, personally, you're not going to work very long. I think that's the thing. Knowing how to work in a band. Of course, we have eight guys in our band that are behind Tim. That's eight guys you got to live on the road with, and knowing how to do that, and how to do your job well, that stays consistent.

RA: I think that's a great insight and that leads me to another question. For a lot of younger players, or people who are starting off their career, you just touched on being low maintenance, and getting along with your band mates, but what other advice do you have for folks that are kind of just starting out and trying to blaze their own trail?

Bob: I think if you come to town ... people come here for different reasons. Some people come to be songwriters because that's just what they do, and they're looking to branch out and get their feet wet as a songwriter, and get a publishing deal, and obviously get songs cut, but certainly with the changes that the business has been through in the past 10 years with digital music, that's even become a more difficult path. Other people come to town to be artists and songwriters. Then, other people like me, you just come to town to be a side guy. I think really, knowing what you want to do, and being diligent in that, I think that's an important thing. If you're going to be a side guy, just realize that you gotta be more versatile.

I think you gotta be more versatile than even when I came to town with a certain skill set. It seems today, that the skill set also has to do with being able to maybe read a little bit more music, or also be a little more technical minded. There's a lot of guys who are in town today that are young, that are great musicians, but they know how to run Pro Tools, they know how to do loops, they know how to do Midi, along with what they do as a guitar player. Those skills are also really, for certain gigs, juts really important things.

I think really just knowing what you want to do when you come to town. Being diligent. Then, just realize that today ... the job that I've had for 24 years is really just kind of its own anomaly, I mean there's nothing really to kind of compare it to. Realize that when you get a job with an act here today, I would tell younger guys, "Live smaller. Try to save your money, live small, and realize that every job you do, whether it's in a club, or wherever, that's a connection to a bigger job." Because you never know really where the next job is going to come from.

RA: That's great advice. Those are good points.

Bob: Of course, I never really thought about that stuff until I got older. I guess it's that circle of life retrospect thing. That's what I would tell younger guys. Even today, when I came to town, man there was a ton of publishing companies, everybody was getting cuts. There were acts that were selling ... it was common at that time for Country acts to sell 2-4 maybe 6 million records. Today that's really changed. Nobody sells that number of records. There's actually less acts to work for today as an industry, as there was say 20 years ago. There's that perspective as well.

RA: Totally. You've touched on how Nashville's scene is changing. We just did a spin through Nashville not too long ago, and I think ... it's pretty amazing to see how much that town has changed. Your thoughts?

Bob: Yeah, it has. It really has.

RA: How do you see the music scene changing rapidly in Nashville?

Bob: It's been a long time since I've gone down and played a club, and done that kind of scene. In Broadway, has always been a place where musicians are working. As far as the live music scene, I think what's happened with Nashville musically is this; It seems, and this is just an observation, that there's more different kinds of music here now than there were 20-25 years ago. You've got Country players, yeah, but there's a lot of younger guys and girls that are coming into town that didn't grow up on Merle Haggard, Tim McGraw, or Garth Brooks, or whatever they were exposed to.

They're bringing the music styles that they grew up with into the town. So, in one way, the towns kind of expanded, in the sense that, if you want to go hear a Country band, that's like stone cold Country, you can go hear Vince Gill and the Time Jumpers, which is as good as you're gonna get to that swing kind of Country. And there's a thriving Jazz scene here, there's a thriving Alternative music scene here, so there's a lot more kinds of music here than there were in previous years. And the city is growing and expanding as well. The other thing that's happened too, you know we were just downtown today bumming around, and every time we go downtown, we're just kind of amazed at how may skyscrapers are just going up. They make that joke that Tennessee has changed the state bird to the Crane, because there's cranes everywhere downtown.

What's also happened with that, is the cost of living moving here has gone up. It's a little tougher to get your feet planted and live closer to downtown. Whereas, 20 years ago, you could live fairly cheap, and be within a stones throw of anywhere you wanted to play downtown. Musically, we're still thriving, but the business end has changed. There are less publishers, labels have come and gone. In that way, it's kind of gotten a little bit tighter. But, live music really is alive and well in Nashville, depending on what you like. There's something here for everybody. I think that's what leads to making great music. Players from different styles being able to get together, and play and trade-off, and be influenced by one another's backgrounds, then going out and playing, and forming bands with different kinds of musicians. You might have a Bluegrass guy doing this, and you might have a Jazz drummer, and you might have all these other kinds of musicians coming together hodgepodging a band together, and making something really cool out of it. Which I think is awesome.

It's a great town.

RA: It was interesting to see how change was happening rapidly. I want to switch gears a little bit. I'm assuming that you still have the opportunity to play some music around the house. Do you and your wife sit down and play on occasion?

Bob: Oh yeah. That's the one thing ... you talk about things that are always consistent, my wife and I, how we grew up, and the musical styles that we grew up individually and together, yeah that's never changed. Now that we've got sons too, our oldest boy, Zach, he's a great drummer, and pretty good guitar player. Our youngest one, Noah, he's into some stuff. We kind of have the family thing going at times. I come from Bluegrass. That's my background. Growing up in Missouri, I was the banjo, mandolin, dobro, fiddle, guitar kid. I'm always hooking up with Bluegrass buddies, and sitting in and doing something. It's nice to have that juxtaposition, between the big shows and the stuff that Tim does, being able to come home and having something totally different to fall back on for relaxation. It's that old proverbial 'getting back to your roots' thing. It's a nice balance.

RA: What are you working on now? Do you have any side projects, or solo projects or anything like that you're working on?

Bob: I sure do. I've got one that's already out called, 'There and Back and Back Again', and people can get that on iTunes or Amazon, or one of those types. Then, in fact, I've just finished an acoustic hymns project, “Six String Sanctuary” which is really a sparse arrangement of traditional hymns, using acoustic guitar, resonator guitar, I have an octave mandolin on there, and it's really sparse. That's just gotten finished, and it's at editing, and mixing, and mastering as we speak. Hopefully, I'll have that out within another month. People can get that ... they'll be able to get that on iTunes, Amazon, Spotify, and I'm working on the new website, They can get it through there too.

I've just kind of made a promise to myself to just get busy, at 50 years old, doing more music that I can record. I think you play certain ways when you're younger, then when you get older, you just kind of settle into a thing ... it's like Miles Davis says, "Sometimes, it takes a long time to sound like yourself." I think I'm there now, so I'm looking forward to getting the hymns record out. Maybe starting another flatpicking guitar record. I'm always busy, but the hymns record is what's on the burner right now, getting ready to release. I'm kind of excited about that. Sparse, pared down records seem to be a trend that a lot of musicians and guitar players ... like one of my favorite players, Julian Lage, what a monsterly great player. His last acoustic record, 'Worlds Fair' was just him and an acoustic guitar, and two microphones, and just real sparse. I think guys are making simpler records now. So, I'm trying to follow suit with leaving the hot licks behind, and just trying to make something that says something. Music that sounds like me. I'm pretty excited about what I've got coming up.

RA: Well, that's really cool. We look forward to hearing it for sure.

Bob: Oh yeah man, absolutely. You can be sure there'll be a Weber mandolin in the middle of all that.

RA: Well, that’s fantastic. Thank you so much for taking some time to chat with us.

Bob: Oh, it's my absolute pleasure.

RA: I really appreciate it. On behalf of all the craftsmen here at Weber, thanks for playing our instruments. Thanks for everything you do.

Bob: Yeah. A side note, Bruce Sr., who just recently retired, I knew him back when he was with ... from the Flatiron days here in Nashville, which is probably '95 maybe, '96, I've known him forever, and I've just been a strong supporter of what he does, and now that he's retired, Bruce Jr., taking over the helms, over the shop, they just produce great stuff that's consistently great. I own a Diamondback Distressed F-style and it is everything I would want in a Mandolin. I really appreciate them supporting me in my endeavors as well. Plus everybody there at Weber, Sami Mulhern, she's just a sweetheart, and everybody else, so I appreciate their endorsement and their support.

RA: Thank you so much. We really appreciate it, and we look forward to hearing your new music.

Learn more about Bob Minner and his Music