The stupendous Billy Strings

I’ve spent some time on YouTube listening to Billy Strings, a new discovery for me, and someone who—along with Molly Tuttle—has convinced me that the future of bluegrass is in good hands. After all, the lad is only 27. (The future of rock, in contrast, is bleak.) His real name is William Apostol; he changed the last name after, well, I’ll let the Northern Express tell it 7 years ago:

 “I was born on my grandpa’s birthday, so they named me after Grandpa Bill,” says Strings, who just turned 20 and whose given name is William Apostol. “I got the name Billy Strings from my Aunt Mondi, who was a real spiritual, hip Indian lady. She’s the first person who called me that — she said “˜look at little Billy Strings play’ when I was a child.”

He is of course the real thing, and in my view is fully as good as Doc Watson. My only beef is that he’s overly inked, but that’s his choice, and it doesn’t affect his music. At any rate, I promised to put up a few of his songs, and it was a really hard choice. There are so many good ones, even on YouTube. If you like him, do your own sleuthing.

Here’s Billy’s own composition: “Dust in a Baggie,” about being jailed for methamphetamine. This is at his debut at the Grand Ole Opry, and, as one commenter noted, “The edgiest thing ever played at the Opry in 100 years.”

A smoking version of “This Heart of Mine”. Strings really has assembled a fantastic young bluegrass band:

Here’s Strings’s rendition of a song made popular by Doc Watson, “Tennessee Stud”, written and recorded in 1959 by Jimmy Driftwood:

Strings fooling around with a vintage Martin dreadnought at Carter Vintage Guitars, which makes videos of players noodling on classic instruments.

“Lost John” on a Martin D-21:

Finally, here’s Phil, a guitar teacher, analyzing one of Strings’s performances, “Turmoil and Tinfoil”.

23 Comments

  1. GBJames
    Posted February 2, 2020 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

    More great stuff!

  2. rgsherr
    Posted February 2, 2020 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

    Thanks very much for this. Both Billy Strings and Molly Tuttle were new to me too. Delighted to have found them. Amazing guitarists as well as wonderful singers.

  3. JezGrove
    Posted February 2, 2020 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

    Great playing – from Billy and his band.

  4. Posted February 2, 2020 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

    Marvelous. Lightens my head just hear all this.

  5. Eric Grobler
    Posted February 2, 2020 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

    His best composition in my arrogant opinion is “Turmoil & Tinfoil”, around 13 min in video below.

    And some Gershwin:

  6. Eric Grobler
    Posted February 2, 2020 at 4:11 pm | Permalink

    “My only beef is that he’s overly inked”
    And once they start they never stop, a weird addiction 😦

  7. Frank Bath
    Posted February 2, 2020 at 6:13 pm | Permalink

    It’s not my music but I’m prepared to make it so. Mesmerising finger work. I’m lost for praise.

  8. John Conoboy
    Posted February 2, 2020 at 6:14 pm | Permalink

    Billy is a great flatpicker. His Tennessee Stud uses the Doc Watson guitar part and enhances it. Over all, I like Molly Tuttle as a musician and singer better. She is not as good a flatpicker as Billy, but from watching youtube videos, I think she may be more versatile. There are some videos of her fingerpicking and one where she uses banjo frailing techinque on the guitar. But, that is a judgement based on limited evidence at the moment. They are both great and it is good to see young folks getting back to the roots of country music, which has mostly turned into smarmy, twangy, pop/rock.

  9. Posted February 2, 2020 at 6:19 pm | Permalink

    Jerry, thanks for this! This is excellent music.

  10. rickflick
    Posted February 2, 2020 at 7:26 pm | Permalink

    That 4th video is lined up on Reina Del Sid from Minniapolis doing “Ain’t Nobody Going to Miss Me When I’m Gone”. I follow her channel and I like a lot of her stuff. Her side kick is Toni Lindgren who can do pretty fancy finger work.

  11. Ken Kukec
    Posted February 2, 2020 at 8:02 pm | Permalink

    I’m no big-time bluegrass freak, but those’re some great tunes and great playin’.

  12. mallardbrad
    Posted February 2, 2020 at 8:44 pm | Permalink

    Who would have ever guessed that you really like bluegrass?

  13. Avis James
    Posted February 2, 2020 at 8:44 pm | Permalink

    I love Jimmy Driftwood!

  14. Mack
    Posted February 2, 2020 at 10:50 pm | Permalink

    If you’re inclined to go to the Molly Tuttle show at the Old Town School, I would happily join you for a beer next door before/after!

  15. Dominic
    Posted February 3, 2020 at 3:46 am | Permalink

    Very good! Very different…

    • Dominic
      Posted February 3, 2020 at 3:47 am | Permalink

      Bothers me that he resembles some actor who I cannot recall the name of…

  16. darrelle
    Posted February 3, 2020 at 5:58 am | Permalink

    Even though I don’t care for Bluegrass very much and don’t listen to it very often* I liked nearly all of these clips of Billy Strings. He really is very good on guitar. His flat-picking technique has already been mentioned and I think his fret work is very good too.

    *There is a band that plays around my area that is a weird (in a good way) blend of Bluegrass, Irish Folk, Punk and Heavy Metal. They are always fun to see.

  17. Joe Baldassano
    Posted February 3, 2020 at 10:22 am | Permalink

    My only beef is that he’s overly inked, but that’s his choice, and it doesn’t affect his music.

    So,Dr. Coyne, what’s your beef with being “overly inked”?

  18. Posted February 3, 2020 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

    Billy s, keep your feet on the ground and remember that first video in that back room of that party. Don’t forget where you came from,

    Brendan g
    Seattle wa.

  19. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted February 3, 2020 at 7:31 pm | Permalink

    “Dust” is a great tune to listen to first! The vocals are so warm and together, group is tight, I just want them to keep going! Nice pick, never heard of the guy.

    I came to appreciate this genre from David Grisman’s Orange Blossom Special (?) at the beginning of Car Talk.

  20. Mark R.
    Posted February 3, 2020 at 10:33 pm | Permalink

    Thanks Professor for the introduction. I listen to a man who knows “Revolver” is the greatest Beatles album recorded!

  21. Mark R.
    Posted February 3, 2020 at 10:37 pm | Permalink

    I laughed at the comment: “I don’t know if this makes me want to play harder or give up.”
    Indeed…I gave up guitar years ago for different reasons…no reason to quit knowing you’ll never be a Mr. Strings, but I understand the sentiment.


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