WELCOME to “People’s Pick.” Each “pick” is an interview with a songwriter and guitarist popular with the public, mostly from places I’ve met them in Connecticut, Vermont or Rhode Island. But they come from everywhere, full of verve and insight into what it means to write a song, pluck a guitar, pound the ivories — and make a joyful noise.
This month’s “pick,” Bill Brink, played in several small bands over the years, moving to Vermont in 2001 and playing in a jug band complete with washtub bass, washboard, kazoo, harmonica and mandolin. The CD “The Pen Is Mightier than the Sword” followed, featuring original and traditional material. For the past two years he has focused on performing solo, playing small clubs, Town Greens and farmers markets. He started a music series in Weathersfield, Vt., as well as a coffeehouse series in Springfield, Vt. and a public access show called the “Acoustic Living Room.”
PEOPLE’S PICK: What is the first song you wrote and what does it mean to you today?
BILL BRINK: The first real song I wrote was a song of unrequited love called, “Unfaithfully Yours.” It was actually a rather angry song and more therapy than music, at least for me.
PEOPLE’S PICK: How important to your formation as a songwriter was your membership in the band Grand Junction and the jug band?
BILL BRINK: When [fellow musician] John asked me if I wanted to join Grand Junction, I was really excited because he was impressed with my writing. I ended up writing a number of the songs that were released on the album, “Mountains and Valleys.” When I moved up to Vermont, I wanted to do something laid back and with as little rehearsal as possible so I figured I’d do a jug band and knock off a few “fun” songs that we could do on someone’s front porch.
PEOPLE’S PICK: Why a jug band, anyway?
BILL BRINK: My love for jugband music came about after seeing Washboard Slim and The Blue Lights and John Sebastian. From there, I picked up a washboard and played with the Dan Vece Sunday Singalong in Westbrook on Sunday afternoons. It’s just fun and rhythmic music that anybody can play.
PEOPLE’S PICK: Where is your favorite place to perform?
BILL BRINK: I really enjoy farmers markets and small taverns. I’m fortunate to have a sound system that will allow me to do small venues yet be able to handle Town Greens. If I had to pick a favorite, it would have to be the Woodstock Farmers Market. There’s always kids dancing and a real festival atmosphere.
PEOPLE’S PICK: Why did you go solo?
BILL BRINK: I took a hiatus for a couple of years after the Black River Jug stompers. And when I pulled my guitar out to play, I realized I would have to reinvent myself as a performer if I wanted to get other folks to gig with me. So, now that I’ve regained my confidence, I’m actually performing with other musicians in the area on kind of a pick-up basis. I’ve gained quite a roster to choose from.
PEOPLE’S PICK: How did the coffeehouse and music series come about?
BILL BRINK: Well, I wanted a family-friendly venue that was alcohol-free and that anyone could attend regardless of cost, so I contacted the Unitarian church in Springfield, Vt., and they jumped on it. It’s grown ever since and is basically running itself.
PEOPLE’S PICK: Your drinking song, “One Is Too Much,” is a lively blend of bluegrass and country. How did you come to write it?
BILL BRINK: I wrote it after observing a fellow at a bar who was a wee bit tipsy trying to talk to the woman sitting next to him. She got up, went out onto the dance floor then danced her way into the ladies’ room after he tried to dance with her.
PEOPLE’S PICK: What is your favorite chord progression and why?
BILL BRINK: I would have to say c-a-d-g-e c-a-d-g.
It’s just fun and easy and the basis for so many great songs.
PEOPLE’S PICK: Who is your biggest musical influence?
BILL BRINK: Lately, I’ve been listening to Ian Hunter and Mott the Hoople. But I’m also influenced by Pete Seeger as well as Bruce Cockburn.
PEOPLE’S PICK: What inspires you to write songs?
BILL BRINK: Well, it varies. Sometimes, I’m inspired by a situation of social injustice; other times it’s just sheer silliness.
PEOPLE’S PICK: What is your next goal as songwriter and performer?
BILL BRINK: I seem to have found a niche up here [in Vermont] and helped foster an acoustic music scene that brings together performers of all levels. I’m working with a couple of groups in Springfield to start a performance space so we can host national acts; that way, I can use local talent as an opening act. As for myself, I’m happy performing locally up here though I’ve had invitations to come to New London and perform, which I plan on pursuing at some point.