If any one of our local musicians has musical ADD, it’s Mickey Justice. The musical genres he plays range from Bluegrass to Swing to various types of ethnic music like Celtic, Italian, Nordic… the list goes on. He also plays with several bands including Such Fools, The Folk Heroes, Duos with Mike O’Loughlin, Duos with Frank Nanna, and does solo work in addition.
BH: You play in quite the variety of genres.
MJ: I know. I’m an oddball. But I love creating my own niche markets where I can fill a musical or atmospheric need.
BH: So, I know you play the bagpipes, how did that happen? And what other instruments do you play?
MJ: I started out as a Bluegrass mandolin kid and sort of took my musical journeys in a ton of directions. I traded a fiddle while living in Nashville for my first set of pipes. They seemed to make a much more pleasant sound than I did on a fiddle. Go figure…when Highland Pipes sound better than a violin, then I’d say that’s one horrible fiddler! I also play Mandolin, Bouzouki, Guitar, Tenor Guitar (A tuning), Tenor Banjo (in an altered C tuning), Standard and Low Whistles, Bodhran, Didgeridoo, and Scottish Small pipes. I noodle a lot with other instruments that I think are performance worthy.
My acoustic guitar work is primarily in DADGAD tuning because within my first couple of years of living in Nashville, I saw Pierre Bensusan at the Bluebird Cafe. He made DADGAD his standard tuning years ago and has been/is world famous for his finger style guitar prowess and compositions. I spoke with him after the show and he informed me of this tuning. I’ll still play in standard tuning; but only if I’m threatened with non-payment or physical harm!
BH: What has been one of the biggest challenges for you as a musician?
MJ: Well… there’s always going to be challenges, and if you let any of them stop you, you’re in for a long and rough road. That goes for making it your profession or simply enjoying the craft of it. I don’t read standard notation, but I understand theory because of years spent reading and writing Nashville number charts. That’s one challenge; but you see, you have to find a way around these challenges or just make peace with them. Another sizable challenge for me is that I often (and easily) get pigeon-holed as one style/type of musician. That’s probably because of what most people see me playing. I’ve heard the term of having many ethos before… it’s also sort of like the story of the Blind Men And An Elephant. An elephant was led into a room with several blind men trying to describe the same subject from different perspectives. Of course, when I put my Kilt on these days, I’m definitely feeling more and more like the elephant.
BH: That’s a really good analogy.
MJ: Isn’t that great? Ray Emmons told me about that one. He’s a great friend, fellow musician, mentor as well as my Brother Freemason.
BH: Well with being pigeon-holed, that kind of goes with another question, how do you feel about the music scene here on the Eastern Shore?
MJ: As far as the music scene here on the Shore…let me start by stating, clearly: I don’t judge any others’ talents; nor do I measure myself against any other musicians. It’s your music. You make it, interpret it, and present it. There’s a lot of complaining and swiping at one another because of supply and demand issues. I’m grateful that I keep what I do a specialty. I would like to see everyone collaborate a lot more. I intentionally go out and sit in with folks just to show that not every time you pick up your instrument, you don’t have to get paid for it. I’m not saying play all night for free, but show some musical spirit and share a good time with other players. You never know, it might just lead to some co-writing or side projects. I think all of our audiences deserve to see us at our happiest. After all, aren’t they our customers?
BH: There’s definitely some truth to that. Our last question together is one that seems to stump most people. If you were stranded on an island with a CD player and only three albums to listen to for the rest of your life what would they be?
MJ: On an island with Mary Anne? Or just the CD player and CDs?
BH: Just the CD player and CDs… sorry.
MJ: Probably New Grass Revival’s On The Boulevard…and Skip, Hop & Wobble by Jerry Douglas, Russ Barenberg, Sam Bush and Edgar Meyer, and probably The Bothy Band Live or Stanley Brothers Columbia Sessions.
If you would like to catch Mickey you can see him host the Live Pub Session at the Irish Penny in Salisbury on Tuesday nights or check his Facebook page.
Photo credit: Kasia Kaczor and Mickey Justice