By Aaron Davis (for JHWeekly.com)
Mike Dowling is a rare bird to be stationed in Dubois, Wyoming. One of the country’s top acoustic fingerstyle guitarists and instructors, Dowling repositioned himself from being a sought-after Nashville session player to operating the Wind River Guitar school out of his home with his wife, Jan. That was over sixteen years ago.
“We are fortunate that the school allows us to live in such a nice place and have some of the music business come to us,” Dowling said, “and not feel like I need to be out there on the road.”
Since planting Wyoming roots, a near annual tradition for Dowling has been a solo concert at Dornan’s. In the spirit of making each year’s show different from the last, he has linked up with multi-instrumentalist Ben Winship and bassist/guitarist Phil Round and for a two-night run in the valley’s premiere listening room.
Winship and Round formed the acclaimed Loose Ties bluegrass band together in 1986, which made regular appearances on the Telluride Bluegrass Festival stage and toured internationally before disbanding in 1996. Since then, they have performed together in various incarnations and have each maintained multi-dimensional solo careers of performance, instruction and recording.
“As a singer and guitarist it’s really a nice luxury to be able to hook up with one or two like-minded people—like Ben and Phil—and have a roadmap of a song, but also so much flexibility within that framework,” Dowling said.
From bottleneck blues to swing, ragtime, fandangos, and other obscure roots guitar music, Dowling has a crafty way of subtly playing the parts of two guitarists, walking a rhythm and melody at the same time. The breadth of his stylings can be heard on nine studio albums, not counting his contribution of the tune “What’s Happening” to the Grammy-winning instrumental album of Henry Mancini compositions on the album, Pink Guitar. He was one of twelve guitarists in the country to arrange music for the album, of which, Dowling’s recording session took place at Winship’s Henhouse Studio.
One of Dowling’s trademark traditions is digging up lost gems from scratchy vinyl recordings and arranging them to suit a performance, a historian of sorts. But he has also penned a significant amount of original compositions over the years, including some that were recording by Emmylou Harris, the Nashville Bluegrass Band, Tim O’Brien, Kathy Mattea, Del McCoury, as well as a co-write with his wife that became a number one hit for Canadian country artist George Fox.
Dowling’s guitars could be a story on their own, which include a vintage Martin M-36 and various National resonator guitars, including a self-restored El Trovador from the early 1930s and a ResoRocket. He helped to revive the popularity of the El Trovador model, and several years ago worked with the National Reso-Phonic Guitar Company on a re-design, producing the Mike Dowling Signature Model—the company’s first and only signature model. The Mike Dowling Hot-Plate System followed, which was designed as a pick-up amplifying device for any National guitar.
While the trio of Dowling-Winship-Round gathered at the Wort back in March for a Wyoming Public Radio recording, the concerts at Dornan’s mark the first time this lineup has performed publically.
“This won’t be the Mike Dowling repertoire with the addition of Ben and Phil,” Dowling said. “We’ll be doing some special things like taking advantage of trio singing and playing some instrumentals. I want it to be a fresh show. Maybe the hardest thing is just pairing down the grand songlist that we all have together. We’re all coming from the same place in terms of the music that we appreciate.”
Mike Dowling and Friends with Ben Winship and Phil Round perform at 8 p.m., Tuesday and Wednesday (Dec 4-5), at Dornan’s in Moose. Tickets are $20, available at Valley Bookstore or Dornan’s. 733-2415.