Former SPC professor achieves bluegrass dreams

by DEBRA MONTANDON

Alan Munde was a traveling musician and 40 years old. He traveled a lot, but he had a wife and daughter and was ready to settle down a little.

He was in a group called “Country Gazette” and had performed at South Plains College a couple of times. In 1986, he got the opportunity teach and settle down in Levelland.

“I sure do miss it.” Munde said of the Creative Arts Department at SPC. “Buildings used to be just opened for the day. But here, people didn’t want to go home, so the building was open all night. It is a good place here, for sure.”

Munde performed with the Pickin on the Plains band, Steve Williams, Ed Marsh and Flatlands Bluegrass on March 1 in the Tom T Hall Recording and Production Study in the Commercial Music Building in Levelland.

Munde was a professor at SPC until 2006. He now resides in Wimberly, Texas.

IMG_6302“I’m retired from teaching” Munde said. “But I am still trying to be a banjo picking star. Put your thumb and index figure almost together, and that is how close I am to achieving that.”

Munde was about 14 when he started playing the banjo. He played the guitar first, and about a year later he started picking the banjo. His brother and sister played the accordion. He enjoyed his playing so much that he did not keep track of how many hours he practiced.

“Ask my mother,” Munde said jokingly. “She is the one who kept track of the hours. She probably notched it in the door frame with a knife.”

Munde said he would never put the banjo down unless he had to go somewhere. He would play for a while, set it down, then go back and play more.

“It was about getting your fingers to these magic places,” Munde explained. “It’s like a pilgrimage. You walk where others have been. Your fingers are where other famous people have played. People can tell you to play this cord, but it isn’t the same as when your fingers make the sounds.”

Munde counts bluegrass legend Earl Scruggs among his role models.

“To this day, I can still listen to his music and be thrilled by it,” said Munde, who also lists Doug Dillard from the “Darlins” band of the “Andy Griffith Show” and Eddy Shelton from Dallas as his influences.

He said his favorite form of music is, “any music that is creative,” adding,” I like pickers, what ever it is. Country, jazz, classical guitar players. If rock and roll has a guitar base, then I like that.”

When asked how many CDs he has made, he paused, then said, “24 sounds good, but before that was LPs.”

As for advice for aspiring musicians, Munde offers, “Get as good as you can on your instrument.” The good musicians I knew not only had their music good, but their life was in order, where their lifestyle didn’t demand more than their music brought in.”

“Play your music all the time, and be around musicians where music is made,” he added. “Just make music your lifestyle. It’s not the money. You get to know some of the best people in the world. You meet people who want to know you, be around you, and play music with you. That’s really good. It is the best you can do. Work really hard at your craft.”

When Munde arrived at SPC, the bluegrass program was already going, but he influenced it and helped it grow into what it became. The program started in 1975 with IMG_6305John Hartin. When Munde arrived, the program was called “Country and Bluegrass Music.”

“With Munde being at South Plains College, he drew people from all over the world to come here,” says Steve Williams. “He is world known and highly respected.”

Once a year, Munde comes back to Camp Bluegrass at SPC in the summer. Joe and Paula Carr helped manage the camp with him. The camp has been in session more than 34 years.

Some of the famous musicians Munde has played with include Johnny Bush and Fiddlin Frenchie Burke. He played in the band County Fair with Burke, who Munde says “had a hot band.”

“They could really play,” Munde said. “They just burned it.”

Steve Williams first taught at SPC in 1989, then left for 10 years to go on the road to play music. He came back in 1999 and has been teaching for 20 years.

The associate professor of commercial music plays the guitar, dobro, steel guitar, lap steel, bass and harmonica. He was 12 when he started taking lessons and playing music. He grew up loving blues, soul, and country. Williams enjoys playing old country music and blues, though he can also be heard playing ‘60s music and more modern pop.

Back in the 1990s, Munde, Williams and Marsh put together the Steve Alan Trio and would jam on any given Friday night.

“He is one of the heroes,” Williams said of playing with Munde.

Like Munde, Williams’ words of wisdom for a rising artist is to “take it seriously, work hard, practice and keep your head on straight. Don’t get into drinking and all that bad stuff. It is hard, and people are always encouraging and tempting.”

Also performing on March 1 along with Alan Munde was the “Pickin’ on the Plains” ensemble and the Flatland Bluegrass band.

Levi Humphreys played the mandolin and shared vocals in the “Pickin on the Plains” band. Jason Sain played the guitar and shared vocals. Sain described playing with Munde as “Incredible.”

Leah Bynum played violin and vocals. Her twin sister Megan Bynum performed on bass, violin and also vocals. The sisters said playing with Munde was “Once in a lifetime, iconic and surreal.”