In contemporary bluegrass, Tim O’Brien’s name will surface often. He is the co-founder and lead vocalist of “Hot Rize” and “Red Knuckles and the Trailblazers”. O’Brien was a link between the traditional hill sound, and the modern style of bluegrass. After the break-up of the band, O’Brien continued to pull the two styles together as a soloist, a duo partner with his sister Mollie, and with his own band, the “O’Boys”. Some of O’Brien’s lyrics have been recorded by Kathy Mattea, and New Grass Revival.
O’Brien has early memories of Benny Goodman and Glenn Miller. This was the type of music favored by his parents. He began listening to a weekly country music radio show. “The Saturday Night Jamboree.” When he discovered that the radio show was broadcast from a local theater, he became a frequent audience member. He saw performances by Jerry Lee Lewis, Buck Owens, Merle Haggard, and Roger Miller.
O’Brien was only twelve years old, when he got his first guitar. He learned to play it almost immediately. He played with high school rock bands, but his main love was in country music and bluegrass. A man by the name of Roger Bland taught O’Brien to play the guitar in the three-finger style of Earl Scruggs. O’Brien earlier learned that his father had played mandolin banjo in college, loving the sound, he began to play mandolin.
After only one year of college, O’Brien headed to Wyoming and then on to Colorado. It was in Colorado that he hooked up temporarily with a jug band called “Ophelia’s String Band.” He met Pete Wernick and Charles Sawtell, and they joined O’Brien to form a bluegrass band called “Drifting Ramblers.” Another member, Nick Forster, joined the group later. The band drifted apart, and O’Brien and Wernick went on to record solo.
It was during this time he created the band called “Hot Rize”. The band stayed together for twelve years. Although their initial sound was that of very traditional bluegrass, this band continued to evolve into a more progressive sound. A popular highlight of their performances came when the four musicians left the stage and changed their clothes. They then re-entered as the Western honky tonk group “Red Knuckles & the Trailblazers”. This group recorded several albums on their own.
Those following the bluegrass side of the country music industry will long remember the name Tim O’Brien. This Wheeling, West Virginia musician is a Grammy Award winner in country music and bluegrass music. He is also an outstanding musician, with the profound ability to play the guitar, fiddle, mandolin, bouzouki, and mandocello. He has released more than ten studio albums, as well as a duet with Kathy Mattea entitled “The Battle Hymn of Love”.
He won the Grammy Award for Best Traditional Folk Album for “Fiddler’s Green” In 1993, and 2006, he was honored with the “International Bluegrass Music Association’s” Male Vocalist of the Year Award. His band “Hot Rize” was the IBMA’s first Entertainer of the Year in 1990.