Molly Tuttle: From Homegrown Bluegrass to a New Solo Album
Homegrown music is not only nurtured in the family, but through community and local history. This has been demonstrated from the earliest days of the Carter Family to the Watkins siblings and Nickel Creek. The story of singer-songwriter Molly Tuttle and her father, Jack, is an illuminating example of how this happens while allowing the children to expand beyond their musical roots.
Jack Tuttle grew up in rural Illinois. His father played banjo, so their family gatherings always included old-time country music. Tuttle picked up the guitar, then fiddle, banjo, and mandolin. Today, he is a sought after teacher of stringed instruments from his home in Palo Alto, California. So, it was natural for Tuttle to raise his own children, including his oldest, Molly, with a guitar, banjo, and mandolin in their hands.
At 22 years old, Molly Tuttle, a recent graduate of the Berklee School of Music, is working on her first solo album of original material. She began playing guitar when she was eight years old, with her father as her teacher. She soon moved on to mandolin and banjo. But, guitar became her main instrument, as she began to master the complex techniques of flatpicking.
Soon, she began playing local live gigs around Palo Alto with her family. Molly and the Tuttle family, with A.J. Lee, have gone on to grow a strong reputation as bluegrass musicians at national festivals. In 2007, Molly and Jack released a duo album, The Old Apple Tree. They have also released two family albums, Introducing the Tuttles with AJ Lee and, more recently, Endless Ocean.
In 2012, Molly and Jack entered a duet-singing contest on Garrison Keillor’s A Prairie Home Companion. As luck would have it, they won the opportunity to perform “Kentucky Waltz” on the legendary radio broadcast.
So, while this new album is not Molly’s first venture from the family musical fold – she has also released an EP with John Mailander – this will be her boldest move with an album of all original material. She’s currently raising money on Pledge Music to fund the recording, which will happen this fall in Nashville with some special in-studio guests.
Despite her lifelong focus on bluegrass music, Tuttle has explored other musical forms. “When I was growing up,” she said during a recent interview, “I was exposed to a lot of different musical styles. I always chose what I wanted to learn. When I was in middle school, I played electric music and punk.”
But, it was in high school when she discovered artists who pointed her back to her family roots. “When I heard Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks, I found someone who was playing acoustic music but his lyrics said everything in such an original way,” she remembers. “I also heard Gillian Welch around that time, [and] she changed everything for me. … I went to songwriting camps and workshops where you’d write around prompts for song ideas. It was really a good experience.
“This new album,” she continues, “will be rooted in bluegrass but isn’t totally bluegrass. I really want to expand.”
As a multi-instrumentalist and a songwriter, Tuttle’s solo album opens a new chapter in the musical journey of a family whose grandfather chose to pick up a banjo from his Illinois home. It’s a road strewn with the goodness of family and homegrown music. It’s also very good fertile ground for Tuttle’s growing solo career.