Longtime locals who have traveled East Animas Road (County Road 250) will remember the sign that read “Canyon Music” hanging roadside by a driveway leading up to a typical homestead.
It wasn’t so typical, however, as most homes don’t also double as one of the premier music shops in the region, a place established musicians in Colorado’s roots music scene as well as local up-and-comers went to for instruments and instrument repair. It was the shop of banjo player Bruce Allsopp, whose tenure around the local and regional musical scene dates back to the 1980s and the influential new and jam-grass scene of Boulder.
Like so many other bluegrass musicians written about in this column, it was The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s “Will The Circle Be Unbroken” LP that served as Allsopp’s gateway into the progressive bluegrass world, which opened up the door to a world of bluegrass and its subsequent offshoots of hip acoustic music.
“It was The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, followed by Old and In the Way, that’s what piqued my interest,” Allsopp said about his foray into acoustic music. “But Old and In the Way even more. It was a little hipper, a little cooler. I guess my interest came in the late ’70s when (David) Grisman started coming out with ‘dawg’ music, that floated my boat even more. But I wouldn’t call myself a bluegrasser; I learned to appreciate it because I played the banjo.”
Allsopp’s road to Durango, and his current Smiley Building-based instrument repair business The Lutherie, began when he was learning to play banjo in his home state of New Jersey. Through his father’s work, he met Roger Siminoff, then the country’s premier luthier. Allsopp received a banjo put together by Siminoff from various parts, what Allsopp refers to as “a mongrel” that his son currently plays.
Ski-bumming took him to Jackson Hole and eventually to Boulder, where seeing Bela Fleck in New Grass Revival was a jaw-dropping moment that pushed his desire to play the banjo up a notch, and meeting Benny Galloway and Glenn Keefe got him playing out. One of his day jobs on the Front Range was painting, which included painting the endzones of Folsom Field. He also learned how to spray lacquer, which led to employment at Boulder’s OME Banjos, one of the world’s premier banjo makers.
“I got wind that OME was hiring and they needed somebody to do the final part of the process, which was the lacquer. I had taken my banjo apart hundreds of times, so I know all about banjos, I had just finished an instrument repair course, and I had this lacquer experience,” he said. “So I barged into the guy’s office, he was interviewing someone else, and I said, ‘Hey, I hear you got a job.’ And they gave me the job. I dove right in and figured it all out.”
A trip to Durango in the early 1990s revealed this town’s then lack of instrument repair facilities. That, along with Front Range sprawl, led to Allsopp moving and setting up shop on East Animas Road, where his business flourished for a decade before competing internet sales and the Missionary Ridge Fire influenced him to sell the business.
He was also making music. Allsopp is a founding member of The Badly Bent and Stillhouse Junkies and played in The A-Men and Rock & Rye, among others.
Currently, Allsopp continues local instrument repair and is an official warranty repair technician for Martin and Taylor guitars. He’s also still making music – the banjo has taken a backseat to a National steel guitar he plays in the roots band Sunny and The Whiskey Machine.
“That’s what I played in Stillhouse Junkies, and what I play with Sunny. It allows me to sing a lot more because it’s easier to play guitar and sing,” Allsopp said. “We work the three-part harmony stuff out and have an awesome blend, that’s what excites me right now.”