ATOKA, Okla. - Growing up in this rural community in south central Oklahoma, Glen "White Cloud" Bonham found himself immersed in two very different cultures. Child of a Choctaw mother and British father, Bonham at a young age learned traditional Choctaw dance at pow wows while also picking out country western songs on the upright bass and acoustic guitar.
Earlier this year, Nashville-based Scena Records released Bonham's latest music project, an outstanding 14-song collection of bluegrass music simply entitled "Glen Bonham." Though he's played and recorded with a number of country and bluegrass bands over the last 20-plus years, the new CD represents Bonham's first solo project with a record label.
Proficient on both guitar and bass, Bonham chose to focus solely on singing for this recording. Backing him is an accomplished group of studio musicians, led by guitarist Pat Flynn and singers Paul Brewster and Darrin Vincent. Flynn's acoustic flatpicking, as usual, is outstanding and reminiscent of his days with New Grass Revival. Brewster and Vincent, long-time members of Ricky Skaggs' band, meld with Bonham's own "high lonesome" voice for some beautiful bluegrass harmonies.
The song list, equally impressive, includes the standards "Fox on the Run" and "Free Born Man" as well as tunes from Merle Haggard, Bill Monroe and Nashville songwriter Larry Cordle. "Mr. Homeless," co-written by Bonham and his wife Pam in 1992, is a moving story about a chance meeting with a homeless man.
Bonham chose these tunes because they represent "the variety I've played all my life." He credits his father for turning him on to western swing, bluegrass and "old school" country music, listing among his influences Hank Williams, Ernest Tubb, Bob Wills, Merle Haggard, Lefty Frizzell and George Jones.
You may have already seen Bonham on television without realizing it. For nine years, he had a part in the Chuck Norris TV series "Walker: Texas Ranger" - he portrayed the Indian dancer in Norris' dream sequences. The CD's liner notes feature photos of Bonham in Choctaw regalia.
While Indian musicians are a rare sight indeed in the bluegrass community, Bonham sees the genre as having definite relevance to Indian people. Last year, he and his band became the first bluegrass act to ever perform at an annual Choctaw festival and drew a great response.
"I'm proud to introduce bluegrass to Indians," Bonham said, noting that the younger generation is particularly receptive to the songs, which often feature themes of spirituality, freedom and love with a distinct rural perspective. The complexity of the music can be deceiving; bluegrass instrumentation has been successfully employed in many other styles of music, including jazz, reggae, and rock. "Bluegrass is not just for hillbilly people."
No, you won't hear any traditional drums and flutes on this album. But you will hear some top-notch traditional bluegrass singers and pickers. "Glen Bonham" deserves a good listen.Bonham hits big with self-titled CD.