Anton Ullrich has devoted his life to teaching people to play the banjo, Bluegrass style!
He fell in love with the banjo upon hearing the first Kingston Trio album in 1958, searched out an old Gretsch banjo at a Houston pawn shop, paid $35 for it, and never looked back.
The next problem was how to learn to play. There was almost no instructional material available; when he found Pete Seeger's 5-string banjo instruction 10 inch record album with a booklet enclosed, he inhaled the lessons. It was Pete Seeger's booklet that taught Anton how to slow recordings down and extract the musical sequences note for note, and he has used that technique to learn to play the classic songs exactly as recorded - mistakes and all!
At Texas Tech University, he met H. John Deutchendorff, later known as John Denver, formed "The New Bluegrass Quartet" with Dow Patterson, Bill Shultz, and Pete Richardson, won a talent show and in 1963, began teaching people to play the banjo.
After college, he spent a year in Austin and had the good fortune to meet Jerry Jeff Walker, Bill Moss, Marty Javors, Allen Damron, and Rod Kennedy, all to ultimately make their marks in the world of music. After two years trying to settle into the life of a banker, he gave it up, and with $400 dollars in his pocket, and a U-Haul behind the Camaro, he took off for Nashville and stardom.
After hanging about The Dusty Rhodes Tavern and listening to the Foggy Mountain Boys jam after the Opry shows, he realized a day job would be needed while he raised his level of expertise! He went through manager training at Minnie Pearl's fast food chain (chicken, of course!), briefly managed a store, and has undying respect for anyone who can work that many hours in a week! He moved on to work for Bill Satterwhite at the Noble-Dury advertising agency, where he began a lifelong friendship with H. Jackson Brown, now famous for the "Life's Little Instruction Books" series. After a cutback one year later, and several months in door-to-door sales, he headed home to Texas with memories (and occasionally friendships) with folks like Minnie Pearl, Alan Munde, Geoff Stelling, Bobby Thompson, Bob Shuler, Johnny Cash, Stevie Wonder, and the staff (especially Sandy Liles) and original cast of the Hee Haw television show.
In 1970 Anton returned to Houston and joined the Houston Folklore Society, meeting John A. Lomax, Jr., Mance Lipscomb, Bill Northcutt, Bill Bonner, and Robbie Shipley (of Shipley's Doughnuts). The Houston music scene was growing, with performers such as Townes van Zandt, Don Sanders, Steve Fromholz, Jerry Jeff Walker, and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band performing after hours at The Old Quarter for 30 - 40 people after playing the big shows at the Hofheinz Pavilion.
After taking advantage of the "open microphone" at the Old Quarter one night, Anton was invited to go on the air with KPFT, the Public Radio station in Houston, and a 20 year career began during which he broadcast Bluegrass, blues, and the music of the Old West, often adopting a voice similar to Gabby Hayes and populating his studio with a dozen mythical characters causing unending trouble during the broadcasts.
When the Kerrville Folk Festival began in 1972, Rod Kennedy invited Anton (then President of the Houston Folklore Society) to help promote it and be on staff for the event. Besides Lyndon Johnson, Darrell Royal, and other Texas celebrities, he crossed paths there with Country Gazette, Byron Berline, Alan Munde, Roger Bush, Kenny Wertz, Michael Murphy, John Inmon, R.M. Stone, Chubby Wise, Howdy Forrester, Little Roy Lewis and the Lewis Family, the Osborne brothers, Geoff Stelling, etc. Additional work on the Western Swing festivals that Rod produced brought opportunities to meet Leon McAuliffe, Johnny Bond, and Merle Travis.
Over the years Anton has been a reseller for both Geoff Stelling and the Deerings. In 1986, when Texas celebrated her Sesquicentennial, Anton designed the beautiful Texas Banjo and worked with Greg and Janet Deering to manufacture it. Only 150 will ever be made, with the serial number of each banjo representing one year in the 150 years of the Sesquicentennial. One of these, number 1905, was given to the Alamo by the Gary Henderson family of Pinehurst, Texas; it has a Texas flag carved into the upper heel, the American flag in the lower heel, and in between a yellow rose. The Daughters of the Republic of Texas graciously accepted the gift for the Alamo collection, setting aside the normal rule that everything accepted by the Alamo must be at least 100 years old!
Anton now teaches Bluegrass banjo in Houston, Texas, and welcomes all the ladies and skillet-dodgers of his worldwide classroom to come by and say "Howdy!" whenever your travels bring you to Texas! If you'd like to arrange some personal instruction while you're in Houston, contact Anton by email to arrange a time! A banjo will be available for the lesson at no charge if you won't have your own banjo with you.