AC Bushnell was born (contrary to reports that he was born in New York City) in Berkeley, California. When he was four years old, he lived with his parents, Donna and Jack Bushnell, and sister, Kathlyn Bushnell in San Juan Atzingo, Mexico, a small village in the Mexican highlands. His father was a cultural anthropologist and was studying the indigenous people. AC lived in Mexico for a year and a half, and in spite of hepatitis and dysentery, remembers his time in Mexico as an extremely happy time. AC learned Spanish and also spoke some Matlazinca which was the local language of the indigenous people there. He retained some Spanish but doesn''t remember Matlazinca. When he visited the village in 1975 a woman he knew was absolutely devastated that he could no longer speak the language.
After AC''s Dad got his PhD from the University of California he had two job offers to teach anthropology: one from Vasser College in Poughkeepsie, New York (which he accepted) and one from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (which he did not). Ironically, AC ended up in Chapel Hill, NC anyway. Upstate New York was a huge change from the Bay Area of California. The first night his family arrived in Poughkeepsie they stayed overnight with two elderly German women who read he and his sister gothic German fairy tales. At the same time, there was a huge thunderstorm; all the power went out and lightening danced along the light fixtures. AC remembers thinking "What is this place? What''s happened to me?” He came to love upstate New York but it was an adjustment that took a while.
AC took violin lessons with some regularity beginning at the age of 10. He and his family moved to New York City when he was 11 so his father could take a job with the State Commission Against Discrimination (later renamed more positively The State Commission for Human Rights) as Director of Research. New York City was another big change and a whole new world to explore.
AC attended the High School of Music and Art in New York which he really liked. When he was 14 he first heard "old time" American fiddle and banjo music and was entranced. His family had moved from the lower east side to Greenwich Village on the west side of New York City and from his apartment window he could look down on Allan Block''s Sandal Shop. On Saturday afternoons they played music and Allan Block (later called "the dean of north eastern fiddle players") gave him his first introduction to fiddle music. He used to listen every Saturday and eventually got up enough courage to take his violin over and try to play along --- staying on the outside of the circle at first. And this was how he first learned how to play the fiddle.
AC also met and played with Alan Block’s daughter, Rory Block, who has since become a truly great blues singer and guitarist. Rory has recently earned the W.C. Handy Awards four years in a row – two for Traditional Blues Female Artist of the Year, and two for Best Acoustic Blues Album of the Year. AC is happy that their friendship has lasted over the years.
It was the decade of the 60s and AC was involved in the folk music revival as well as rock and roll and alternative music. During this time he absorbed a huge variety of music and saw many great performers at the Fillmore East and other locations. This was an amazing time to be in New York City and he met many fascinating people both famous and not so famous: musicians, artists, writers and politicians. (Click here to learn more from an article on AC in The Urban Hiker.) It was a vibrant and turbulent time. At this time he played briefly with The Magic City Buckdancers and also met Richard Pertz and Bill Parsons who later would become the Cluckeneers (click here for more about AC''s bands).
AC also met his great friend Frank Harjo in New York City - a Creek Indian who was born in Oklahoma. Frank''s being and philosophy was a great influence on AC. Frank showed me a different way to look at the world and that time wasn''t actually linear but rather circular. Frank died in 1982. Happily AC is still friends with his wife, Suzan Shown Harjo (Creek and Cheyenne) who lives in Washington, D.C. and their son, Duke Ray Harjo who lives in Portland, Oregon. Frank always used to tell Duke that AC was his uncle and AC always felt honored by that.
In the late 60s AC met Bland Simpson of the Red Clay Ramblers. Bland was in New York to record an album called”Simpson" for Columbia Records. AC used to play music with Bland, Bill Parsons and other musicians. Bland says "I learned more Charlie Poole songs from these Yankees in New York than I ever learned in North Carolina!"
The 60s were over and with its passing went the great idealism and hope that were contained in that time. AC had graduated from Hunter College in the Bronx (now Lehman College) but felt at loose ends. Some things were good but he wasn''t having much fun and he wasn''t sure of this direction. He used to meet with Bland in the evenings and Bland kept talking about going back to Chapel Hill, North Carolina. One night AC said "When you go back to North Carolina, would you take me with you?" Bland eventually agreed and in May of 1972 AC packed his modest possessions in Bland''s truck and drove south. AC soon discovered that old time music in the south was even better than it had been up north. He got married to Mary Setter and had three sons, Brian, Chris and Tim and has lived in North Carolina ever since.
After playing in the State Line String Band with Bill Parsons and Michael Kott (the flamboyant cello player who later played with The Plank Road String Band and Ace Weems and The Fat Meat Boys) AC didn''t play publicly for about 12 years. In 1993, he began playing again individually and with other bands and his musical output has been increasing every year since then (click here for more about AC''s bands).
During this time AC founded the Morning Star Foundation to assist Native Americans and make the public more aware of issues affecting them. Although AC is no longer active with the foundation, it’s good works continue to this day as the Morning Star Institute based out of Washington, DC for support of Native Peoples'' traditional rights and advocacy of their arts, with a special focus on Native American religious freedom and cultural property rights. The Institute also serves as a group sponsor of Native Children''s Survival, devoted to the healing of Mother Earth, and sponsors legal action and public education to end use of Native Peoples'' names and imagery in the sports world.
In the 1990’s AC also founded The Starlight Foundation to further spiritual progress on earth. (For more information about The Starlight Foundation, click here.)
Also at this time AC undertook a 2 year program at the New Seminary in New York and became an interfaith minister in 1997 and was ordained at the Cathedral of St. John in New York City. AC still performs weddings and other events when people ask him.
During this period AC met his spiritual teacher Grace in Mt. Shasta, California. AC considers Grace a realized spiritual master who had an enormous positive influence in his life. (For more on Grace and how AC met her, click here.)
In 1993 as AC took up the fiddle again he formed the Cluckeneers with Bill Parsons on guitar and Richard Pertz on banjo. They recorded two albums that are out of print and one live CD that is still available in limited supply called “The Hen Has Landed”. (For more on this click here.)
On New Year’s Day 2000, the dawn of the new millennium, the Stillhouse Bottom Band came into being. The members were AC, fiddle; Alan Julich, banjo and bass and Mark Weems, guitar. Bobb Head, banjo and bass, joined the band a few months later. There are three Stillhouse Bottom Band CDs in print. (Click here for more information.)
The band was named after Stillhouse Bottom, a natural area that AC’s house overlooks in Chapel Hill, NC. In days gone by it was indeed used to make moonshine. Part of the Stillhouse Bottom area has been preserved in its natural state forever by the NC Botanical Gardens. They are hoping to save an adjoining area from development. (For more information on this click here.)
MORE TO COME
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