Billy Hawks, a Surry County native who lives in Dobson, is a member of the award-winning bluegrass band Junior Sisk and Ramblers Choice. Hawks plays fiddle, guitar, mandolin and contributes to background vocals.
Junior Sisk and Ramblers Choice received numerous nominations and multiple wins this year at the two main award ceremonies for bluegrass music.
At the International Bluegrass Music Association Awards (IBMA), held last September, they won Song of the Year for “A Far Cry of Lester and Earl” and the Album of the Year award for “The Heart of a Song.”
The Society of the Preservation of Bluegrass Music in America Awards (SPBGMA) took place in early February and the band received eight nominations, including Bluegrass Band of the Year, Song of the Year and Gospel Group of the Year, and Hawks was nominated for Fiddle Player of the Year. The band won Song of the Year and Album of the Year at the SPBGMA.
Hawks said he was honored to be nominated, especially with the many great musicians who also were nominated.
The band also performed at both awards’ ceremonies.
Hawks was invited to try out for the band six years ago by the main vocalist and band leader Junior Sisk, who heard of Billy Hawks through his former band, Big Country Bluegrass. The band members asked Hawks to join on the day of the audition.
The love of music began at home for Hawks. When he was 12 years old, his mother was enrolled in a guitar class at Surry Community College. Hawks was too young to join the class, but he sat in the back and listened, absorbing the lessons, and when he went home, he picked up the guitar and attempted what he learned from listening to the class.
A couple of years later, Hawks began playing the fiddle. “The guitar was easy for me, but the fiddle was more difficult,” Hawks said.
Junior Sisk and Ramblers Choice is a full-time job for Hawks, who travels with the band all over the country and Canada, performing 80 to 100 shows each year. On most weeks, Hawks has at least one show scheduled, if not more. In fact, this year, the band added a three-day European Tour to the schedule in June, with shows in Switzerland and the Netherlands.
Hawks also works part-time at Interstate Sign Company in Mount Airy and commends his employer for working with his touring schedule.
Hawks loves touring and enjoys the feedback from fans. Missing his wife of 17 years, Danette, is the worst part of the touring for him. “I also miss my three daughters, 14-year-old Addy, 19-year-old Kayla, 24-year-old Dana, and my four grandchildren. In fact, I just found out that my daughter is expecting my fifth grandchild.”
The best part about touring is “meeting people and making friends,” and Hawks said that everywhere he goes, he meets people who come up to him and say they are fans of his music. “I stay in touch with some of my fans through Facebook and when we go to shows, people are always inviting us back to their campsites, cooking us breakfast, things like that.”
When Hawks’ daughter Addy was 2 years old, he got a call from famous bluegrass musician Doyle Lawson. “Doyle asked me to do some fill-in work and that led to him offering me a full-time position. I didn’t take it because Addy was only 2 years old at the time. I got on his tour bus and held Addy up, telling him, ‘this is why I can’t do it, because of my little girl.’”
Hawks left the band a couple of years ago and after about six months, he felt like he was interested in going back.
“I was already thinking about going back [to the band] when Junior called me and asked me if I knew a good fiddle player.” Hawks joined the band again and does not regret that choice.
“I really enjoy playing in the band and touring. Each show is different — we might use the same material but there are different vibes with make each show a new experience. I also love hanging out with musicians I admired, jamming and playing together.”
Junior Sisk and Ramblers Choice will release its fifth album, “The Story of the Day I Died,” in March.
Locally, the band has upcoming shows scheduled in Floyd and Stuart, Va. The tour schedule is located on the website for the band, www.juniorsiskandramblerschoice.com.
Reach Jessica Johnson at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 719-1933.