- Where are you from and how did you get into piping?
I was born in western North Carolina but I now live in South Carolina. As a young boy, my dad took my sisters and me to the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games in Linville, NC. This was in 1957 or 1958, I believe and I would have been 10 or 11 years old at that time. I was fascinated hearing the pipers play and watching the highland dancers. Dad was very proud of his Scottish ancestry and we went to those gatherings every year (still do, in fact). I loved the bagpipes and would have started playing at a very young age – but football, baseball, and girls became more important. After I returned home from the war in Vietnam and finished college, I had an opportunity to learn from Burt Mitchell, the Pipe Major of the Charlotte Caledonian Pipe Band. In 1979, I had progressed to the point where I was able to join and play with the band. That was pretty much the beginning of my band and solo playing. I played with Charlotte Caledonian until 1990 when the band ceased operation. From then until about 2012 I was very active in solo playing in the EUSPBA.
- How has the pandemic affected your piping personally?
Well, it’s been difficult to stay connected with the piping community because of all the cancellations of the games and the stay-at-home orders. But, I have been able to get quite a lot of playing in at home. In late 2017, I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. My hands and wrists were so swollen and painful that it appeared that I would not be able to play again. Thanks to two very fine doctors, I now have it pretty much in remission and I am able to play again. The only good thing about the pandemic is that, being stuck at home I get plenty of practicing done. That’s why I’m excited about the online opportunities to compete with the CLASP.
- What’s your favourite international food?
A good friend who immigrated to South Carolina from the UK introduced me to cheese & pickle sandwiches. Pretty tasty with a pint of stout.
- What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever eaten?
Well, let me just say that, having served in the U.S. military in South Vietnam during the war alongside our Vietnamese counterparts, I have eaten a number of things that I could only classify as ‘unidentifiable’.
- What’s your most memorable performance you’ve taken part in, either band or solo?
In 1988, at the Stone Mountain Scottish Games in Atlanta, GA, I was playing in the Grade 2 Piobaireachd event. I hadn’t been in Grade 2 very long at that point and there was a large number of players entered. Mike Cusack was the judge that day and I was the last to play; it was late in the day. I was given first place. It was the very nice comments that I received from Mike in the car park that made it so memorable. I don’t remember his exact words but coming from a Gold Medallist it surely made my day.
- What’s your most memorable performance you’ve heard – band or soloist?
I will never forget hearing Shotts at the 1999 Worlds on Glasgow Green. I had never heard those kind of dynamics in a band performance before. I was blown away. However, as we all know, they placed second to SFU. To me, it was simply stunning to hear that kind of playing and learn that it was second best.
- Who has been the biggest influence on your piping?
There have been a number of folks who have influenced me. First, of course, would be Burt Mitchell, my first Pipe Major. In the summer of 1983, I attended the Balmoral School in Greensboro, NC. There I had tuition from Jim MacIntosh and Murray Henderson. I still play some of the tunes I learned from them. Starting in 1987 and continuing through 2007, I spent a week every summer at the North American Academy of Piping in the mountains of North Carolina. There I studied under Sandy Jones, Hamilton Workman, Colin MacLellan, and Ed Neigh. Of all the fine players that I’ve learned from I would have to say that Sandy Jones and Hammie Workman were the biggest influences.
- How do you relax and do you have other interests or hobbies?
I have a number of hobbies. First, I have always been an outdoorsman. It’s just the way I was brought up So, I like to hunt and fish and spend time in the outdoors. Hunting is mostly birds – pheasant and quail – and all of my fishing is for trout in the streams of western North Carolina with a fly rod. I’m also a licensed amateur radio operator and have been for 49 years.
- Was piping something you wanted to do from an early age?
I would have liked to learn as a youngster but sports and girls took first place, especially during my teenage years. After High School, my military service and college got in the way. I finally took it up at age 29.
- Do you recall the very first competition you competed in? Yes, I remember it vividly. It was the Grade 4 March competition at the Grandfather Mountain Games in 1981. There were three of us from the Charlotte Caledonian band entered that day. We all played Captain Norman Orr Ewing. Sandy Keith was the judge and he placed us 1, 2, and 3 out of a field of about a dozen. I placed second.
- Favourite piobaireachd?
Without a doubt, it would be I Got A Kiss Of The King’s Hand. A close second would be Ronald McDonald of Morar’s Lament.
Thank you, Joe!