When the late, great Vassar Clements heard Mike Dowling play guitar back in 1975 he did the sensible thing. He hired him. Mike was the guitarist in Vassar's first touring band and can be heard on his Grammy-nominated "Nashville Jam". Clements called him simply, "One of the finest guitarists there is, anywhere."Echoing that sentiment is an ever-growing chorus of music critics, guitar students, and acoustic music fans from throughout the world.
Mike digs deep into the musical bag of American roots guitar, favoring the melodic Piedmont style of acoustic blues masters like Mississippi John Hurt and slide great Tampa Red. But Mike can't be pigeonholed as a blues player, or even as a fingerstylist. He's far too versatile for that. From bottleneck blues to vintage jazz and much more in between, Mike's musicality, depth, and mastery of the instrument translates fluently to flattop, archtop, and resonator guitars alike.
Mike grew up in central Wisconsin and early in his career in the midwest caught the ear of jazz violin great Joe Venuti and mandolinist Jethro Burns. In the 1970's, in addition to touring with Clements, he worked and recorded with Burns and Venuti in Chicago and in between jobs took time off to move to California when he had the opportunity to study with the late, great George Barnes. Barnes had been "the" session guy for many years, recording with everyone from Big Bill Broonzy to Tony Bennett. "I was very fortunate to be able to spend some time with him", Mike says. " He was so tasteful, so rhythmic. He set the bar very high for me and he continues to be an inspiration."
In 1995, after years of playing in various ensembles, including seven years in a Chicago-based rock 'n roll band and more than a decade in Nashville playing sessions, fronting his own band, and writing songs for artists that included Del McCoury, Kathy Mattea, and Emmylou Harris, Mike launched a solo performance career. Armed with an engaging voice, self-deprecating wit, and an arsenal of elegant interpretations of old blues, swing, ragtime, and original tunes it didn't take long for Mike to capture the hearts of acoustic music fans, and with the release of his first solo album, the critically acclaimed "Swamp Dog Blues", he began headlining at concerts and festivals throughout the world. In 1996, buoyed by his success as a soloist, he packed up his guitars and his fishing gear and moved from Nashville, Tennessee to a little mountain town in northwestern Wyoming where he and his wife opened Wind River Guitar and launched the Greater Yellowstone Music Camp in the beautiful Grand Teton Mountains. "People are always asking me why Wyoming? But we realized that as long as I could get to an airport we could probably live wherever we wanted to. Jan and I have ridden horses all over these mountains and I can walk to the trout stream from my back door. When people come here, they understand."
Leaving Nashville hasn't slowed Mike down. He's been a featured guest on public radio's A Prairie Home Companion as well as a substitute guitarist in that show's "Guys All-Star Shoe Band". In 2005 he was one of twelve of the country's top fingerstyle guitarists who won the Grammy for Best Pop Instrumental Album for their solo arrangements of Henry Mancini compositions on a CD called "Pink Guitar". Mike continues to write and record from his Wyoming retreat and maintains a busy tour schedule performing and teaching throughout the world. He's released seven albums on his Wind River Guitar label and recorded two more for Solid Air Records. He continues to play sessions for other artists as well, including a hillbilly jazz recording called "Airmail Special" he did for swing fiddle great Buddy Spicher. Mike calls that project, recorded in Nashville in 2005 and featuring Calvin Vollrath on twin fiddle and the great Buddy Emmons on pedal steel guitar, the most fun he's ever had in a studio.
One of those rare artists who teaches as well as he plays, Mike is a popular guitar instructor at music camps that include California Coast, Port Townsend Slide and Blues, International Guitar Seminars, the Swannanoa Gathering, EBA Blues Week in Northhampton , England,
Jorma Kaukonen's Fur Peace Ranch, and Lasse Johansson's Guitar Seminar inKoveskal, Hungary.
His instructional material is available from Homespun Tapes and Acoustic Music Resource and his original compositions have been featured in the pages of Fingerstyle Guitar and Acoustic Guitar magazines. His haunting arrangement of a Civil War era melody he calls "Rosalie" is included on the Acoustic Guitar Magazine compilation CD, Habits of the Heart.
In a decades long career laden with accolades and achievements, Mike is most proud of the 2007 Mike Dowling signature model El Trovador Guitar, the first artist model guitar the National Reso-phonic Guitar Company has ever manufactured. Although Mike would be the first to tell you he didn't design the guitar, National credits him with resurrecting the rare wooden-bodied resonator and making its warm, rich tone his signature sound. Fewer than 600 El Trovadors were manufactured in 1932 and 1933 and fewer still have survived. Mike found his, sorely neglected, in a pile of Dobro parts in 1987 while still living in Nashville. He lovingly restored it and performed with it for nearly 20 years. That guitar can be heard on many of his recordings, including his beautiful solo arrangement of "Maria Elena" from his Blue Fandango CD. When Mike was approached by National about collaborating on the reissue of this fine guitar, he enthusiastically embraced the project, working with the company for over a year on refinements to their prototypes. The final design of the new El Trovador was based directly on Mike's recommendations and on his beloved 1933 El Trovador, now safely retired. Mike's latest contribution to the world of acoustic guitar music is a pickup system he designed for resonators that's manufactured by National Reso-Phonic Guitars as the "Mike Dowling Hot Plate".
Performer, composer, instructor, session artist, inventor. Everything guitarist Mike Dowling does reflects his love for and mastery of the instrument that has been the focus of his life for over forty years.