Affectionately called a hillbilly bluesman, singer-songwriter and renowned guitarist Roy Book Binder has gone from star pupil to noted teacher.
“I can’t say I was self-taught. Lots of people taught me,” Binder said. “I learned from old guys who shared their knowledge and skills with me, and it’s a good thing to do. You keep the torch going.”
The torch Binder carries goes way back; his mentor was Reverend Gary Davis, the legendary blues guitarist and gospel singer born in 1896 who has inspired acts as varied as Bob Dylan, the Grateful Dead and Godspeed You! Black Emperor.
“[Davis] gave guitar lessons for $5,” Binder said. “It changed my life. It was the beginning of a great adventure. I wound up playing the blues like it was destiny.”
Not long after, the grizzled blues vet asked Binder to join him on the road. With his $50 life savings, Binder made his first big tour across the country. A fire was lit, and Binder soon started writing his own songs based on those journeys, eventually finding the strength to perform them for an audience.
“I played an amateur night with a friend, and it took me a lot of courage to get up there,” he said. “I was trembling, but after the show, we went outside to smoke and I told him, ‘I’m doing this for the rest of my life.’ Here I am, 45 years later.”
Touring nearly 365 days a year, he joined Bonnie Raitt on the road in the ’80s, was a regular on TV’s Nashville Now and has released 11
albums. He’s a mere three songs away from wrapping up what will become
the 12th, his first batch of original material in over a decade.
“I didn’t want to do another cover record,” Binder said. “As I approach 70, if I don’t have anything to say, there’s no point in making an album.”
He may joke about getting old, but some things only get better with age — like his 81-year-old guitar: “It’s like I’ve always said, ‘I’ve always had guitars older than me and wives younger than me.’” Only recently has he cut his time on the road in half to spend the winter and spring with his family in Florida, although he admitted he’d be more than happy to continue to spend every day touring.
“How could someone expect to make a living playing music that was never popular? It’s a miracle, and it dumbfounds me,” Binder said. “I live for the moments on the stage. The rest of the time is just waiting.”