State - Jackson Folk music group finds a fan base in Chelsea and Jackson Area singer-songwriter keeps in touch with family heritage through music

By Bill Chapin

Jackson Citizen Patriot

JACKSON, Mich. (AP) -- When a job at a steel plant brought Bill Bynum's parents to Detroit in the 1940s, "they brought everything they loved with them," Bynum said.

That includes more than just possessions. Coming from Arkansas, they also packed an appreciation for traditional country music, a heritage that Bynum actively avoided for years by playing in rock bands.

"You have to rebel against your parents," Bynum said. "As I got older, I realized that's the music I love." Since 1999, Bynum has been playing bluegrass-influenced music, establishing himself as a key player in Michigan's folk music scene. He has played everywhere from The Ark in Ann Arbor to Jackson Coffee Co., where he schedules a show every couple of months.

Lately the shows there have been standing-room-only affairs.

"For some reason, in Chelsea and Jackson we've made a great fan base," Bynum said.

Backed by a trio of acoustic musicians, his performances showcase his original songwriting, public-domain folk songs, twanged-up versions of 1960s pop songs and recent releases by contemporary singer-songwriters.

"I think we do a good job of owning those songs," said Bynum, who lives on Grosse Ile. "All those songs have some kind of story to tell. They can make you laugh or cry. Either one is fine with me, but I want to evoke some kind of emotion."

His original compositions include "Jackson County Blue," which is about the blue bus that transported prisoners to Southern Michigan Correctional Facility. Bynum knows about it because he watched his older brother get put aboard it on his 21st birthday.

"It was kind of a big scar on our entire family," he said.

All of Bynum's songwriting has its roots in nonfiction, he said, drawing on his life experiences. His song "Lovin' You," which was a first-prize winner in a Detroit-area songwriting contest in 2004, is "an ode to my wife and some of the trials and tribulations that come with marriage," he said.

"At 47, I've got a little bit of life experience to rely on," he said.

Bynum's interest in roots music was reawakened by hearing a song on the radio by country singer Steve Earle from the bluegrass album he recorded with the Del McCoury Band.

"That song just knocked me out," he said. "I love songwriting. It's all about great songs."

His music is also a way to connect with his own Southern roots.

"I can tell my kids about the way my parents lived through these songs," he said. "It's a unique way to keep in touch with your family background."

Published: Wed, Mar 24, 2010