Nutshell originated in the 1980s when Tom Voiles, Kay Brown, and I got together weekly to play tunes together, Tom on flute, Kay on hammered dulcimer, and myself on guitar. At first the repertoire was based mostly on what worked well for the dulcimer, drawing on Celtic, old timey, and Michigan dulcimer traditions, without our being fully conscious of the fact that these were different traditions.
Whistle player Tim Taylor joined the group around 1990. Tim had lived in Belfast for a year, and was knowledgeable and skilled at the style of whistle playing common in Northern Ireland. He was also a PhD student at the University of Michigan in Ethnomusicology, so with Tim in the band, we became much more aware of the different styles we were drawing on. Speaking for myself, I realized that it was the Celtic tunes and particularly traditional Irish jigs and reels that I liked the best. Also, flute and whistle were best suited to Celtic music, so that's what the group started primarily to play. Tim introduced us to groups like Altan and we started to realize the exciting possibilities for this music. In 1991 Tim and I attended Irish week and the Augusta Heritage Center in West Virginia where I learned the DADGAD guitar tuning and the nuances of Irish guitar accompaniment. Tim eventually completed his Phd, married another academic, and alas the two moved in order to further their careers.
After a period of searching for direction, Linda Teaman joined the band as lead vocalist in the mid-1990s. Her strong and beautiful voice created a whole new universe of opportunities for the band, as we made songs and harmonies a new focus. The four of us went to Irish week at Augusta together to learn new skills and further ground ourselves in the traditional Irish style. Tom studied the Uilleann pipes (Irish bag pipes) and flute, Linda learned bodhrán playing as well as Sean Nós singing, Kay took up the Celtic harp, and I continued studying accompaniment in the DADGAD guitar tuning. We also began to incorporate Tom's sitar playing which curiously meshes very well with the traditional Celtic sound.
The group flourished playing as a foursome playing primarily traditional Irish songs and tunes for over a decade. Bassist Walter Ogier was part of the group briefly before moving out of town. Fiddler Paul Winder joined us for a few years and helped us become more adept at playing for contradances. Eventually, Paul and Kay retired from the band, and fiddler Susie Lorand joined. Susie brought decades of experience in dance fiddling and in both instrumental and vocal harmonizing.
Our most recent addition was guitarist Glenn Simon, a versatile and highly skilled performer who plays both melody and accompaniment, and who is adept at multiple styles. This has led to a branching out into other areas of music. No longer being the only chordal accompanist, I began to utilize my drum playing in our arrangements and we have incorporated more contemporary songs.
While we still consider ourselves a Celtic roots band, using traditional music of Ireland, Scotland and Cape Breton as a foundation, we are more and more drawing on other styles, and creating our own sound.