Bill Hinkley, September 1942 - May 2010

A Note from GK

Prairie Home Reunion: Still Singing After All These Years brings together most of the old crowd whose music inspired the creation of this radio show back in the summer of 1974, including Bill Hinkley and Judy Larson (The Original Powdermilk Muffins) with Cal Hand on dobro, pianist Butch Thompson, cowboy singing idol Pop Wagner, the Powdermilk Biscuit Band of Adam Granger, Bob Douglas, and Mary DuShane, singer Becky Riemer Thompson, pianist and current Prairie Home Music Director, Rich Dworsky, and mandolinist and composer Peter Ostroushko. As a special added attraction, the Brandy Snifters — Minnesota's Oldest Old-Time Band — will offer a few tunes.

The radio show sprang out of a loose community of acoustic musicians who were young and brash, independent, played what they loved, and lived close to the ground. They're still playing and leading the musical life, and on Father's Day we're bringing them back to the Fitzgerald for a reunion. People keep asking what happened to them and the answer is, they're still here. The Powdermilk Biscuit Band is its old self and of course Bill and Judy are as soulful as ever.

-Garrison Keillor

Performers
The Brandy Snifters

The Brandy Snifters
In the early 1960s, the Brandy SniftersJon Pankake, Marcia Pankake, Liz Lofgren, Lyle Lofgren and Bud Claeson (along with Willie Johnson, now retired from the band) — started getting together to play old-time music. They came up with group's name just before entering a band contest at a local tavern in 1961. Lyle recalls, "There was a brandy bottle and some snifters on the coffee table. Someone (we don't remember who) spied the glasses and said, 'How about 'Uncle Willie and the Brandy Snifters?'" And that was that. They remember playing on APHC in 1976 and "suffering acute stage fright." The jitters squelched, the Brandy Snifters have appeared at the Minnesota Bluegrass & Old Time Music festival and other venues.

Richard Dworsky

Richard Dworsky
Since 1986, Richard Dworsky has been A Prairie Home Companion's keyboard master and intrepid leader of the Guy's All-Star Shoe Band. A classically trained pianist, he plays everything from rock to blues to gospel, tears it up on Hammond B3 organ, composes, provides original theatrical underscoring, and improvises on split-second notice. The APHC staff favorite is when — live on the air — Garrison suddenly waggles his fingers behind his back, signaling Rich to play something (who knows what or why), and Rich, without batting an eye, does precisely what needs to be done.

Bill Hinkley and Judy Larson

Bill Hinkley and Judy Larson
Garrison first heard Bill Hinkley and Judy Larson playing in the lobby of a south Minneapolis theater in 1972, and the couple's association with A Prairie Home Companion dates back to July 6, 1974 — the first show. Bill's friends swear there isn't a song — any style, any period — he doesn't know. Judy's vocals and guitar accompaniment are truly irresistible. In 1999, Bill was inducted into the Minnesota Music Hall of Fame, and in 2000 he and Judy received a lifetime achievement award from the Minnesota Bluegrass and Old-Time Music Association.

Cal Hand

Cal Hand
Cal Hand is a dobro and steel guitar master who, like Bill and Judy, was part of the 1960s and '70s band the Sorry Muthas as well as a frequent Biscuit Band collaborator. Over the years, he has backed up artists like Leo Kottke and Peter Lang, and he still plays with Bill and Judy and in various Twin Cities bands. One of his favorite gigs is making music with his daughter Amanda — a baby when A Prairie Home Companion started and now in her 30s with children of her own. Cal's first APHC appearance happened when he stopped in to watch the show and wound up on stage.

Dakota Dave Hull

Dakota Dave Hull
Fargo native, Dakota Dave Hull strummed his first guitar chord when he was about 10. He's still at it. After moving to the Twin Cities in the late '60s, he became a key player in the West Bank music scene. With Bill and Judy, Dave was part of Prairie Home's very first road trip: 1974's tour to Fargo and Moorhead. Nowadays, he's often on the road, entertaining audiences coast to coast and beyond. He owns and manages his own recording studio, and myriad fans of folk and roots music tune to radio station KFAI each Thursday morning to hear The Dakota Dave Hull Show.

Tom Keith

Tom Keith
Tom Keith began working with Garrison on MPR's early-morning program in 1971. He was supposed to be the sound engineer, but since Garrison ran the board himself, Tom became the sportscaster, lent his voice to various scripts, and began doing sound effects. He came by his show biz chops naturally — his dad was a regular on the KSTP Barn Dance. These days, as Jim Ed Poole, Tom is co-host of The Morning Show on 89.3, The Current. And he's the sound-effects wizard you marvel at on APHC's Minnesota shows. Hear water dripping? Car tires spinning on an icy driveway? A helicopter flying overhead? Yep, that's Tom.

Peter Ostroushko

Peter Ostroushko
Peter Ostroushko grew up listening to mandolin, balalaika and bandura tunes played at family get-togethers in his Ukrainian neighborhood in northeast Minneapolis. By the time he made his first Prairie Home appearance — it was 1974 and he was barely out of his teens — he was already causing quite a buzz with his fiddle and mando chops. For a number of seasons, Peter was a regular member of the house band. He remembers when Garrison challenged him to write a new fiddle tune for each week's show. By week three, Peter confesses, things were getting tough. But years later, he compiled those tunes into a lovely CD, Coming Down from Red Lodge.

Powdermilk Biscuit Band

The Powdermilk Biscuit Band
The Powdermilk Biscuit Band was Prairie Home's earliest house band. In those days, various musicians became Biscuits — Bill and Judy, Rudy Darling, Rod Bellville — but one of the most memorable permutations included Fiddlin' Mary DuShane, guitarist Adam Granger, mandolinist Bob Douglas and Dick Rees on bass. Lucky the APHC fan who still has a copy of the group's 1978 LP! "The Powdermilk Biscuit Band did wonders for me," Mary recalls. "It was no longer 'my daughter, the bum.' It was 'my daughter, the radio star.'" All four have kept up their music careers. Look for them performing solo or in different bands around town.

Vern Sutton

Vern Sutton
Tenor Vern Sutton performed on the premiere of A Prairie Home Companion, in July of 1974. He grew up in Oklahoma City and remembers receiving applause for the first time — he was in the first grade, and the ovation was for his performance in the role of Baby Bear in Goldilocks. From that day on, he was hooked on show business. Vern met Garrison Keillor when they both were students at the University of Minnesota. He went on to spend 36 years as a faculty member at the U of M. He directed the opera program and served as director of the School of Music. Now retired from the university, Vern continues to work on singing, acting and directing projects.

Butch Thompson

Butch Thompson
Classic jazz piano and clarinet ace Butch Thompson made his first Prairie Home appearance on July 13, 1974, the second broadcast. He would go on to a 12-year stint as APHC house pianist, often with the Butch Thompson Trio. He recalls that in the early days, things were so loose that "I'd often go onstage without knowing what key something was in." As a soloist, he has earned kudos worldwide, even described by Jazz Journal International as "the premier player in traditional jazz today." Butch also performs with his trio, his eight-piece New Orleans Jazz Originals, and with symphony orchestras.

Becky Riemer Thompson

Becky Riemer Thompson
Becky Riemer Thompson was just three years old when she stood on a chair and sang for the Ladies Aid at the Lutheran Church in Scarville, Iowa. It was only the beginning. By the time she made it to the Twin Cities and began performing at venues like the Coffeehouse Extemporé, she was a seasoned performer. She made her first Prairie Home appearance in 1974 — back when seating could accommodate about 50 people. Over the years, she has lent her silky voice to groups like the Wolverines, the Sky Blue Water Boys, Minnesota Flats and most recently her band Becky Thompson and Old School.

Pop Wagner
Photo: Dale Hanson

Pop Wagner
Pop Wagner is a singer, songwriter, picker, fiddler and downright funny guy. How many other performers have done cowboy rope-twirling tricks on the radio? He made his first Prairie Home appearances when the show was still at Variety Hall, a tiny space in Park Square Court. Since moving to the Twin Cities in 1971 — he spent the first nights sleeping on a couch at the West Bank School of Music — Pop has worked his cowboy magic throughout 44 states and 10 countries. During the filming of A Prairie Home Companion, the movie, he taught actor John C. Reilly how to spin a flat loop. The next day, Reilly slipped it into a scene.

Old Sweet Songs: A Prairie Home Companion 1974-1976

Old Sweet Songs

Lovingly selected from the earliest archives of A Prairie Home Companion, this heirloom collection represents the music from earliest years of the now legendary show: 1974–1976. With songs and tunes from jazz pianist Butch Thompson, mandolin maestro Peter Ostroushko, Dakota Dave Hull and the first house band, The Powdermilk Biscuit Band (Adam Granger, Bob Douglas and Mary DuShane).

Available now»

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