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BUSKIRK , PAUL FRANCIS
Paul Buskirk (right) with steel player Jimmy Kelley on WFAA’s Saturday Night Shindig in Dallas, ca. late 1940s. Courtesy of Dragon Street Records, Inc.
BUSKIRK , PAUL FRANCIS (1923–2002). Paul Francis Buskirk, mandolin player and multi-instrumentalist, was born in Parkersburg, West Virginia, on April 8, 1923, the son of Lottie Mamel and John Everett Buskirk. He lived much of his life in the Houston area. Paul Buskirk was a popular multi-instrumentalist who appeared on the Grand Ole Opry and at many other venues throughout the United States and around the world. Buskirk performed with a number of prominent musicians, including Chet Atkins, Tex Ritter, Roy Acuff, Lefty Frizzell, Ray Price, Eddy Arnold, and Rex Allen. However, he is perhaps best-known for his close personal and professional relationship with singer–songwriter Willie Nelson.
Paul Buskirk began playing music at the age of eleven and performed with his parent’s family band. He learned violin and applied those lessons to learning the mandolin. He became an accomplished guitarist and later worked for Gene Austin. He also mastered the banjo and dobro. However, it was his skill on the mandolin that garnered Buskirk the greatest fame. He has been described by country music historian Bill Malone as a “superb mandolin player…who was one of the first ‘modern’ exponents of that instrument (that is, jazz-influenced) in country music….” Fellow mandolinist Red Rictor recalled “that during an era when bluegrass king Bill Monroe totally dominated the instrument, Buskirk had a reputation for actually having figured out a different way of playing on mandolin.”
He was a member of the Blue Ridge Mountain Folk (in Texas), which included the Callahan Brothers (Joe and Bill), and toured the Southwest. The group recorded for Decca in 1941. During World War II Buskirk served in the United States Army. Back in Texas, reportedly while operating a music store in Pasadena, Buskirk gave a young Willie Nelson guitar lessons and later gave him a job teaching music lessons. Thus began a longtime musical association between Nelson and Buskirk, who is credited as having helped give Nelson his start in the music business. Buskirk purchased the rights to Nelson’s gospel song “Family Bible” for fifty dollars. They co-wrote the song “Night Life.” Originally recorded in Houston with Nelson and the band Paul Buskirk and His Little Men, the song went on to be a country hit for Faron Young and was covered by numerous other artists. At a number of his state fair performances, Buskirk's opening act was a young Elvis Presley.
Buskirk helped produce and he performed on Nelson’s Somewhere Over the Rainbow album in 1981. In 1992 Nelson helped produce Buskirk’s record Nacogdoches Waltz. Later in life and after retirement, Buskirk lived in Nacogdoches. He was a Mason as well as a Shriner.
Paul Buskirk died of cancer in Nacogdoches on March 16, 2002, at the age of seventy-eight. He was preceded in death by his wife Mary Francis Buskirk and his two daughters Dorothy Kathleen and Paula Gail. He was survived by his brothers Wilbert and Harold. Paul Buskirk is memorialized with a music scholarship established in his name at Stephen F. Austin University.
All Music Guide (www.allmusic.com), accessed September 8, 2010. Paul Buskirk (http://www.jazzbanjo.com/vol3no2/buskirk1.htm), accessed May 9, 2006. Lucien Jenkins, ed., The BillBoard Illustrated Musical Instruments Handbook (New York: Billboard Books, 2006). Bill C. Malone, Country Music U.S.A. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1968). Paul Buskirk Obituary (http://genforum.genealogy.com/buskirk/messages/73.html), accessed September 1, 2010.
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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.Handbook of Texas Online, William H. Wright, "BUSKIRK , PAUL FRANCIS ," accessed November 21, 2018, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fbuba.
Uploaded on June 11, 2014. Modified on October 10, 2017. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.