When he was nine years old, Aubrey Haynie picked up a fiddle, figuring it was the best choice among the various instruments his grandfather had urged him to learn. Artists from George Jones to Justin Timberlake have since reaped the benefits of that choice. To see Haynie play is to witness a man swept away by music.
Haynie’s zeal for discovering every note, tone and inflection the fiddle has to offer has paired him with world-renowned artists of every musical genre and taken him from the stage of the Grand Ole Opry to the stage sets of David Letterman and Jay Leno to center stage at the largest church in America. He was twice winner of the Academy of Country Music’s Fiddle Player of the Year award and is up in 2008 for the ACM’s Specialty Instrument honor.
As a member of Nashville’s fabled ad hoc band, The Time Jumpers, Haynie was nominated for two Grammys. And his 2003 collection, The Bluegrass Fiddle Album, won the International Bluegrass Music Association’s (IBMA) Instrumental Album of the Year prize.
Once the young Tampa native decided he might have a future with the fiddle, he signed up for one lesson a week. It was hardly a fast-track commitment, but his aptitude for fiddle-playing was so strong that it soon propelled him into the spotlight. “I’d learn a lesson on Monday night,” he recalls, “and then every Thursday night I’d jam at a place called the Bluegrass Parlor.” After he made $100 playing a date with the Parlor’s house band, Haynie was hooked. “I was like 10 years old, and I’m thinking to myself, ‘This is gonna work.’” Haynie’s skill with the fiddle transferred naturally to the mandolin, and before long he was well on his way to mastering that instrument as well.
While he was still in junior high school, Haynie won the Florida state fiddling championship two years in a row. In that same period, he also journeyed to Nashville, where he placed third in the Grand Masters Fiddle Contest. During the trip, he met Mark O’Connor, a former child prodigy who had by then become the most in-demand fiddle player in Music City. Years later, after he had moved to Nashville permanently, Haynie was the last student to take private lessons under O’Connor before the maestro departed to work in other music capitals. Haynie has since taught several summers at O’Connor’s annual fiddle camp.
As a teenage on the Florida bluegrass circuit, Haynie encountered the great bluegrass fiddler, Chubby Wise. In his prime, Wise had toured and made classic recordings with the likes of Bill Monroe, Flatt & Scruggs and Hank Snow. “He and his wife would travel around in a station wagon,” Haynie explains, “but he would never carry a band with him. He would just get whoever was available at the festival to back him. So sometimes I’d play guitar or mandolin with him for his fiddle show. He was one of my first bluegrass fiddle heroes. When Ricky Skaggs came to Florida, I got to meet his fiddler, Bobby Hicks. I also met Stuart Duncan when he was playing with Larry Sparks. I think I was about 10 when that happened. Bobby and Stuart became role models, too.”
In addition, Haynie fell under the artistic sway of Bill Monroe’s great sideman, Kenny Baker. “He was a huge influence on me. I bought every one of Kenny’s records, and I’m still listening to and learning from them.”
After taking night classes to complete high school early, Haynie returned to Nashville in 1991 to audition for Aaron Tippin’s band. He was only 17 then and too young to be legal in some of the clubs Tippin had booked. But he still got the job. Two years later, he moved on to Clint Black’s band. Then, in 1995, Haynie left Black and the road to become a full-time studio musician.
“I did a show on the General Jackson showboat in Nashville when I was working with Clint,” Haynie says. “Garth Fundis, who’d produced Keith Whitley and Trisha Yearwood, was there, as was Sam Bush, who’s a fine fiddler himself. Sam knew I’d been studying with Mark O’Connor, and I think he may have suggested that Garth listen to me play. In any case, within a month of that show, Garth’s office called and hired me to play on Trisha’s Thinkin’ About You album.”
When Black and his producer, James Stroud, decided to use Black’s road band to record his One Emotion album, Stroud was so impressed by Haynie’s work that he began booking him to do sessions with other artists. From that point on, Haynie has been a first-call studio player.
Among the dozens of country acts Haynie has recorded with are Willie Nelson, Ray Price, Merle Haggard, Alabama, Reba McEntire, Tim McGraw, Faith Hill, Keith Urban, Dolly Parton, Gene Watson, Shania Twain, the Whites, Martina McBride, Sara Evans, Eddie Rabbitt, Randy Travis, Josh Turner, Trace Adkins, Dierks Bentley, LeAnn Rimes, Steve Wariner, Travis Tritt, Brooks & Dunn, Toby Keith, Kenny Rogers, Kenny Chesney, the Oak Ridge Boys, Joe Diffie, Daryle Singletary, Lee Ann Womack, Hal Ketchum, Carrie Underwood, Tracy Byrd, Lonestar, SheDaisy, Brad Paisley, Billy Ray Cyrus, Jerry Reed, Darryl Worley, Blake Shelton, Wynonna, George Jones, Ricky Skaggs, Porter Wagoner, Tracy Lawrence, Pam Tillis and Jo Dee Messina.
He numbers among his pop and rock clients such stars as Kelly Clarkson, Justin Timberlake, John Mellencamp, Darius Rucker (of Hootie & The Blowfish), Bob Seger, Mark Knopfler, Livingston Taylor and Kid Rock. His gospel accounts include the Gaither Vocal Band, Dottie Rambo, Gold City, Buddy Greene, Janet Pascal, the Isaacs and Jeff and Sheri Easter.
It was a smooth switch from touring to recording, says Haynie. “I loved it. I just took to it immediately. I love being able to play something and then listen back to it and try to make it better, to be constantly critiquing myself. I’m very thankful and count it a blessing to be making a living doing what I love. I’ve never taken it for granted that I have the opportunity of working with some of the best musicians in the world.”
Rare though it is, Haynie does return to the road now and then, usually just on weekends and just to help a friend or an act he admires. He plays a few bluegrass festivals each year. Of these, his pick is the annual Musicians Against Childhood Cancer Bluegrass Classic in Columbus, Ohio, which raises funds for the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. The Celebration Of Life, an album made up of tracks recorded at previous MACC events, won the IBMA’s Album of the Year trophy in 2006.
Haynie has released three of his own albums on Sugar Hill Records: Doin’ My Time (1997), A Man Must Carry On (2000) and the award-winning The Bluegrass Fiddle Album, all of which he produced.
On most Monday evenings, Haynie does his fancy fiddling with The Time Jumpers at Nashville’s Station Inn bluegrass club. The group is made up of touring and studio musicians who enjoy jamming with each other in their off hours. Haynie was with the original Jumpers when they formed in the mid ‘90s and returned to the group as a steady member three years ago.
In 2006, Haynie added film to his musical credits after he was picked to play on the soundtrack of the Toby Keith-Kelly Preston film, Broken Bridges. Recognizing his importance to the country music scene, Music Row magazine awarded Haynie its Fiddler of the Year prize in 2001, 2002, 2003 and 2006.
Haynie notes that one of his most uplifting experiences came when he was chosen to perform “Amazing Grace” on the fiddle at the grand opening of the Lakewood Church in Houston in 2005. With a membership of 47,000, it is the largest church in America. “Being a Christian who’s admired Joel Osteen’s positive approach to preaching the gospel for years,” Haynie says, “I was overjoyed to be a part of this.”
As might be expected, Haynie is a connoisseur of fiddles, particularly old ones. “I enjoy studying their histories and learning as much as I can about each individual maker,” he says. “And I love to trade, too. I’ve got a lot of fiddle-trading buddies around the country, and they’ll call me if they find one they think I’ll like. Then the chase is on.” His current favorites are an American-made copy of a Guarneri and an 1876 George Gemunder.
These days, Haynie says he’s achieved a satisfying balance between musical exploration and preservation. “It’s important that I do my part to uphold Nashville’s reputation for innovative fiddling,” he observes, “but I also spend a lot of time rediscovering and learning all I can from the older generations of musicians of all styles. Actually, I find that these two interests fit together perfectly.”