Darry Nipper grew up in a musical family and credits his Mama with teaching him to play guitar. Born in the hills of Eastern Kentucky, he moved to southern Ohio at a very young age and he and his family continued to make music a big part of their lives. Through the 70’s, the 80’s and into the 90’s, Darry played guitar with his 2 brothers as The Nipper Brothers, recording several projects. And then doing stints separately with Earl Taylor and Jim McCall as well as Vernon McEntire, who were pioneers of the bluegrass movement in the Cincinnati area. Darry also had the pleasure of recording on two recordings by fiddler Mike Fegan, who later would become a Bluegrass Boy. Darry sites one of his best bluegrass memories as singing Little Cabin Home On The Hill with Bill Monroe back in the winter of 1979… kick it off there Kenny Baker
Roger Coriell also grew up in a musical family, playing music with his brothers, cousins and nephews. Roger played banjo for some time with R.W. Skeens, who at the time was promoting his own bluegrass festival near Portsmouth, Ohio, another hotbed for bluegrass music in the 70’s and into the 80’s. And it was there that a young Darry Nipper first met Roger Coriell and some 25 years later find themselves pickin’ together in Panhandle Grass. No stranger to the bluegrass stage having performed on stage with Mac Wiseman and Dave Evans, and also played banjo and guitar with Steve Whitt, whose voice is Lester Flatt made over and could really do those Flatt and Scruggs tunes. Roger now finds himself in the role of fiddler for Panhandle Grass after meeting and mentoring young banjo talent, Clay Wallen.
Clay Wallen, but a mere 22 years old, started playing banjo in the Ralph Stanley style, but after his first encounter with Roger Coriell, quickly turned to the mastery of Earl Scruggs. The story is told that Clay showed up on Roger’s doorstep seeking banjo guidance, but Clay’s Stanley style of pickin’ was not what Roger’s tastes were geared to. Quickly seeing a lot of potential though, Roger gave Clay a copy of Flatt and Scrugg’s Foggy Mountain Banjo and told him to practice with some of those songs and then come back. In a very short time Clay had mastered the style of Earl Scruggs and returned to Roger with his progress. Impressed with the progress that Clay had made in such a short time, Roger said, if it’s okay, I’ll just pick up the fiddle… thus a union was born. Ironically, it was Clay who brought Darry and Roger out of their self-imposed retirements and back to playing in a band setting once again.
Nelson “Hop” Hopwood (that’s me!) was a late bloomer when it came to playing music. Although I surrounded myself with music and later roadied for a rock/country rock band for several years, I never learned to play an instrument. As a young teen I did learn to play CDG on the guitar, but not much more. At the tender age of 42 and as a way to ward off those mid-life crisis blues, I decided I could learn to play the bass fiddle. Armed with little knowledge, I located a Kay bass for sale 50 miles away. So with my wife Linda, I traveled in our Dodge Dynasty to have a look. As fate would have it, I bought the bass on that day but couldn’t fit it into the back seat. So I had to lay the front seat down and load it from the front seat to the back while Linda had to ride in the back seat on the way back home. She tells me she’s been taking the back seat to that bass ever since. Armed with a nice bass and a desire to learn, I sought out an instructor, took a few lessons and then struggled with it for a few years until it started to click. My biggest musical thrill came in the fall of 2002 when, of all people, Clay Wallen happened upon my campsite at the Brown County Bluegrass Festival, in Georgetown, Ohio. I was just playing along with my boombox, trying to get a little practice in, when he asked if I’d like to jam with him and his bandmates. A month later we met again at Poppy Mountain Bluegrass Festival, in Morehead, KY. Our personalities just seem to click and I guess they saw some potential in my playing abilities and began inviting me to their weekly jams. Thus Panhandle Grass was born.