E Pluribus Unum by Sandy Bull

Sandy Bull (January 1, 1941 – April 11, 2001) was an American folk musician who was active from the late 1950s until his death.

Born in New York City, he was the only child of Harry A. Bull, an editor in chief of Town & Country magazine, and Daphne van Beuren Bayne (1916-2002), a New Jersey banking heiress who became known as a jazz harpist under the name Daphne Hellman. His parents were divorced in 1941, shortly after his birth.

Sandy Bull was a composer and accomplished player of many stringed instruments, including guitar, pedal-steel, banjo and the middle-eastern oud. His music and recordings are characterized by his blending of non-western instrumentation and improvisational traditions with the 1960’s folk revival. His albums for Vanguard Records often combined extended modal improvisations on oud with an eclectic repertoire of instrumental cover material. Bull is well known for his arrangement of Carl Orff’s composition Carmina Burana for 5 string banjo on his first album, which was included on an album of R.E.M.’s favourite songs. Other such musical fusions include his adaptation of Luiz Bonfá’s “Manha de Carnaval,” and compositions derived from J.S. Bach themes.

Sandy Bull’s approach to performance, composition and recording is notable for his extensive use of overdubbing and multi-track tape recording before such techniques became commonplace in music production. However, unlike the sophisticated, glossy aesthetic commonly associated with these techniques, Bull simply used overdubbing as a way to accompany himself and play all the instruments on many of his recordings. As documented in the “Still Valentine’s Day 1969” concert recording, Sandy Bull’s use of tape accompaniment was part of his live, solo performances as well. Bull also played the oud on Sam Phillips 1991 album, Cruel Inventions. Bull primary played a fingerpicking style of guitar and banjo and his style has been compared to that of John Fahey and Robbie Basho of the early Takoma label in the 1960’s.

By his mother’s second marriage to The New Yorker writer Geoffrey Hellman, Bull had one half-sister, the sitar player Daisy Paradis; and a half-brother, Digger St. John.

Sandy Bull struggled with a drug problem for many years which seriously affected his performing. After completing a rehabilitation program in 1974, he began performing again. Bull died of lung cancer on April 11, 2001 at his home near Nashville, Tennessee.

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