The roster of musicians in the long history of country and bluegrass music is replete with the names of masters of the fiddle, banjo, mandolin and guitar, but when it comes to the dobro, or resophonic guitar, the list of top-flight players of the instrument -- once described by the late Seldom Scene mandolinist John Duffey as "a regular guitar with a '57 Plymouth hubcap bolted over the sound hole" -- is remarkably short in comparison. For many years, the work of Burkett "Josh" Graves with Flatt and Scruggs was the benchmark for dobro players, but as the recorded work of Jerry Douglas and the Seldom Scene's Mike Auldridge became more widely known in the 1970s and 1980s, a number of new players like Californian Sally Van Meter and New York native Kevin Maul began to appear, bringing with them new attitudes and styles to stretch the dobro's influence on country and bluegrass.
Though Maul was born in Schenectady, NY in 1951, the Maul family was living in Alabama in the mid-1960s when Kevin, a lifelong radio lover, began listening to country music and was immediately captured by Flatt And Scruggs with Graves. However, it was Auldridge's first solo release, Dobro, and its "sweet, powerful sound" that inspired him to take up the instrument. Studying closely the work and styles of Auldridge and Douglas, he developed his own style that, like theirs, incorporated elements of not only country and bluegrass, but also borrowed freely from all the other styles of music he had come to love -- jazz, blues, rock, soul and Sinatra. He developed a taste for other slide instruments as well, including the pedal steel guitar, modeling his style after that of legends like Buddy Emmons and "Sneaky Pete" Kleinow, and yet another influence was the "way out, wild" music of Jimmy Bryant and Speedy West that came to be known as "Stratosphere Boogie."
Returning to New York, where he attended the State University at Genesee, he played for a number of years with regional bands such as the Dady Brothers and the Provincetown Jug Band until 1991, when he landed a job in the band of Robin and Linda Williams, rising stars on the folk and bluegrass circuit. Rounding out the Fine Group, as the band came to be known, was bass player Jim Watson, a veteran of The Red Clay Ramblers. Although their shows often featured Linda playing banjo in the older, frailing style, the band was considered by many to be not technically bluegrass because of the lack of a Scruggs-style banjo player. Nevertheless, they became a popular attraction not only on the bluegrass circuit but also at larger-scale folk music venues such as the Philadelphia Folk Festival. Adding even more to the band's profile and popularity were their frequent appearances throughout the 1990s on Garrison Keillor's nationally broadcast A Prairie Home Companion. Against this backdrop of success as part of a nationally renowned band, Maul released his first solo project, Toolshed, on the Mandala Hand label in 1997. The album highlighted Maul's versatility on several instruments -- his "tools" -- as he played and sang on material that ranged from Appalachian standards to '60s-era pop and rock hits to original songs by his New York colleagues and by well-known national talents like Gillian Welch. All this resulted in Maul gaining recognition as a certified member of the resophonic elite.