Bill and Kathy met through their common love of black and white photography. Some time later, after finding out Bill sang and played guitar – and finding his book full of songs, Kathy began to push him to play in public. Then he pushed back, bought her a mandolin, and said he needed a backup singer. They have been performing together ever since.
Bill “The Blue Collar PhD” worked at Gonzaga University for 22 years where he also taught classes in Photography and Religion. He has a PhD in Religion from Emory University, yet – as you will hear in many of his songs, he has never forgotten his Illinois factory town roots.
Bill is also a virtual singing library of American roots music. He grew up listening to his Dad sing old railroad and prison songs and enjoys playing songs by Jimmie Rodgers, Robert Johnson, and Hank Williams, among others. Bill taught Woody Guthrie workshops at the Spokane Folklore Society’s annual Fall Folk Festival and been invited to perform at Woody events sponsored by Spokane Public Radio and the Northwest Folklife Festival.
Kathy is originally from western Kentucky and plays mandolin, fiddle, guitar, and sometimes autoharp, but she took up all of her instruments in Spokane after marrying Bill. As a young girl, Kathy loved to read and write poetry – perhaps one reason why songwriting came naturally once she had an instrument in her hands and life allowed for some creative time. She worked at the Washington State Attorney General’s Office for 13 years before resigning to manage their home photo and music studio.
Bill and Kathy believe in supporting the arts and building community. They are founding members and past presidents of the Gonzaga University Photography Club; founding members and past presidents of the Spokane Songwriter’s Organization (which recently ended after a 10 year run of events including open mics, showcases, and produced a compilation cd); they coordinated the “Folkies at the Fox” event and shared the stage with Dan Maher, the Celtic Nots, and other regional folk musicians to help promote awareness for the Fox Theater renovation project; they have hosted numerous house concerts for traveling musicians; and nearly every 4th Friday since 2005 they have opened their home for local musicians, artists and friends to gather.
Oh… and just where did the name Blue Ribbon Tea Company come from? As you might guess – a photograph (the tea tin on the website banner). Needing a name to apply for their 1st folk festival Bill looked up, saw his print, and said “how about The Blue Ribbon Tea Company?” Kathy replied “OK.”