Local Music Makers: Spotlight on Kim Butler
The Little Woman with the Big Bass
By Peggy Ratusz
I met Kim Butler serendipitously to say the least, just before lockdown 2020. We were randomly selected by the organizers of a fundraiser for Girls Rock Asheville, to be in an all-female band together.
We were into the 4th or 5th week of rehearsals which was to culminate into a huge concert featuring 5 or 6 other all-female bands (that were also randomly thrown together and rehearsing), when Corona came to town.
Though the concert never happened, my acquaintance and friendship with multi-instrumentalist, go-getter and talented one, Kim Butler did.
I’ve welcomed my share of newcomer musicians to this town over the past 20 years, but I’ve not witnessed anyone quite as tenacious as Butler. A cool demeanor on the outside but underneath is a fiery feline fretless bass player who simmers on stage. She’s admired for always being prepared, rehearsed and on time.
In just a few truly ‘short’ years Kim is leader of or acting member of three major music groups in the area: The Lads, Municipal Surf Group and Blueridge Jazzway. I sent her a series of questions she answers that will help us learn more about these groups and this Phenom they call “the little woman with the big bass.”
You moved to Asheville from where & why & with who?
I spent the majority of my life in what Philly peeps call the “Tri-State” area.
I was disillusioned with the direction of my musical life and at the same time I was struggling with alcohol addiction. I made the decision to get sober in February of 2019. I also made the decision to leave the longtime musical ensemble I was playing lead guitar for, to romance my first love: the bass guitar.
It was during this time that I met my partner Heather Schalk. She accepted an offer to become HR director at Warren Wilson College and so we began the next chapter of our lives, moving here to Asheville in December, 2019.
How did you infiltrate the music community once you got here?
Oddly, I have a friend in Rehoboth, DE, Bunky Markert, who is friends with Asheville musical luminaries, Sally Sparks and Al Schlimm. They introduced me to a few peeps and I started going to the Sunday jam at Asheville Guitar Bar. There I met Mr. Jimmy, Linda Mitchell and Tim Williams.
In order to get noticed, I would bring my 1976 Fender fretless Precision. I loved watching people’s faces when they realized that, yes I could actually play it.
Tell us about The Lads style of music & how that band was born?
July 2020 I received a message on Facebook from David Irvine who had been following me on Facebook. He invited me to come hear his duo “The Lads” which also featured guitarist extraordinaire David Tarpley. I liked what I heard; we jammed a few times and -voila! The Lads became a trio.
Then we added drummer, Stephanie Irvine and we now come in 3 sizes: duo, trio or full band. We play a wide variety of material from classic rock, to country, blues, pop. We cover artists like The Allman Bros, David Bowie, The BeeGees, Bonnie Raitt, John Prine, Linda Ronstadt and Tom Petty.
How did Jazzway & MSG bands get started & who are the members?
I was a “closet” jazz fan and loved to listen but always assumed it was beyond my ability. And then two things happened in 2021-2022:
#1-I began going to area jazz jams, met Jason DeCristofaro and Ray Ring, and actually started sitting in. In January of 2022, Jason & Ray asked me to join them in creating MSG-Municipal Surf Group, a trio that plays mostly original surf/jazz themed songs written by Ray, along with some covers of classic surf songs. #2-In the summer of 2021 I met Jim Fielder. Jim is the original bass player and a founding member of Blood Sweat and Tears. He’s become a great friend who has been instrumental (pun fully intended) in helping me find the confidence to play jazz.
In February of 2022, Mark & Julia Goldthwaite, owners of Asheville Guitar Bar, asked me to develop a jazz & swing night. I started the six-piece jazz band Blue Ridge Jazzway, featuring Linda Wolf & Gary Rodberg on saxes, Ron LaPointe on drums and Dan Newsom on keys. As much as I was enjoying playing jazz bass, I decided that we needed Fielder instead and thus I would play guitar.
When did you discover you wanted to play music?
My dad loved Frank Sinatra, Louie Armstrong, Count Basie, so there was always music in the home. My parents started me on a “beginner guitar” when I was 6 years old, which had plastic strings and a Bakelite body. They said that if I could play that guitar, then they would get me a real one-which I did and subsequently, they did.
Who were your mentors & musical influences?
My first mentor was a neighbor who lived around the block from us back in PA, a guy named Ray Woolley. He was older than me, and I used to go over to his house, watch him play guitar, and listen to Duane Eddy and Johnny Rivers records.
A few years later I discovered Wes Montgomery, Walter Page, Carole Kaye, Duck Dunn, Paul McCartney, John Entwhistle, Larry Graham, Peter Frampton…and some guy from Blood, Sweat & Tears.
Who do you listen to for pleasure? For healing? For inspiration?
For pleasure nothing beats Sinatra. Inspiration? I’ve always loved Carole King, especially the classic Goffin & King material from their days at Aldon Music. Joni Mitchell has been a big inspiration. For healing, I could listen to Court & Spark on an endless loop…
How do you approach choosing new & learning new songs?
In The Lads, we have a back & forth via email, everyone does their “homework” and we’ll do a trial run at sound checks. With MSG, it’s Ray who comes up with material. He and I will get together and hash out the basics. Then we’ll try it out at the next gig. As for BRJazzway, we actually DO rehearse a few hours every other week. Periodically, I play with bluesman Jim Anderson aka “Mr. Jimmy”-and we NEVER rehearse; just show up and play!
What is it about performing that keeps you pursuing opportunities to play?
There was a time in my life when I stopped playing completely-did not even touch a guitar or bass-for almost 10 years. At that time, my mom had Alzheimer’s and I was her primary caretaker. I became overwhelmed and I couldn’t find space to include music.
It took me a while to get the chops back-and I vowed I’d never do that again. Now I can’t get enough playing time. I am forever indebted to audiences everywhere-as well as all of my bandmates-for making it easy for me to perform.
Thurs Oct 6th
Asheville Guitar Bar, Blueridge Jazzway
feat singer, Reggie Headen
Fri Oct 7th
Frog Level Brewing, Waynesville,
Fri Oct 28th
The Root Bar,
Municipal Surf Group
Peggy Ratusz is a vocal coach,
song interpreter, and songwriter.
For vocal coaching email her at