ASHEBORO — Bill Mollman, a 76-year-old multi-instrumentalist from Asheboro, passed away on Jan. 25, 2022.
Interested in music at an early age, Mollman joined his school’s music program in sixth grade, eventually becoming part of Asheboro High School’s Marching, Jazz, Concert, Chapel and Dance Bands. His musical prowess led him to perform with the North Central All-District and North Carolina All-State Bands.
Throughout high school, he also played bass and tuba in drama productions. A highlight for Mollman was performing in the NC State Contest Festival under the direction of Joe Fields.
In adulthood, Mollman shared his love of music by performing and teaching banjo and guitar. In the 1970s, he played upright bass with the Bluegrass Gentlemen of Asheboro, the Green Valley Ramblers of Siler City and other local bluegrass and folk bands.
He also became an active member of the Randolph Jazz Band and Back Creek Dixie Band, playing bass and tuba, respectively. Friendships he forged during those years are friendships he still held dear today.
Ed Bunch, his trumpet-playing bandmate in the Back Creek Dixie Band, shared when he learned of Mollman’s passing. “Today was a sad day for me. My very good friend and musical hero, Bill Mollman, moved on to the next adventure this morning. He has been an influential musician since he was a teenager. I have had the pleasure to make music with him for several decades now, and I truly hate to see him go. Whether on tuba, bass violin, doghouse bass, electric stick bass or standard electric bass, we could always count on Bill to get the bottom right and keep the rhythm flowing. Rest in peace, my friend. We will watch out for Wilma and the rest of your family. My faith tells me that you are home. Please save a spot in the band for me.”
Nick Hancock, Bluegrass Gentlemen vocalist/guitarist, reflected, “I am very sad that Mr. Bill Mollman passed away. Bill was an original member of The Bluegrass Gentlemen and he played bass with the group from August 1968 through January 16, 1971, according to the dates on photographs that I have. He was an excellent, solid bass player with a quiet but very pleasant personality. He also wrote a song, ‘Devil’s Tramping Ground,’ that we recorded on the Bluegrass Gentlemen album for Ozark Mountain Records. Bill played bass with The Bluegrass Gentlemen at the Ryman Auditorium on The Grand Ole Opry on July 21, 1972. My deepest condolences to his wife, Wilma, and his daughter, LuAnne Mollman Simpson.”
Former Bluegrass Gentlemen mandolinist and friend Jerry Stuart stated, “Bill was a good bass player and a fine man. I was never full time in a band with Bill, but played many times in jams with him. He did not run other musicians down.
“Tom Gray (Country Gentlemen, Seldom Scene) was his musical hero on bass and I had played with Tom in DC years earlier. An opportunity arose to appear as a guest on the Opry, we were short a bass player. Bill was playing with The Green Valley Ramblers, but he agreed to come back to the Bluegrass Gentlemen for the Opry trip. That was a thrill to play on the stage of the Ryman. This was just before they moved to the new Opry house. We will miss him and send our condolences to Wilma and their family.”
Green Valley Ramblers’ guitarist Albert Vestal reflected on his time with the musical maestro. “Bill Mollman joined the Green Valley Ramblers in 1970. It was an honor for Bill to play with us on the GVR album ‘Bluegrass Dawn’ in 1974. Bill was a very talented musician. My most enjoyable memory was Bill swapping licks on the bass with Tom Gray behind my bus. Bill was a good friend and a fine musician.
Tony Williamson, GVR mandolinist, added, “I was extremely fortunate to have played with Bill Mollman in my very first band. In his bass playing, he had impeccable timing, unerring speed and a deep understanding of his instrument. He went beyond the basic approach that most old-time and bluegrass players used at that time, and took a huge role in making creativity and spontaneity the backbone of our music.”
Mollman’s funeral well celebrated the musician’s life and was a most fitting and memorable tribute to him. Bill’s musical colleagues and close friends, Ed Bunch and Paul Lineberry, from the Back Creek Dixie Band played the antebellum, African-American spiritual “Down by the Riverside” as family and friends gathered to pay their last respects at First United Methodist Church in Asheboro.
The Reverend Charles Woody, who had been at Bill’s bedside at Randolph Health and at Hospice of Randolph, gave a rousing, a cappella rendering of the traditional hymn, “In the Garden.” As Woody’s soulful voice enchanted the congregants, the sun came out and shown from behind the stained-glass windows of the church.
This was followed by the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic 1945 show-tune, “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” sung by Michael Trogdon with piano accompaniment by Tammy O’Kelly. It was one of Bill’s favorites, as it was written in the year he was born and reminded him of a little girl with polio he had known when he was a boy recovering from surgery on his feet.
Terry Lawrence, one of the musicians who also played during the service, reflected on his association with Mollman. “I met Bill at Randolph Community College when I took the computer CAD drawing class. He was the one I have to thank for introducing me to the local Randolph Jazz Band. As long as I’ve known him, he has been gracious, kind and always generous with his time and his knowledge and love of music.”
The church service concluded with Bunch and Lineberry joined by some friends from the Randolph Jazz Band playing a joyful, Dixieland version of the jazz standard, “When the Saints Go Marching In.”
At his graveside at West Bend United Methodist Church, Bill was laid to rest while Kyle Auman played a stirring and spirited version of the 18th century Christian hymn, “Amazing Grace” on the bagpipes.
Memorials for a scholarship in Bill Mollman’s name may be mailed to: Asheboro High School Band, Attn: Phil Holmiller, 1221 S. Park Street, Asheboro, NC 27203.
NOTE FROM STORY AUTHOR — “Bill was my first banjo teacher when I was 15 years old. He started me in Earl Scruggs’ book, but I began bringing in tunes that I wanted to learn. Bill teased, ‘Girl, you’re wearing me out. I have to learn these tunes to teach them to you.” I am thankful for Bill working so diligently with me. The music world lost a good man with a heart of gold.”