Just because Apple Valley resident Eric Uglum grew up in Huntington Beach, it doesn't mean the young lad was wild about surfing and boogie boarding. Instead, Uglum chose to ride the wave of acoustic music, which he says he took to like a fish to water.
Inspired by legendary bluegrass greats Tony Rice and the late George Shuffler, Uglum taught himself to play guitar and went on to cultivate a successful career as a touring musician. He admits stepping out to make a name for himself proved to be challenging in a time when rock music seemed to rule the world.
Still, Uglum remained focused on his goals. And over time, the Apple Valley resident learned that staying true to himself would be the best maneuver he ever pulled off.
"It was a real novelty for a surfer kid from California to be into a North Carolina bluegrass player like George Shuffler," said Uglum, a former member of the internationally renowned bluegrass band Lost Highway. "But I figured out real fast that the rock and pop music of the day was not very challenging to play. I could learn a Led Zeppelin song in an afternoon, which meant I was either a musical genius or the stuff wasn't very hard.
"The truth was more in line with the latter and honestly, I needed a much greater challenge. Bluegrass and folk chord progressions are usually way more sophisticated than those in rock. Learning to play them at a professional level requires a lot of study and practice. That was far more interesting to me than sitting around playing the same three, simple chords in the same pattern over and over again."
Uglum, 52, says he spent more hours than he can count mastering his guitar skills. He took his instrument to school and practiced during every break. He also honed his chops playing in local folk and bluegrass bands at events such the Strawberry Music Festival at Camp Mather in Yosemite and other festivals in the Western United States.
"I advanced as a musician very quickly because of all the time I was putting in," said Uglum. "The guitar began to feel like an extension of my body."
One of Uglum's early bandmates was Inglewood native Ron Block, who has played banjo and guitar the last two decades for the Grammy Award-winning Alison Krauss and Union Station. In their early years, Uglum and Block formed a band called Weary Hearts and toured the U.S. from 1985 to 1987. Before disbanding, the group recorded two albums at the Waylon Jennings Studio at South Plains Junior College in West Texas.
In the early 1990s, Block landed a gig with Alison Krauss and Union Station. In 1997, Uglum joined Lost Highway as a mandolin player, guitarist and vocalist. That same year, he moved to Hesperia and began producing music for other artists in his home-based studio.
"Prior to moving to the High Desert, I was doing recording projects at my home in Huntington Beach," said Uglum, who retired from Lost Highway in 2008. "But I was getting busier and needed a bigger space. Someone suggested that I move to Hesperia because I could get way more square footage for the money. So that's what I did."
By 2007, Uglum had once again found himself in need of more room to record. In recent years, he moved his business, New Wine Sound Studio & Audio Mastering Lab, to a state-of-the-art facility in the High Desert. Along with producing and engineering projects for local bands and single acts, Uglum also works with recording artists from all across the United States. Clients have included Krauss, Block, Sierra Hull, Nickel Creek and the late Ralph Stanley.
Although his production work leaves little opportunities for touring, Eric does welcome the occasional live gig. Every so often, he performs with his stepsons Christian Ward (fiddle) and Austin Ward (bass) at a bluegrass or folk festival. He says the opportunity to spend time with his family and share his beloved bluegrass and folk music with grateful audiences is about as good as it gets.
"Sometimes I miss being in front of the crowds, so the chance to do a show with Christian and Austin once in a while is something I really look forward to," said Uglum, who shares his home with his wife Stacey and teenage son, Edwin.
"But I also really like being around the house with my family, as well as the day-to-day satisfaction I get from working in the studio. When someone brings in an idea for a song and we take it from nothing to something that is going to move people, it's an incredible feeling."
For more information about recording at Uglum's studio, call 760-953-9008.