Born in Wheeling, West Virginia on March 16, 1954, Tim O’Brien grew up singing in church and in school, and started playing folk and rock music on guitar at age 12.
After seeing Doc Watson on TV, he became a lifelong devotee of old time and bluegrass music. He started making his living as a musician at age 19 in Chicago and in Jackson, Wyoming eventually relocating to Boulder, Colorado in the fall of 1974.
O’Brien found work there as a fiddler with local bluegrass bands and as a member of the Ophelia Swing, recording with them and with Pete Wernick in 1977. In those early Colorado years, he started playing the mandolin, and studied guitar and music theory with local jazz great Dale Bruning.
In 1978, Tim co-founded the bluegrass group Hot Rize with Pete Wernick, Charles Sawtelle, and Nick Forster. Hot Rize and Western Swing alter-egos Red Knuckles and the Trailblazers eventually recorded ten albums and toured the US, Europe, Japan, and Australia. The group was named Entertainer of the Year 1990 by the International Bluegrass Music Association, and their Colleen Malone was named IBMA’s Song of the Year in 1991. He won IBMA’s Male Vocalist of the year in 1993, and again in 2005, when he also won song of the year for Look Down That Lonesome Road.