To folks with ailing stringed instruments, he’s the violin doctor at Maytan Music Center on Center Street. Dennis Butterfield, 57, also has about 65 students taking private lessons, and he teaches music to elementary schoolers at Our Lady of Snows. As a performer for the Sam Donahue Orchestra, and later the Brian Farnon Orchestra, he’s played for plenty of famous entertainers, like Red Skelton, Perry Como, Natalie Cole, Wayne Newton and John Denver. As an amateur photographer, Butterfield captures many major events in downtown Reno with his all-manual Minolta camera.
How did you become interested in music?
When I was 6, I was out playing in the yard in Seattle. A guy came along from the National Institute of Art and Music. He asked me if I was interested in playing guitar, piano or violin. I thought it would be neat to play violin because my grandpa owned one.
Did your parents make you practice?
I was pretty motivated. [Later], when we lived on a ranch in Montana, my parents drove me to Missoula, 120 miles, for lessons every other week.
Where’d you learn to fix violins?
An Air Force Base in Thailand. I ordered a violin and got interested in repairing, because when it came to me, it was in pieces. I was the first person to introduce a violin to the village of Nakhon-Phanom.
How’d you end up in Reno?
I wanted to do more performing. In Nakhon-Phanom, I’d heard Bob Hope, and I never thought I’d one day play for him. I came here in 1971 and told Steve Maytan what I did. He asked me when I wanted to start working.
Who’d you get to perform with?
The first show I played was for Robert Goulet at John Ascuaga’s Nugget. From there, I went on to play for Kate Smith, Red Skelton, Liberace. I played with the Sam Donahue Orchestra until Sam died, then I played with Brian Farnon. I played for Perry Como in the Harrah’s Showroom. We did many debuts: Shields & Yarnell, John Denver. I played hundreds of times for Sammy Davis Jr. I got to know Roy Clark pretty well. And one time I sat down and had lunch with Sonny Bono—just the two of us.
What do you like about teaching kids?
It’s a thrill to watch them learn and be successful.
You had breakfast at the Holiday Hotel every morning for years, and then it closed. Then you ate at the Pioneer, and it closed. What casino are you going to close down next?
I eat at home now. I’ll probably try the new Siena.
If you were in charge of redeveloping downtown, what would you be sure to do?
That’s a good question. I think I would try to make the old Mapes location a park by the river—no buildings. And I’d try to clean up more unsightly places along the river, because I’m an avid fisherman.