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Sunday, May 17, 2009


Here is the cubbyhole I sit in at WCOK on Saturday mornings for an hour of mountain music played like it's the latest rock & roll. No kidding. I crank the sound up good and loud in the studio like I'm at a concert and sit there like Sponge Bob Square Pants soaking it up, soaking it through my skin. Like when I saw the Cars in Greensboro. Didn't need ears. Heard it through my chest and belly.

In my younger years I was carried away with Eric Clapton's guitar or John Coltrane's sax, playing it loud in my apartment, following the notes in the bliss it led me through. At this time in my life I do that with Tommy Jarrell, Esker Hutchins, Thornton Spencer, Benton Flippen, Fred Cockerham. The list goes on.

I listen to an old-time fiddle played by Whit Sizemore now like I listened to Clapton then. Wayne Henderson from just over the county/state line, and half a dozen other guitar pickers I know of within a 50 mile radius of my house, plus at least that many I don't know of, could kick Clapton's ass at Galax, acoustic. Electric is another thing.

I don't know what I'm getting at here unless it's that good-better-best are relative to so many factors they're relatively meaningless. That means not altogether meaningless. I remember a time I reacted with more vehemence than intended, replying to a man who told me with final word from on high that Wayne Henderson is the best. I said, 'He doesn't win Galax every year.' I wanted to say something about these mountains as a fountain of musicians, but said, 'He's among the best,' which pretty much put an end to the conversation. It was like telling a preacher the virgin birth was a hoax. If I'd known he had that much invested in his word as final, I'd have probably said, 'Yeah, you could say that,' just to be peaceable. Some of my friends would tell me that's enabling. It's been so long since I've been among people I don't know that I've lost touch with conversational subtleties.

Sometimes I forget we're a world of egos going about on our feet and hind ends getting bent out of shape over perceived slights. But, I tell myself, there's not much I can do but suspect this happens to him a lot. Fact is, I'd rather hear Jeff Michael play a guitar than Henderson. I don't mean to say he's better. Just 'I'd rather hear.'
I've become so sensitive to these terms of gradation that perhaps I take it too seriously in a cocktail party environment with plastic cup of wine in hand. 'Yes. Right you are,' is more like it. I forgot the first rule: don't mean anything you say. It will invariably ruffle a feather if you do. Defensive Talking 01.

Anyway, pictured above is where I play The Shady Mountain Ramblers, Whitetop Mountain Band, Ralph Stanley, The Stanley Brothers, The Carter Family, Art Wooten, Tim Smith, The Green Mountain Boys, Slate Mountain Ramblers, Camp Creek Boys, Appalachian Mountain Girls, Alternate Roots, Ola Belle Reed, Tommy Jarrell, on and on, to people who love mountain music. It's the greatest privilege of my life to play mountain music to mountain people.

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