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Friday, December 11, 2009


baja rock

It's Friday night before Saturday morning radio show. Listening to some of the music I'm looking at playing, noting the tunes I'd like to play, hearing the whole albums, enjoying them while my mind is preparing the radio show. Sometimes I preview what I want to play, and sometimes I don't. I like it to be spontaneous, each tune chosen to follow the one that preceded it. I choose by feeling. A tune has a certain feeling. I select what's next according to what feeling I want next. It doesn't do for every one to have the same feeling. I like to move around in the arena of feelings the way a band does in concerts. I believe mountain music is about feeling, emotion. Strong feelings and emotions.

Fiddlers have been the show's focus the last 2 weeks. Thought I'd keep on with fiddlers this week. So far it's been well known fiddlers, legends. This time it will be lesser heard of fiddlers, which most of them are. Listening now to Kilby Spencer's self-produced cd, self-recorded at home with his wife playing clawhammer and his mother guitar. The Haw Orchard Band. Google it. There are sample tunes on Youtube recorded at Galax Fiddlers Convention. Kilby's mother originally played guitar with Whitetop Mountain Band when Flurry Dowe was picking banjo, when Albert Hash played fiddle. Emily later became the banjo in Whitetop Mountain Band and Thornton the fiddle. Kilby grew up in the band like his sister, Martha. Kilby created the website for Whitetop Mountain Band. He's a computer whiz by profession.

Kilby has discovered digital recording. He bought a hi-tech equivalent of a portable cassette player/recorder. It uses a computer chip instead of tape. Gets excellent sound, is small, and he takes it around to musicians in the area who have never recorded to get their music. The Raymond Gentry recording I aim to play was recorded by Kilby at Raymond's home, and Kilby playing guitar. It made a good album. Raymond Gentry has been playing fiddle a long time. He plays at the Jubilee quite a bit and the Hillbilly show. Lives at Trap Hill. Kilby has become something of a folklorist from within, somebody from inside the music underground with access to nearly every musician in the area. I say nearly to include the exception that proves the rule.

Kilby gave these cds for the radio show a few years ago. I've played from them before, here and there, and thought I'd play a lot, let my listeners hear the younger generation, musicians in their 20s. Haw Orchard Band is Kilby's vehicle for his music. What do you do when you grow up with mother and dad excellent old-time musicians carrying on the tradition of
Whitetop music? Kilby plays fiddle and guitar well. I expect he plays bass too. Don't know about banjo. He probably can play it, but his heart is with the fiddle. He's made cds that are entirely home made, the music from the recorder into the computer, from the computer to cd. When he gets a mail order for one, he makes one. He calls what he's doing with recording, Whitetop Records. Google has a site where Haw Orchard cds can be bought. It says there are 3 of them now.
Shifted gears. Raymond Gentry is playing now. First thing, I hear the difference between a man up in his 70s who has played fiddle all his life at dances. He's a dance fiddler. First thing I heard. Kilby is much younger, much less far along in his path as a fiddler, which is not to make light of Kilby, because it takes a long, relentless effort to master the fiddle. He just finished Cacklin Hen. I thought of the many other renderings I've heard of Cacklin Hen and Gentry's is uniquely his own, as the best ones tend to be. Gentry has drive and rhythm first. He keeps the rhythm going like a conductor. At the beginning of each tune, it's like he takes command first note. A few years ago Raymond Gentry played at the Hillbilly Show with the Rise & Shine band. I think he played something with Lynn Worth too. By then I'd heard Kilby's cd, knew what to expect, and he delivered it.
As they say, he lays it to it. Gentry's drive is really out there. I believe Kilby is playing guitar and his wife Amanda playing banjo. They're up to him. They don't lag behind at all. He just now took off with Ragtime Annie and pulled my mind away from what I'm doing. This fiddler has played many a dance. Kilby made it possible. When I talked with Raymond at the Hillbilly Show, he was humble about his playing. Couldn't believe his music was played on the radio. He'd never been on a radio before. As in the tradition of old-time musicians of his generation, recording is what other people did. They wanted to play for dances. That's where the music really lived for them. Not in a recording studio. First, it costs an awful lot, next, you have to sell them. Too much to do when you got enough to do already.

These projects Kilby has going are the kind that grow over years until by the time he's 60, he's accomplished quite a lot, just doing what he loves to do, make music and record music as a folklorist from the inside. Kilby is an intelligent and well balanced man. He aint much to look at, but he has what it takes to get a fine looking and intelligent woman to marry him, one he can make music with. Seems to me an ideal marriage, 2 musicians who make music together. Rob and Bet Mangum. They made good music together. Kilby and Amanda make good music together. Both are aware that they are carrying the Whitetop tradition in their generation. His mother and dad have both been teaching the music, spreading the music all the way along. A lot of musicians have learned from them. I see Kilby keeping that going too, teaching the next generation, passing it on, aware that this music is the spirit of these mountains.
Gentry really plays fast. I can see when he starts the people run to the dance floor. Good square dance and flat footin music. Keeping rhythm the old-time way, a fiddler as deep in the tradition as they were before recordings. The drive and rhythm make that bow run like a racehorse. He's layin it to Sally Gooden right now. He has a smooth bow that runs sometimes like a rabbit, short bursts of all out bowing. It's become apparent we're going to have another good fiddle show in the morning. WCOK 1060am 10-11 Saturday mornings for some ass-kickin mountain music.

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