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Saturday, March 6, 2010


fred mcbride 2004

It felt good back in the studio at the radio station after missing it a couple weeks for the heart auction, which turned out to set records this year. This music of Pasley and McBride I've been waiting the whole time to play like a horse in the starting gate rearing up, making a fuss, wanting to get this race going. But that's just how I am. I want it in the great American Now. I want it Now. I don't want to wait 10 minutes. Now. I turned it over to patience and let it rest. When the time is right, it will manifest. This morning the time was right. I'd been playing it a good bit at home enjoying the feel of the music. It had a very comfortable feel. The music is relaxed in spirit, though highly energetic in the making.

It was one of those mornings at the station when I'm in semi-bliss throughout the hour, transported by music so beautiful tears run down my face for the beauty of it. No other kind of music has ever done that to me but old-time mountain music done right. And these fellers done it right. I told at the beginning I was just going to let it play, and that's what I did. Every fifteen minutes a few words to tell people who missed the beginning what was going on. I turned the music up higher than I listen to it at the house, remembering 3 cats live here with sensitive ears, and sat back in the chair and listened to every note. I've heard them at jams together so many times I could bring up visuals easily of them playing. Fred with his left knee over his right knee, or his right knee over his left knee, smooth and serene, totally involved in the music, fingertips hopping about up and down the fiddle neck like a spider on a hotplate.

About 20 minutes into the music, Sue had gone to the PO, 2 women came in to pick up a book and a cd one of them bought at the heart auction. She said to me when I came out to the lobby, "How you doing?" I said, "I'm having a ball." She laughed and said, "I know you are. I've been listening." She was happy with the music. Said, "There's nothing like this old-time music." I hear that over and over in these hills. It gives me what they call a blessing all the way to the soul for this opportunity to play mountain music for mountain people Saturday mornings on a local AM radio station, the next county over from WPAQ in MtAiry, a very important radio station that has played music of this region of the mountains since 1948. Ralph Epperson gave his collection of tapes of live broadcasts of mountain bands, well made tapes, to the NC folk archives in Chapel Hill, a treasure for the state of NC, half a century of mountain music.

The ultimate flatlander from tabletop Kansas, came into the mountains with no idea what I was getting into, mountains was all I knew. Doris Ullman and Walker Evans photographs of Appalachian poverty was about it for my experience where mountains were concerned. Mountain culture never entered my mind as something of interest to me any more than Moroccan culture. Something interesting to read a book or see a documentary film about. There wasn't a moment in my life before that I ever suspected in my most outlandish imaginings I'd spend the last half of my life, the grownup half, in love with mountain culture and mountain people. In the 60s when Flatt & Scruggs had a hit of the Beverly Hillbillies song, I couldn't stand that country old banjo and Lester Flatt's country singing. I'd turn the radio off until they were done. If I'd heard the Stanley Brothers in that time, they'd have probably made me barf. All I wanted to hear was electric guitar, Keith Richards, Eric Clapton, Duane Allman.

I'd been raised by parents and school to believe city good, country bad. Hicks. No-necks. Rednecks. Hillbillies. Beverly Hillbillies. All that was off limits for me. I was city. I liked everything city. I thought city was sophisticated, something I lacked entirely and hoped would rub off on me and make me special. Then one day I was shown that there is indeed God and could not go on thinking, living as before when I didn't know and seriously doubted what I believed was a construct of the human mind called God. There was no going back. Once I saw, that was it. I don't have to be a saint and help old ladies cross the street. It's not like that. Suddenly there's a certain amount of respect for the Most High. It became something there was no way around, a respect that made me want to follow. Not just want to, but actually see that once I know for a certainty, then I have to honor it, live closer to the teachings, study the scriptures, which is what I came to the mountains to do.

I was like one of those hunters from some place like Taylorsville, anyplace outside the mountains, who go to the mountains to hunt and think they're in the wide open boonies. How can we have paved roads in the boonies? Like when I was helping Jr out, I thought it was between me and Jr, and learned the day of the funeral it was between me and Whitehead. That was even better. In the white haired years of my life I could not leave these mountains, this county, of my own volition. I'd have to be run out by Nazis with dobermans. That's about what it takes to get me to cross the county line, except to the Blue Ridge Music Center on the Parkway, 4 miles across the county line, and Fairview Ruritan, less than 2 miles across the line. It's like I have to take an oxygen tank when I go out there. It's another world. I'm ruint.

From that time the clock ticked toward the mountains. My parachute landed me in Alleghany County on one of the more remote roads in the county in the old Air Bellows school house, Tom Pruitt my nearest neighbor. Tom was not a musician, but one time he sang for me his favorite hymn, next to Amazing Grace, When Sorrows Encompass Me Round. I knew the song, because Tommy Jarrell sang it on an lp I'd bought back then, my first old-time album. Tom sang it with the same soul Tommy Jarrell sang it with. It was Eighteenth Century old-timey and hauntingly beautiful. Tom meant every word of it. Jarrell did too.
I was a little slow coming into mountain music, because I knew from the start that once I started paying attention to it I wouldn't listen to any other music. I wasn't sure I wanted to give up all the other music I loved. I didn't have to give it up. But it all got put in the back seat and the trunk. I like bluegrass as a pop music, but I love about old-time that it is pre-pop, and at once the foundation of pop. Funny. All American music came out of old-time. Even blues. It's what they played at campsites in the Civil War.

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