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Saturday, April 24, 2010

LOCAL MUSIC

little river boys c1960


The new computer is up and going. It really was easy to get going, just that I didn't know what I was doing, so when I did the last thing, hook up the modem, it was on. Big surprise. I thought I had wire hell before. I was going for the simplicity of one small computer to replace a big 3-part computer that takes up a lot of space and has a lot of wires. Now I have all those wires plus these new ones. It's time to do something about my wiring situation. It's kind of 3rd world. However, I use very little at a time, only one of many plug-in possibilities. It's not as dangerous as it looks, but it still needs some help. The newness of the computer makes it much a mystery. Just about everything that can be done with it I don't know how to do. It might be a thousand room hotel, but I only have keys to about 2 of the rooms. The maximum I'll ever get may be a dozen. Now that it's together and I've an idea how to work it, I forget what it was like when I could only see it a dark swimming pool. Possibly the black rectangle of the closed laptop suggested the dark swimming pool image.



Lucas Pasley's talk Thursday night inspired me to play Alleghany music this morning on the radio. This time I was not playing straight through as I did all 4 volumes 4 times in a row. It took a great portion of last year, a couple shows per volume. 32 weeks in a row. That's a little over half a year. Everything else was on hold. I felt it was historically significant and even moreso for the present. It was finally a chance for the people of Alleghany to hear a good number of the musicians that have lived in this county. This is only the ones who have recorded in one way or another, sometimes cassettes, sometimes reel-to-reel, even a few cds. Played 17 songs in the 55 minutes. Started the show and ended it with Jr playing Billy In The Lowground. I broke down mentioning his name and somehow managed to get it said. It was a difficult moment. I spoke with myself before doing it about getting through it, pretend it's the first you've heard of the name. Nobody you've ever heard of. I thought I had myself convinced, then set out to do it, and I didn't hear a thing. I can't say his name without getting choked up. I reckon that's all right. It has to be. I played all the people Lucas talked about and several more. Started with Dave Sturgill picking Sourwood Mountain solo on old-time banjo. It was beautiful. It had a flow to it like water. I mixed up the banjos and the fiddles looking for a balance of the two, plus some singing.
Cliff Evans's There'll Come A Time Some Day sounded awfully good. Evans did his part. He recorded about every musician in the county who was alive in his time. Lucas Pasley has now put all of Cliff Evans's tapes on cds and catalogued them good with all the different musicians represented. Lucas called the collection of tapes not just a North Carolina treasure, but a national treasure. He said they belong in the Smithsonian. I'm with him all the way.



I'm listening to the rain. The door is open, 54 degrees, rainwater falling on rocks. Peepers peeping along Spring Lizard Creek that runs by the house. Caterpillar sits inside the screen door looking out into the darkness at the sounds of the rain. It must be soothing for her. She's been there almost an hour. The relationship between Tapo and Caterpillar is changing a little bit every day. They used to try to be out of sight of each other as much as possible. Now they are in sight of each other nearly all the time. Often, they're close to within touching distance. They don't look at each other the way they used to. It's a friendly look they give each other. I'm thinking they feel drawn to each other with TarBaby missing. They've witnessed all my histrionics of grief. It wasn't a good time for me to have another major loss. It's 2 weeks TarBaby has been gone and I'm still a mess.

I'm in a place where I'm dwelling perhaps too much on my loss. At the same time, it will pass. This is the time when 2 major habit patterns ceased. Both those habit patterns involved with extraordinary friends. Friends not just extraordinary for now, but for my whole life. It tells me I have grown into a place where my friends are treasures to me. And there aren't too many. On the other hand, there is a quite a large number. The number would change per definition of friend. I feel like somebody the bottom has dropped out for. I'm just taking it easy, not pressing myself for anything, giving myself all the time I need to recover. The hard part at this time of the life is to recover to what? I'm understanding the dilemma of old people. The world we had to get used to when we were young to jump into and figure out how to get going changed out from under us when we got it figured out. Not only does what we used to think we know turn out to be nonsense or at least dated, forgotten, not the case anymore, but it's gone forever too. This old body, tired, marked with pains, vulnerable to diseases, stands alone in a busy world, recognizes fewer faces every year, is less involved in what other people are doing every year, outside the circle of urgency where you're behind in whatever you're doing.




This computer is not yet set up to get photos directly from the camera, so I brought one over from facebook to put up here for today. Maybe tomorrow I'll be back in business getting pictures going. The above was painted 3 or 4 years ago. It was my favorite of all I'd done. I doubt I'll ever do another I like so much and put so much into. I wanted it to stay in the county, but didn't dare hope for too much. As it turns out, it lives in Whitehead on the same road Jr's old homeplace was on, just a few miles on. I painted it on a 5'x3' sheet of plywood I got from Milly Richardson, who had brought it from the barn to her place in town to use for a temporary table for a spread of papers to do with commissioner information. I took a great liking to it when she brought it in. By the time she was done with it, I was ready. Evidently 4 stacks of boards had stood on it long enough to stain the plywood into 4 vertical quarters. I saw a 4 piece band, each member in one of the quarters, like standing in a doorway. A kind of plebian Japanese screen. I thought of doing the Carter Family on it. 3 of the panels for them and the 4th for a poster telling of the Carter Family playing someplace, Sparta. But that didn't take hold of me. It didn't have what I wanted it to have. I can't give it a name, but I know it when I see it.



I found a picture of Jr with Cleve Andrews, Estal Bedsaul and Paul Joines taken after they'd been on stage at a show in Johnson City, Tennessee. Jr had no recollection of year or proximity. Going by the narrow ties, the haircuts, the lapels, considering those styles came to the country later than the city, and the streaks of toner on a b&w polaroid, one of those first polaroids, the kind with the bellows, I estimated it to be around 1960. Probably no sooner than 1959 and no later than 1961. Jr thought it was about that time they went to Johnson City. He didn't remember why they were there. I'm guessing it might have had something to do with the University's Appalachian studies program or something like that. I've never been a good guesser, so that's not it. Just a guess. It's a band I can just about hear by looking at them, knowing what I know about them. I know Jr's sound. Jr has pointed out fiddlers to me who sounded somewhat like Cleve Andrews on WBRF. I've heard Paul Joines's rhythm guitar playing. I'll have to assume Estal Bedsaul played a guitar that sounded like a guitar. A 4piece bluegrass band in that time and this place, you can be sure they were layin it to it. I expect they were well received by the audience.




It was in the time when universities were becoming aware of folk music, or the music of the working class, which has no place in society. The guys in the band would not have known that mountain music was of a little bit of interest to some universities and the interest was spreading. It was the time of the Kingston Trio, early Joan Baez and Bob Dylan, about the time Doc Watson was setting out on his tour of universities around the country with 3 musicians from Mountain City, Tennessee, Clarence Ashley, Fred Price and Clint Howard. A couple of guys from my high school in Wichita made an LP in that time of fratfolk, the cool guys in button down collars and trim haircuts, clean and good looking that sing well together. They were a big deal at the school, but beyond the school I don't think too many people heard of them. I have a feeling one of their parents had the means.



That was the time of the picture above, when that first little bit of mountain music was creeping out into the pop music world that got tired of frat pretty boys and wanted something closer to the real deal. It was a time when a whole lot was changing. It was in that time the folklorists were taking an interest, some field recordings made, the mountains becoming more interesting to people outside the mountains who had never thought of the mountains before they heard of the music. People like Alice Gerrard, Mike Seeger, John Cohen, Blanton Owen, and a lot of others were discovering mountain music in the mountains. It seemed kind of funny, city people interpreting mountain people more or less superficially, but made a good many recordings of the mountain people to carry back to the world of commerce. Jr and his musician friends were never of interest to the hippie folklorists of the 70s, because they played bluegrass. Most of the mountain musicians were apprehensive of long haired pot smokers flippant about God, draft dodgers in a place where military service is held the highest, and the women too free with their sex lives in a culture where those kinds of women were called whores. But they were responsible for getting an awful lot of mountain musicians recorded, people whose music we'd have never heard otherwise, like Sidna Shelton, Dan Tate, Bertie Dickens, Hus Caudill, Wood Blevins, to name only a very few.

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