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Saturday, May 15, 2010


jr when his mind was clear as a baby's

Another big day. An email from Kilby Spencer with downloads of 17 songs with Art Wooten playing fiddle. One of them was recorded in 1938 at the Whitetop Festival. It was spectacular fiddling as only Art could do. Arkansas Traveler. He was rubbing right up against Bluegrass. In January of the following year Art played Muleskinner Blues at the Grand Ole Opry with Bill Monroe. The rest of the download was 16 songs. When I heard the banjo, it sounded a lot like Jr. I put on a cd of music Green Mountain Boys made on cassette practicing around 1990. It was the same tone in the banjo and very similar picking. I listened to some more tunes and they had banjo with the same tone of the 2 songs with Cleve Andrews. I started thinking that if Home Sweet Home is a banjo solo, it's Jr for certain. I played it.

It was a banjo solo. And it was Jr. He told me it was his winning song for fiddler's conventions. He didn't play it like Earl Scruggs, but he learned a move on it he got from Scruggs. Scruggs had special-made tuners that he could twist to bend the sound and they'd go right back to where he had them in tune. Jr didn't have such tuners, so he reached up and pulled the string he wanted to make that special sound. I'd heard him play Home Sweet Home at the house with his banjo a few times when he was able to pick it a little bit. He showed me how he bent the sound. This is
as big a treasure as the 2 tunes with Cleve Andrews. Art Wooten played fiddle with Jr's band, the Green Mountain Boys, several years. Kilby said he believes his dad, Thornton, bought it from Art, that it must have been an 8track Art recorded, possibly at home with an 8track player. Jr had an 8track player in the house that worked and one in his pickup Old Yeller that worked. He had some 8track music of Art that he would go listen to from time to time. He had quite a bit of Art, Wayne Henderson and Jr. The sound quality is terrible. Art Wooten was ingenious about self-recording. He made several one-man-band contraptions. His day job was carpentry, cabinet-making. He made the cabinets in the house Jr built after the farmhouse burned. Larry and Sharon Brown live there now.

Now I have all these treasures in the computer and don't know how to get them out. I had to do a trial run of WinZip to download them, but they didn't go to the Windows Media place, so I can't find a way to make a cd, because this computer doesn't do it. The old one does, the old one that is so slow it will take 2 hours when I set out to do it, if I can. That's tomorrow's all day project. I sent them to Lucas Pasley and he might be able to get them onto a cd. I need a cd to play them at the radio station and to make copies from for Jr's friends and relatives. I probably would do well to take it to Bobby Patterson and have him make a hundred copies and be done with it. Get paper sleeves at Walmart. I know I'll be giving out a whole lot of copies. I don't want to sell any. That gets into ASCAP laws and I don't want anything to do with that mess.

It's important for me to get this music out in the world. It's something I believe is very important in this county. This is why I started the music store. I knew better than to open a business in the Bush2 phase of the Reagan Revolution, when the direction the economy was taking was downward, I thought I'd better do it while it was possible. I wanted to get mountain music into people's sound systems. A lot of people love this music and there was none available this side of Floyd, Virginia. At shows and fiddlers conventions you can get cds from the bands in the parking lot areas. It turned out to be a great big expense to me, but I have never for a moment regretted any loss. That was all right. I got an awful lot of this music out in the world. An awful lot over 4 years. Gas prices steadily going up slowed business down to a crawl, then in January of 07 after a Christmas that went to Walmart, the news announced every day for a week that the cd business was over. That was it. It turned out everybody believed television.

Yesterday I heard some old boy in India talking on NPR news. He was telling how the new technology is taking the young away from their "faith" or religion. I thought, You're next. We've already done that here. See what it did to us and you'll see what it will do to you. Pop culture undoes traditional cultures like a flood, washes them away and we're left with Pop. The old values of humility give way to self-centered arrogance held as the highest value. It's a difficult and confusing time. It's so bad I have moved inward and planted my feet in the values of the past. They may die with me, but they will have lived with me, at least. Turning to traditional music and a traditional culture, one of the last to die out, is where I find values that make living everyday life so easy without conflict. I prefer the values of the old ways to live by. I don't mean to live by like looking down my nose at people that don't, not at all. It's for me to live by. Has nothing to do with what other people do or ought to do. I simply live by the values of the people I live among, of the culture I have embraced with my life.

I don't mean either that the culture is only in the religion or the music. It's in every individual. It's in everyone I know of these mountains. Outsiders tend not to notice, but mountain people have deep, strong values with ethical standards. The first thing I noticed in everyone I met and came to know, they are philosophers. They were philosophers in the same way my grandmother was, which she passed to me. My parachute had landed me in a world of people who think as I think. Not in all ways by any means. We're all individuals, mountain or flatlander. People that think about ethics and morality, and believe they're important. While all the world out there is raging for more money, more money, standing in line to do anything for more money. And I do mean anything. If it can be thought of, it's been done. I like it among country people who still have God for a living presence in their lives. I do too. I don't feel comfortable in a world of people that laugh at the naivete. They can believe whatever they want to. I like living my own life of "faith" among other people who do too. They're all over these mountains. They're everywhere, really, but in these mountains they're like musicians. Jr told me once that in Low
Gap there's a banjo picker in every other house. Exaggeration, of course, but makes its point.

Of course, there is the balance. It's not all the sunny side of the mountain. And that's part of it. Bird of a feather flock together. For all the good that can be said, an equal amount of bad can be said. Strangely, it took me a long time to get it, because I studied everything that was wrong with the place. Finally, the day came when I figured I knew everything there was to know what was wrong with everything. That day I said to myself, It's time to start looking at what's right with the place. Something like a great illumination came to me. I already knew what was right with the place, so much that what was wrong faded to nothing by comparison. That was the day I fell in love with the mountains and mountain people, the worst with the best, interwoven like warp and woof, just folks living at home. The mountains taught me respect. I believe I'd rather have respect for a guide than just about anything else. The time Jr told me he looks up to everybody, I wondered if he was leaving some out. No. He looked up to everybody. He honestly lived such humility. None of it was studied or for show. I realized by the end that his humility was never self-conscious. He lived what he believed in other ways as well.

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