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Monday, May 17, 2010


l to r: fiddlin art wooten, pee wee lambert, ralph stanley,
carter stanley, ray lambert. the stanley brothers. 1948

I know what I'll be playing this coming Saturday morning. Art Wooten's fiddle with Jr Maxwell's banjo, 15 songs by the Green Mountain Boys. This collection came to me through Kilby Spencer, who said his dad, fiddler Thornton Spencer, bought it from Art, 8track. It opens with Art playing Cricket On the Hearth solo. Then Jr's banjo comes in on the next tune, Flop-Eared Mule. After that one is Sally Goodin, one Art can tear up. At the end of the documentary of Tommy Jarrell, Sprout Wings And Fly, Tommy finds Art Wooten at the Galax fiddlers convention. Has him play a tune for the camera. Art complained about his ticker being weak. Tommy Jarrell slapped him on the knee when he finished Sally Goodin and said, You aint near dead yet!
The county library has the dvd of Sprout Wings And Fly. Wonderful film. Full of old-time music at its best, old-time singing and old-time talking. My own personal most unforgetable moment was when the female interviewer from California asked a woman I took for Tommy Jarrell's sister, "Have you ever worked?" Sister's eyes got big for a second. She said, "Worked? Yes, I've worked." I thought, I know you have, sister. I don't know of a woman in these mountains who hasn't worked. All day at the factory, the rest of the time in the garden, in the hay field, in whatever comes next. The split-second look in her eye that said, What kind of a question is that? Of course I've worked. I've never done nothin but work. Pulls herself back together for the woman from another world, remembering, this is her first time in these hills.

I'm sitting here doing something I never dreamed I'd be doing, hearing the Green Mountain Boys when Art Wooten was the fiddler. Lee Highway Blues. Art took it and went with it all the way, Jr's banjo clucking along with him. It becomes a duo of fiddle and banjo for a long period of time like Led Zeppelin's Stairway to Heaven. A Grayson & Whitter tune composed by GB Grayson playing fiddle in the car with Whitter driving down Hwy 11 (the Robert E Lee Highway) on the road to make music at a dance, The Lee Highway Blues.

Jr laid it to it on Home Sweet Home and I'm enjoying now hearing him play lead with Bob Caudill playing guitar with him. They played well together, now I hear it. Bob was quite a picker. This was quite a band. Never dared hope for so much. Art's working on a solo Fire On The Mountain. Awesome is the word. The man can play a fiddle. He's not called Fiddlin Art Wooten because he just fiddle faddle's around. He takes charge and gets it done. Jr said Art could find every note that was in a fiddle. I feel blessed. I've thanked God multiple times a day this last week for these samples of Jr's music that are surfacing and keep on surfacing. For the musical heritage of Alleghany County, they are supreme. It's curious that these examples of his music are turning up now that he's gone. Jr was indifferent to whether his music continued. It was about making the music. It was the moment and a recording does not carry all he entered and went through the moment with. Just the sound. The music. I don't have any feelings like I'd like for Jr to hear it. He already has heard it. He was there. There's no way around it, he would enjoy hearing it, by himself, to remember playing whatever tune it was and the musicians with him, to remember the joy. I often thought of the way he visits a grave. Walks up to it, sees the headstone, turns around and goes on. Nary a pause.

Since I've been involved with the radio show, playing music of our county as I find it, always searching, not active searching always, always on the lookout, this has been one of the great adventures in my 7 year search for Alleghany music. Like when I began finding the recordings he'd made with Monroe, Stanley Bros, Flatt & Scruggs, and found what I take to be all of them, and put them on a cd to play at the radio station, it was one of the great discoveries of my life. The Bill Monroe cd, Legends of Country Music/RCA, has everything. So does The Essential Bill Monroe & The Monroe Brothers, RCA 67450-2. It has a couple songs with Charlie Monroe too. All that Art recorded with Monroe are there. Except Muleskinner Blues live at Grand Ole Opry. I find it curious that such a high percentage of the songs have Art on fiddle, 25%, when the percentage of songs Art recorded with Monroe on the scale of the collected fiddlers with Monroe over time would probably be no more than a single percent. I can't help but think that has something to say to us about Art Wooten's place in bluegrass.

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