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Wednesday, May 12, 2010


the little river boys c. 1960: l to r, jr maxwell,
cleve andrews, estal bedsaul, paul joines

Skipped a day. The black dog was on my back and I didn't have a mind to be cheerful. I didn't want to take you to the bottom of the swimming pool and hold you there. I'm dwelling too much on loss, need to shake it off, but it doesn't shake off. So I go with it. I feel like the guy in the photograph that goes around the internet of the surfer on a wave and the full length profile of a great white shark in the wave. Whadayado? Ride the wave and don't fall. So I rode the wave, knowing it was temporary. I wanted to, but could not write one word to you. Missing Jean, missing Jr, missing TarBaby, all at the same time. These were friends of the heart. That includes TarBaby. I used to believe I was in tune with mortality, but I'm not. I miss my friends. They were all three wonderful people, the kind I feel graced to have in my life. I learned the stories of their lives over the years, stories that made Faulkner sound about right when it comes to people with hard lives. Jr and Jean and they hardly seemed to notice. It's just how it was. Where they are now (then) is the only place they are (were).

I often question if Jr is the only individual I've known who lived so completely in the present moment. He dipped into the past long enough to tell me his life over 5 years. When he'd told it all, we were back to the present. He didn't like looking at the past, it was past, done, over, like it never was, but went there because he knew I wanted to hear his story, and he wanted someone to tell it to. My heart has opened so much over the last many years I feel now more vulnerable to sorrow than ever before. I don't think I'm "depressed" in the prozac sense. A psychiatrist would laugh at that sentence. I'm depressed. It's grief that hasn't run its course yet, and I'm ok with it. I deal with inner issues in these times and feel like that's productive in my inner growth that I like to believe is ongoing. I'ved found so many things I believed about myself are just plain wrong, so much that now I doubt inner growth being ongoing, just because I said it. I'm doubting about everything that comes up I previously believed about myself. If I was full of shit, finding out can be a good thing. First step to seeing self a little closer to the the real self. I can't help but think God put me through this like Jr said of God, that he puts things down in front of him for him to go through. I was given this to go through to see what I do with it. It's a measure and a step on the ladder to understanding. If I get what is in it for me to get then I get it. It's the kind of thing that when I come out the other end, I'll thank God for the experience. Then I'll be an old turd for sure.

I did all kinds of things to keep from clicking on to write to you. I didn't want to. It's like when I have the flu, stay home, don't spread it. My head was as empty as a glass upside down on the drying rack. I puttered about, unable to sleep, unable to read. Around midnight an email came in from Kilby Spencer, son of Thornton and Emily Spencer of Whitetop Mountain Band, who has been doing serious research into finding recordings of musicians from the days of reel-to-reel. He has a digital recorder and finds people who have never been recorded and records them. Kilby's life is dedicated to old-time music of these mountains. After all the years of field recorders passing through from up north, collecting music we're glad they found, I like all the better having someone field recording from inside the mountain music world. He knows how to find people playing that someone passing through could never find. I'd say the old-time musicians who never played anywhere but home would be more comfortable with Kilby, who is of their world. And son of Whitetop Mountain Band is pretty good credentials for a beginning.

Thornton and Emily have spent their musical lives passing the music on to the next generations. Emily was, maybe still is, band director at Mt Rogers high school. Instead of horns and such, it's an old-time band, music the kids can play the rest of their lives to any degree they want. I've not known too many people who took trumpet or trombone play much after school. Where? Who with? The instruments end up wrapped nicely in the back of the top shelf in the closet. A kid who learns banjo in high school is on his way to making music the rest of his life. Thornton and Emily both over several years taught at the Crouse House on Monday nights. Diane Bowen of Zephyr Lightning Bolts learned from Emily. Linda Mabe of Stone Mountain Old-Time Band, learned from Emily. There are many more. Thornton too. And they do a lot more than that. Kilby and his sister Martha are carrying on the tradition. They're good people.

Kilby found 2 tunes recorded at Galax in 1966 by the Little River Boys, Panhandle Country and Back Up And Push. Kilby said they came to him from a friend in Delaware who got them from somebody in Europe who was here and recorded Galax in 1966. The Little River Boys are Cleve Andrews, fiddle, and Jr Maxwell, banjo. Yes. The only existing recordings of them that are known of. I never believed I would hear Cleve Andrews' fiddle. Jr told me about him many times, told me how well he could play with emphasis, meaning he means it, no two ways about it. I never believed I would hear Jr's banjo before the time the palm of his hand was peeled off at the sawmill. He needed a skin graft. Noting the banjo was good therapy and he went back to picking, but he said he couldn't pick like before. On these two tunes he's picking all out. He and Cleve made so much music together over so many years, Jr's banjo and Cleve's fiddle rode the waves of the music together, flowing together, the banjo right alongside the fiddle note for note, and sometimes playing with rhythms and a time or two they were so close together they sounded like one instrument that was neither banjo nor fiddle, just a few notes.

I never imagined I might get to hear Jr picking. It is exactly like he told me he picked, plain. I wasn't quite sure what he meant, so I thought about it quite a bit until I think I got it. Now that I hear him picking, it is as he said. It's plain. No frills, no flourishes, no showing off. Make the sounds of the notes plain, clear, distinct. The music is number one. I'd like to put the songs on here so you can hear them, but don't know how, if it's possible. His banjo picking is a steady run of notes, 2 fingers and thumb in motion. He was standing perfectly still like he's passing the time of day, looking down at his left hand, picking a storm while Cleve, too, is standing still with fiddle under microphone fiddling his heart out. This was the last year of Cleve's life, but he was right there with it. When I downloaded the first one and listened to it, I wept from start to finish. I never believed I'd hear Cleve's fiddle or Jr's banjo in that time with Cleve. And it was beautiful picking and bowing. I'm remembering Saturday night when Paul Reeves told Jean Osborne's granddaughter, Kevin's girl, who was playing fiddle with JAM, that he and I "had a friend who could really pick the banjo. I mean really pick the banjo." Paul had heard him pick all along the way.

I've put the two tunes on cd to play at the radio station Saturday morning. I think I'll play them at the beginning and then tell everyone who knows anybody who wants to hear Cleve Andrews and Jr Maxwell layin it to it, tune in to the station because I'll play them again in about 20 minutes. This is a treasure to Alleghany County Music. It's a very big event in my way of seeing. I want as many people as want to hear Cleve Andrews be able to. It's too rare not to share as widely as can be done. Lucas Pasley will have them up on his website of Alleghany musicians soon, when he's able.

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