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Thursday, June 17, 2010


sweet fern

This evening I totally forgot until it was too late that Tim Smith and Eric Ellis are playing at the library tonight. I've circled it on the calendar, though so long ago I forgot why. That would have been a good one. Both are excellent bluegrass musicians. It plumb left my mind. At 6:30 when it started I was sitting with this week's paper, just home from going to town for grocery store, and saw the ad for it. I could have got there a half hour late, but preferred not to. Inertia kept me here. I can't do everything. Home is where I always want to be.

I'm bad like Jr in that way. That's actually what made it possible for me to stay at Jr's when he was down and out. He didn't like to go anyplace. I didn't like to go anyplace. He didn't like tv. I didn't like tv. That's much of the landscape and we saw eye-to-eye that not going anyplace was the best way to go. Like the time my grandmother wanted to go to Hawaii. Grandfather said he aint left nothin there. She went without him. But I do like it at home. With no one else here, I don't have reason to want to be outside cutting the grass, washing the car, trimming hedges. Here, no one is telling me I didn't do adequately, that I oughta do another way, that everybody else knows best about my life. When I have time to be alone, I can see that nobody else knows best about my life. I'm the only one knows anything about it. The bank knows I'm no good handling money. But the bank doesn't know why. I do. You hear talk about the comfort zone like it's not a good place. No pain, no gain. How can you be comfortable when more money is your only goal? It's like wanting to make all As in school. It's anxiety inducing. I've got no problem with my home being my comfort zone. Isn't that what it's supposed to be?

I made it a goal not to leave home this week, to hold out until Friday if I could. Today I had to go to town to get a little bit of groceries. And to get into the other world of my habit patterns, Sparta. It's disheartening missing Tim and Eric tonight. I was looking forward to the music. Tim Smith is one of the respected fiddlers of today's bluegrass. Eric is among bluegrass's better banjo pickers. Tim played fiddle with the Bluegrass Cardinals several years, a popular bluegrass band of the 60s like the Country Gentlemen. Tim chose to live in Kernersville, work a job, live at home, raise his kids. He had enough of living on a crowded bus, his life someplace else. He has a recording studio in his house. A band needing a fiddle track in a few songs on an album would mail a tape to him in the past, probably done digitally now by email, and he put in the fiddle part. In that way, he's recorded with a large number of bluegrass bands. Outside the world of bluegrass musicians, Tim Smith is not well known. In the world of bluegrass he's respected by all.

Our humble county has produced 2 of the great fiddlers in bluegrass. Maybe Harlan County, Kentucky, could say the same, but not many others, if even Harlan. Two of bluegrass's fiddlers with names that will never be forgotten as long as there is bluegrass came from Alleghany. They weren't the only good fiddlers around here, either. Jr Maxwell on the banjo was in their league, he just never wanted to live the life of the professional musician. It didn't pay worth a shit. He auditioned for Jimmy Martin in Tampa, Florida, when Jr was driving a banana truck. He got the job. A month of living on "hamburgers, coffee and indigestion" was all he could take. It didn't pay nearly enough to make it worth it. Lois encouraged him to stay with it, but it wasn't for Jr. Jr loved home too much. He loved Lois too much. He loved the mountains too much. He wasn't driven to it. It was something he saw he could do. It was affirming, at least. It showed him he had what it took.

In that month, Jr developed a respect for Jimmy Martin that never waned unto the day he died. Any suggestion that I doubted Jimmy Martin was the best singer in bluegrass got a sharp look that said, don't you cross that line. I don't doubt it. Never doubted it. I have to pause a moment when Carter Stanley comes to mind. Jr didn't like Carter, so Carter was out of the running. He said Carter was mean. And arrogant. Jr did not take any sign of arrogance lightly. He could hardly stand it that I liked Carter's singing. We talked it over one day, I told him I don't have the same experience he has where the music is concerned, for one thing. I don't know that much about Carter, and I didn't know him from inside the music world of these mountains as just another Joe. Jimmy Martin doesn't move me to tears. His singing moves me to awe, and so does Carter's. Carter's voice can move me to tears, Ralph's too. As for best, they're all the best.

It's actually a shame that few people in the county have any idea who Tim is. His mother and dad and his kin are here, but he's lived away a long time. There was a time he was winning Union Grove Fiddler's Convention, about the same time I arrived in the mountains. I bought an LP of Tim Smith world champion with AL Lambert's band at Smitheys. His name was all over the place, everybody proud of him for winning Union Grove. By now, I have to explain who he is when I want to mention his name. That's not right. And I'm partly to blame. I have air time and I don't play him enough. I know that. I don't. Don't know why. That will change right now. I'll be bringing his name and his fiddle forward, play him and talk about him some more. He needs to have a fan base in Alleghany and right now there is very little. I don't play Art Wooten a great deal either. Kind of take them for granted. That's changing too. Maybe tomorrow I'll pick up the cds of JR MAXWELL & FRIENDS and be playing that some more. This Saturday will be a good one for Art Wooten and Tim Smith. Tim has a great deal of gospel recorded too. That's it. Tim and Art this week.

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