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Monday, June 28, 2010

CATBIRD AT THE CROUSE HOUSE

crouse house pickers

That's Richard Nichols playing the bass, Wade Petty with the fiddle and Charlie Edwards on the guitar. They were in a circle of a dozen or so musicians and 20 or so people sitting around listening under the big oaks out in front of the Floyd Crouse house. After half an hour or so an ominous black cloud suddenly appeared in the South like maybe it came up the gap from Wilkes. A big, brooding black cloud that made everyone exclaim when they saw it how black it was. It was heading our way and we all being people who lived around here knew it meant we'd better get inside now, because if we linger, we'll get wet. As the last ones were going into the house the sprinkling started and then it was on. Big rain for maybe a half hour. But we were in the house with good music going and everybody comfortable.



The music at the Crouse House on Monday night is always good; the house is always loaded with people who love the music. The good music goes from 6:30 to 9. Erica Godfrey of Low Gap was there tonight, at first in the old-time room and when the old-time people went home she came into the room with the bluegrass people. She's a fine fiddler and age 19 or 20, was playing with Mac Snow's band when she was 16. They played Sally Ann and she was having a hard time following it. When it was finished, she showed them how she played it, and she did it the Low Gap / Round Peak style, that being where she's from. They played it the way it's played here. Everyone was taken by the difference. When she played it the way she knew it, the other musicians fell in with what she was doing and they did an almighty Sally Ann.



I went with half a dozen cds in my pocket and about 10 more in the car. First one went to Charlie Edwards, who I knew would love it, appreciate having something of all those musicians he's known who never recorded and their music died with them.
I gave one to Richard Woodie who bought Jr's banjo when he left off the music, back around 1990. Richard offered him a lifetime right to it, he could keep it as long as he lives and then it goes back to Richard. He was trying to encourage Jr to get back into making music, which several people attempted in their own ways. None of it took. He didn't have the heart for it any more. The callouses on his fingertips were gone and the strings caused a burning sensation. His fingers didn't work on command any more. His control was gone. His desire was gone.



Jr being a practical man didn't like doing something that didn't get something done. Just sitting around jamming at home after he'd already done his time playing music to make people dance. He liked to make music that made people get on their feet and dance because they can't still. That's the kind of music Jr made. The music making fire was out in him, or down to a smoulder. I have respect for Richard for that. It bespoke tremendous respect on his part for Jr. It told me Richard had what it took to understand where Jr Maxwell was coming from. Not many did. He makes the 3rd that I know of who respects Jr's mind. Anyone acquainted with Jr's mind is in awe of it. Jr didn't have a clue. He'd have got mad at me for presuming to make a fool of him thinking he'd believe such bullshit. He'd either keep it to himself or tell me I need my head examined. After 3 drinks and then 4, he might say about anything. Whatever he'd say, it would be humorous and make me laugh my ass off at the same time I'm getting what he's telling me.



Next cd went to Richard Nichols, bassist, who has known all these musicians and made music with them, as had Richard Woodie. That is, Jr, Cleve and Art, the ones of this county, this particular music community. He's respected them all his life. We talked for quite a long time at the kitchen doorway that looked into the room with the music. He was taking a break and somebody else was playing the bass. He was in the kitchen having coffee and talking with others in there. David Joines was there too and he got one. He told me tonight he's made 15 fiddles. He makes other instruments too. He's a friend of Floyd Reeves, who also makes fiddles and some other insruments. Very pleasant mannered people. While we were talking I was thinking I might go see him at his workshop and get some pictures, get some info about his life for Lucas Pasley's website of Alleghany musicians. And I'd write you about seeing David's workshop. He has a sense of humor that is going all the time.



The 3 of us talking and gazing into the room with the music as we talked, this man on the periphery, which was in the space just this side of the backs of the musicians he was sitting behind. He played a guitar, looked to be up in 70s, maybe 80, a character, a cut-up, an entertainer who turned in our direction, him between the people in the chairs and the band and he started doing his own show to the white haired womed around him, pretend flirting with them, enjoying them, being silly, and playing the guitar to what the band was playing. As the attention of the people around him shifted from the band to him, he took off on a blues song of the Mississippi Delta variety and was funky. He sang and played blues guitar, cutting up. I was wishing I'd started videoing him with the camera at the beginning of the song. I let the thought go, then thought, I can get what's left. I put the camera on him and got the last verse of the song. When the song was done, I asked Richard Nichols who he was. He said the man goes by Smilin Jack. And I got it. A light went off in my head. Smilin Jack had been in my store, sometime in its last year. He was wanting to sell me a home made cd of him singing gospel songs. He was a catbird and she was too. They seemed like people who are friends I hadn't seen in years or like we just found out we're kin. They were fun. I enjoyed talking with them, listening to them. He was a natural-born comic who had been like that all through his life, in a way kind of wild and free though contained.



I introduced myself to him soon after Richard told me his name. What a catbird he was. He remembered the store and said he and his wife were talking about me the day before. He told me he had some cds in the car, come on with him. Louise, his woman, was sitting in the car. We remembered each other too from the store experience. She is a refreshing woman. We talked for quite awhile at the car with the door open. Smilin Jack went off to talk to 3 people who were leaving. He came back and I told him I wanted one of his cds. $10. A dollar a song. I've an idea it was the same one I bought from him at the store. I'll get it and see. It doesn't matter. I wanted them to have the $10. The cd is made on the computer with nothing written on the cd and a list of the 10 songs in the cd case. They're charming people. They have a light spirit about them. I believe it was the same one I bought from him back then for a dollar a song. All the better if it is the same, because I'll give one to the radio station. The other will be in my collection to go to the library upon my demise. I remember the cd being something I wanted to play on the radio show. Now that I have a gospel hour I can justify playing all of it, even featuring it. I'd even like to tape the show and get the tape to them. Just for fun.



I showed them the video of him, Smilin Jack, last verse of his blues song. They were both struck by the technology of it, a movie, just like that. It showed up well in the dark. It made a good short video. He was sitting directly under the lights in the middle of the room so he's well lit. He's funny. And I got it that his humor is what she loves best about him. He keeps her amused because he's always being funny. And the Smilin part of his name is a constant. He's always smiling in one way or another. When he talks, his voice smiles. He's a man of peace, who a century ago might have worked in medicine shows like Clarence Ashley and Uncle Dave Macon. A catbird. In a way, Smilin Jack is something like a Shakespearean character who jumped out of an opened book and is loose in the world. From there I went to the car, then to Food Lion go get some supplies to last til the 1st. There are times when it is really fun being a human being. Today was one of them.

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