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Tuesday, June 22, 2010

JR MAXWELL & FRIENDS CD

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I've decided to play music while writing you tonight. Needed to hear the cd of Jr with Cleve Andrews and Art Wooten. Don't know how long this will last. Art Wooten is playing the fire out of his fiddle. Jr's banjo is keeping a roll going. Wayne Henderson's rhythm guitar picking runs up and down the strings. I find myself going off into listening to the 3 of them together, hearing them individually, together, hearing the music that is seemingly independent of them, though entirely dependent. This music is getting at my heart. I'm going over with myself again my eternal joy that mountain music is all around where I live, that I've found it. It's such an intensely personal music. Listening to Art Wooten's fiddle is a beautiful moment to behold.



If I had never come to the mountains, I'd never have known this music. That I have what it takes to appreciate Art Wooten's fiddle, that I had a brief acquaintance with him and his wife Minnie, that I have painted his image 3 times, is better to me than knowing Elvis. Jr's banjo in there with the fiddle, not taking over, supporting him like a wave the man on the surfboard can hang 5 on all the way to the end of the song. I honestly mean it when I say that until I heard mountain music I had never heard music. Seeing the video of Eric Clapton MTV unplugged playing acoustic, I sat in awe that he was no better than he was. I thought, I know I can name half a dozen guitar pickers inside a 40 mile radius of my house who could pick circles around Clapton. The number is probably more like at least 20. And that's just right here. All up and down the mountains there must be a thousand who can pick better than what Clapton did on the unplugged show. Only listened to it once. Can't do it again. Somebody told me he played a Henderson guitar on it, but he didn't.



I'm happy I've been able to see into the world of mountain music and listen to Jr for 7 years talk of his musician friends, music experiences at fiddlers conventions, at square dances. And Jr was the real deal. The point is not that he was the best there ever was. He'd be the first to make certain you understood he was not to be mistaken for that. He just liked to pick and done the best he could. Now Jr is cutting loose on Home Sweet Home, Wayne Henderson playing rhythm with him. Had to pause with head down and listen. Now he's cutting loose with John Hardy, Wayne's guitar going right along with him. It turns out I know a lot of people who play Henderson guitars. A picker in these mountains, especially a stage picker, one who self-assesses himself good enough to play out in public without embarrassing himself and his family name has to have a Henderson, is willing to wait 10 years for it. I don't know if resonance is the musical term for it, but it's what it seems to me a Henderson has over a Martin. A Henderson puts the sound out there. The sound is exactly right. I don't know the terminology for guitar sounds, but a Henderson sounds to my ear like the texture of honey is in the sound.



Listening to Jr I have been able to see from the inside the world of mountain music. Not as I would as a musician, but that's ok. When anyone asks me if I pick, I say I'm the audience. I do the appreciating. I'm hearing the sample copy Bobby Patterson made to make the other copies from. It is clear. Very clear. Same sound level all the way through. Originally they were 3 different sound levels. The sound is so good I can hear it that he put a lot of time and attention into it. He did with the cd "label" managing to list every song, name every musician and a picture of Jr and Cleve Andrews. Bobby did a beautiful job with it. I'm a hundred percent happy that the quality of reproduction is what I went to Bobby Patterson for. The music is over now, finishing with Jr picking Billy In The Lowground, the radio show's theme song. It's just right. Bluegrass banjo noting the song in an ongoing roll. Plain, meaning clear. I feel happy honoring Jr in this way. There's not a whole lot I can do, but this project feels right. It cost a little bit, but so does everything else. It is my gift to Jr's relatives and friends who are now my friends. It's a little bit of a way to keep memory of him alive and appreciated. And to be sure he is archived in Chapel Hill and probably Boone, Johnson City, TN, other places I can find to send them to. It's music way too good not to be heard.



I don't want Jr forgotten right away. I'll go on keeping his name alive and Art Wooten's name alive, Fred Roupe's name alive. This is one of the ways the radio show is so satisfying for me. I'm keeping a lot of names alive, Sara Carter, Carter Stanley, GB Grayson. I love about playing music of the region that the musicians are of the community I've lived in the latter half of my life. The mountain people have been gracious enough to allow me to live among them for which I'm every day grateful. The music I play on Saturday mornings is my gift to the people of the county I love way down deep in my heart. This is why it is such an emotional experience every week. I close myself up in the studio, turn the sound up loud so all my attention is on the music. I feel the emotions of the songs. I do that to guide my choice for what to play next after each song, keeping a flowing harmony going from song to song through the hour.



Last week in the gospel hour I played 5 songs by Hazel Varner, a petite woman from Wilkesboro, writes her songs and sings them. Her husband plays the church piano. David Johnson, who recorded them at his studio played steel guitar. She has a high childlike hillbilly voice, "When Jesus comes again he won't have to be born in a barn." And it's a soulful voice. "There'll be no wheelchairs in Heaven." Yes, there is soul in white music. Hazel Varner has it. Ralph Stanley has it. Doc Watson has it. Hazel Dickens has it. So do an awful lot of others in these mountains. It's a Suthun thang. I could not have lived my life happily outside the South. The Southern Mountains, the Central Blue Ridge, Alleghany County, Bullhead Mountain, Whitehead, Air Bellows, home sweet home. I like living someplace I love. It feels good all the time. A place with no written history.

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