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Monday, August 9, 2010


sleeping dog

Justin and I were talking about the culture in these mountains, if you're not born in it, you'll never get it. I've been studying mountain ways 33 years and feel like a beginner. It was 20 years before I started getting it a little bit. That was when I fell in love with the mountain people. For about 20 years I only saw faults and flaws. One day I realized I'd run out of flaws to find. Maybe it's time to start occupying my mind with what's right about it. At that moment I already knew there was so much that was good about the place all the faults and complaints vanished the way darkness does when you switch on the light. We talked of how anyone from outside will never know the culture like someone born here. It's not possible, even for someone whose parents came here when he was born here. You might call it mother's milk, which is a tremendous spectrum the child learns from at home.

I brought up how there is something in the sound of mountain music that no one from outside these mountains can even imitate. Some come close, but close is just as much a miss as by a lot. Like the time I played on the radio some old hippies who had mountain music down really well from playing it 30 or more years. Afterward, Jr said, "I didn't hear no music in it." I knew what he meant and said, "They weren't none to hear." And he knew what I meant. The music I heard last night and Friday night had plenty of music in it. That show of Crooked Road Band and Whitetop Mountain Band was pure mountain music of the Whitetop sound. All of it was just right. It was as big a thrill for me musically as if it had been the Camp Creek Boys, Fred Cockerham and Kyle Creed. The music was that good and that much from right here.

Nonetheless, there are some who have found the mountain sound close enough that mountain musicians like to make music with them. Paul Brown of NPR morning news has made several recordings with MtAiry fiddler Benton Flippen. Alice Gerrard found the mountain sound, or did to my ear. All that is changing now. The mountain sound is changing. It changed all along the way. Change continues. Hearing now the Camp Creek Boys play Pretty Little Girl. Kyle Creed's clucking banjo, Fred Cockerham's fiddle and Creed's banjo know what they're doing. It pulls me in to where I can't leave it until the song is over. It's an album of Fred Cockerham put together by Field Recorder's Collective from tapes different people made while Fred was living. I like his old-timey country fiddle and banjo.

I stopped by Maxwell Equipment to see Ross and Harry. A man about my age I don't recall ever seeing before. We talked some and he told me his dad was Woodrow (Wood) Blevins. I felt like falling over. I put out my hand to shake and we exchanged names and set to talking about old-time and bluegrass so fast everybody else tuned out of what we were talking about. Wood Blevins was known in his time for playing old-time piano. He also played guitar very well. I have a couple of his cds made from field recordings, or home recordings, found tapes. He's made a lot of music with Howard Joines, Jr and about all the musicians living here in his time. He left behind a name musicians who knew him spoke only in praise. The time Jr told me he played a guitar really well, followed by a hard look and words saying, You better believe it. Now that I've heard Cleve Andrews I know what Jr meant when he said the same of Cleve's fiddle. I believed him. Jr knew a good musician.

I was glad to see Justin was appreciating his culture for itself. He's so much a part of it, he is it. Hillbilly culture is a wonderful culture full of life. Of course, outside the mountains they're known for holler hillbillies with a few teeth and a still in the woods, carries a shotgun and will blow you away if he sees you. We in the mountains think that's a fine way to think of mountain people. Keeps them out of the mountains, leaving us alone. I remember a day less than 10 years ago when I realized I'd crossed the bridge I'd been crossing the whole time living here. I found myself on the mountain side of the bridge. The time I thought of it as being on a bridge, I could translate back and forth between flatland culture and mountain culture. I could give flatlanders new here tips such as suggesting they get to know a few mountain people, like their neighbors, anybody. In the time of the store I hoped to help newcomers understand there is a valid culture here that is different from where they came from. What I found was they were mostly afraid of mountain people from all they'd heard about mountain people. I found on the mountain side of the bridge I can't translate any more. I don't understand flatland culture any more. I've become so happy with what's here I don't need or want anything else.

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