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Sunday, August 8, 2010


kilby spencer of crooked road ramblers

thornton spencer of whitetop mountain band

At the Rex Theater in Galax a show of 2 old-time bands. Kilby Spencer's band, The Crooked Road Ramblers played first. The band has released their first cd, that is cd produced in large numbers and packaged. Kilby has recorded the band quite a bit. He's been generous to give me copies of cds he's made along the way for play on the radio show. I'd love to be playing this collection of songs. I'd play the whole album in the course of the hour. It has 18 songs, and I could get 18 in the hour easily, weather included. It's a band of good musicians, every one of them. Guitar player John Perry used to be with the New River Ramblers, James Burris fiddler, that evolved into Southern Pride.

Now on the cd Kilby is playing Lost Train Blues. He gets train sounds in it rolling down the track. Kilby has grown quite a bit as a fiddler in the years I've known him. He knows a lot of songs, an awful lot, and knows them well, plays them well. In this concert and this cd I hear nuances entering Kilby's fiddling, the subtle kind of things fiddlers get after much experience, very much experience. I hear Kilby becoming a great fiddler like his dad, Thornton, and his uncle Albert Hash. I'm enjoying hearing Kilby's progress on the fiddle over the years I've known him. His wife, Amanda, plays a very respectable banjo. He just now played the fire out of the old-time fiddle tune Ebenezer. He played it like he owned it, it is his. The band makes music well together. They have good drive. Kilby and Amanda play Johnson Boys together, just fiddle and banjo. They sound good together. They played it just the two of them at the concert earlier. I think I might have got it on video. I don't remember all the songs I got with video. I'll go through them tomorrow.

I don't want to make slick, professional videos. I want them hand held, free to do things like run the zoom too far too fast. That's ok. I like the spontaneous feel of a group of musicians flowing along together, riding the wave, hanging 5. Kilby is playing Sally Goodin now. Fiddlers tend to like Sally Goodin and give it their best. He laid it to it. He learned much fiddle from his dad, Thornton. His wife, Amanda, learned banjo from Kilby's mother, Emily, banjo in Whitetop Mountain Band. I tend to think of Kilby as Son of Whitetop Mountain Band. He's playing Lee Highway Blues, going after it. Every time I hear that tune I imagine GB Grayson in the car with Henry Whitter, Whitter driving, on the road to a show someplace, rolling down Highway 11, the Lee Highway, Grayson playing the fiddle in the car composing a fiddle tune he called Lee Highway Blues. Good old-time fiddle tune.

Whitetop Mountain Band played the second half of the show. They're one of the hottest bands around here. There are several, and Whitetop is one of them, the band with Thornton Spencer's fiddle and Emily Spencer's banjo and vocals. Fiddler Albert Hash passed the band to Thornton. The way things are shaping up, it's looking like Martha could be the next fiddler of Whitetop Mountain Band. She plays a very respectable fiddle with the best for her teacher. Hearing Thornton Spencer play a fiddle is beautiful to my ears every time. He has subtleties with the strings that bear his signature alone. Emily's banjo is hers and hers alone. The two of them play together as one.

Maybe 4 years ago, when Jean had one month to live, we went to Glendale Springs at the Mountain Music Jamboree to hear 4 bluegrass bands and Whitetop Mountain Band. I imagined Whitetop would play first. They played last. I wondered how they could follow 4 hard driving bluegrass bands. They did it. They played such that I forgot all that went before, right away. If it had been a battle of the bands, Whitetop would have won. The Wildwood Valley Boys had Michael Cleveland playing fiddle with them too. None of the bands was laying down on the job. Whitetop Mountain Band took over the show and made it theirs. I tend toward old-time before bluegrass. Much, then, of that was my own personal love for old-time music. My heart lights up when I hear old-time music. Bluegrass gets me going and I do like it, but old-time goes straight to my heart. Tonight's music was all heart music. Masters of the fiddle and banjo going at it, giving us in the audience the music we came to hear in abundance. Good show tonight. Every minute of it.

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