I think about the music I hear at Woodlawn on Friday nights much of the time. No pop tunes inhabit my head any more. No more in my head is music like, I'm a king bee, I buzz around yo hive, from the Rolling Stones, or from Patti Smith, outside of society, that's where I wanna be, or Jane's Addiction, comin down the mountain, one of many children---that one has a good surfing video that goes with it. My mind has always been a juke box of pop music from I saw those harbor lights, they only told me we were parting, those same old harbor lights that once brought you to me. Your Hit Parade with Dorothy Collins and Snooky Lanson. I heard them pre-school on the radio my city grandmother listened to, and later saw them on television.
Now the songs I carry in my head are, Mama said don't go near that river, don't you be hangin around old Catfish John, and the original Yellow Rose of Texas, she's the sweetest girl of color this fellow ever knew, her eyes were bright as diamonds, they sparkled like the dew, and another one from way back there, Sweet Virginia, Oh Virginia. It's not the same as the Rolling Stones' Sweet Virginia, not at all. Willard Gayheart sings these songs and others on Friday nights at Woodlawn, Virginia, I record them and put them on YouTube and hear them several times, enough that the words are now inhabiting my head. And Willard's new song he's working on, with nothing but the Bible and the fiddle and the plow, and his song Robin D, another of my favorites, for eleven months he labored with one main goal in mind, to christen her and take her down the river to the sea, and, the thing I dreaded most was that old dark holler's ghost, Ern and Zorie's sneakin bitin dog, these are the songs that play in my mind. I don't object at all. It cracks me up that Willard has me going about with old songs from the 30s or thereabouts flowing through my mind, and Willard Gayheart originals, songs I like a lot. Sometimes I go to YouTube to hear them, because one is in my mind so much I want to hear Willard sing it again.
Last week when Pathway was playing, somebody requested My Old Cabin Home On The Hill. Nobody in the band knew the words, so they asked Willard to come up and sing it. He went without his guitar and stood with his hands in his pockets singing it. Something about that particular performance struck me that it was essence of Willard's singing. He moves his head back and forth when he's in the groove, eyes closed, and it's then Willard is going on pure sound. He, himself, is absent. Only the song exists. That's the kind of singer Willard is, and this song shows it very well. Perhaps the part of his mind that plays the guitar is free to join in the singing, giving it something new.
When it gets down to what's real, Willard is there. That's where Willard's songs come from, where his pickin comes from, where his singing comes from. And Willard, himself, the man, is the same. The music is an expression of who Willard is. When it comes to mountain music, Willard is right there with Ralph Stanley and Doc Watson, in his own way. Willard has never made corporate label recordings, self-producing about everything he does. Sells cds at shows. No distributor. He's only known by people who know his music from live performances. He's been with the Highlanders 40 years. His band Skeeter & The Skidmarks made 2 cds and now working on a third. Alternate Roots made 4 albums. He has made 2 cds with Bobby Patterson and 1 so far with Scott Freeman, plus playing on Scott's solo cds. I don't know how many records Highlanders made.
Willard has a great deal of stage experience and recording experience. He's as relaxed on stage as he is off. Mountain music is his musical form that's been with him all his life. Willard plays mountain music in his own style, like Ralph Stanley does, like Doc Watson does. His style is not as well known, because it's not had the radio/tv coverage, but it's here nonetheless. Over and over, the musicians who come to the Front Porch to play on Friday nights speak of how happy they are to be making music with Willard, because he's such a good musician, keeps a good solid rhythm and sings well. In Willard's case, it's almost only other musicians who know how good a musician Willard is. He's understated and never shows off. He's more like the art of mountain music. Willard is an artist, expressed both by ear and by eye. Willard is the kind of artist you have to discover first hand, by experience; he has no publicity agent, no place in any advertising budget, no ad campaign to make him a household name. You find out about Willard by hearing him. Write his name in the search box at YouTube and you'll here some mighty fine music.