The crowd at the Front Porch tonight got their ears full of the VW Boys from Bristol TN/VA. They played some straight ahead bluegrass that they're quite able to do, told some crazy jokes and performed a few magic tricks, slights of hand that were so awesome you couldn't even start to think about how it was done, just accept it and go on. For one thing, guitar player Dave Vaught took a $20 out of a man's billfold from the audience. This was definitely not set up. He asked a woman in the audience to verify that it's indeed a $20. He showed both sides to the audience. With his sleeves pushed up and his hands just a few feet from the eyes of a woman in the audience who had verified it, he folded the 20 until it wouldn't fold any more, unfolded it and it was a $1. Showed both sides, let her examine it. He took the $1 and folded it until it wouldn't fold any more, unfolded it and there was the 20. He only does really good tricks like that, the kind that bumfuzzle you're head.
The band's bass player Larry McPeak evidently is no more with the band, meaning his illness has advanced. I didn't ask about him, because I was afraid of what I'd hear. Larry is a good man and an equally good musician. Fat Albert has taken over the bass, using his upright doghouse bass. Albert plays with his other band Fescue out of Marion, Virginia. They're a well respected bluegrass band that plays mountain bluegrass the way it's meant to be played. Albert is a good singer and a good comedian. All three of them are comedians. They fill in the gap of bluegrass bands without a comedian with everybody in the VW Boys a comedian. Each has his own style of humor, so they keep us entertained in the original bluegrass way with most often the bass player the clown. VW Boys have humor covered in abundance. It's the same with the music. These fellers play music. It's not just something that's trying to sound like music, it's the music itself they take hold of from the start. It's the only way they play.
I could take up this entire space with a list of their accomplishments musically, the albums they've recorded on and so forth, but it's just too much. Perhaps most notable, Tim White the banjo picker made the song 5 Pounds of Possum in my headlights tonight. It was one of those comic country hit songs like The Day The Squirrel Went Berzerk. I don't know anybody that didn't love that crazy 5 Pounds of Possum. This old boy Foyst Blackburn and his wife did a crazy act to it at the Hillbilly Show year after year. She would be dressed in pink long-johns with her hair up in big curlers, wacky bedroom slippers on her feet, pedaling a stationary exercise bicycle with a flashlight taped to the handlebars and a Harpo Marx type horn on one handlebar. Foyst floated around in his bib overhauls and straw hat flat-footin the old-time way, feet barely leaving the floor, while he held a stuffed toy possum on a leash. It was Dada theater in Sparta. 500 miles Off-Off Broadway.
One of the hottest songs they played was the old country song about the Hot Rod Lincoln. They do the music right and Fat Albert sings it right. He complained afterward of forgetting some of the words, but that didn't matter at all. It was the spirit of the song, the music, the story, the way he sang it. From the early 50s before rock&roll they played RAGGMOPP. That was a big hit in its pop moment. The time of Grandma's Lye Soap and Smoke, smoke, smoke that cigarette. Somebody would be put in prison for singing that song now. They did Raggmopp right, too. They caught the spirit of the song. That's what it is about the VW Boys, they actually do catch the spirit of a song. The Everly Brothers song Dreamin, I'm dreamin my life away, from the mid Fifties. It wasn't like they were covering an oldie. It was like it was their song and I remembered the words from the Everly Brothers singing it. To my ear, the VW Boys left the Everly Brothers version in the dirt, and that's not throwing off on the Everly Brothers, whose singing of it is indelibly imprinted in my gray matter for life, like a lot of songs in that time. Mr Sandman that Katy Taylor made her own with Alternate Roots comes to mind as a brilliant singing of another song from that time.
These three musicians, Tim White, Fat Albert Blackburn, Dave Vaught, keep the crowd entertained with good singing, good story telling, good humor, magic tricks that are beyond clever, and the foundation for all this is some pickin by fellers that make music first, and in the making of the music is some musicianship that catches your attention because it becomes somewhat amazing every once in awhile, and all the time the closer attention you pay. Dave Vaught can light up an acoustic guitar. His fingers dance all over the fretboard, and he's one to get some sound out of an acoustic. Fat Albert's fingers can work the bass strings too. His size gives him a commanding presence, and doubly with the size of the bass. He has a stage persona that is charismatic in his talking as well as his singing. He's a singer who uses his own voice instead of a made up voice, a mountain singer in that way, and he doesn't mind belting it out there when he needs to. All three are good singers. Tim White too. Tim is quite a capable bluegrass banjo picker, who can tear the roof off the place when he lets go, though he's not a picker to hold himself out in front of the others, restrained in that way.
In the time of the radio show, I played the VW Boys from time to time. When the their chicken pickin album was fairly new, I intoduced the show saying it would be all chicken songs. That, I'm sure, threw everyone who knows old-time music, considering there are 3 old-time fiddle tunes about chickens and then there's the comedy Rooster song, another rooster song by Whitetop Mountain Band, and that's about it. I played the fiddle tunes, then from the VW Boys album their version of a Chic Filet advertising jingle. Several times in following days someone who heard the show told me how that cracked them up, a chic filet jingle among old-time fiddle tunes and then all the crazy VW Boy chicken songs throughout the album. It made a fun hour. I was well enough acquainted with their music by tonight to know in advance this would be a night of real deal bluegrass pickin. That's what it turned out to be.
VW Boys website: http://www.vwboys.com/