This evening I saw again BLUEGRASS COUNTRY SOUL, a bluegrass festival 1972, Reidsville, NC, put on by Carlton Haney. The film footage from the festival was edited into its present form in 2007. In it Ralph Stanley sings what is to my ear his finest rendering of Man of Constant Sorrow. He defies all the rules in how to sing making big Os with lips and mouth big and open. Ralph's lips barely move. He looks like a ventriloquist when he sings. Jimmy Martin sang Freeborn Man Jimmy Martin style. Then there was Bobby Osborne singing Rocky Top, Ruby, and Listening to the Rain. I was thinking while hearing them do Rocky Top that it is their song and theirs alone. Ronnie Reno was picking guitar and singing with the Osborne Brothers. The Lily Brothers were there, Everett and B with Don Stover banjo and Tex Logan fiddle. Earl Scruggs was there, Chubby Wise, JD Crowe, Mac Wiseman. Roy Acuff sang Wabash Cannonball, the song he got from Sara Carter and made his own.
These early bluegrass musicians still sound brand new to my ear. I'm one of the people of the mind that bluegrass as it was played by them is bluegrass. What's happened since then isn't always what you might call bluegrass. The singers of the early years still had hillbilly accents in their voices. Those accents are gone largely from bluegrass now, except for local music up and down the mountains, from WVA to Georgia. The Lily Brothers lived in Boston for 20 years where they played every night, 7 nights a week, at the Hillbilly Ranch, a bluegrass club. The live recording made of them playing there is a dynamite bluegrass album. They lived in Boston all that time and never lost their West Virginia accent. Tex Logan, a fiddler from Texas working on a PhD at MIT in Engineering, or so I've heard, found them at Hillbilly Ranch and became their fiddler. Don Stover, came from a place in West Virginia not far from the Everett and B's home town.
Big Country Bluegrass plays in the spirit of that era of bluegrass. They're a mountain bluegrass band and that's the kind of bluegrass the mountain people like. Mountain people took to bluegrass from the first time they heard it. A few times in the film the man with the camera went out to the parking area to film some pickers. A night scene of Tommy Malboeuf playing fiddle and Gene Mead playing guitar. I couldn't see the banjo picker. His back was to the camera the whole time. A woman played the bass. I have an idea I know who she might be, but have an even better idea that it's not who I think it could be. I have an old 33 of Tommy Malboeuf making music with Cullen Galyean. Malboeuf played fiddle on Big Country Bluegrass's first album. He and Gene Mead are both legends of NW NC music.
During one of the asides, Everett Lily mentioned the swimming chickens out in the pond. Carlton Haney told him they was ducks. He said, No, them's swimmin chickens, anybody can see them's chickens. He had an oddball sense of humor like that. He had a small stick in his left hand and pocket knife in right hand, whittling at it. Haney asked him what he was making. He said he was making a mandolin neck. He might have to find another stick to finish the mandolin, he said. Don Stover, Tex Logan and B were sitting there too, in a circle of lawn chairs beside the pond. They paid no mind to Everett's humor, knowing it very well. But he had Haney, who was new to Everett's humor.
I found a picture once of Everett Lily as a Bluegrass Boy with Bill Monroe. He had a guitar then. Art Wooten was in the picture too, telling me Everett and Art were Bluegrass Boys at the same time. Everett appeared in a show at the Lincoln Theater in Marion, Virginia, a couple years ago with his son's bluegrass band. He was around 90 and had to be seated throughout the show. He needed help walking onto the stage and off. He played his mandolin with some effort. It didn't matter what he did. It was the living Everett Lily, somebody I think of about like I think of Ralph Stanley, way up there. Everett Lily sang the most beautiful Barbara Allen I've heard. It's the only singing of the song that makes me want to listen to every word. He calls her Barbary Allen. He has a hillbilly way of singing it that makes it just right. Hard hearted Barbary Allen.