skeeter roots: edwin lacy, tony testerman, katy taylor, willard gayheart
Tonight's show at the Front Porch Gallery in Woodlawn, Va, we decided to call Skeeter Roots. Tony was the one to come up with it while several of us were fishing for a name to call the band that was partially Alternate Roots and partially Skeeter & the Skidmarks. Willard told me a little over a week ago that tonight's show would be Katy and Tony. First thing I thought was Katy Taylor and Tony Testerman, both from the band Alternate Roots with Scott and Willard. I figured it was a little too obvious for it to be them. They had to be from somewhere else getting their mountain creds making music here. I assumed Willard and Scott knew them through the Blue Ridge Music Center on the Parkway, heard them, liked them and invited them to play at the Front Porch. Any way I looked at it, I figured they'd be pretty good. In an email with Edwin Lacy I asked him who Katy and Tony were. He said he would be playing banjo with them. Who are they? Turn up Friday night and find out.
Fabulous surprise. Willard had written on one of those white boards you write on with magic marker that tonight would be Alternate Roots Reunion. Except, Scott was just home today from the hospital where he had an appendix removed. He didn't have the strength to make 2 hours of music. When I drove up, Katy and Tony were getting out of Tony's van, taking out his bass and Katy's guitar. It was good to see them again and to hear them again. The bass wrapped in its carrying case, Tony looked like the vet pulling out the calf that was turned around inside the cow. It wasn't quite an AR reunion with 3 of the 6 missing. Edwin was from Skeeter & the Skidmarks and so was Willard. Katy, Tony and Willard had been in Alternate Roots. While we were looking for a way to name the group tonight, Tony said Skeeter Roots and everyone laughed. Willard was the link to both bands.
Alternate Roots I call my favorite band. When they disbanded I grieved for 6 months the same as when a friend dies. I loved the band. I heard them in concert I think 14 times. The same number of times I've seen Purple Rain the Prince movie. Just yesterday, I took a time-out and put on Alternate Roots last cd, Planted In Tradition. Listened to it, start to finish, like it was an audio movie. Hadn't heard it in awhile, was refreshed hearing the artistry of these 6 musicians who had their own style of bluegrass. It was bluegrass, but not like charts bluegrass, not like anybody else's bluegrass. They had their own sound. They were not a bombast band to get an audience excited and stomping and hollering. They played for the artistry of playing music well. They were a little bit too much of an art band to attract a big following. They had a following that was increasing in number, but they were not yet very well known. The people who listened them, loved them, but it was a relatively small number of people, considering the band was more interested in the artistry of making bluegrass and old-time music than playing cheap riffs to thrill the crowd.
Hearing them at the Blue Ridge Music Center in their last year, they played artfully to the max. Scott delivered some mandolin licks with sound that seemed independent of the mandolin. Steve Lewis on the banjo played incredible banjo all the way through the concert, low key, not drowning out the band. Some guy in the audience hollered "Fire Up The Banjer!" He hollered it 2 or 3 more times. Steve just smiled and kept on pickin such that if they guy would listen, he'd hear that Steve's banjo had been on fire all the way along. Last tune, they played I think it was Sourwood Mountain. Steve cut loose on the banjer so it had the old boy that was wanting him to fire it up hollering his satisfaction. Several others were hollering their satisfaction too. A good banjer can get an audience going.
A lot of memories swirled through my head around Alternate Roots. Like 5 or so years ago when I took a highway trip through ancestral land in eastern Tennessee and all the way to Kansas to see relatives of 3rd and 4th cousin I'd never known in Perry Kansas. I took along ten cds of Alternate Roots album Planted In Tradition. Turned out my relatives there like bluegrass and were happily surprised to find they really liked this band. I've an idea they were expecting a squawking fiddle and clucking banjo hillbilly style. Gave one to a niece's new husband, who liked it a lot. I felt like I was Johnny Appleseed spreading Alternate Roots out into the world beyond their audience. Katy, Scott and Willard the voices of Alternate Roots, good music, a sound all their own with Randy Pasley's Dobro giving long, slow notes, and fast notes, as strong a part of the band's sound as Scott's vocals and mandolin. I learned tonight Randy and his wife have moved to Alaska. He's found bluegrass musicians there.
I only made video of the first half of the show. Second half, about all the songs they played I'd uploaded more than once on YouTube in various combinations of musicians. I wanted to sit and listen to the last half, get into the applause with the audience, about 15, I didn't count, and hear the music without having my little tech device going. I enjoyed both. First half was visual, second half auditory. It would have been really special with Scott in there vocally and with mandolin. It was really special as it was tonight without him. Either way is good. Edwin filled in for Steve on the banjo, playing it Skeeter style, Willard singing some Skeeter songs. Since we've been having these Front Porch Concerts, a year and 3 months now, I hear the sound of Alternate Roots in the music of Willard's and the music of Scott's. Katy has been there twice now to sing. Steve Lewis has been there a couple times picking banjo and guitar. The full band of Skeeter has played 3 times. Scott and Willard of both bands play every week. They are the sound of both bands. Tony's bass and Willard's rhythm guitar kept familiar rhythm to one who loves every note Alternate Roots picked.
Just now caught myself drifting off into imagining Scott Freeman, vocal and mandolin, Edwin Lacy, banjo, and Willard playing guitar. Scott singing Rocky Top. It's a song bluegrass bands tend to avoid, because they'd be having to play it every show. The song belongs entirely to the Osborne Brothers, Bobby's vocal and mandolin, his brother's banjo and harmony vocals. I believe Scott could do it his own style and it could be a worthy effort to take on such a high calling. The way he sang Who Stole The Train From The Tracks, that approach he has to singing. if he could deliver it like he'd never heard the Osborne Brothers do it, he could give it the Scott Freeman sound. And Willard, he could go at like he did Hank Williams' Mama Tried. Made it a Willard song. I don't think either one of them would take enough interest in such a project to manifest it. Musicians have to find the songs they want to learn. I'd never suggest it, because I want to leave them the freedom they need to decide what songs they want to learn well enough to play often.