where I spent life's happy hours in the vale of shendoah
I've been sitting here watching a YouTube video of Willard Gayheart and Katy Taylor singing the Carter Family song, Mid the Green Fields of Virginia. Eyes started running. Nose started running. Tears running down my face. Mountain music has always done this to me. From the first time I heard it. It is the only music that has ever made me weep from loving it so much, feeling the joy in it. It's only played right when it's played joyfully. The Carter Family get to me the most of any of the music. I can't hear the Carter Family without tears running. Their grandson Dale Jett does the same to me when he's singing one of their songs. Ralph and Carter Stanley, both, make tears run. At one Ralph Stanley concert at Fairview Ruritan, I had tears running down my face the entire concert, tears of joy. The kind of joy you feel at the end of a really legitimate feel good movie like the Swedish film, AS IT IS IN HEAVEN. The kind of overwhelming joy that wells up from the heart and pushes water out of my eyes.
Mountain music is heart music. It is only played right played from the heart. Music played from the heart in the musician goes to the heart of the listener. Music played from the mind is received by the mind. In mountain music the very first thing is play from your heart. If you're not playing from your heart, you're not making music. I can hear a mountain fiddler like Buddy Pendleton or Thornton Spencer or Richard Bowman and be moved to tears because they're playing to my heart. A fiddler who learned mountain music playing cds by these fiddlers, copying them, learning to play like them, they play to the mind, because that's where their music is coming from. My friend Jr Maxwell, bluegrass banjo picker, said of the copiers, Th'aint no music in it. I recall a time I played on my radio show an hour of an old-time band from off the mountain. He said of the show, I didn't hear no music in it. All of a sudden I knew what he meant when he said they weren't no music in it. He meant what he said. Wasn't no music in it. Music comes from the heart. They were playing from the mind.
I was talking about this once with Kilby Spencer, fiddler son of Thornton Spencer, and he said Thornton was the same way. He could say of a band there was no music in it, when it sounded fine to Kilby. It puzzled both of us. But there it was when Jr said he didn't hear no music in it. I said without thinking, "They weren't none." I knew what he meant. And I spent the whole hour regretting I'd chosen to play such soulless mountain music. My show was for the mountain people who love their own music. That was my first and last venture into playing an old-time mountain band from the Flatland. I got it like an epiphany when Jr said that. I spoke my answer in the language of his meaning. I was grateful for that moment. Jr taught me a very great deal about mountain music from the inside. He informed my radio show all the way along. He had a good ear for fiddles and banjos and guitars. We'd listen to Blue Ridge Backroads, the bluegrass show on WBRF 98.1, and he would be listening to a banjo in a certain band, say something about it, and I don't hear a banjo at all for all the other instruments. He had a subtle ear for bluegrass. I loved listening to bluegrass with him. He loved bluegrass the same as home. His fiddlers convention winning tune was Home Sweet Home. He taught me a lot, not information, but understanding.
Mid the green fields of Virginia in the vale of Shenandoah. Willard sings that song like it's his own. Hearing him sing it, I think of Sara Carter. Willard's style of singing is not vocal gymnastics that call attention to the singer instead of the song. He sings much like Sara Carter in telling the words, telling the story to a rhythm. Lou Reed does that in rock. Willard's singing is mountain singing to a T. He plays music, music you feel in your heart, with his Henderson guitar. Willard always plays music that makes me feel satisfied I'm hearing music. Of all the bands and musicians Willard and Scott have featured every Fri nite at the Fiddle and Plow show in Woodlawn, I and the other 20 who go regularly enjoy a show of Scott and Willard with Dori more than any of the other performers. This is saying Scott and Willard are the equals of the best of them and Dori at her beginning is among the best of them. Next show will be January 6. I hope it is the three of them. It has a good chance.
Willard as a mountain singer is certainly among the best. So is Scott. When they sing together, it is mountain music as good as it gets. Not too many people that feature their singing really support it with driving music. Willard and Scott always have drive in the songs they sing. Willard's Won't You Ride In My Little Red Wagon with a western swing is a tune that moves right along. People could dance to it and get some motion going. All of the guys will be jealous when they see my playmate so sweet. Before I heard Willard sing it, I laughed at that song. Now I love it. Willard opened my ears to its inner beauty. I like to hear Bob Wills sing it on YouTube. Willard and Scott do the western swing well. I love it every time they get into playing western swing tunes. They do Take Me Back To Tulsa exceptionally well with a western swing.
Willard and Scott are musicians who play together as one. Around 25 years they've been making music together. Scott married Willard's daughter. When they started going together, Scott didn't know Jill was Willard's daughter. He and Willard were in their band Skeeter and the Skidmarks at the time. Later, they got Alternate Roots going, one of the very finest bluegrass bands of a new kind of bluegrass that was their own. Katy Taylor sang and played rhythm guitar. I maintain Katy is the equal of Allison Krauss and Rhonda Vincent, just shy a million stage experiences. What I'm getting at is with as much stage experience as they've had, Katy is their equal. Only to say she's a really fine bluegrass singer. Katy with Alternate Roots was good bluegrass. Scott Freeman and Steve Lewis, Randy Pasley, Willard Gayheart, Tony Teserman and Katy. It was a magical group in their field like Jane's Addiction and Rage Against the Machine in rock, bands that made 4 great albums and went POOF.
The four Alternate Roots albums are mountain music classics. They were not a band to self-promote. No one in the band was a self-promoter. They just liked making music the best they could. They'll be discovered in the future when half of them are dead, and hailed as a great band of their time. Willard Gayheart and Scott Freeman are two musicians of the mountain tradition that the other musicians of the tradition love to make music with. They all say Willard's rhythm guitar is such that they don't have to think about the rhythm, Willard's got it. And it doesn't get any better than Willard's singing. I told Scott and Willard and Edwin Lacy before a Skeeter and the Skidmarks show, Y'all are my new Rolling Stones. I meant it. I appreciate their musicianship at this time in my life like I appreciated the Rolling Stones' earlier in my life. Skeeter works more with my flow in this time in the life in love with mountain music. Skeeter playing Running Through The Graveyard satisfies me as much now as Honky Tonk Women used to, still does. We have a world of beautiful music. The music is the best part of the modern world. Today in the coffee shop I heard Michelle Shocked sing Anchorage, and Faith Sandoval sing Fade Into You. Hadn't heard either one in awhile. Both moved me to silence, but not to tears.