scott freeman and willard gayheart
by tj worthington
Decided not to drive to Woodlawn tonight. Of course, I regret it. Fog and forecast of much rain. Darkness, fog, rain. I don't care to drive two hours in it. I wouldn't mind it like it is now, minor sprinkles, light fog. I couldn't foresee it would be so little when the forecast was full of alarm, snow possible Sunday. We'll see. Anyway, I'm staying at home tonight missing Willard and Scott together. I'd rather hear Scott and Willard than any of the other people who come there. That's not saying little of the musicians that play there. It's saying a lot of Scott and Willard. I'm thinking of putting together all the videos I've made of them together on a DVD and play it at home. Same differ'nce. They're both good singers, good musicians, good songwriters, good people. They've made music together for well over 20 years. Scott is married to Willard's daughter, Jill. Jill looks like she could be a singer in a bluegrass band, though she's not. She'd make a good bluegrass singer. She has the style. I mean a mountain woman bluegrass singer, not Nashville. Willard has a son, who is an old-time and bluegrass bass player, and one who is a Primitive Baptist preacher. Willard is his own self. He's humble as a man can be, and it not forced, but true humility. Inside the quiet, humble man who is fine with the back seat, is a man who has his life, his way of seeing, that is uniquely his own.
Scott used to lay cinder block for a career, until his back went out and he couldn't do it anymore. He went to teaching full time. I don't know if he prefers teaching to laying block, but his teaching is a very valuable thing. He is passing the music of the region to the new generation of kids in their teens and pre-teens, and some adults. He's an excellent teacher. Kids pay attention to him. He connects with them. This is what is unique about Scott. When you're talking with him, he is engaged, he is paying attention, he speaks consciously, he connects who you are with who he is. Just eye-contact across the room is a communication, no more than, "hey," but it's living. Scott is very much a living being. Perhaps this is the artist in him, as artists tend to be alert and responsive, real artists. And Scott is as much an artist as Picasso or anyone else called an artist. Musicians are not often called artists, but they are; music is an art form. Scott's art form is tearing up a mandolin. I've got several pictures of him playing the mandolin; the ones I like best are closeup with his noting hand way high up on the strings close to his picking hand, him bent over that little bitty mandolin, something like a pianist playing a toy piano to look at. When he's really getting with it, he's way deep inside that mandolin.
When Willard speaks of Scott, it's always in awe of his artistry as a musician and a songwriter. Willard makes music and writes songs too, very well, but Willard sees in Scott an artistry beyond his own. Scott appreciates the artistry in Willard too, that Willard doesn't notice as art, like his perfect rhythm playing rhythm guitar, his excellent singing, his excellent songwriting, his excellent pencil drawings. Willard throws off on himself, there's really nothing much to what I do. I look around the walls, hear him singing Catfish John in my mind, listen to him play his Henderson guitar in my mind, look at him and say, I respectfully beg to differ. The artistry in what Willard does is in the life he puts into his art forms. He thinks his pencil drawings are just likenesses, but every one of them has a life in it that takes it beyond likeness. It becomes itself. Therein is the art. Anyway in my estimation. Willard committed to what he likes; he does his pencil drawing through the week as a full-time job, and keeps a frame shop that is also his gallery of prints of his drawings for sale. Commissions keep him going. He's good at doing commissions. Willard took the deep plunge and made it work. He makes his own living like he makes his own art. Self-sufficient comes to mind. He is his own company. His friend Bobby Patterson has done the same, contained his art forms and his living into a self-sufficient unit. For anyone who thinks mountain people are stupid, I offer these two examples to the contrary, to start with.
Willard has a spot at the Galax fiddlers convention among the vendors where he sells his prints and takes orders. He's drawn nearly all the mountain musicians, original bluegrass musicians. I recently came into one Willard made of Tommy Jarrell playing his fiddle and Paul Brown playing banjo. That's Paul Brown of NPR morning news. He's an old-time banjo picker in the tradition of Round Peak, on the order of Kyle Creed and Benton Flippen. Flippen played banjo as well as fiddle. Haven't found a place on the wall for it yet. It's propped up on a chair in front of where I'm sitting. It's in color. Willard hasn't done much in color. None of that has anything to do with why I love this image. The image itself is what I love about it. That it is Tommy Jarrell and Paul Brown is part of it, too. This is hillbilly music I can hear just looking at them. I know the sound they're making. And I love the sound they're making. Willard caught in this one, like he does in the others, the act of making music. The engagement between the musicians is invisible, but it is there in the image as in life. You can feel it in Paul's gaze at Tommy's fiddle strings. It has the same feel that I like to get in my musician paintings, the connection between the musicians in the making of the music. Each one is inside himself and in tune with the others. It's a way of saying we really can get along with each other as individual human beings. We are able. Musicians have the key to getting along with each other. Make music.
Scott made the decision some time ago not to go after the tourbus bluegrass road circuit. I don't know his reasons; they're his. I'm glad he made that decision not to play anywhere that he cannot be home to sleep in his own bed at night, exceptions by choice. I don't mean I'm glad for my benefit and his expense for not doing it. No. I'm glad for my benefit, of course, but even more glad for his benefit. He has self-discipline such that he can motivate himself. Staying at home, laying cinderblock and teaching the next generation of musicians, he's had two really terrific local bands, Skeeter and the Skidmarks, and Alternate Roots. Xcellent bands. They made some fine albums of a new bluegrass sound. The musical path Scott has chosen, staying at home in the Galax - MtAiry zone and living his musical life in that very active community, close to home, though it doesn't pay much, seems to keep him relatively relaxed. He's not tied up in knots or living on painkillers, as far as I know. He's making a solid contribution to the music of the region. Like Willard, he took the deep plunge and supports family by giving lessons in fiddle, mandolin and guitar, and his own musical ventures with Hungry Hash House Ramblers, Steve Lewis Trio, Skeeter and the Skidmarks, the McPeak Brothers, Pathway, Freeman and Williams, festival appearances, fiddlers conventions, recording. These are not bands of the past. These are bands he's active with in the present.