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Saturday, August 4, 2012

BOBBY PATTERSON AND WILLARD GAYHEART @ THE FIDDLE AND PLOW

     bobby patterson and willard gayheart


 A night of good singing, good picking and good company. That's any Friday night at the Fiddle and Plow show at Willard Gayheart's gallery and frame shop, The Front Porch. And it is particularly tonight. Bobby and Willard playing again for us. After a couple years of going to these shows weekly, I've come to a place where I'm as happy when it is Willard and Scott or Willard and Bobby. These people make music as good as anybody. Bobby and Willard have been making music together over 40 years. They've been in the same bluegrass band all that time, The Highlanders, a Galax band, played at the World's Fair at Knoxville in 1982. They play together at the Blue Ridge Music Center on the Parkway Tuesdays 12-4 for free. They have made two cds together they sell at the Parkway venue. Bobby has a recording studio below his store Heritage Records on Coulson Church Road behind Harmons on Hwy 58. He has a label, Heritage Records, where he has recorded old-time and bluegrass bands from SW Virginia, a good catalog of the music of the region.


I met Bobby the first time after I'd started the music store when I ordered cds from him. By the time I drove to Galax to see him, we were somewhat acquainted by email. By the time we met, I knew the magazine Old-Time Herald was begun in his recording studio space when his business was located in Galax. I knew Bobby recorded every Galax Fiddler's Convention and condensed each one into a single or double cd for each year. I knew he had recorded original Whitetop Mountain Band when Albert Hash was fiddler, Whit Sizemore. Otis Burris, Art Wooten, Tommy Jarrell, Kyle Creed, Bell Spur String Band as a few examples. I knew that in Bobby's younger years he played rhythm guitar with Tommy Jarrell (fiddle) and Kyle Creed (banjo) on the classic old-time album, June Apple, which he published. I knew Bobby worked directly with the Moose Lodge presenting the Galax Fiddler's Convention. He is the one who shows the banjo to be raffled and picks a tune on it to give an idea how it sounds. If you've been to the fiddler's convention, that was Bobby Patterson.


Upon meeting Bobby the first time, we shook hands, I told him that in my way of seeing he's the most important man in SW Virginia. He knew what I meant. For his involvement with old-time and bluegrass music of the region. The word important is most often given to people who are not important, people like fickle politicians and people with the most money. Just because somebody has more money than anybody else does not make that individual important in my way of seeing. Bobby has dedicated his life to providing access to the traditional music of his region. He is something of a folklorist in his own culture. Not many people realize the value of their culture at an early age. His daddy was a fiddler, John Patterson. Bobby has also published a book of photographs of SW Virginia musicians from first photographs to near present.


Bobby is a humble man of true humility, much like Willard's humility. Willard, too, is a humble man, not forced humble and not self-righteous humble. They defer to others, they pay attention, they listen, they are who they are, no more, no less. They look up to other people instead of down at them. My friend, Jr Maxwell, bluegrass banjo picker, had the same kind of humility that is in Bobby and Willard. It's a natural humility. It's a who-they-are humility. It's not a humility that draws attention to itself. It is actually invisible until you notice it in them. Both are lovers of God. Bobby plays and sings with a gospel group, Sugar Creek, presently. I'm not 100% certain about that name. When it comes to the question, who is good people? Bobby and Willard would be at or near the top of the list of people who know them.


This evening, during the intermission, I bought two copies of Dori's new cd and gave the money to Willard. We talked of Dori. I told him the audience response to her performance Saturday night at the Mountain Hearth Lodge big outdoor party. We spoke of her charisma that she is not yet aware of. The charisma is in her voice. Willard and I both expressed our astonishment at her talents, her ability to handle herself, her intelligence that Willard recently has had the chance to see that caught his attention. He said, "When I was twenty-one...." and bent over laughing at what an ignoramus he was at 21, and I had to say the same. I told him I went to college because I needed it. After high school, I realized I didn't know anything. I couldn't live my life that ignorant. We both are astounded at Dori's talents, her natural seeming flow. He was telling me she even knows what she wants the accompanying instruments to do, instructs the musicians how she wants them to play their parts. He said this does not happen, a young person comes into making music and instructs older, more experienced musicians, but the musicians see that she knows what she's saying and when they follow her direction, it works. 


Getting to their music, consider first that these are really good musicians who have been picking all their lives, from when they were very young. Bobby is 70 and Willard is 80, They have a good bit of musical experience, much stage experience, and both are well respected in the music world of SW Virginia. The picking was good mountain pickin. Bobby played guitar, old-time banjo and bluegrass banjo. Willard played rhythm guitar. They took turns singing. Willard sang several songs, many of them songs he composed. Bobby sang several songs. They presented some of the songs with a story that was humorous. On one of the tunes, I don't remember which, Bobby was playing old-time banjo in such a way it sounded like two banjos, one playing rhythm, the other playing melody. About all that moves is Bobby's fingers when he's a-pickin. Willard gets caught up in the rhythm when he's singing  and sways his head while he's singing. A little bit like Stevie Wonder, but not. Often, I'd close my eyes and listen to the guitar and banjo and the singing. Hearing the music without visuals enhanced the music considerably. It was good with visuals too. Again, as usual, tonight I heard the music in awe for the musicianship and the music. It felt good hearing Willard and Bobby again.


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