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Friday, November 16, 2012

SEVEN YEARS WITH MOUNTAIN MUSIC

      jr maxwell by tj worthington

Tonight I'm going to Scott Freeman and Edwin Lacy's cd release party at the Fiddle & Plow show in Woodlawn. The album is 2 CHAIRS NO WAITING. It will be a knock-out show. Steve Lewis will be there with guitar and banjo. Butch Robins will be there with banjo. Willard's rhythm guitar will be there. Probably Mike Gayheart playing bass, or Sandy, or both. I'm hoping Dori will be there. It's going to be some music in the real sense of the word as music. Yesterday I saw Burt Lancaster and Claudia Cardinale dance a waltz in THE LEOPARD. It was a dance, not just moving their feet the way I "dance." This is the difference between music and music the way these guys make it. Their music itself is a dance. They pluck the strings with the same grace of Lancaster and Cardinale swirling over the floor. Their music flows. I'm not saying this makes them better than any others. Only that this is what draws me to be there every Friday night I can make it.

First time I listened to this project, I felt a wringing and twisting inside longing to play it on the Saturday morning radio show that went away when the station was sold out of the community. This is an album I know my listeners would love, and I would love playing it for them. It brings to mind the time I found a cd from a mid Sixties lp of a Galax bluegrass band, Larry Richardson And the Blue Ridge Boys. Buddy Pendleton plays fiddle. He is one of the great fiddlers of the region. Worked at the Floyd post office for 40 years. First time I heard the album was just a few weeks after the radio station shut down. My longing to play it for my listeners was so strong it hurt. I'd have played the whole album straight through. When I play it now it still pains me that I never had a chance to play it for the listeners. Those seven years of the radio show, The Backwoods Beat Music Hour, were part of a seven year cycle that were happy years, which doesn't mean without sorrow. In childhood I was afraid of sorrow, but have come to embrace sorrow the same as joy, a legitimate human emotion that has a hidden joy in it, like joy has a hidden sorrow in it, like light has darkness hidden in it and darkness has light hidden in it. On a scale where joy is at one end and sorrow at the other, I like to think I waver somewhere toward the middle, sometimes wavering all the way over to one side or the other. When I'm in joy I know it's short lived. In sorrow I know it's short lived too.

I have no way of guessing even close to accurately how many people listened to the show. Over the seven years about twenty people spoke to me in the grocery store, here and there, saying they listen. They were the faces I played the music to in my mind's eye. I didn't know if it was two hundred or twenty. It didn't matter. I think of times in the Regular Baptist church meetings when it was only two or three people, Millard Pruitt would quote a verse from the pulpit, when two or three of you are gathered in my name, I will be in the midst thereof. He preached the same as if the house were full and people standing. That made a lot of sense to me. It's not about bigness. It's about the thing itself. I've adopted that thinking for everything I do. In the beginning of this "blog" were three or four views a day. I was ok with that. I wasn't going to advertise. It wasn't about how many. It was about doing it. I wanted to make myself write something every day worth reading. If 3 people find it worth reading, I'm fully satisfied. After three years it's up to over 200 views per day. I am no more satisfied with 200 than with 2. Yet, I felt a mild sense of thrill when it passed 100, then again when it passed 200. It's a thrill because it was unexpected --- a hundred times 2. I don't know who they are except for a few who have contacted me. Now I love my readers like I loved my listeners to the radio show.

The first year with BROC and involved in the Hillbilly Show, Agnes wanted me to be a comic hillbilly mc. I did it one more time, but it was too unsettling having 800 people looking at me. I was not born for the stage. But I had a very strong feeling that all the people looking at me knew me and I only knew a few of them. It told me that perhaps most of the people in the audience have heard the show at least a few times. That's what unsettled me most. I was not prepared for an auditorium full of my listeners. Had no idea that many people listened, at least sometimes. The people in the audience listened when I spoke and I was not ready for that. Yet, it gave me a measure of my listeners and gave them faces. In the beginning, the black mic I spoke into at the radio station seemed as far as my voice went. I was talking to and playing music for the mic. Beyond that I had no clue. Then I stand in front of an auditorium of people and they know me. It blew my mind to smithereens and I did not know how to handle it. Practice night in front of empty seats was comfortable. When the seats had faces, that was another deal. I tend to see people as oceans of consciousness that are really complex from one individual to another. I get 800 oceans of consciousness looking at me like they know me and I'm too overwhelmed to be able to function. After two shows of being freaked out, I asked Agnes to let me pull the curtain ropes, involvement less the freakout.

In this seven year cycle I've been making videos of the music at the Fiddle & Plow to put on youtube, painting mountain musicians and writing here. These are my art forms in this cycle. Yes, I regarded the radio show an art form. I wasn't much at talking, so I kept it brief. Emphasis was totally on the music itself. There is no talking I could do that would be better to listen to than anything recorded in these hills. I'd rather my listeners groove to Gaither Carlton's banjo or fiddle than to put them through anything I'd say other than identifying musician and title, and to mention he was Doc Watson's father in law. I couldn't even do that playing the Carter Family. I love them so much that just mentioning their names choked me up. None of their songs need an introduction of title or anything. I'd play one after the other with tears of joy running down my face, knowing that everyone listening loved what they were hearing at least as much as I did. Carter Family songs have been played and recorded countless times, though I've never heard a version of one of their songs that reaches all the way into my heart like Sara, AP and Maybelle do. Sara's and AP's singing was entirely without emotive expression, like old time church singing, yet the emotion is so powerful that even screaming rockers can't get there. After hearing the Carter Family's Wildwood Flower, there is no other Wildwood Flower. And then there is Ralph and Carter Stanley. Legends of the Clinch Mountains.

This music, mountain music, makes me glad I am where I am every time I hear any of it. The more funky old-timey it is, the more I love it. Tommy Jarrell with his fretless banjo and his fiddle. Fred Cockerham with banjo and fiddle. One of the great albums of all time is Tommy and Fred picking banjo together. It's called Tommy and Fred. It was out of print for a long time. But I'd think by now it would be back in print. It's too good not to be available. And that was the motivation for opening the music store, an outlet for mountain music in the area. Floyd, Virginia, was the closest place. It was a great adventure. I met a lot of wonderful people. Met some new friends. Took up painting mountain musicians. Discovered Old-Time Herald magazine. Discovered a lot of incredible music. Sometimes I get called an expert, but I always remark that I am not an expert, just someone that loves the music. I've learned so much from mountain music and musicians that I can't imagine myself before the learning started. One of the great joys of my life has been playing mountain music to mountain people on an AM station in the mountains, the next county over from WPAQ, the ideal.

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