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Monday, March 11, 2013


scott freeman, mike gayheart, willard gayheart

Last Friday night Scott Freeman and Willard Gayheart played again at the Fiddle and Plow Show with Mike Gayheart playing bass. Scott and Willard open every week's show with two songs, then turn it over to the guest musicians. This night it was Scott and Willard the whole show with Mike playing bass. I had a kinda feeling the show might be Scott and Willard. They play a whole show every few months. For my listening pleasure, the best shows are when it is Scott and Willard. They have made so much music together, they play as one. Willard likes old songs from the 1920s, 1930s and older. One of my very favorite songs he sings is Coney Island Washboard, which he says came from around the turn of the 19th to 20th century. He sings a pop song from the 20s, Drifting and Dreaming, which he makes into a beautiful folk song. He started the show with Won't You Ride In My Little Red Wagon, the Bob Wills Texas swing song that Willard turned into another beautiful folk song. Scott sings a Bob Wills and Hank Williams song, Roly Poly, which he makes his own, like he does every song he arranges to his own style. Scott played his instrumental, Dori's Waltz, on the mandolin exquisitely like every time he plays it.

I like it that Scott and Willard are not known outside their region, the Central Blue Ridge, and they're not big stars. They're known among musicians of the Central Blue Ridge as very respectable musicians, but they've never sought fame and fortune. They like living at home. They don't like to play anyplace so far from home they can't be back to sleep in their own beds. It's on the borderline of unbelievable to me that in someplace like the coffee shop I can mention Scott or Willard's name and I get, "Who?" Then I explain. Response: "Oh." Though if I were to say "Wayne Henderson," it's suddenly animated, "Yeah, I've heard of Wayne Henderson. He's the BEST!" He is awfully good and he does tend to win Galax almost every other year, telling me he has a few unknown equals lurking about, Scott Fore one of them. Leaving off such exaggerations as best and worst, Scott and Willard are in Wayne's league when it comes to making music, and I'd put Wayne next to Doc Watson as a picker. Wayne has played at the Fiddle and Plow Show three or four times. A few weeks ago he was in the audience when Dori Freeman was the guest performer, accompanied by Scott and Willard. Willard invited him to pick a couple tunes with them. Scott, Willard and Dori were all playing Henderson instruments. Musicians love to play his guitars; owning one is more important to a picker than a Martin.

helen white & wayne henderson at fiddle and plow
Scott has been recording a new project that should be available on cd in a month or so. Its title will be BLUE RIDGE FAR AWAY. It will have some of his musical allies with him, like Willard on guitar, Edwin Lacy old-time banjo, Steve Lewis bluegrass banjo and guitar forward motion, and I think he said Scott Manring will pick some guitar, and Dori will sing one. Scott always puts together a fine album, cd, project.  Very fine. He's a master on a mandolin and close to the same degree on the fiddle. He picks a guitar too. Then there's the part I tend to overlook, Scott's vocals. Scott is a good singer. No two ways about it. He doesn't sing with flash or bellering; he tells the words to the song as articulately as he picks his mandolin. In line with mountain tradition, Scott's voice and singing style do not call attention to himself. They call attention to the meaning in the song, only. Scott's performance style is something of an anti-performance style. He goes on stage, wherever he is playing, in the clothes he has worn all day, talks to the audience in a friendly, intimate way as one person to another, and never points a finger at himself. Willard praises him from time to time, and rightly so. Willard points out Scott's abilities as a songwriter, composer, singer, musician with several instruments, knows an unknown number of songs. Five or more years ago I made a cd of all Scott's compositions that he has recorded. I think there were 16. I played from it on one of the Saturday morning radio shows. It made an hour of some good music.
I feel like Scott is in a highly creative time of his life. I suspect Dori now singing, writing songs and putting on stage performances has inspired the artist in Scott, a new burst of creative energy. He plays on her projects and she plays on his. A few people doubt her for having it made, her daddy and grandpa with their places in the regions music world, knowing everybody. Scott's musician friends watched Dori grow up from a baby. They love her. They love that she turned out to be a good singer, an equally good song writer and can join them making music. They love supporting her musically. They love to see her successes. They're her friends she's known all her life. Sure, that is a little bit of privilege, but the issue is whether she is up to their support. The musicians around her know she is up to their level of musicianship. If she were not, they would be encouraging her to practice, not playing gigs with her. I'd be more inclined to call Dori's situation karma, not privilege. Her soul is obviously connected intimately with Scott and Willard. The three of them are about the same as soul mates. Sure, they have their differences, they're different people, but what I see is three people very much in tune with each other, from knowing each one of them individually. They're souls who found each other and love to make music together. It tickles the fire out of Willard to accompany his grand-baby on her albums and to sing with her on stage. It lights Willard up that Dori has become such a good singer and musician. Dori is invited to play for gigs because she is an excellent musician in her own self.
 dori freeman at the wayne henderson festival 2012
           with edwin lacy, mike gayheart, scott freeman, steve lewis
I arrived at the show Friday night a little sooner than anticipated. There were no cars ahead of me all the way. I made good time without going fast; just nobody to follow for ten miles who speeds up in passing zones and goes 35 to 40 in between. Scott and Willard were practicing when I walked in the door. They were working on songs I'd not heard them do before. My feeling by the end of the show when they had not played any of those songs I heard them practicing is that these are songs Scott has on his new project and they are learning their parts to play them together the night of the show after the cd's release. They sounded good. I liked what I heard. Scott is making some powerful music. His musical partnership with Willard over the last quarter century has created several cds together, Skeeter and the Skidmarks in the early 90s, then Alternate Roots in the 00s, two bands of what I can only call art. Skeeter and the Skidmarks are back together as a band and Alternate Roots in the past, alas. These are art bands. They are about musicianship and their own interpretations of the songs they play. It appears to me that Scott and Willard's bands are the projects of artists. Audiences appreciate their art, but as artists, Scott and Willard don't play down to the audience or get the audience charged up and hollering. They're like the Carter Family in that they present the songs beautifully, make no production of themselves, just play some really good music.

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