scott freeman, willard gayheart, mike gayheart
Another night of good music from home, acoustic mountain music by Willard Gayheart, guitar, and Scott Freeman, mandolin and fiddle, with Mike Gayheart playing bass. They are calling themselves the Grassy Hollow Boys, Scott and Willard with whoever they can find available for banjo and bass for a given show. They said Jimmy Zeh plays banjo with them, but couldn't make it for this show. They found a banjo player who might make it, but didn't. No problem. Scott and Willard together make the most satisfying shows I've seen and heard there at the Fiddle and Plow Show at Woodlawn, Virginia, in Willard's frame shop and gallery for his extensive collection of pencil drawings of regional people and musicians of the past and present. A second book of Willard's drawings has recently been published. It's his pictures hanging on the walls. Willard and Scott play together at the Blue Ridge Music Center on the Parkway once a week, I think Thursdays, during the summer months. Scott is married to Willard's daughter, Jill. He and Willard have made music together at least twenty-five years. They have had bands together, Alternate Roots, a stellar, first-rate bluegrass band of Scott and Willard's own style of bluegrass. And Skeeter and the Skidmarks, disbanded for several years because the banjo player had to leave the area, and when he returned years later, the band is back together. They have been called a "progressive old-time band," and I can't improve that. It's what they do.
Willard and Scott have been giving concerts at the frame shop, The Front Porch, where they bring out about forty folding chairs for the show. Excellent sound system Scott keeps at a level where it sounds like there is no sound system, but it's easy to hear everything clearly. Tonight's sound was about the best ever. I think Scott has been working with the sound system, fine tuning it. The audience is often less than twenty, and often full. Last time Skeeter played, they had to bring up chairs from downstairs and still there were people standing against the back wall. Wayne Henderson fills the place up too. Full is about fifty. Everybody is comfortable. The people who go every week to almost every week, of which I'm one, all know each other after something like four years of hearing some of the finest music from the Central Blue Ridge every week. We're spoiled. There is no place any of us want to go to hear better music. There isn't any better music. Some more popular, some more dynamic, some more showy, but to my ear, even Willie Nelson's band doesn't compare to Scott and Willard's bands. Back in May I saw Willie Nelson and was struck by what a good band he had, and struck even more that the band was no better than what we hear at Woodlawn on Friday nights. Not less, but not better either. My respect for Scott's and Willard's music is the fullest of any music I have ever loved. They bring in different musicians of the Central Blue Ridge who play for $5 a seat.
Jeanette Williams has played there I think three times. She won bluegrass music award for best traditional vocalist twice. Her band, Jeanette Williams band, has made about ten albums. She's Nashville bluegrass and says every time she's plays at the Front Porch with maybe fifteen people in the audience that it's her favorite place to play. She gets no more than gas money when she plays there. Her husband, Johnny, is with her and he's fine bluegrass musician and singer on his own. He's recently played with Big Country Bluegrass, one of many he's made music with. It's some high-powered straight-ahead bluegrass when they play. The VW Boys, from Bristol, have played three times, as well. Another auditorium bluegrass band that likes to play at Willard's place for gas money because everyone in the audience listens. No coughing, no getting up and going to the bathroom. It happens, but rarely. Everyone is there for the music, because they love the music, go when they don't know who is playing. We all know that whoever is playing is music we want to hear. This Fiddle and Plow Show can come under the heading, Best Kept Secrets. They don't advertise. People hear about it in their own ways. Scott and Willard open every show with two songs. Going by my own musical taste, I'd rather hear Scott and Willard than any of the people who play there. It wouldn't do to have Scott and Willard every week. But it's great to have them give a show after ten or so by other musicians. It's always refreshing for me when they give a show. Neither Scott nor Willard take any money from it. All the money goes to the guest musicians. Scott and Willard won't have it. It's not what they're about.
willard's henderson guitar
I've not been able to go for several weeks due to one circumstance and another, and lately because city night driving through Galax blinds me with the bright car lights. This is a new condition of my eyes. Night driving with other cars on the highway gives me a fit anymore visually. It makes me uneasy and I do it less and less. I missed some really good music. And I was glad the show was Willard and Scott. Scott's mandolin is out of this world. The sound system carried Willard's guitar the best I've heard it. Willard sang the songs he loves that I have learned to love hearing him sing them. When It's Nighttime in Nevada, one of my favorites, the Bob Wills Texas Swing song, Won't You Ride In My Little Red Wagon. This show was the best Willard has done that song, one of his I love the most. A lot of the people take it for a children's song, but it's not. It's a beautiful love song. They had a good rhythm going, a kind of Forties big band rhythm Bill Monroe used in his bluegrass that has gone out of bluegrass over the years. Willard and Mike kept the rhythm going at a pace that makes you tap your foot double-time. They played another of my Willard favorites, I Get The Blues When It Rains. It rained when I found you. It rained when I lost you. That's why I get the blues when it rains. Beautiful song, a pop song from the 1920s. He sang several songs of his own composition, Ern and Zorie's Sneakin Bitin Dog, one we love every time we hear it. He sang Hank Williams' song, Mama Tried. To my ear, Willard has made that song his own. And one of his more recent songs, My Henderson Guitar.
mike and willard reflected in the window and mirror
Scott played several songs of his composition and sang a Bob Wills song, Roly Poly, a good Western Swing song that Scott performs so well he has made it his own. By made it his own, I mean the way Jimi Hendrix made Bob Dylan's All Along The Watchtower his own. He played an instrumental on the mandolin of Sweet Georgia Brown that was killer. I don't usually use that word, like awesome, but it fits here. It's the only word. My old banjo pickin friend, Junior Maxwell, would say of Scott that he has found every note there is in a mandolin. He has only said that of Earl Scruggs where the banjo is concerned. I believe if he'd heard Scott picking on every song he played he would have come away from it saying Scott has found them all. Scott would not say that. And maybe Junior would not say it. But I do. I've heard Scott smoke his mandolin such that the others in the band looked at him in awe like, What got into you? That was in an Alternate Roots show at the Blue Ridge Music Center scheduled right after Scott won the mandolin competition at the Wayne Henderson Festival. He was playing the new mandolin he'd won made by Wayne Henderson. He tore it up. Steve Lewis standing beside him playing banjo looked at him like he'd found a hole in the stratosphere and went through it. In the mountain tradition, Scott is not a show-off musician. He just plays music so beautifully he doesn't need to pretty it up with flourishes to draw attention to himself. His musicianship is about addressing the song itself as beautifully as he can make it. Scott and Willard satisfy my ear to the same degree Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys give me musical satisfaction. I feel privileged in a very real way to be one of the people who knows the Fiddle and Plow Show is happening. They are my primary source of music in this time of the life. I feel like I have grown into them over years of listening to every kind of music, educating my ear to the place I can appreciate the music Willard and Scott make.