the elkville string band
trevor mckenzie, bill williams, herb key, jim lloyd
elkville string band
elkville string band
Friday night in Woodlawn, Virginia, the Elkville String Band made music at Willard Gayheart's gallery and frame shop, The Front Porch. They came together as a band around Minton's Pawn shop in North Wilkesboro for the weekly live AM radio show early one morning, I think it's Friday, over a period of several years. Originally Jeff Michael played clawhammer banjo with the band and Drake Walsh played fiddle. Eventually, Drake Walsh died and Trevor McKenzie took his place, and then Jeff Michael left the band. Jeff was playing tonight at Rhonda NC with Carolina Grass at Debbie's Country Kitchen. Kilby Spencer's band, The Crooked Road Ramblers, played at the Jubilee in Sparta tonight. I wanted to see them all, but wanted most to go to Woodlawn. I'd not been there in two or three months. Went there not knowing who was playing. The music is always worth a two hour round trip. I feel at home at the Front Porch. It's my musical home base. Artist and poet friend Bill Nixon has been staying this week in neighbor's cabin across the road and into the trees, friends of his in Atlanta. Bill and I have several friends in the Atlanta area associated with Emory and Oxford College. Bill was a Marine in Vietnam, and recently published a long poem composed of several shorter poems of living and dying in Vietnam, BRAZEN THROATS. Bill has a John Burroughs face with Walt Whitman hair and beard. He soars as a poet and soars just as gracefully in his visual art, which includes about every visual expression. I've been reading in Brazen Throats enchanted by the flow of his lines, sentences, scenes, a visual writer. He's just right to talk with about art. He has a poet's way of talking about art, whatever the given subject. It's childhood playground fun having someone near at hand to talk with about the only subject that has ever interested me. He recognizes art in music and got an earful of the art of music by the Elkville String band. I love introducing the music to people I know who are open to the Art of mountain music. We got it in abundance earlier tonight.
bill williams, herb key, jim lloyd
bill williams, herb key, jim lloyd
Last time Bill came to neighbor's cabin for a week's retreat in solitude to work on a series of drawings, I took him to Woodlawn to hear Gerald Anderson, Scott Freeman, Willard Gayheart, Spencer Strickland and Butch Barker jam for a couple hours. Every one of these guys is a master of his instrument and the music. They don't show off their command of technique, rather they make music and the quality of their musicianship gives the music the art that brings it to life. They were Bill's introduction to mountain music. Every one of them is an artist in his musicianship. After parking the car tonight we were walking toward the door and saw on the chalkboard, Willard's humble marquee, Elkville String Band. I said, Good! I had to miss them the last time they played at the Front Porch, and automatically knew Bill would appreciate their music. We talked too much at the restaurant. He looked at his watch outside the door and it was 7. The show started at 7. We had a 45 minute drive ahead. He said, Let's go anyway. It left us an hour and ten minutes to hear the music. The band had been playing awhile when we walked in, warmed up and flowing good. They had a good motion flowing in the music. The banjo, guitar, fiddle and bass play together as a unit. Herb Key was the lead vocal. Herb has a vast catalogue of songs in his head. He lets the song tell its own feeling, articulately, with understanding of the story in his voice, telling his understanding in the delivery. Sometimes he seemed to me an ancient story teller who sang his stories, Homeric in nature, a good story well told in verse that is sung. His voice has no flourishes. He sings with the voice of a storyteller, a musical version of talking, telling a story that carries its own feeling, and follows the story with a good driving rhythm leading the way. Jim Lloyd's banjo keeps a rolling rhythm going with Herb Key's guitar and Bill Williams' bass. Lloyd was relaxed and flowing freely tonight, skipping and dancing through the songs with his fingers. He sings a good song too. Herb Key plays a rhythm guitar something like Willard Gayheart plays rhythm, in that they don't strum. They pick one string at a time, two of them individually on the down stroke, pickin hand flying like a bird's wing keeping the rhythm going, picking on automatic pilot and singing songs from their heads, one after another. The times I've seen/heard Herb perform, it was impressive to hear and see his command of so many songs. He sings every song in his own style that is Herb Key and nobody else. He rides the flow of the music with his singing the same as with his guitar, simultaneously.
bill williams and herb key
trevor mckenzie and herb key
Trevor McKenzie, the fiddler, sang several songs, too. Trevor could make his fiddle sing. He's a strong fiddler with the bold sound of a firm bow. The whole band has a similarly bold sound. They have a full sound. That's what it is, they have a full sound with fiddle, banjo and vocals dancing in lightness supported by solid rhythms that flow. I noted over and over the flow in their music. I've wondered what it was about their sound that made it unique to themselves. That fullness in flow has something to do with it. It's a feeling the band is a unit. I'm recalling Drake Walsh's fiddle had a strong bow and absence of flourishes. I'm thinking they made music in the style of Wilkes County. Every county in the mountains has its own musical personality. Trevor, a relatively young fiddler, stepped into Drake Walsh's role, a legendary fiddler of his time, and approaches his fiddle with the self-assurance of a seasoned musician. He's an excellent singer too. I was noticing how refreshing they were as a band in that they were having fun, it was play time, play music. Bill asked on the drive home what I'd call the kind of music they played. I heard old-time, bluegrass, country, folk, all of them mixed together such that it was hard to pick one and say that's it. The best I could do in a few words was to say I'd maybe call it old-time folk. The singing is in the folk style of Doc Watson, though not like Doc Watson. Like Doc had his own style of singing, these guys each had his own style of singing the traditional songs. This is why I call it folk. The energy generated by their music I call old-time. Bluegrass is in there too, though it sounds to my ear the old-time sound is dominant, seasoned by bluegrass. It was a difficult question to answer, esp from someone who was not asking the question idly. A bluegrass banjo and a fiddler who leans into bluegrass playing old-time songs true to the integrity of the songs themselves, delivered in Elkville String Band's unique sound. They played Mountain Dew, Otto Wood, train wreck songs, murder songs, living your life as a human being songs. Trevor, the fiddler, sang Just Because, a bluegrass song and an Elvis on the Sun label song it takes a lot of nerve to cover. He did it. He made the listener forget it was anybody's song but his. I like that about the band, to categorize their music goes nowhere. It sounds stupid to call them a fusion band, so I'll call them music, like it was in the old days when it was not called old-time, but music. Whatever category of music the Carter Family fits under, Elkville String Band is there with them.
Bill bought my dinner on the way to the show and I bought him the band's new CD after the show. I wanted him to have a record of the music he heard, music he can play for Susan, his wife, to give her a feel for what he experienced in the hills of old Virginny, and for the good music to refresh his memory of a dynamite show. It brought to mind taking Lucas and Judy, whose cabin Bill is staying in, to a Ralph Stanley show at the Fairview Ruritan. They had only heard of Ralph Stanley and that only through me talking about him. His music was as far outside their musical experience as it was in mine before my hillbilly adventure. Like Bill, they recognize art in whatever form they see or hear it. It is the art in hillbilly music that pulled me to it and holds me with it. When I listen to the banjo and the fiddle of Gaither Carlton, Esker Hutchins, Fred Cockerham, Tommy Jarrell, to name a few of many, I am in touch with art the same as walking through the Museum of Modern Art in New York or listening to the Kronos Quartet or Pink Floyd. It is the art I hear in music I love. It is the art in the music that makes the Fiddle and Plow series at Willard's frame shop, the Front Porch, such that I need to be there every Friday night I can make it. I've missed it so many times in a row the return was sweet. Good to see Willard, shake his hand again, see Scott, shake his hand again, talk briefly with them during intermission. And to walk in on the Elkville String Band. They made a spirited welcome on return to the Front Porch. Whatever band might have been playing would have made a happy return, that it was Elkville String Band rang my bell. I regretted I had to miss them last time they played there, so this show brought me up to date with the songs they're singing now upon the release of their new CD. I gave it to Bill before even noticing the title or the label, only remember the photo on the cover, a red woodshed with stacked wood, beautiful. Can't find it online anyplace. Evidently it is too new to be up on the band's or label's website yet. I suspect the label is Mountain Roads, the label of their other CD. I took it so for granted it was Mountain Roads, I didn't think to look. Given my pick from a checklist of bands I'd like to see first time back at the Front Porch after too long an absence, I'd have picked the Elkville String Band.
elkville string band