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Saturday, May 3, 2014


lucas pasley

Thursday evenings, Alleghany Library features a music show or a talk on a given topic, a presentation. This week, old-time musician, local music historian and high school English teacher, Lucas Pasley, played the fiddle and talked. He talked about songs with stories in them. He used examples of songs that were favorites of the musicians in the county past and present, all of them common songs people who listen to the music know well. He talked of one told by a man without remorse, the story of the time he shot little Sadie down, never tells why, never mentions regret. Story songs are abundant in old-time music. One of my favorites stuck in the front of my mind the whole evening, the Stanley Brothers' Come All Ye Tender Hearted. Carter Stanley loved those old mournful story songs of extreme sorrow. This song was tattooed in the front of my mind the first time I heard it. Sometimes I like to listen to it for hearing Carter sing it as only he can in his hyper-emotional dispassionate voice. Sara Carter of the Carter Family had that quality in her voice. In the time before electricity, before the modern world, the people in the old way appreciated other songs besides love songs. Love song was one of the genres Lucas covered last night in his talk, the first of a series. The people before pop culture and advertising liked love songs, too. They also liked songs that made you cry. The people of that time honored all the emotions in their songs. Before marketing. Marketing changes things. Contemporary Chinese writers are not afraid of sorrow. A Chinese writer can wade you through some deep, wrenching, painful sorrow. They write about the other emotions too. Artists tend to like to appeal to all the emotions. There is still a niche in pop culture for sad songs, every once in awhile when it's a feel-good story. I still remember the popularity of the Country Gentlemen's, Taking Mary Home.  
with daughter Lenke

with daughter hazel

Lucas brought up the story in the Wreck of Old 97, pointing out the line, Scalded to death by the steam, a notable line. I can't think of any song I've ever heard with so graphic a climactic scene. The song is told visually. Lucas unveiled the story behind the event itself, the engineer an hour behind schedule when it was imperative he arrive at the next stop on time. It seems unrealistic now, but this was the time before safety regulations. A few years ago we had a news story of a commuter train engineer in a northeastern city who took it into a curve way too fast, absent minded out of control. In the old days they sometimes wrote current events into a song. Pop Stoneman sang a classic song about the Titanic. Bob Dylan sang a classic song about the Titanic. There were several songs in the old days of a guy killing his girlfriend because of a roving eye or she was pregnant. We still have plenty of stories of guys killing girlfriends. Sid Vicious of the Sex Pistols killed his girlfriend and later himself. In this time we have so many songs of every variety that most of them we never know about. There is not enough time to know about all of them. We hear pop radio and figure that's it. I see mention now of bands from the Sixties that were supposed to be the Best, and I never heard of them. And I see mention of bands from the 70s, the punk era, that were supposed to be the Best. Never heard of them either. These were bands you'd have to be a New York dj in that time to have heard them. I've caught myself again making out like we people were different in the old time way. We were different then from what we are now, but culturally, the nature of our education about the only difference mentally. In the old days education was learning how to figure things out. Education now is largely memorizing details for the test. I see education making that big a change again. Emotionally, we're not much different, except now we inhibit emotions as a rule. We still live by our emotions and interpretations. The same things still happen, though in a greater variety of ways. Looking at movies in our time as songs, the variety is endless, and we have more songs recorded now than movies. The major difference between the music before electricity and after is the changes were slower then and songs people heard were far fewer than now. It cannot be said the songs were better then or now.
lucas pasley

lucas and hazel
Lucas invited his two girls, Lenke and Hazel, one at a time to accompany him on the fiddle with their guitars. Both girls have been holding guitars since before they could pick the strings or make chords. They liked to hold the instruments and feel a part of the music as tiny kids. They live in a world of old-time music, daddy practicing, musicians coming by to jam, both parents participating in jams, going to fiddlers conventions in the summer, daddy collecting field recordings of music in the county. It's fairly predictable that both girls will be good musicians of whatever music they want to play. Lucas will have a family band in his near future. He has been collecting old tapes made of local musicians at jams since the late Forties, early Fifties. He has uncovered some treasures. Clifton Evans went around visiting musicians in the county he knew, banjo and fiddle players. He took his guitar and reel-to-reel recording machine. Lucas came into his tapes. A man named Dick Finney was known to have made tapes at jams. Somebody has his tapes. From what I've heard they are loaded with treasures. Lucas is putting the songs from these tapes into his computer and from there he can put them on a website he has created. He's told me he has been putting together a collection of Alleghany fiddlers and another collection of Alleghany banjo pickers. He's looking at the label, Field Recorder's Collective, a non-profit label that is making old-time mountain music available by people who have never recorded commercially. Lucas's collections will be a major contribution to archiving the music of our county. Lucas keeps his archiving activities ongoing through his life as husband, father, musician, teacher, home repair handyman who restores his house while living in it. And he's teaching his kids to make music. He's taking care of the county's music, present, past and future.

lucas and hazel

Lucas is so busy keeping everything going he's engaged in, he doesn't have time to seek publicity for himself. Few people know of his involvement with making the music of this county accessible on cd, both commercial and homemade. People in the county not connected with the school system have never heard of him. He strikes me a case of somebody doing something important for the county, its history and its future, and not many know what he's doing. Then we have the clique of people patting themselves on the back taking credit in the name of "gonna" and nothing happens of any value beyond cosmetic. Lucas is a teacher his students never forget. Going by the way he gives a talk at the library, I get a feel for how he functions in the classroom. Lucas takes passionate interest in whatever is holding his attention at a given moment. His interior excitement shines through when he talks. It doesn't make him an obnoxious missionary, it makes his talking fun for him and interesting to the listeners. He gives pertinent information when he's talking about a song's history and interpreting its story, conversationally, information that amounts to stepping stones he puts down one at a time to help us follow his interest. Lucas doesn't need praise for his contributions to the community. He believes the county's music needs archiving. He's somebody who does what he sees needs doing instead of talking about it. There was a time I believed the county needed a weekly radio show of its own music on the local AM station. There hadn't been one in probably fifteen years. Rather than try to talk other people into doing it, I went to Dudley Carpenter to teach me how to dj, learned as I went and put on a radio show for seven years until the station closed. Lucas and I are like-minded in the way that we would rather do what we see needs doing and go on than tell somebody about it, You-know-what-you-oughta-do? Lucas has a deep interior life. I don't know his spiritual beliefs, but it appears to me he is guided by real values. He doesn't fold and quit, like me, he keeps on a-keepin on and gets er done.     

lucas pasley


  1. What a great blog Tj...The world needs more people like Lucas and even more like Tj Worthington...Less of some of the others...and you are so right...Marketing has changed the world dramatically as has the media...not always for the good of all but definitely for the few...Favorite line of this blog..." he keeps on a-keepin on and gets er done".... we need more of that...