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Saturday, January 31, 2015

AN EVENING OF MUSIC FROM HOME


joe willey


jerel willey


Last night a good round of music, bluegrass played by pickers from Whitehead, Pine Swamp and Miller's Creek. The Willie brothers, Joe picking mandolin and Jerel the bass, with Jerel's boy, Justin, picking resonator guitar, better known as the Dobro. Gary Miller from Miller's Creek picked banjo, and Bobby Wagoner from Pine Swamp picked guitar. Bobby, Jerel and Joe sang the songs. Chris Durgin picked guitar. It was a jam at Chris's house of guys who like to pick together. I saw Chris last week, he told me to come on by for the jam. Different ones get together on Friday nights at his house to jam. They've been doing this for a few years. I knew about it, but, like everything else, it takes necessity for me to turn the key in the ignition to go someplace. I've become so jealous of my time, I don't want to go anywhere. I like to see people I'm close to and that's about it. Social for the sake of social is not enough to inspire me to leave the only place I want to be. Gas is expensive. I like to do my part keeping the pollution down by staying home. Now and then I feel a need to get out among some people I am comfortable with, like tonight, a bunch of Whitehead fellers I've known for a long time with a great deal of respect. Chris I've known for several years. He was new here about ten years ago. Bobby and Gary I met the first time when each one walked in the door. Bobby's singing took hold of me. He knows a lot of songs, good songs, country classics like, You Win Again, I Still Write Your Name In The Sand. Good singer and good guitar picker. Gary's banjo was not showy, but listen closely and he's right there every lick of the way. Justin started on mandolin, by now is playing guitar and banjo, and tonight was playing his resonator guitar. I'd heard Jerel play bass a few times, but had never heard Joe play mandolin, though I've known he was a good picker for some time. The best part of their music, to my ear, was their drive. They make music when they play. It's not just playing a tune and having a rhythm. They do all this and they make music too. By music, I mean infectious, makes feet tap the rhythm, forces body to move with the rhythm.


bobby wagoner, joe willey, jerel willey


Seeing and hearing Joe and Jerel, a moment from the past took its place in the front of my mind and stayed there. It was the time I missed hearing Joe pick at Jr Maxwell's 80th birthday party. Several musicians showed and had a dynamite bluegrass jam. I intended to be there. It was a special occasion, Jr's 80th. A woman Jr knew declared no liquor at the party. No liquor at a birthday party for Jr is not even a consideration. Of course there will be liquor. I'll drink before I go, thought I'd get my head right. It's a back road down the mountain. Thought I'd get my head in a place where it would last awhile, then go. Went past that place before I knew it. It weren't no bonded liquor, neither. A time came right away when I drank more than I knew I oughta and it was too late. Too many trees between here and the bottom of the mountain. I did not want to bounce from one tree trunk to another like a pinball on its way to the hole at the bottom. Milly called telling me to get my ass down there, some good bluegrass music is going on, people are asking, where's TJ? I said I'm on my way out the door, and didn't make it to the door after assessing the chair I was sitting in the best possible place to be, considering I did not want to run into a tree, did not want to mess up the front of the truck. Thought I'd stay in place, let the liquor wear off. It didn't happen. I stayed in not quite a stupor, but unable to move about accurately. Milly called again letting me have it. I didn't want to say I was unable to move with certainty of balance, said I'd be there soon, on my way out the door. I sat feeling I'd done something dumb, and realized, too, that I drank that much to make it impossible to go. I did  not want to be there. I accepted it, because it was the case. I did not want to be there. I wanted to see all the people there, but individually. I do not do well in a big bunch of people, whether I know them or not. My inner Taurus objected to the ban on liquor as pretentious, having nothing to do with reality. I didn't feel like honoring it, objecting to the control issues going on. I didn't want to be there. By this time in the life, I'd given self permission many years before to honor I-don't-want-to as valid a reason as any.


gary miller and justin willey


It was not an intelligent move. My life is not characterized by intelligent decision making, so it was nothing out of the usual. But it was another of many times I've had to remind self, I did not come here for this. I like knowing the people and do not like crowds. It's my right and I hold to it as such. Jr loved the music and all the good picking going on. He talked about Joe Willey's mandolin picking as something to regret missing. I believed him. He talked of Joe's mandolin with the satisfaction of an older musician seeing a younger musician he'd watched grow up turn out able to pick and make music too. Jr talked for weeks and months and years about Joe's picking. When asked why I didn't show up for the party, I answered straight up, I didn't want to, told him I got shit-faced to stop myself from going. I did regret bypassing a chance to hear Joe pick, knowing he would be good, just by knowing Joe enough to have seen he's good at everything he does. At work, he's a cabinet maker, a lifetime of working with wood, paying attention to detail. Joe's mandolin style struck me something like Bill Monroe's. I can't explain. It's a fast kind of strumming to keep the strings ringing. Noting with left hand determines the tune that flows on the wave of continuous mandolin strings ringing. A few times during the music, I felt like I heard a fiddle. Where was the fiddle coming from? I knew Gary played fiddle, though only brought a banjo. I searched for the location of the fiddle sound, knowing my ears were playing donkey tricks on me. I think it was three times I heard the fiddle. Each time zooming in on the fiddle strings, I found it coming from the mandolin. Only then did I hear the rhythm of his licks. It sounded like a long draw of the bow on the high strings, the noting fingers telling the story. I watched Joe's noting fingers dance on the strings as casually as my fingers dance on the keyboard. I'd think, Joe has been doing this for a long time. Joe likes a strong driving rhythm that pushes the music forward. He plays a mandolin like somebody who races motorcycles. Bluegrass is his music. He plays country and old time, too, though it's bluegrass that lights him up. 


justin willey picks chris durgin's guitar


Jerel is a bluegrass bass player who picks the bass instead of thumping rhythm with it. He carries the music in the bass in association with the other instruments. Jerel playing it, the bass becomes an integral part of the music. He doesn't overwhelm the other instruments with the power of a bass's vibration. The bass flows in the music. I'd heard Jerel's bass a few times before. His boy, Justin, who was playing Dobro, then was in a band with a couple other kids in high school, and English teacher, Lucas Pasley, on fiddle. Jerel with them, Borderline, I felt like Jerel was using the bass to back up the younguns, take care of the rhythm for them, keep the music flowing. I saw in Jerel with the band in Chris's living room cut loose on his bass and do some bluegrass singing too. He and Joe were bluegrass singers to my ears' satisfaction. Their voices have the mountain ring to them that is the heart and soul of bluegrass. Their music making all the way around is particularly bluegrass of the central Blue Ridge. Justin grew up musically with these musicians, one his dad, the other his uncle, and everyone they make music with. He was at home musically. Justin learned his way into music with a mandolin, became a respectable musician in a short number of years. During a break he picked up Gary's banjo and picked some licks. Another time, he picked Chris's guitar, feeling its sound. Perhaps my greatest appreciation of the Willeys as family, Jerel and Joe are friends with their kids, friends who can be counted on to the grave. I call it good people. First thing they wanted to do when the instruments came out of the cases, was work on a song they were learning, Angel On My Shoulder, recorded by bluegrass singer Larry Cordle. They had a good groove, a good flow with it, singing it the high lonesome bluegrass way, made a beautiful song of it. A second audience member came in, Pam Sundstrom, a facebook friend who knows a lot of people I know, though we'd never met. Her art form is silver. Interesting woman to visit with. Brought refreshing feminine energy into the circle. An evening of mountain music by musicians from home restoreth my soul.        

chris Durgin


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1 comment:

  1. Will and I often have the privilege of hanging out with these guys and they are the most talented group of musicians we know. We are proud to call Chris, Joe, and Jerel our friends. Joe, Jerel, and their boys are musicians extraordinaire, keeping grass blue, not new, and keeping the mountain tradition alive and genuine.

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