Comments? Suggestions? Requests? Use the Paper and Pen Open Page!

Have requests?  Comments?  Suggestions?  Now you can post them here on the new Paper and Pen page.  To comment on the Pen and Paper page, go to that page (click on the Pen and Paper menu heading, below the picture of the studio at top), scroll down to the end of the Comments, and add yours.  Newest comments are always at the bottom.

You can, of course, also post relevant comments under any individual post./CL

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HA’pennings: “The Kelley Gibson Story” (Kickstarter Project)

Received this note from Ken Irwin (co-founder of Rounder Records) Thursday to WZBC’s Cousin Kate and me with news about a film documentary on Eric Gibson‘s son Kelley (Eric is of course half of The Gibson Brothers):

Dear Friends,

My apologies if you’ve already seen this inspiring clip about Kelley Gibson, Eric Gibson’s (of the Gibson Brothers) son, who is autistic and is also a very talented musician.

Anyway, the clip tells the tale, and a director has stepped up, who would like to do a documentary about Kelley.

Click HERE to get to the website and play the video clip.

Click HERE to get to the website and play the video clip.

The link to the Kickstarter campaign is below, in case you’d like to contribute and spread the word.  There are only 10 days remaining [ends Sunday, July 5th, at 5 PM EDT].  I don’t know if it’s possible to spread the word on the air but thought it was worth sending along as I know you both run into a lot of people who would have an interest.

I think it’s a really worthwhile cause and the end result, the documentary, should be really interesting and inspiring.

Having met Kelley at a festival last summer, and watching him interact with others and jam with other musicians, I was very impressed and very moved.

Again, sorry if you are already aware of this campaign, and if I’m just being redundant.  Wouldn’t be the first time!

Thanks,

Ken

Click HERE for the short video and information about the Kickstarter project.  Ken says to add Marian Leighton Levy‘s name (also Rounder co-founder) as well.  I’ll mention it on the air. Remember, the deadline is July 5th. /CL

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Tex Logan (1927–2015) — Part II

Part I is HERE.

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Tex Logan and Everett Lilly at the Newport Folk Festival, 1965. Copyright © John Byrne Cooke, used by permission.

It was Tex Logan‘s association with Wilma Lee and Stoney Cooper that led him to Bill Monroe in 1951, and the recording of his song, now a bluegrass and country standard, “Christmas Time’s A-Comin’.”  Richard Thompson, in his Bluegrass Today remembrance, describes it:

. . . That summer, his draft into military service imminent, [Tex] Logan spent the summer working with Wilma Lee and Stoney Cooper once more.  His last show with the Coopers was in October 1951 at a coliseum in Baltimore. Also on the bill were Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys, Flatt & Scruggs, Cowboy Copas and Wayne Raney.

An admirer of Bill Monroe’s, Logan now had an opportunity to meet and talk with Monroe. While working with the Lilly Brothers, Logan had written a Christmas song, his signature song Christmas Time’s A-Comin’, with Monroe in mind. With the help of Buck Graves, Logan played and sang the song for Monroe, who agreed to record it.

Later Logan taught Monroe the song and arrangements were made for Logan to play the fiddle on the cut. Unfortunately, due to automobile trouble, Logan was unable to get to Nashville in time for the recording session. Later Monroe played the recording during a telephone call to Logan, who approved the performance.

The session at the Castle Studio, 28Oct51, in the Tulane Hotel in Nashvile featured Bill (lead and mandolin), Edd Mayfield on guitar and harmony, James Bowers on banjo, Shorty Sheenan on bass, Owen Bradley on vibes, and Gordon Terry playing the fiddle.  Here’s the Decca record:

Frank Lane later recounted that he and Pete first played the song with Tex when “woodsheddin'” at home, before Bill Monroe; much later, in the 1980s, they recorded it privately with Tex at Frank Lane’s studio in Florida.

Tex got his MSc from MIT in 1956, and then went to work for Bell Labs in New Jersey.  He worked toward a PhD at Columbia at night, and received it in 1965.  At Bell Labs he was ‘Ben’, where (to quote the obituary by Daniel E. Slotnik in The New York Times)

As an engineer and mathematician, Dr. Logan patented a device that reduced echoes over telephone lines with his Bell Labs colleague John Kelly and, with the mathematician Lawrence Shepp, devised mathematical methods to interpret CT scan data into accurate images. His studies helped make it possible for chemists and astronomers to draw accurate interpretations from incomplete data.

Dr. David Donoho, a professor of statistics at Stanford University, said that Dr. Logan’s two careers were not as incongruous as they seemed. In an interview on Friday he described Dr. Logan’s scientific studies as attempts to break signals into their simplest parts and his music as creating complex sounds out of simple notes.

“His day job was analysis,” Dr. Donoho said. “His night job was synthesis.”

Tex-Bell nwsltr

Bell Labs Newsletter, 1966; from left: Bill Monroe, Tex Logan, Mike Seeger, Winnie Winston (?). From the Jim Moss Official Bluegrass and Swing Music Magazine, for April 2008.  — Caption reads: “This was provided by Tex Logan’s daughter, Laura (Bitsy) Logan.  She says that Tex does not play much fiddle these days, but that he was playing with Peter Rowan in the 80’s.”

Tex’s musical sideline even made the Bell Labs Newsletter in 1966 (see right), which concludes with Ben saying, “Music leaves a door open for you into another world—to escape from math and engineering once in a while.”

He never stopped playing.  In 1959 he sat in with Wilma Lee and Stoney Cooper at Sunset Park in West Grove, PA, where he met Mike Seeger, and later that year recorded “Katy Hill” and “Natchez Under the Hill” for Mountain Music Bluegrass Style on Folkways.  The connection with Mike and The New Lost City Ramblers led to the Newport Folk Festival in 1963, and again with The Lilly Brothers and Don Stover in 1965.  Record producer Paul Rothchild recruited Tex to record with The Charles River Valley Boys for their second Prestige LP.

Fred Bartenstein, who later came to Cambridge, worked with Nancy Talbott and the Boston Area Friends of Bluegrass and Old-Time Country Music, and as ‘Hillbilly Fred’ co-hosted Hillbilly at Harvard for a time, grew up near Tex Logan and in his teens got to know him well; in a remembrance in Bluegrass Today, Fred recounts:

As I was then too young to drive, Tex took me along on a number of his bluegrass road trips, including Carter Stanley’s Memorial Concert in early 1967 at the University of Maryland, and Bill Monroe’s first Bean Blossom festival later that year. On those trips, I revelled in Tex’s stories of the early days of country music and the people he knew or had played with (those mentioned above plus Hawkshaw Hawkins, the Lane Brothers, Pete Cassell, and Bill Monroe). I think Tex Logan was Bill Monroe’s closest friend, and the only person I ever saw who could push Bill into a different (usually quicker) tempo. . .

Besides Fred’s memories, the Bluegrass Today article “Tex Logan Remembered” also features remembrances from Everett Lilly, Jr., who recounts some of his encounters with Tex, including a Lilly Brothers trip to Japan in 1978; from Peter Rowan, with whom Tex played occasionally after Pete’s stint with Bill Monroe; and from Bluegrass Boy Doug Hutchens.

Tex also played in 1969 at the Camp Springs Festival in Reidsville, NC, where Carlton Haney presented a marathon History of Bluegrass, focusing on Bill Monroe; Carlton brought one famous picker after another on stage to play with Bill, including Tex Logan.  Looking for live cuts featuring Tex, I came across a series of recordings from that festival, hosted by Fred Robbins on his website, HERE.  The audio of the first tape is poor, but 2 and 3 are eminently listenable, and an extraordinary record:

Story of BG, Camp Springs,  part 2
Story of BG, Camp Springs, part 3

Each page displays the list of songs and performers, so go there and be prepared to spend some time.

Tex and Bill Monroe had a long association, focusing on Tex’s famous barbecue parties at his home in Madison, New Jersey, and at Bill’s Bean Blossom Festival, as Richard Thompson describes:

Logan was renowned for his wonderful parties, although lesser known was the fact that he was a great cook. His barbecue parties at his rather grand Madison, New Jersey, home were in honor of Bill Monroe and were attended by many other professional bluegrass musicians as well as some fans.

Julian ‘Winnie’ Winston described them thus ….

“When the food was well on its way to being digested, and night began to fall, everyone went inside to his spacious den, where they were treated to an hour-long show by Bill Monroe and his whole band. As the hour drew to a close, Bill often called others up to play, and the playing continued until daybreak.”

Logan developed a friendship with Bill Monroe and the Father of Bluegrass Music invited him to bring his barbecue to cook at Monroe’s June Bean Blossom festival. For nine years starting in 1969 Logan oversaw the Barbecue Bean Day, when he dished up a free meal of beans, onions and bread for the patrons.

He played the fiddle at the festival with any band that was happy to have him on board and, often he had his own show backed by the Blue Grass Boys.

Here are Tex and Bill playing “Katy Hill” together at Bean Blossom:

Finally, Jim Rooney has graciously given me permission to reprint a remembrance of Tex that he posted in one of his Facebook pages:

I first laid eyes on Tex in 1953. It was in the studios of WCOP in Boson. My buddy Dick Curley and I had found our way in to the radio station after hearing The Confederate Mountaineers (Everett & Bea Lilly, Don Stover & Tex) on their daily radio broadcasts and deciding that we wanted to see them in person. Tex cut quite a figure, tall and handsome in a Clark Gable sort of way, and very physical as he moved in on the mike with his fiddle. When he played, he put everything he had into it. I’d never heard anything like it before—or since. I wouldn’t have known it then, but I was witnessing a totally original musician. The one and only Tex Logan.

In the weeks following I saw Tex several times on the Hayloft Jamboree shows at Symphony Hall or, most memorably, on the night of my brother John’s graduation from Harvard, at a joint called the Mohawk Ranch on the corner of Dartmouth Street and Columbus Avenue in Boston. Even in a place like this, Tex would give you something to remember him by. It was a sound that would get in your head and stay there.

In subsequent years I saw Tex when he sat in with Bill Monroe in New York in late 1962 and later in 1964 in Boston. At a party after Monroe’s concert in Boston Tex jammed all night with Joe Val, Peter Rowan and myself. Tex wouldn’t stop. He kept going. He wouldn’t let his fiddle go. It possessed him.

Over the years we became friends. Tex and his daughter Jody came to Bill Monroe’s festival at Beanblossom, Indiana, every year. Whenever Bill Monroe was in the New York area, Tex would have a big party for Bill at his house in Madison, NJ. Tex would take a couple of days off from work (from the Bell Labs where he was dreaming up communications gadgets which would change our lives). He would put on a white lab coat and spend two days cooking up Texas barbecue. A couple of hundred people would come—musicians from all over the Northeast, co-workers at Bell—and after we all ate, the music would start. Tex had a big Tudor-style house with a big room in the middle just right for music. He’d have a sound system set up, and off we’d go. The whole point of the night was to stay up until dawn with Tex and Bill Monroe. It was a “take no prisoners” situation. I think that those times were what Tex lived for. He had to go to the limit.

For about 10 years I had my 50th birthday party at the Station Inn. One year Tex and Jody were in town and I invited them to come on. To my great surprise they did come down, bringing Bill Monroe with them. Needless to say, that might have been my best birthday present ever! But Tex did something I’ll never forget. He asked if he could use the telephone and called his wife Peggy up and held the telephone up the entire time so she could hear our set with Bill Monroe! Only Tex Logan would have done that.

In the early ’80s Bill Keith, Peter Rowan and I did some tours in Italy. We especially loved playing in Naples where the people are very warm and demonstrative. One night we were talking and it occurred to us that the Neapolitans would really take to Tex and his playing. The more we thought about it, the more we liked it, so we called Tex up and invited him to come with us for our next visit to Naples. We played in a big tent which held about 1500 people. From the moment Tex started to play they were on their feet, whistling, yelling. Tex’s music was their music—from the heart, from deep down inside.

Tex Logan, Peter rowan, Bill Keith in Naples

From left: Tex Logan, Peter Rowan, Bill Keith in Naples, c. 1981. Photo by Dino Luglio. From Jim Rooney; used by permission.

The last time that I saw Tex was at his 85th birthday party organized by Jody. It was a wonderful night of music, but the highlight for me was when Tex got up and played “Sally Goodin” for about twenty minutes. He took his time getting up. As always, he was dressed impeccably—hat on at just the right angle, pants with a crease you could cut butter with, boots shined. He fussed with his fiddle, fussed with his amp, started playing, making faces because it didn’t sound right, then he leaned into it, he bore down, and never let it go. There it was. That sound. That Tex Logan sound. Cross tunings like nobody else had. He pushed it. He pulled it. He finally let it go. That was it for me. Nearly 60 years earlier I had first heard that sound. It pulled me into the path I have followed ever since. Thanks, Tex.

P.S. I’m supposed to say, “Rest in Peace.” but that wasn’t Tex’s style. He was full of energy and restlessness. Always reaching. But he’s got lots of time and space to move around in now–to keep reaching for that sound he always heard in his head.

Much love to Jody—a better daughter no father ever had.

—Jim Rooney

On April 24th, this note from Jody Logan was posted on a Folk, Bluegrass & Traditional Music page:

RIP Dad passed away peacefully just 30 minutes ago in my arms. I was singing “Wayfaring Stranger” and told him to let himself go and cross over … I am at hospital hugging him one last time … I will make funeral arrangements later I was blessed for 58 years I will always be your little girl.

On June 20th, 1966, at Tex Logan’s home in Madison, NJ, Bill Monroe along with Peter Rowan sang the “Wayfaring Stranger,” a memorable performance which fortunately has been preserved.  The whole concert is on YouTube, HERE.  It’s about an hour and a quarter; click ‘More’ and you’ll see a list of songs; “Wayfaring Stranger” is number 13, about 46:50 into the recording.  It has also been released on a Smithsonian Folkways CD, Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys: Live Recordings 1956–1969; Off the Record Volume 1 (SF CD 40063).  The recording features Peter Rowan on guitar, Don Lineburger on banjo, James Monroe on bass, Gene Lowinger, Tex Logan, and Richard Greene on fiddles.  /CL

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Tex Logan (1927–2015) — Part I

The Confederate Mountaineers

The Confederate Mountaineers (from left: Everett Lilly, B Lilly, Tex Logan, Don Stover). Courtesy of Jim Rooney (from Peggy and Tex Logan).

Listeners to Hillbilly at Harvard over the years will have heard the name Tex Logan from time to time, not only when we played the familiar fiddle tunes “Katy Hill” and “Natchez Under the Hill” from the—what was a word we used before ‘iconic’ became fashionable? ‘landmark’, maybe—Mountain Music Bluegrass Style, the rough-hewn Folkways album that Mike Seeger produced back in 1959, but also when we talked about The Lilly Brothers’ long domicile at the Hillbilly Ranch in Park Square.  Why?  Because Tex talked them into coming to Boston.

Neither Ol’ Sinc or I ever met Tex, nor even heard him play in person.  He was the stuff of local legend or rumor: a fiddler who somehow combined music with a brief sojourn at MIT and then disappeared, like many amateur musicians with ‘real’ careers.  Except he was no amateur.  True, he had no hit records, not even a few singles to titillate collectors, and over the years could well be said to have accomplished more as electrical engineer and mathematician, yet he was a country musician through and through, and a professional to boot.

For the details and the quotes below, I have borrowed from Richard Thompson’s excellent remembrance in Bluegrass Today.

Benjamin Franklin ‘Tex’ Logan came from Coahoma, Texas.  His father played the fiddle; Tex gave up for a while and played the trumpet until high school, but

. . . Then one day he had a dawning realization that the secret to fiddling was having rhythm in the bow. So he retrieved his fiddle and persevered until, “I could kind of play Arkansas Traveller. That’s how I got going pretty good,” Logan once recalled of the event.

Logan then bought some used records from a juke-box supplier in neighboring Big Spring. Among them was the Bill Monroe recording of Katy Hill, featuring the super-charged fiddling of Tommy Magness. Logan’s excited response led to his younger brother Homer playing the record to waken Tex each school-day morning.

From then on there was a constant tug-of-war between his academic pursuits and playing music.  Tex graduated from Texas Tech University, but even before heading east to MIT for a research assistantship, he spent the summer of 1946 playing with Hoyle Nix’s western swing band.  At MIT he played square dances on the side, and with a 12-string guitarist named Dick Best, got on WMEX radio, where local favorites Jerry (Howorth) and Sky (Snow) heard him and invited him to join them.  Jerry and Sky disbanded in 1948; Tex went back to Texas, and then to country-music radio hotspot Wheeling, West Virginia, where he worked with Red Belcher and the Kentucky Ridge Runners, which included Everett and Mitchell B. Lilly,* and with the Coal River Valley Boys, featuring Don Stover.

Here’s a tune called “Dewdrops” [correction: not “Coleman’s March”; commenter Terry McGill points out that the YouTube uploader got the wrong side of the 78; maybe the labels reversed?] from Red Belcher (banjo) with Tex Logan on the fiddle on Page Records (Johnstown, PA; thanks to a discographic blog by Dick Grant: http://countrydiscoghraphy2.blogspot.com/2014/03/red-belcher-by-dick-grant.html; and thanks to an anonymous someone called ‘scootersage’ for uploading this old 78-rpm record to YouTube):

After a brief stint with Hawkshaw Hawkins (and someone called Big Slim, the Lone Cowboy [identified as Harry C. McAuliffe, by commenter Steve Bartlett]) Tex returned to MIT in 1949, and from then on it was fiddling on the side in Boston, with Frank and Pete Lane (The Lane Brothers), on WCOP radio’s fondly-remembered “Hayloft Jamboree.” Much of the ‘country and western’ music in New England at the time was heavily skewed to the ‘western’ side.  When in 1950 The Lane Brothers were asked to headline a new club in Boston, Frank Lane said that they played in “a more hillbilly style.  He proposed the name Hillbilly Ranch as the name of the new club, and it stuck.” (Clifford R. Murphy, Yankee Twang, p. 66).

Tex was a student, so in the summers he was able to return to Wheeling, where he worked with the wonderful Wilma Lee and Stoney Cooper and the Clinch Mountain Clan, already stars on the Wheeling Jamboree (and later on the Grand Old Opry).  He recorded 15 sides with them for Columbia Records, playing fiddle, piano, and harmonica.  Here’s one of those songs. “All on Account of  You”; Tex is playing harmonica—there’s a fiddle break, but I can’t tell if it’s Stoney or Tex playing:

(thanks to YouTube uploader ‘mrblindfreddy’)

The Hillbilly Ranch catered to sailors on shore leave, and offered steady work for musicians.  Tex had been playing with The Lane Brothers, so

When Frank Lane was drafted in military service, [Tex] Logan and Pete Lane went off to Raleigh, North Carolina, in search of Curly Seckler, a former Foggy Mountain Boy. They encountered Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs whose then mandolin player Everett Lilly indicated that he was thinking of re-joining his brother Bea and suggested that Logan might want to play with the Lilly brothers.

Unable to find Seckler and offer him a job with them, Logan and Lane returned to Boston. Shortly afterwards, Everett Lilly did quit playing with Flatt & Scruggs and he returned [sic—had he been up before?] to Massachusetts, whereupon Logan, the Lilly brothers, Pete Lane and Don Stover formed the Confederate Mountaineers, the first bluegrass band in Boston.

The band performed as many as seven nights a week at the Hillbilly Ranch and other clubs in the immediate area, and worked on the “Hayloft Jamboree.”

In the early ’50s, of course, ‘bluegrass’ was still associated mostly with Bill Monroe’s Bluegrass Boys.  I have a vague recollection of B Lilly dissociating The Lilly Brothers from the term (and complaining that Bill stole “Mother’s Not Dead, She’s Only A-Sleepin'” from them), and of course Ralph Stanley has always insisted that he and Carter played ‘mountain music’, not ‘bluegrass’.  Then, too, Wilma Lee and Stoney Cooper were a country and western band when Tex worked with them.  Only much later was Wilma Lee inducted into the IBMA’s Bluegrass Hall of Fame [see correction below] (and, regrettably, the Coopers are still not in the Country Music Hall of Fame).  But Everett had worked with Flatt and Scruggs, and Don Stover was becoming one of the leading—if unappreciated—practitioners of ‘Scruggs-style’ bluegrass banjo, so arguably they were “the first bluegrass band in Boston.”

In any case, Tex Logan, with the Lillys and Don Stover imitated The Bluegrass Boys.  They dressed up, says Jim Rooney in his memoir In It for the Long Run, in “riding pants, high boots, and Confederate officers’ hats,” and played the Hillbilly Ranch and on WCOP’s “Hayloft Jamboree.”  They were a huge influence on the young Jim Rooney, and long after Tex Logan left for New Jersey and Bell Labs, they were a magnet for country and bluegrass fans in the region, including of course a typewriter repairman from Waltham, Joseph Valenti, who became known as Joe Val.

Tex Logan died April 24, 2015.  We’ll hear from Rooney in the next installment. /CL

* Note: B Lilly’s  middle name was Burt.  His preferred handle was ‘B’, often spelled ‘Bea’.  But I remember someone asking him how it was spelled, and he said, “Just a big ol’ ‘B’.”  So that’s how I spell it.

UPDATE: Part II is HERE.

UPDATE 2: Fred Bartenstein writes to say that Wilma Lee Cooper is not in the IBMA Bluegrass Hall of Fame.  My mistake; her obituary in The New York Times says, “In 1994 the International Bluegrass Music Association presented Ms. Cooper with its Award of Merit.”  Says Fred, “I should know.  I co-wrote the book.”  The book is: Fred Bartenstein, Gary Reid, and others: The Bluegrass Hall of Fame: Inductee Biographies 1991–2014.  You can buy it from Fred’s website, HERE.

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In Which I Get on Cable TV

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Cosmo and I in Studio BC

Cosmo Cavicchio is an engaging fellow who hosts a regular interview program called Cosmo’s Journal, on Billerica Access Television Tuesday evenings (replayed at other times).  He is also a bluegrass bass player, and works with Michelle Canning and her band Rough Edges, when Michelle is in town and performing.  The two of them were in the studio on March 14th, playing live and promoting Michelle’s benefit concert for the Alzheimer’s Foundation.  Afterward, Cosmo invited me up to Billerica for a interview.  I demurred, thinking to myself that driving up to Billerica at the end of the day was not going to be my idea of a fun evening.  So the resourceful Cosmo offered to come down to Cambridge on another Saturday morning, and record an interview in the studio.  How could I refuse?

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At the LP records shelves, talking about Joe Val.

Cosmo showed up with videographer (and long-time listener) Gerry Goss, and after the show we chatted ‘on tape’ for a while (it’s not tape any more, of course).  The interview will ‘air’ some Tuesday this month on BATV, available if you are on cable in Billerica.  But it’s also available by streaming over the Internet, whenever you want, wherever you are, via Video on Demand (VOD).

To watch the interview, just click below:

http://vp.telvue.com/player?id=T01248&video=236150&mini=true.

If that doesn’t work, just go HERE.  Wait a couple of minutes, and the video should load.  If it looks scrunched, you can click the ‘resize’ button, and change the screen; you can also make it full-screen.  The VOD page is at http://www.batvinc.org/vod.html

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Back to Maryland, This Time for a Funeral

In January of last year, I wrote about traveling to Maryland to celebrate my mother’s 100th birthday, HERE.

Unhappily, she died peacefully Monday night, not long after passing her 101st year.  She had been declining for the past few months, so it was not unexpected.

IMG_1007_sm

The house on the Ednor Road that my mother and father built over several decades (Copyright © L. E. Joiner)

I will be away this Saturday, 2May, so the show will be pre-recorded.  /CL

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HA’ppenings: Terry Eagan’s 19th Annual Greater Waltham Healing Garden Music Fest

Here’s the flyer for this remarkable annual event, one of several over the years, and the 19th in Waltham, aimed at raising funds for Healing Gardens in hospitals.  It began with Waltham Hospital, where the first Healing Garden was named for Terry Eagan’s late wife Mary, then one at the Ottawa Regional Cancer Center (Ontario), and now for a Healing Garden at Mount Auburn Hospital in Cambridge.

This year’s festival features a host of Canadian artists (The Lucky Sisters, Kelli Trottier, Paul Mills, as well as Rebecca Hosking and Scott Neubert from Nashville, and local artist Angela Simonelli).  It’s at The French Club in Waltham, Saturday the 25th, starting at 7:30.

39Here’s an article from 2009 with a photo of the Healing Garden in Waltham (click on the headline): Music festival helps a new healing garden bloom

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HA’ppenings: Dale Ann Bradley Coming to Town, Saturday the 25th!

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From Dale Ann Bradley’s Facebook page. Used by permission.

From Gerry Katz at the Boston Bluegrass Union:

BBU Presents Dale Ann Bradley in concert, Saturday, April 25th, Lexington, MA

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My Favorite Album of 2014. . . Was Released in 2010!

But I just discovered Richard Brandenburg this past fall.  I was listening to an album I got from a California artist named David Thom at the IBMA World of Bluegrass in Raleigh, a good album, which I enjoyed, but nothing surprising, until I came to a song called “My Way of Saying Goodbye.”  It was, on the face of it, a modest tale about chance encounter at a fireworks display, but it was a song that grabbed you by the collar and made you pay attention as it plumbed the depths of a lost love:

At the end of the summer I saw her
At the midway of the fair;
Stood on the hill for the fireworks;
She didn’t see me there.

For a moment she looked like a stranger,
Strolling so happy and free.
At the edge of her eyes was a remnant of pain
I knew had been caused by me. . .

Well, I was thinking of posting the whole lyric, but it’s not just a poem but a song, and it needs the soft, plaintive melody that harks back to a thousand old songs.  So you have to listen to find out what happens—or doesn’t.

I’ve found very little about Richard Brandenburg.  He lives in California, wears a cowboy hat sometimes, writes songs, and performs, his own and (judging from a couple of YouTube videos) old country songs.  The only recording I’ve found is this album from 2010 called Flickering Dreams.  He’s tied into the bluegrass community in California, and Kathy Kallick (guitar, vocals), Tony Marcus (fiddle), John Reischman (mandolin), and Matt Dudman (bass) join him on some of the songs.  Kathy produced the album.

Flickering Dreams is, to my ear, a country album, though the melodies remind me of old mountain bluegrass.  Richard sounds like a somewhat weary Lefty Frizell, with maybe a hint of Carter Stanley.  But Flickering Dreams is really a songwriter’s album; it’s the words that matter:

. . . if you don’t love me, I can’t change your heart,
And if you don’t want me, not much I can do;
Once together, forever apart,
Now I mean no part of nothin’ to you.
(“No Part of Nothing”)

They’re mostly about lost loves, old memories, and present regrets.  But there are familiar themes from old country songs, as in “Ashes and Dust,” where he returns to the old homestead:

. . . On the far side of this darkening valley,
Where the dogwood flowers cover the ground,
All the laughter and tears of my poor family’s years,
Fall and fade without making a sound.
(“Ashes and Dust”)

Transience becomes a repeated theme, as in “Mayflies”: “All that seems real, fast fades away.”  Even the rare upbeat “The Wave of the Past” is full of regret for home in Texas, as the singer haunts honky-tonks that play the “San Antonio Rose.”  A traditional-sounding bluegrass number that could have come right from the Stanleys in the ’60s, still bears an unmistakable Brandenburg melancholy:

I pretend to myself that your memory don’t haunt me,
I pretend to the world that I’m not constantly blue;
The best hours of my life were believing you want me,
I can’t bear to know it’ll never be true.
(“This Letter I Write”)

Indeed, a reflective sadness is the dominant mood of Richard Brandenburg’s writing.  Even the ostensibly comical “That Ain’t Gonna Happen Anymore” is tinged with regret:

Well I’m pretty sure I heard the stuff you had to say to me;
I oughta know, I used to hear you with great frequency.
But babe, we can’t make nothin’ better in the used-to-be
By shouting through the door—
That ain’t gonna happen anymore.

And it all comes back to another lost love.  In “If You Speak of Me” the singer imagines. . .

Some night, half-lit in the neon of some little bar,
You might hear some old song that reminds you of me.
Someone might think you look lonely, and ask if you are,
And you might turn and start talking, about what used to be. . .

He sings of riding “the trail” together, then “you rode off alone.”  So eventually, the song comes back to the bar,

And I wonder if you’ll speak of me well,
When the world you’re describing has faded away,
And become just some story you tell
In a dim little room to a stranger at the end of the day.

There’s more.  There’s a genuine train song, with yodeling (“Loving the Train”), but it too begins “We parted that night at the depot. . .”  It’s a sad song about “The train and that lonesome old whistle,” and the memories they bring.  But I guess it ends on a happy note, at least for train fans:

I get weary of the lonesome old whistle,
But I’ll never stop lovin’ the train.

I started this post a few months ago, and then put it aside.  I’ve been playing songs from Flickering Dreams on HAH for a while, but I knew that to write more I’d have to sit down and listen to the album all the way through.  You really have to pay attention to get the flavor of the writing, but the the way these songs draw you in can be emotionally draining; one at a time is enough.  That’s awfully high praise from a jaded old country DJ, who runs through new albums scrawling an X or a check by each song before moving on.

Addendum:

I was curious about the melodies, which seem so hauntingly familiar, yet somehow original.  In an interview with Rick Jamison, who hosts a blog called On Songwriting, Richard Brandenburg describes how the melody works itself into the song:

Rick:
When you write an original song, which tends to come first: the lyrics or the music?
Richard:
Well, they arrive at around the same time, though the words are usually first through the door.

Some evocative combination of words will resonate in my thoughts or feelings, and the potential song will have presented itself. I acknowledge it, I write something down, and from that point on it will clamor for my attention, waking or sleeping.

I have a couple of notebooks books full of such clamoring, unfinished songs with a few lines, or verses, or a chorus. And all with melodies; I can hardly write down words without hearing some sort of tune. I have no pages of lyrics waiting for a melody. It’s not mysterious at all. A melody will just emerge from how a spoken phrase sounds. It will change as the words do, and evolve through repetition, as the song develops. . .

As for the traditional feel of the songs, here’s a little more:

Rick:
Your songwriting is evocative of an earlier, simpler time rooted in early country, folk and honky-tonk styles. Tell me more about that.
Richard:
What I write evokes earlier styles because it’s not fundamentally different from them. I do listen primarily to “traditional” stuff, and respond in pretty much the same language, which has gone in and out of style commercially, but apart from a few idioms, not really changed. . .

Finally, for you songwriters out there:

Rick:
What are the top three songwriting tips you would offer to aspiring songwriters?
Richard:
1. Don’t pay too much attention to tips offered by people who write songs.

2. No, you won’t remember it: write it down.

3. Harlan Howard already wrote it.

The whole interview is HERE.  You can get a copy of  Flickering Dreams from CDBaby, HERE.

/CL

PS Here’s “Mayflies,” on KPFA:

Posted in Bluegrass, Hillbilly Journal, Radio Talk, Songwriting | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

HA’ppenings: Wisewater Live on HAH, April 18th

I had never heard of Wisewater until I received an email from Kate Lee about promoting their upcoming area gigs on WHRB.  Kate described Wisewater as a “Nashville, TN-based contemporary folk trio”, at which point I was ready to turn the page (if there were pages in emails).  But then she went on,

The band consists of myself on vocals and fiddle, Harvard alum, Forrest O’Connor, on vocals and mandolin, and also Harvard alum, Jim Shirey, on guitar.  Wisewater has appeared several times this year on the Grand Ole Opry, and we’ve performed with artists like Emmylou Harris, Mary Gauthier, and Ricky Skaggs.  Forrest, son of legendary fiddler Mark O’Connor, is the Tennessee State mandolin champion.  I have performed on the CMA Shows for several years, and I’ve backed up artists such as Rod Stewart, Lady Antebellum, and Sara Evans on violin.

So I responded with a positive maybe—

Hillbilly at Harvard is not a folk show, but I hear some country in a couple of songs on your website (and in your resumes, of course!).  Let’s see how country you can get!

—to which Kate said,

How would Saturday April 18th in the morning sound? We could be in Cambridge then. And yes, country is definitely part of our sound.  A lot of the songs we do are ones I’ve cowritten with Pat Alger, a writer who has written country hits for Garth Brooks, Trisha Yearwood, Kathy Mattea, etc.

Which was good enough for me.  I don’t know Pat Alger personally, but he’s a colleague of our friend Jim Rooney, wrote “Small Town Saturday Night” for Hal Ketchum, and many other country songs.  From what I’ve heard, Wisewater is certainly straddling a wide divide between the folkie/Americana and the country/bluegrass worlds (see the videos on their website, here).  They’ll be visiting this Saturday between 10 AM and noon, so let’s see how far we can push them over to the country side. /CL

Wisewater has three local appearances; check ’em out!

• Thursday, April 16, 8 PM: At The Center for the Arts in Natick (14 Summer St.), opening for Suzy Bogguss (!)

• Sunday, April 19, 5 PM: At Club Passim in Cambridge (47 Palmer St.).

• Friday, April 25, 8:30 PM: At the Paradise Cafe in Dedham (565 High St.).

You can get tickets and more information from their website.

Here’s a live-performance sample, “Black Creek” (complete with a lot of audience noise):


UPDATE: Had a lot of fun chatting with the three members of Wisewater (not ‘Stillwater’, as I found myself calling them), and enjoyed their music.  Jim, as I hope you heard, arrived sans guitar (inadvertently), but made his presence invaluable by finding the Wisewater CD that I had misplaced in another jewel box.

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Flash! HAH Listeners Drive Stanley Book Sales!

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