Have requests? Comments? Suggestions? Post them on the 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. You can, of course, also post relevant comments under any individual post.
NOTE: All content in this weblog, except where indicated, is entirely my own, and not that of WHRB or Harvard University. See the About page for more information. /CL
After the Archival show with James King, Gerry Katz of the BBU wrote to say he booked the concert with James and Lou Reid that weekend, and the live performance of the James King Band brought back many memories. He also suggested, “How about the show from April 1994 with Crowe and McLaughlin?” So I looked, and yes, I had the show on Digital Audio Tape, from April 9th, 1994.
So here it is this Saturday. The show is four hours long, as most Hillbilly shows were until this year, except for football season and the Met, so sadly I have had to cut off the first hour. I also have pruned some of the extended Country Calendar announcements, though I left many in, and many of the screw-ups—Sinc and I were keeping score. Besides Josh Crowe and David McLaughlin, on two guitars in Studio A at Memorial Hall, guests included Ken Irwin of Rounder Records, Gerry himself and Stan Zdonik, and a brief appearance by John Lincoln Wright.
Crowe and McLaughlin, as they were billed, had recently released a duet album on Rounder, Going Back, and that Sunday were opening a BBU show at the (then called) Museum of Our National Heritage in Lexington, with The Dry Branch Fire Squad. On that day the BBU offered classes and a picking party in the afternoon before the show. Josh and David talked about a second album, but I don’t think one was ever released. Going Back seems to be out of print.
Thanks to Gerry for suggesting this show for an Archival production. If you remember others you’d like to hear, please let me know. Although I have a lot of tapes and computer recordings of Hillbilly shows from the mid-1980s on (and some from the ’70s possibly), many did not get recorded. But I’ll be happy to look for one if you think of it. /CL
We drove up with our little Casita travel trailer into pungent Litchfield, Maine (yes, it seemed to be manure-spreading season) and found the Blistered Fingers Bluegrass Festival, the 54th, they advertise. They have two every summer (in June and August), so if that’s been the plan since the start, it’s still 27 years, which is mighty impressive. It’s all the work of Greg and Sandy Cormier.
I’ve picked out a few of the better photos, all taken Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, June 18, 19, 20, using my Canon Rebel SL3 DSLR and Canon 18-135mm lens. For larger images, click on any photo. For high-resolution versions, go to Flickr, HERE.
Here’s Redwood Hill, from Connecticut:
Sandy Cormier, introducing the next act; staff member Carl in his car; a bluegrass picker:
The Katahdin Valley Boys, from Maine:
Rock Hearts, from Rhode Island:
Zink & Company (now from Tennessee):
The Baker Family, from Missouri:
Festival flavor: concert area, best T-shirt, eats, crafts:
The Little Roy & Lizzie Show, from Georgia:
The Gibson Brothers, from New York:
A storm threatened, but delivered only a shower and rainbows. Later, a spectacular sunset (which the audience didn’t notice) and a neat, tunnel-shaped cloud. Finally, a Sunday-morning gospel sing:
Some festival notes:
Young lead singer of The Baker Family, Carina Baker, offered a version of ‘Blue’ that recalled Patsy Cline. She’s going places, I reckon.
Cory Zink remembered performing on HAH in Studio B with Acoustic Blue, from western Massachusetts.
Alex MacLeod, of Rock Hearts, promises to return to HAH once we’re open for guests and their new CD is out.
Playing mandolin with The Gibson Brothers was stellar guitarist Cody Kilby, known for his work with Ricky Skaggs’s Kentucky Thunder, and The Traveling McCourys.
Little Roy Lewis was his usual manic self, but remains an amazing musician and performer, despite his age and bouts with severe illnesses, according to daughter Lizzie Long, who impressed me with both her singing and fiddling. The audience loves the show.
Photographer’s gripe: the signature cartoon figure backdrop on stage is cute, but makes framing photos hard. Would love to see it moved—maybe atop the stage?
Thanks to the Cormiers for a very well-run and entertaining festival. /CL
They were all on Hillbilly at Harvard! Ranch Romance and The Austin Lounge Lizards performed live in 1994. Claire Lynch didn’t show up until 2010, for what we call a ‘chin-and-spin’, to promote a show that evening in Newburyport, and her new Rounder album. But they’re all on this week’s Archival HAH.
We start with the Hillbilly show from October 9th, 2010. It was football season, and HAH had to end at 11:30 that Saturday. So I’ve included the whole show, lightly edited, featuring an extended interview with the delightful Claire Lynch, just chatting about this and that, including her new album, Whatcha Gonna Do? on Rounder. We play songs from the album, and learn a lot about this wonderful performer who, despite her luminous standing and multiple awards, still remains funny and totally free of pretension. I remembered that chin-and-spin fondly, and thought you might enjoy it as well. Claire has the knack for making herself right at home, and putting her interviewer at ease. Listen for her ‘droid’.
After that show ends, we jump back in time to May 1st, 1994. WHRB was preparing to move out of the Memorial Hall basement to its present quarters in Pennypacker Hall, so things were in disarray. Somehow the promoter of a show at the Somerville Theater that evening had managed to get two bands on the bill down to WHRB for brief live sets just before the end of the show. These became, as David Elliott said, the “last live performances in Studio A in Memorial Hall—hosted by Ol’ Sinc.” David had a DAT recording of the event, and gave me a CD with them on it. I can’t find my recording of the whole show, if one was made (did David pull his recording from mine?), so I’ve added these two 15-minute performances to this Archive.
Sinc has a great if somewhat chaotic time with Ranch Romance, a lively band from Seattle that made three record albums in the ‘90s before disbanding, and then with the comical (if sardonic) Austin Lounge Lizards, who returned in subsequent years and remained one of Sinc’s favorite acts. This performance features a preview of ‘Old Blevins,’ a high-(or low-)light of the Lizard’s next album to be.
Apologies for jumping around in time, but since I don’t have the complete show from May 1st, 1994, and needed a half hour or so to fill our current three hours (and if I had the complete show, as I do in most cases, three hours wouldn’t be enough!), this was just the time to titillate you with the “last live performances in Studio A.” Turn up your speakers; you don’t want to miss a minute! /CL
February 25, 1995, to be exact. Old Sinc has just returned from three weeks in Las Vegas, Larry Flint is there as well, and we’re expecting The James King Band. We’re in our new studios in Pennypacker Hall. However, the WHRB Trustees, “The Suits,” as Sinc calls them, have taken over sumptuous Studio B. James and band have to warm up in the Classical Music Library, and end up crowding into our small studio BC (‘B Control’) and playing single-file on one mic. Amazingly, it sounds great!
Actually, I was intending to use the live segment (which David Elliott had edited down for me) as filler for another Archival show that ran short, but then I found the original DAT recording of most of the 1995 show (tape started late, so about 3.5 hours), and enjoyed listening to it so much that I decided to run it this Saturday (July 10th). Sinc was in fine fettle, and Larry and I provided ample foils for his jokes. It’s a great example of the impromptu inanity of Hillbilly at Harvard in its prime, providing a knowledgeable but comical alternative to commercial country radio.
And of course we had the honor then of hosting the great James King, however inelegantly. This was not NPR; this was Studio BC, about 150 square feet, crammed with three disk jockeys, five musicians, and an audience including Rounder co-founder Ken Irwin (who spends some time on air with Sinc talking about Alison Krauss’s sudden emergence in the country charts with ‘When You Say Nothing at All’). James and company pull off the set with great alacrity and good humor.
This was James’s first visit to Boston, planning to record his second album with Rounder; he was playing that Saturday night at the Museum of Our National Heritage (as it was then called) with Lou Reid and Carolina, sponsored by the Boston Bluegrass Union. We spent so much time talking about the comfortable chairs (versus traditional church pews) that I wonder if it wasn’t the BBU’s first show at the Museum.
James was to return to HAH in November, and at other times. He died in 2016 (see HERE, though I never did a full appreciation). James King, from Carroll County, Virginia, was in my mind the closest bluegrass-country singer to Carter Stanley we’ve ever had (Carter was James’s hero, of course). He was a big, affable fellow with a warm heart, who conveyed real feeling in his singing. I hope you share some of the thrill I get when listening to him live on the radio, and some of the sadness, too, that we lost his voice so early. /CL
I went looking in the boxes of reel-to-reel tapes for a July 4th show. The closest I found was one from Saturday, July 5th, 1986. Old Sinc and Miss Helen were on vacation in Florida (yes, in the summer; Sinc said the sea breezes made it quite pleasant). So I transferred all five hours (two of The Down Home Show, three of Hillbilly at Harvard) and got to work editing. It’s a lot easier in Audacity on the iMac than it was in the old days of razor blades and splicing tape. But it still takes time. There was a 5-second radio dropout in a George Jones song; I replaced the song. There were a bunch of bluegrass festival plugs that I thought might be confused with current ones, so I deleted those; I still left in lots of Country Calendar flavor for you country-nostalgia fans.
That left HAH about 10 minutes short, so I started the broadcast with three songs and the closing theme (‘Sally Ann’) of The Down Home Show, before HAH proper begins. The Down Home Show was more bluegrass and old-timey than HAH. Eventually we gave two hours of it to a full-bluegrass show called Panhandle Country, which some of you may remember, and HAH became the four-hour program it remained for thirty years—until this past Spring, as a matter of fact.
You’ll notice that there are new releases from folks like Dwight Yoakam, George Strait, and Randy Travis. Country music had begun a ‘neo-traditional’ rennaisance, and we were playing more new commercial artists than I do these days (or did when the show was live in 2020); the most country artists these days are ‘alt’.
You’ll notice too that for Country Calendar information, I give mailing addresses and phone numbers: not a website to be found. The World Wide Web was still four years in the future, and maybe 15 years before it became widely used. WHRB listeners were still restricted to our Boston-area broadcast signal from our transmitter then atop Holyoke Center in Harvard Square.
It was July 5th, but there are a couple of tunes for the Fourth, and many songs that you might not have heard for a while. So turn up your radio and revisit the Summer of 1986 with me in WHRB’s former studios in Memorial Hall, below Sanders Theater at Harvard. /CL
Anyone remember the band Angel Train? They were singer Diane Cannon, from Maine, guitarist Rick Plant, from Cambridge, bassist Tom Miller, originally from New Jersey, and drummer Jamie DeCato of Boston. Angel Train had just won a nationwide band contest sponsored by Marlboro cigarettes, which earned them a trip to Nashville and recording sessions with producer Barry Beckett, and, except for Jamie, they were in sumptuous Studio A at WHRB on Saturday, April 22nd, 1989.
I remembered their signature song, ‘Train Will Come’, written by Diane Cannon and her then husband Bob Cannon, with its great singing from Diane and memorable guitar theme from Rick, so it was a treat to find this show in a dusty box of aircheck tapes here at home. I had forgotten that they had played live on HAH. Tom Miller had given us a cassette tape of ‘Train Will Come’, which I remember playing on the air (there’s a really good video of Angel Train playing it on a Facebook page).
On Saturday the 22nd, Angel Train were at the Stephen James House in Porter Square, Cambridge. It was easy to get to, as Old Sinc explains during their sets, but at some point between then and now the restaurant disappeared. So don’t go looking for it.
Don’t look for Angel Train, either. The band apparently fell apart after their trip to Nashville, for reasons unknown to me. We lost bassist and founder Tom Miller to cancer a few years ago. Guitarist Rick Plant moved to Nashville and worked with many bands as studio musician and lead guitarist, and now lives in Australia (Rick has a web page HERE). Drummer Jamie DeCato was still working on the North Shore in 2020.
In the close to the Archival show tomorrow I mention that I’d found no report on Diane Cannon. But from a biography on Collectors’ Choice Music, I find that she stayed in Nashville, married songwriter Michael Killen, and they performed as a duo called The Killens. Now spelling her name Dianne, she recorded a CD of her own called Pattern of My Heart.
Tune in tomorrow and experience a little of what might have been. Studio A at our former studios under Sanders Theater was a little rough and ready, but you’ll get an idea of the great musicians who made up the short-lived band Angel Train. /CL
1961: The Lilly Brothers, Everett and B, with Don Stover, play a concert in Lowell House at Harvard College. Everett, who usually plays mandolin, picks up the fiddle and wows the audience with a fiery performance of ‘The Orange Blossom Special’. Cousin Mike Eisenstadt records the concert on his Nagra portable recorder. Old Sinc gets a copy.
1971: February 6th, to be exact. Old Sinc and Cousin Dave Schmalz host an afternoon Hillbilly Orgy®, which faithful listener Kim Harris of Ipswitch records on a home tape recorder. Sinc, responding to requests for LIlly Brothers music, plays Everett’s ‘OBS’ (as bluegrass fans know it). Kim Harris sends me a digitized copy of the Orgy® in 2003.
2011: March 12th, to be exact. The Celebrity Series of Boston has scheduled a joint concert with The Del McCoury Band and The Preservation Hall Jazz Band, in Symphony Hall on the 19th. David Elliott is actively promoting the series, and has created promotional spots. He has also arranged for me to interview Del over the telephone, with Del at home in Henderson, Tennessee. This was the first, and as far as I can recall, the only time I have done a ‘phoner’ (as they’re called in the trade) in the studio. I was nervous at the start, but it turned out to be fun.
2021: What have the 1971 and 2011 shows in common? Nothing, really, except they were Hillbilly at Harvard shows, and I have put them together for an Archival show this week. I suppose it is really a product of timing. With only three hours to fill, I was looking for a short show. March 12th, 2011 was curtailed by an early-starting Met Opry, and it had this interview that I remembered fondly, but it was curtailed so much that I needed more. Aha! I thought: how about some tracks from the 1971 disks that Kim Harris had sent me in 2003?
The sound quality of Kim’s home tape recorder, running at 1 7/8 IPS, was not as good as we would like for broadcasting a whole show, but it’s OK for a few songs (better than some of the scratchy old 78 RPM records reissued on LP), and it’s great to hear Sinc and Dave 40 years ago. So we start off with about 14 minutes of the 1971 Orgy®, and then launch into the full 2011 HAH show. The interview with Del McCoury is in the third hour.
What do these years have in common? They are all part and parcel of Hillbilly at Harvard history, which after all goes back to 1948!
I hope you enjoy the interview with Del. I play a couple of the songs we talk about. I’ve got some other good interviews that I could air on this archival series, with folks like Bill Keith, Jim Rooney, Claire Lynch, and others. Let me know if you’d like to hear them.
We’re off Thursday to Litchfield, Maine for the Blistered Fingers Bluegrass Festival this weekend. If no cell service, I may not know if this Archival HAH runs, but let’s assume it will. Back Sunday evening. /CL
I long remembered there was a time when Delia Bell and Bill Grant had played live on Hillbilly at Harvard. I was entranced by Bill’s performance of Merle Haggard’s “I’ll Break Out Again Tonight,” so much so that I had copied it from an aircheck onto a cassette and played it a few times on the show. But the cassette disappeared, and the tapes I had of some 1980s shows were buried in boxes in an upstairs closet.
However, the long Exile from WHRB’s studios and the need to add some variety to the prerecorded Generic Hours I’ve been recycling for the past nine months has led me to those boxes. Not every show got recorded, and not all are free enough from long-distance FM noise to be airable, but some are, happily including the one I discovered with Bill and Delia.
They were here on March 15, 1986, opening for Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys in a BBU show at Paine Hall (Harvard’s Music Department). Their association with Rounder Records doubtless helped get them to Cambridge all the way from Oklahoma. Their album pictured here, A Few Dollars More (1985), was their second for Rounder.
So tune in this Saturday (June 12th) and enjoy the usual folderol and high jinks of the Hillbilly show thirty-some years ago, with me, Old Sinc, Lincoln, and others. There’s an unusual Identify The Artist contest that you’ll appreciate, and some trivia from Sinc’s photographic memory, which of course I immediately forgot back then.
There are lots of Country Calendar announcements. Just remember, as I warn listeners, that they were for events three decades ago, so don’t scramble for your going-out duds and head for the car. Some venues are still around (e.g. Nightstage in Cambridge), and some are starting to open up as the ’emergency’ restrictions have lifted. But too many of the artists then have left us, including Bill and Delia. Fortunately, we have recordings, even old radio shows! /CL
The metal reel on Revox tape recorder looks perturbed, but I prefer to think it’s singing. The slow-moving (3 3/4 ips) reels are regaling me with music from 1989 (two hours of The Down Home Show, which I hosted between 8 AM and 10 AM, and three hours of Hillbilly at Harvard, then from 10 AM to 1 PM) recorded on February 4th. My, how it takes me back!
Even better, another track on the same 7,200 feet of four-track, half-mil tape, contains a Hillbilly show from January 14th, with John Lincoln Wright, along with Larry Flint and The Sourmash Boys (and Girl, or as Lincoln called them for a short time, The Sourmash Revue), playing live in sumptuous Studio A at our former studies in the basement of Memorial Hall.
This was the first time that Lincoln and his electric honky-tonk band came to play live in the studio (and the last? I have to do some research on the labels of old reel-to-reel and DAT tapes). So, having copied the tape to my iMac, I decided to make an Archival show of it.
Not long before, Lincoln had recorded an album with the Sourmash Revue in Nashville, called simply You Can’t Get There from Here. He sings one of the songs from that album, ‘Laid Off’, which he dedicated to me (in honor, I assume of Northeastern University closing their record label—it turned out that I took it over, so Northeastern Records continued, with its Popular Arts series, featuring Lincoln’s That Old Mill).
Larry Flint had made his first album, Hands of a Dreamer, a few years before. Here he brings us new songs, including his moving ballad ‘Junior’, which appears on his latest album, Ghost of the Railroad.
Like previous Archival Hillbilly shows, this one was recorded on my home recorder directly from whichever receiver I was using at the time. There are a couple of spots where something created a buzz on the tape—a household appliance maybe?—but these are over quickly, and in the two cases where it continued through a song, I cut in clean copies. I also cut out a little Country Calendar talk, but not much, as I think it’s fun to hear who was doing what and where. Just remember: it was over 30 years ago!
So tune in this Saturday, June 5th, and travel back with us to musical memory and camaraderie in the WHRB studios on January 14, 1989. /CL
PS Two of John Lincoln Wright’s CDs are available on eBay: Takin’ Old Route One, and That Old Mill. Larry Flint’s most recent recording is available on Amazon: Ghost of the Railroad.
This Saturday (May 15th) travel back with us to April 16, 2005, and a memorable Hillbilly at Harvard.Peter Rowan was back in town, opening for Ralph Stanley at Sanders Theatre at Harvard, with Peter’s Quartet (featuring the late Tony Rice on guitar, along with Bryn Davies and Sharon Gilchrist).
Because we’re now limited to three hours, I have cut out most of the first hour, and I’ve also edited out most of the Country Calendar promos. That still leaves plenty of great honky-tonk and bluegrass tunes, and the usual slip-ups and other folly, enhanced by colleague Larry Flint, who comes in to help with announcing and running the board when I’m in Sumptuous Studio B with the band.
Peter Rowan turns up late in the show, and sings a couple of his originals and offers a new definition of ‘bluegrass’. Then we spend the rest of the time with Larry Stephenson and his band. Larry was in town for a Boston Bluegrass Union concert in Lexington with David Parmley and Continental Divide. You’ll hear a few promos for that one, so don’t be fooled—it was 16 years ago! /CL