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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
Tomorrow (Saturday, October 23rd) we jump ten years from our previous Hillbilly at Harvard Archive to April 15th, 2000, featuring The Tarbox Rambers.
The Tarbox Ramblers had been playing a club called the Green Street Grill in Cambridge for several years, and had a growing reputation among fans of ‘roots’ music in Boston, including the folks at Rounder Records, who were about to release the Ramblers’ first record. Brad Paul, from Rounder Radio Promotions was in the studio.
With Michael Tarbox leading with authoritative vocals and a combination of finger-picking and finger-sliding guitar, along with a steady and dominating drum beat, bass, and deceptively sweet fiddle, the Tarbox Ramblers attack classic southern songs from the Depression era, like ‘Jack of Diamonds’, ‘St. James Infirmary’, and ‘Columbus Stockade’. They aren’t a blues band, nor an hillbilly band, nor a rock band, but appeal to fans of all of them, and to us at Hillbilly at Harvard.
Neither Sinc nor I realized at first that ‘Tarbox’ was a family name; Sinc points out on air that he just thought it was a great name for a band. I rather assumed it had North Carolina origins. Michael T. explains its origins; tune in.
April 15th was of course tax day (though it was Patriots’ Day weekend, so Massachusetts taxpayers had until the 18th to file), so of course you’ll hear Johnny Paycheck’s ‘Me and the IRS’. The show that day was curtailed at 12:30 by the Metropolitan Opry; we’ve got only two hours, so you’ll hear the last two hours. Hope you enjoy it! /CL
I hate starting a paragraph with “As I . . .” but, as I mentioned in the introductory announcement to tomorrow’s HAH Archive,
After just archiving half of a show from 1990 with two live performances, I began digitizing three other shows from the same tape. There were no live performances on these, but they struck me as plenty entertaining in their own right. So this week we’ll stick to the summer of 1990, July 14th to be exact. And we’ll do something else: we’ll play the whole show from that day. But since we’ve only got two hours, it’ll be in two separate halves.
Today, in the first half of the show from July 14th, 1990, we’ll meet record collector Bob Ford, from Brockton, who comes by in the second hour with records he had picked up on a trip to Nashville. And we’ll have a contest or two for tickets to a show called ‘Bluegrass Heaven’. Just remember, like all of the Country Calendar events we plug on these Archival shows, that they took place decades ago. Don’t circle your calendar, and don’t call any phone numbers, either!
That pretty much sums it up, but I also added, in the second announcement,
Note that the Compact Disk was new to WHRB’s studios in Memorial Hall back then, and there were not enough controls on the board for the CD players, so they used the same pots as the turntables, with switches from one to the other. This introduced an entertaining amount of confusion for us poor DJs. But it was all good fun, and I see no reason to edit out the false starts.
I think while we were still in the Memorial Hall studios, the board with the rotary ‘pots’ was replaced by one with faders, enough to accommodate all the inputs, and that new board went with us to Studio BC in Pennypacker Hall in 1994. Could be wrong about that, but it’s just inside baseball, of interest only to fellow WHRBies.
Anyway, you’ll hear Sinc and me complaining about the user-unfriendly additions in 1990, so I thought I should explain it. The CD was also new then, and as I was in the business of making them, I took the opportunity to pontificate on the lack of track numbers on some CD packaging. We were doing better at Northeastern Records.
Oh, by the way, there were lots of neat songs played in this show, some old, some new. First half tomorrow; second half next week, if all goes well. Tune in. /CL
PS Haven’t heard anything of Bob Ford in many years. If you have information, let me know.
It was July 21st, 1990. Sinc and I were both in town, and so were Peter Keane and Barry & Holly Tashian. Pete (a WHRB member) knew sumptuous Studio A well, as he and Elijah Wald had held forth there live in the summer of 1986, following Hillbilly at Harvard with a half-hour of live pickin’ and singin’, followed by Pete hosting a program of old-timey country and blues records called ‘Country Roots’. Now he was active on the folk circuit, and at the time was working on his first album, which I was proud to put out on my Northeastern Records label in 1991, The Goodnight Blues. Rounder followed up in 1996 with his Walkin’ Around album.
In the mid-’90s, Peter Keane moved to Austin, where he has settled and occasionally performs. His latest album was self-produced in a home studio, featuring ‘Blues, Ballads, Cowboy Songs’, available from bandcamp.com
Barry and Holly Tashian live in Nashville, but Barry was familiar to long-time Boston fans as the leader of Barry and the Remains, which opened for the Beatles on their first US tour. Eventually he emerged as successor to Ricky Skaggs, playing guitar and singing in Emmylou Harris’s Hot Band. Emmylou wrote a promotional blurb for Barry and Holly’s first album, Trust in Me, which was also the first in my Popular Arts line on Northeastern Records (thanks to a cassette from Jim Rooney, who produced the album). We included it on the packaging:
There are many things I love about country music, but I guess the main event will always be the Duet. It was the the singing of George with Tammy (and Melba), Joe with Rose Lee, and Stoney with Wilma Lee that hooked me and has held me ever since. There are two other names that should be included in that list, but until now fans of the country duet haven’t had a chance to hear the truly wonderful sound of Barry and Holly Tashian (with the exception of those like myself who’ve been fortunate enough to sit in their living room). So for me, this album is a long-awaited pleasure. After you’ve listened, I’m sure you’ll understand why. —Emmylou Harris
I couldn’t agree more!
Barry and Holly have subsequently had three albums on Rounder, and another three for other labels.
Tune in at 9 AM on October 2nd. We’re down to two hours for these Archival shows these days, so I’ve had to chop off half of the four-hour shows, but I hope you’ll still find a lot to enjoy of a Saturday morning. Let me know! /CL
That’s right, it’s 1999, and we’ve got Boston natives the Dave Foley Band in the third hour, and rising star from Kansas City, Mike Ireland in the fourth hour. We’ve got only two hours for the original four-hour show, so sadly I’ve had to chop off the first two. You’ll just have to imagine how much fun they were, but Dave Foley and Mike Ireland will make up for it.
Dave Foley, along with his long-time compatriot, singer and bassist Rich Holbrook, became regular visitors to Hillbilly at Harvard, and on May 8th, 1999, Dave brought along drummer Mal Shaw. Dave and Rich had moved from rock-‘n’-roll some years before, and became accomplished country performers. Dave is an energetic but still affecting singer. In this live set he sings mostly covers, including a nice Merle Haggard song neither Sinc nor I remembered—until Dave pointed it out on an album in the studio!—and Rich even sang a Gene Autry classic. Dave previewed his first album, Holey-Moley, It’s Dave Foley! with an original, and a taste of many more fine songs to come.
As far as I know the Dave Foley Band is still active, though the last gig on their Facebook page was in 2020. That’s probably not significant, as the ‘dempanic’ gave all performers an extended vacation. I expect we’ll see Dave and Rich back in the clubs pretty soon.
Mike Ireland impressed us mightily with his first album in 1998, Learning How to Live. Despite its production style, slightly reminiscent of ’60s countrypolitan, Mike’s pointed, emotional writing and beautiful tenor made a powerful combination, getting him great reviews and a guest appearance on the Grand Ol’ Opry. In August 1998 we had him and his band Holler in the studio. I was hoping to use it on one of these Archival HAHs, but on my home tape the drums made it unlistenable. I guess we’ll have to fault the studio engineer—but that would have been me! Maybe you just had to have been there.
In any case, I was delighted to find this show from May 8th, 1998. This time it was just Mike, with his guitarist and harmony singer, Dan Mesh. The two certainly do mesh well, and I think you’ll admit there’s some amazing vocals in their half-hour set. Mike closed out the show with his emotional recollection in ‘Graveyard Song’, which he dedicated to Sinc, who was clearly moved.
Mike Ireland is an engaging fellow and a huge talent. So ‘Whatever Happened to Mike Ireland & Holler?’ That’s the title of an anonymous report on a blog called ‘chimesfreedom’ (no caps). Mike released a second album in 2002, Try Again, which I don’t remember as well, but then seems to have disappeared from the country-music scene. chimesfreedom’s author follows up what he can find about Mike and his bandmates, until he learns in 2018 that Mike and a current wife (the breakup with his first stimulated a lot of his song-writing) are in Kansas City and writing movie reviews. Go to the link above for more details. /CL
It was November 8th, 1986, back in the WHRB studios under Sanders Theater in Memorial Hall, and I was having trouble with Left Turntable during The Down Home Show. One channel was not broadcasting. This was before the Compact Disk, so we played records, only records. Unable to solve the problem, I attempted to play only monaural records on Left Turntable, not actually hard to do, as we had plenty of them.
The problem persisted into Hillbilly at Harvard at 10 AM, and I mentioned it over ‘Foggy Mountain Special’, our opening theme. I didn’t mention that we had live music that day, with Dave Haney‘s band, Bay State Bluegrass. I always introduced them as “Dave and Rose Haney and Bay State Bluegrass” back then, as they were married and were the core of the band. The band I think went silent when Dave joined Joe Val‘s New England Bluegrass Boys for a year or two, and then reformed after Joe’s death in 1985. Bay State Bluegrass had no gigs scheduled that day, but I guess they figured to drum up some business by playing live on Hillbilly at Harvard. Sinc certainly thought so, and assiduously got Dave to plug his phone number.
The Chief Engineer at the time, whose name I don’t recall, got up and came down to fix Left Turntable, by 11 AM or so, when the bulk of today’s Archive gets going. HAH was three hours long then (following two hours of The Down Home Show), but I’m allowed only two hours these days, so you get only a hint of the first hour. I started off HAH with Randy Travis’s ‘1982’. I still remember hearing that on the radio as I was driving in, not long before, and thinking, “Wow! A real country record!” We were just at the beginning of a neo-traditional country revival, following depressing years of bad pop-country with talents like Juice Newton and Charly McClain. Randy Travis was the proverbial breath of fresh air.
Bay State Bluegrass made one album, featuring Jimmy Martin’s ‘Home Run Man’ as the title song; then I remember Dave and Rose heading off to the mid-west for day jobs. Dave Haney is now President of Hiram College in Ohio, and still playing music, with current wife Lisa Baldwin. Banjo player Jim Rollins, whose innovative licks are evident in the WHRB sessions in this Archive, was sadly killed in an auto crash with a drunken driver in South Carolina in 2017. I haven’t found any more about Rose Haney or Steve Abby, who played mandolin in the band.
I hope you enjoy going back some 35 years in HAH time. Seems like only yesterday! I know a lot of you enjoy hearing Old Sinc’s radio voice. Old friend Ed the Detective turns up in this Archive. Ed Muller has taken his country oldies show from one station to another over the years; he was on WDLW at the time. The last I heard from him (in 2017), he had been off the air since 2012.
We also hear from Stan Zdonik, long-time President of the Boston Bluegrass Union, promoting a show celebrating 10 years of the BBU (with The Dry Branch Fire Squad), at (all together now) “The Big Brown Church with the Rooster on Top.” Stan is now (2021) about to be honored at the IBMA World of Bluegrass with a Distinguished Achievement Award for his service to the music./CL
We had to cancel the Jenny Brook Bluegrass Festival two years in a row due to the pandemic so we are thrilled to be able to present the Jenny Brook MiniFest October 8-10, 2021. I am adding a PSA below and a link to our flyer for more information. Since this is a brand new date for Jenny Brook we can use all the help we can get to spread the word. We are working hard to continue bringing traditional bluegrass music to the fans in the northeast.
PSA The Jenny Brook MiniFest will be a smaller version of the very popular Jenny Brook Bluegrass Festival that normally takes place in June. The gates open on Tuesday, October 5 for early bird camping, and then there will be 3 full days of music on October 8-10, 2021. It all takes place at 1 Fairground Ln. Tunbridge, VT Jenny Brook always offers quality music from start to finish. Come enjoy Bluegrass Green Mountain Style!
Bluegrass Breakdown September 9th, 2021 Joe Val 2022 Postponed Due to COVID-19
Greeting to all friends of the Joe Val Bluegrass Festival. Much has changed since we were all together in February of 2020. The Sheraton Framingham Hotel’s future as the Joe Val Festival venue is currently unclear. And the CDC and State restrictions on indoor gatherings in the near term are also uncertain.
We are formally announcing that there will be no Joe Val Bluegrass Festival this coming February of 2022. We look forward to being able to host the festival in the future, and we will let you know when there is something concrete to report. Until then, stay safe, be kind to all and please get vaccinated.
– The BBU Board
I guess we can look on the bright side, and assume that ‘Postponed’ does not mean ‘Cancelled’. /CL
Coincidentally, the 20th year since the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001, falls on a Saturday (I won’t call it an ‘anniversary’, because it’s an occasion for remembrance, not celebration). Usually on the annual Saturday closest to the 11th, I play Alan Jackson’s ‘Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)’. But I won’t be in the studio this Saturday, so here it is:
The weekend of September 12, 1998, featured a Folk Festival in downtown Boston, sponsored I think by WUMB. There were several artists of interest to HAH listeners, e.g. J.D. Crowe, and the fabulous Freight Hoppers, then celebrating their second album on Rounder. We were delighted to have them in the studio, especially when we discovered how much fun they were. Old Sinc had a great time kidding with the ebullient Cary Fridley, who suggested he sign on as their MC: “You cut up as good as we do!” she proclaimed.
Although I start off the Archive with our traditional opening theme, I have to jump to the 11 o’clock hour, because I am now limited to just two hours (see ‘That’s Good, That’s Bad’). But we get a few songs in, besides the live set in Studio B with the Freight Hoppers. Larry Flint joins us to pick out some records, and Gordy Brown touts his New England Country Music Historical Society display at the upcoming MCMAA Awards Show, featuring Georgia Mae’s white guitar.
But you’ll want to hear the amazing Cary Fridley sing ‘A Roving on a Winter’s Night’ a capella in the old-time mountain style, and hear the driving fiddle and banjo combination of David Bass and Frank Lee. The band is still around, though they were forced to disband in 2002 when David was sidelined with heart trouble. Eventually he got a heart transplant, and in 2007 restarted the Freight Hoppers with Frank. Cary had gone on to other musical endeavors, so Frank’s wife Allie Lee took her place; Amanda Kowalski now plays bass. I don’t have a recording of the current band, but judging from videos, they still have the same exciting old-timey revival drive as before.
Just two hours now, but fun and games with The Freight Hoppers! /CL
Good news: The Powers That Be at Harvard are opening up WHRB to renegades like me.
Bad news: The same Powers have decreed that everyone inside the building must wear a face mask at all times. That means even people performing in a studio live on the radio. This I will not do. So as I enter a second year of Exile, I will have to continue to produce recorded Hillbilly shows, either from pre-recorded Generic Hours, or Archival tapes, or just possibly new shows I can create from a makeshift home studio.
More bad news: WHRB undergraduate management have said they want another hour for the modern bluegrass show, called ‘Hillbilly Jamboree’, so Hillbilly at Harvard will be cut back to two hours, from 9 AM to 11 AM Eastern time. I guess there is a bright side, as I will have less time to fill, but then the Archival content will be greatly reduced.
I won’t go into my objections to masking in any detail, except to say that I find the ‘face coverings’ (as Amtrak calls them) uncomfortable and unpleasant, and I think the government policies in favor of masking and lockdowns wrong-headed and mistaken. Respiratory viruses from normal breathing are not stopped by cloth or paper masks. They are, as Senator Rand Paul (a medical doctor himself) has said, nothing but “theater.” If you want more on my views, I recommend an excellent article by Paul E. Alexander describing how an age-risk ‘focused’ approach, as proposed by the Great Barrington Declaration, would have made far more sense and been far less destructive to individuals and society.
Well, two hours is better than none. Back in the 1960s, when a ‘Committee’ of WHRB alumni and friends rescued Hillbilly at Harvard from imminent extinction for want of undergraduate interest (see ’HAH History: The Committee Saves the Show’), HAH ran only from 10 AM to 12 noon. So who knows what the future holds? For now, we’ll keep enjoying real country music, like this from George Jones and Lacy J. Dalton, on today’s theme: ‘That’s Good, That’s Bad’. /CL