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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13 Responses to Tex Logan (1927–2015) — Part II

  1. Jody Logan says:

    What a wonderful tribute to my Dad, Tex Logan. I want to thank all of you around the world who have posted their reflections and tributes to my father. I apologize to so many people as I have thank you cards to send out…I will…they may be late…My father was so very humble. Never in his life here on earth would he have dreamed of such an outpouring of memories and kindness. When he found out about the 85th birthday that was going to be a surprise (but so many people responded and travelled from far away) his response..:Now Jody…ain’t no one gonna want to come from out of town for that…” You were so surprised, Dad. This weekend, June 6th, would have been Dad’s 88th birthday…..it won’t be easy, but thanks to all of you in the bluegrass world (and everyone else) it will be better. Happy Birthday, Dad….Love xoxo…Jody

    • Thank you for your note, Jody. It has been gratifying, and a privilege, to spend some time learning about your Dad and the many lives he touched, not only as a musician and a scientist, but as a man. I never met him, but after reading so many tributes, and hearing recordings of his music, I almost feel as though I had. /Lynn

      • Jody Logan says:

        Thank you Lynn…although you may have not met my Dad in “the flesh”, you have met him in spirit..Jody

  2. Neil Rossi says:

    Loved reading this, Lynn. Tex was amazing. When I was starting out on the fiddle, I’d never really seen any other fiddlers close up. I went to see the CRVB one night at the Club 47, maybe around 1964, and Tex dropped by, surprising everyone. Bob Siggins’ first words were, “Didya bring your fiddle?”, and he allowed as he might have one in the car. Well, he did, and when he started playing my jaw dropped down somewhere near knee level. I didn’t think it was possible to get those sounds out of a fiddle, but there it was. So all these years I’ve been playing since, I’ve been chasing that sound. I felt privileged to have seen him play several times over the years. An astounding musician I always felt a connection to, particularly since we were both drawn to the sciences and math.

  3. Victor Evdokimoff says:

    Thanks Cousin Lynn for this info on Tex Logan. In the late ’60s, I got to play one nite with Tex Logan at the Hillbilly Ranch sitting in with the Lilly Bros and Don Stover. We would play 30 minutes and sit at a booth while Ray Bradley, a country act played for 30 minutes. This went on till 2 in the morning. Sitting at the booth, in walks this guy with a mustache and cowboy hat carrying a fiddle. It was Tex Logan. Tex Logan and Everett Lilly dominated the night on stage as they took repeated turns at the microphone. They both fed of each other’s energy. I was allowed to take some breaks and it was thrilling to be in such elite company. I would have to characterize Tex’s playing as exuberant, driving and fast.

    In talking with Tex at the band’s booth, Tex was very quiet unlike his demeanor and playing on stage. I asked him about his academic credentials as I was a doctoral student in physics. He replied his academic background was ancient history as he preferred to talk about bluegrass and the Lillys.

    Years later I ran into him and his wife Peggy in Lancaster Pa. at the Shindig in the Barn, where bluegrass acts played. I was a student then at Johns Hopkins and had been playing with Olabelle Reed and Alex Campbell.

    I remember watching the DVD Bluegrass Country Soul where the Lillys, Stover, and Tex play a spirited Black Mountain Rag in what appears to be in the key of B flat. What is most interesting in the DVD is the discussion they had at the campsite where Bea discusses how he made a guitar. Tex just sat there and never said a word. Everett usually did most of the talking at the Hillbilly Ranch.

    I have tremendous admiration and respect for Tex as a gentleman, scientist, and fiddler. His fiddling had so much drive. May he rest in peace.

    —Victor Evdokimoff

    • Jody Logan says:

      That was Tex, my Dad, never one to tout his accolades…thank you for your words. I will hold them deep in my heart..Jody Logan

  4. Hi Lynn,
    I just signed up for a wordpress account so I could see all of your postings. This story (both installments) was so very great, and chock full of invaluable research. At Folk New England (www.folknewengland.org) we have a Facebook page, and I wanted to let you know that I posted this article there this morning. Thank you for all of your work! I love the show, and I wish you had a “group” Facebook page, so that we could link to yours from ours. (If you’d like, “like” our Facebook page, and you can see a little bit of what we’re up to.)

    • Howdy FNE! You don’t need an account just to read this blog, but happy to have you here. Thank you so much for the compliments on these two posts; they were an education for me, and a real experience learning how genuinely admired and respected Tex Logan was in his two (music and math) worlds.

      Before starting this weblog, I created an HAH Facebook account, but it wasn’t a ‘group’ one (didn’t know they existed at the time), and I never went back to change it. I find Facebook unappetizing for some reason—I think it’s because I’m a writer and editor at heart, and need the longer form and magazine-like feeling of permanence that a blog offers. Many thanks for the promotion on your FB page. /CL

  5. Pingback: Tex Plays “Christmas Time’s A-Coming” | Hillbilly at Harvard

  6. Pingback: Joe Val Festival News: Del McCoury Coming, Lillys Honored | Hillbilly at Harvard

  7. Pingback: Extra! Fiddlin’ John Carson Played Tex’s ‘Christmas Time’ in 1927! | Hillbilly at Harvard

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