ANOTHER ARCHIVAL HILLBILLY AT HARVARD
I just finished listening to an old Hillbilly show, which ended with a live performance from The Nashville Bluegrass Band, and a lengthy Old Sinc recitation of the Country Calendar as the boys played ‘Cumberland Gap’. I wanted to call up Sinc and tell him what a great job he and the NBB had done. But of course, it’s way too late: the show was on April 12th, 1986.
The Nashville Bluegrass Band has long been one of my favorite bands. I had forgotten how long, when I saw a sticker on a large tape reel from 1986. One of the four Hillbilly shows on that reel featured the NBBs, as I call them. At the time they had just performed with Riders in the Sky at Nightstage in Cambridge, and were scheduled to appear that night in Fitchburg. They turned up at the end of the program, but as the bluegrass show Panhandle Country then followed Hillbilly at Harvard (and not a baseball game, as I mistakenly announced early on), we were able to run a few minutes over.
Compared to some of the Archival shows we’ve aired, this one was fairly tame. In those days I hosted The Down Home Show from 8 to 10am; Hillbilly ran from 10 to 1, with a break for the Hillbilly News at Noon, a mostly straight newscast pulled from the AP ticker. I’ve cut that out, along with a song or two, to keep all of the live performance by the Nashville Bluegrass Band, which I think you’ll agree was just terrific.
Listening to these old programs as I copy tapes to the computer, ‘digitizing’ them, leaves me a little drained. Hillbilly at Harvard, back in the ’80s and ‘90s was a weekly exercise in organized inanity, programmed on the fly, but drawing on Sinc’s and my long (if mostly volunteer) radio experience and our common taste in music, augmented by a rotating cast of friends and guests. It was a lot of fun, but also a valuable resource for country fans in our broadcast area, and for the musicians, clubs, and promoters who made live country and bluegrass available. Hillbilly at Harvard had its own place in the grownup music community, quite apart from Harvard and from WHRB’s undergraduate staff, most of whom paid no attention.
Listening to these shows is a little like perusing old photograph albums, only more intense, flooding me with both delight and melancholy. After Sinc’s death in 2002, it was never quite the same. I kept our hoary ‘Top 40’ format and mostly the same mix of old and new country music, weeding out the schlock and pop, still open to a little tomfoolery, but it was nowhere near as much fun. That just came home to me when the visiting Nashville Bluegrass Band on the 1986 tape played a song from their (then) forthcoming album, written by Tommy Goldsmith, called ‘Old Devil’s Dream’. Sinc and I were in our 40s by 1986, but we were still young devils at heart, and the show had the kind of energy that young devils bring.
Well, this week I’m offering that show from April 12th, 1986. I know our long-time listeners will enjoy it. I hope any newcomers do, too. It seems like only yesterday, though this old devil knows better. /CL