ANOTHER ARCHIVAL HILLBILLY AT HARVARDx
After the Archive with The Poodles, I got an email from Gretchen Bowder, who reminded me that the Bagboys had played live on the show back in the late ’90s. Gretchen, AKA ’Sister Gretchen Bag’ is the long-time banjo player for the Bags, a Bagette, if you will. The Bagboys, of course, were still active in the Spring of 2020, when everything got shut down, playing often at the Burren in Porter Square.
I did a little digging. I found a tape with the original Bags, Harvey Bag and Bobby Bag, augmented with a fiddler they called Grandpa Bag; they played live on Hillbilly at Harvard in 1989. I searched further and found a DAT recording with Gretchen from September 19, 1998, so that’s what we’ll hear on this Archive.
The Bagboys at the time were Harvey on bass, Bobby on guitar, Gretchen on banjo, Otis Ray Bag on mandolin, and Spider Mike Bag on mandolin. They all have real surnames, of course, but I like the concept of the ersatz Bag family. Though not all Bagboys have forsaken theirs—Frank Drake, for one, who with Gretchen and founder Harvey adorn the Bagboys’ website; many others, with or without Bagpellation have sat in over the years.
Harvey and Bobby got the Bagboys going for their long ‘residency’ (as they call it, reminiscent of the academic world) at the venerable Plough and Stars on Mass Ave. in Cambridge, back in the late ’80s. The secret is to play for dinner time (5–7 PM), and encourage families. And Bagboy music is family-friendly, in a variety of styles and genres, not all ‘country’ as we construe it on HAH, but not off in odd directions, either. The Bags draw on the American musical idioms of the past century, in an always appealing acoustic vein. On their website they quote Songwriter Paul Burch: “Local legends the Bagboys were creating Americana long before the genre had a website and an army of preened publicists.”
I had to leave early to root for my two boys playing Framingham High soccer that afternoon, so the Bag Boys played before noon. Because of our two-hour limitation these days, I chopped off the first two hours, so you’ll hear the Bags in the first hour. Old Sinc emcees, as usual, and then John Lincoln Wright turns up to co-host for the rest of the show. They spend a little time talking up the forthcoming Mass Country Music Awards Association’s annual Awards show, and you’ll recognize many names. They also mention the sad death of Johnny D’s Dave DeLellis; fortunately, the family maintained the unique music venue until 2016. /CL
PS A few years ago Frank Drake came by the show with a copy of the Bagboys’ newest album, Four Kinds of Pie. The album’s dated 2011, so was it. . . 10 years ago? Here’s a cut, with Gretchen singing lead on a song written by Harvey Bag, as a tribute to former fiddler, Grandpa Bag. It’s all in the family: