HA’pennings: The Gibson Brothers Returning January 21st

Boston-area favorites The Gibson Brothers will be at the Boston Bluegrass Union‘s regular venue in Lexington on the 21st.  The BBU still calls it the National Heritage Museum, though it is now the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, which is an impossible name to remember.

Eric and Leigh Gibson have performed live in Sumptuous Studio B at least twice, and should draw many fans to the Museum—get your tickets in advance!

Opening will be the Seth Sawyer Band from Vermont.  Details:

National Heritage Museum
(Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library)
33 Marrett Road, Lexington, MA
7:30pm (box office opens at 6:30pm)
$27 for Members
$29 for Non-Members

Click here to buy advance tickets
on-line via credit card.


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Mark Brine Stopping By Saturday the 31st

UPDATE 6Jan17: Had fun chatting with Mark about old times and new.  A couple of corrections: Mark is currently back in Maryland, to be closer to his grandchildren.  And his musical history goes back farther than the ’80s.  Looking forward to his next visit!  /CL

Mark Brine is an old friend of Hillbilly at Harvard.  He is a native Cantabrigian, has spent many years in Baltimore, and currently lives near Nashville.  He’s been visiting and singing his original songs and traditional country standards since at least the 1980s.  This week he’s in town and will be performing at Sally O’Brien’s in Union Square, Somerville, Tuesday January 3rd, at 7 PM with friends.  Which friends, we’re not sure, but Mark will tell us Saturday, when he visits the show on the 31st.  Tune in!


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Time for “The Montreal Express”!


Cold Turkey, on our driveway this morning.

(16Dec) Yep, it was 3º F on the river in Saxonville this morning.  Although the storm tomorrow is supposed to change from snow to rain and warmer temps during the day, I’ll try to remember to play “The Montreal Express”—see the post HERE for the history of this song.  And go HERE for the latest on our constantly-changing December schedule [Just updated 23Dec16].  /CL

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Hits & Misses 3

Continuing this occasional department.  Previous entries: H&M 1; H&M2

jamestown-revival• Jamestown Revival: The Education of a Wandering Man (2016, Republic/UMG) New

This is mostly rock-‘n’-roll.  But it also draws heavily on country.  The duo of Zach Chance and Jonathan Clay sound remarkably like The Everly Brothers, and this album treads in the same uneasy ground between country and pop-rock that the Everlys so successfully exploited.  Listen to “Journeyman”:

Could this get on pop or even country radio today?  I doubt it, but it’s getting on HAH—or some of it, anyway.  Besides “Journeyman,” “American Dream” (with a country-novelty feel); “I’ve Always Been Wild” (a Billy-Jo-Shaveresque anthem); “Back to Austin” (sounding like a modern Delmore Brothers tune); and “Done Me Wrong” (would be right at home on a David Allen Coe or John Anderson album from a couple of decades ago—only with better production); all making the cut.

I like the rockier cuts, too, even if they won’t make it onto HAH air; I love duet albums, and these two guys are one hot duet.  Sure they aren’t brothers named Phil and Don?

A country-enough HIT. Available HERE.  /CL

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Hits and Misses 2

Continuing this occasional department. . . (Number 1 is HERE.)

Chuck Cusimano: Cold in Colorado (Cusimusico Records, 2015) New
chuck-cusimano-cold-in-coloradoChuck Cusimano has a newer album out, which we’ll get to, but this one was new to me only a few months ago (thanks to Lorraine Simon, our Secret Agent in Texas—when she visits, that is).  Chuck is originally from Colorado, where his cowboy father had a “Western Swing Dance Band,” but this is Texas music, where country is more the king than in Nashville.  Chuck, who looks like a well-fed Grandpa Jones, is an amazingly talented songwriter, singer, and guitarist.  “Within this album,” he writes, “are small tributes to some of my Country Music Heros,” songs that fit the styles, respectively, of Merle Haggard (“I Surrender”), Mel Tillis (“She’s Guilty of Lovin’ a Fool”), Waylon Jennings (“Saving Grace”), Charley Pride (I Won’t Need It Anymore”), Ernest Tubb (Swingin’ Christmas”), and George Jones—and Chuck is surely right about “I Said Nothing,” which is a powerful statement that would have been a hit right now if ‘country’ radio were still playing country music, even without George to sing it.

“The other songs,” writes Chuck, “just fell out of my pen and landed on the paper.”  But they aren’t at all slight, ranging from the comical, swinging “Are You Gonna Miss Me When I’m Gone,” and the clever “I Won’t Need It Anymore,” which indeed would have fit Country Charlie Pride like a suit from Mr Nudie:

I took my clothes from the closet,
I took my tools from the garage;
I took my pillow, so I’d have something to hold.
I took my razor and my toothbrush, and then I closed the door.
I took everything except my heart—
I won’t need it anymore

to the poignant song called “Difference,” which you can hear:

A stone-country Hit.  Available from Chuck HERE.

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Program Notes for December

UPDATE 4B! (23Dec16): No, not another schedule change.  Had a pleasant half hour or so chatting with David Greely last Saturday (though I had to run out in the snow in my sandals to bring him to the correct door), and listening to his stories and great old Cajun fiddle tunes.  Check out his website HERE; he teaches Cajun fiddling and singing via Skype, too!

And yes, tomorrow is Christmas Eve, and time for the Hillbilly at Harvard Christmas Jamboree.  You don’t want to miss a minute!  /CL

UPDATE 4A! (16Dec16): Just to keep life interesting, the forecast now calls for 3–5″ of snow tomorrow morning, changing to freezing rain and then rain in the afternoon.  Could be a mess keeping me at home, or no big deal.  We’ll assume the latter for now. . . /CL

UPDATE 4! (15Dec16): Yet another update!  Are we having fun yet?  I’m getting better, and the head-cold isn’t, which is a good thing.  The dog’s eye is no better, which is not good.  We took him to a doggie eye specialist, who diagnosed a non-infective ulceration in the left eye, and performed a keratotomy, which has a good record of treating this problem.  This means we’re staying home, managing Ali’s Elizabethan Collar and eye drops, and not traveling to Virginia.  Oh well.

So, to get to the point, the show this Saturday will be a regular one, with maybe a little Christmas sprinkled in, and Saturday the 24th will host our Christmas Extravaganza (come to think of it, that’s when it was originally scheduled, before all the updates!).

There, that’s settled!  Except I don’t know if we’ll see David Greely or not.  Don’t look to hard at that electron—you never know where it’ll end up.  Just for fun, I’ll make this one green. /CL

UPDATE 3! (9Dec16): Well, I’ve come down with a cold, and while I’m still coming in tomorrow, I warned off David Greely, who has important performing obligations, and so I expect he’ll listen.  Maybe we’ll see him on. . .

December 17th, which will not be pre-recorded, as we’re still dealing with Ali’s eye infection (another story), but may well be our annual Christmas Extravaganza—because we’re still hoping to get to Virginia, which would make the 24th a pre-recorded show.

All clear?  This is a lesson in not forecasting.  As Tommy Duncan sang, “Time Changes Everything” (From the film, Blazing the Western Trail):

That ought to make up for some of the confusion!  /CL

UPDDATE 2 (4Dec16): December 3rd is over and done; had a good time with Victor and then Ruth; hope you all heard.  Corrections below. To summarize:

David Greely will be coming in next Saturday, the 10th.

December 17th may or may not be pre-recorded.

December 24th will or will not occur.  It all depends on Ali—and on events in VA (where grandson Sam just had an emergency appendectomy!) /CL

UPDATE!  CHANGE OF PLANS!  Our dog Ali has an eye infection that will likely require us to postpone our trip to Virginia.  So the schedule below for the 10th, 17th, and 24th will change.  Stay tuned!  /CL

Events (and a non-event) for the next four Saturdays:

December 3rd, c. 10 AM: Victor Evdokimoff is coming by to talk about his experiences playing with The Lilly Brothers at the Hillbilly Ranch, and his recent article, “Hillbilly Ranch Memories, with The Lilly Brothers” in Bluegrass Unlimited (November).

ruthrappaportDecember 3rd, c. 11 AM: Ruth Rappaport, formerly of The Poodles, has been playing traditional old-timey music in and about the region for many years.  She has a new CD out, and a CD-release party at The Burren in Davis Square (247 Elm St, Somerville) on Friday, December 9th; we’ll play a couple of tunes from the CD and catch up.  More about Ruth HERE.

December 10th: Pre-recorded show!  I’ll be out of town, visiting daughter Sarah and family in Powhatan, Virginia.  Taking Amtrak Northeast Corridor Train no. 93 on Tuesday the 6th; if you’re on that train, come by and say hello!
Maybe the 17th?  We’ll see how the dog does.

December 17th 10th: Cajun fiddler David Greely, who is starring in “The Christmas Revels 2016 – An Acadian-Cajun Celebration of the Winter Solstice” (17 performances at Sanders Theatre at Harvard, beginning December 9th) will be visiting, sometime after 10 AM.  I’m hoping he’ll bring his fiddle and play a few tunes for us—maybe a Christmas tune?  For information about this year’s Revels, go HERE,  and for David’s website, HERE.

December 24th: The Hillbilly at Harvard Christmas Extravaganza [or. . . maybe not—see UPDATE 3, above]: (almost) four hours of the very best, and the very worst, of country Christmas music.  Actually, not the worst, as we eschew the lushly over-produced standards from major artists that the labels burdened us with; but the silliest, to be sure.  Surely you remember “Everett the Evergreen”?


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Hits and Misses

Launching an irregular department of New and/or NTM (new-to-me), or RTI (’round-to-it) records; ’NTM’ can be items that might be old, but I’ve just discovered; RTI might be records I’ve been playing for a while, or for ages, or something just recovered in one of my fitful episodes of filing.

• Norah Jones: Day Breaks (Blue Note Records) New
norah-jones-day-breaksA few months ago I was surprised to get a Norah Jones single from Blue Note, which of course is a jazz label.  Norah is not a country singer, though she has recorded country songs.  The single featured a song Norah wrote, called “Carry On,” and it had a country feel (despite a jazz arrangement and an almost countrypolitan chorus); I played it on the show.

The whole album finally arrived a couple of weeks ago.  It contains mostly songs written or co-written by Norah.  Her singing is lovely, as usual; most of the songs are languid, loungy, quiet.  It makes pleasant listening, but—it’s not country.  Besides “Carry On,” I might try Neil Young’s “Dont Be Denied,” and maybe one or two others, but that’s it for HAH.  Color me disappointed: a Miss, but not for Norah Jones fans.

• Becky Warren: War Surplus (no label) New
beckywarren-warsurplus-cover-small-300x274Every time I hear this it gets more country.  The album’s being marketed as Americana, but if you want “three chords and the truth,” here  it is.  The album is not light, though there is an undercurrent of cynical humor (“Three thousand miles from a decent beer”).  It’s 12 songs that are snapshots of a relationship between a rough girl named June (“Call Me Sometime”) and a infantryman named Scott, who cames home from Iraq shell-shocked (now called ‘PTSD’) and finds it all falling apart (“Anything That Lasts”):

Heaven help me, I don’t know what’s wrong/
I went away and came back gone.

I can’t play that one, the last song on the album, because it uses the four-letter s-word, so you’ll have to buy the album to hear it.  And you should.  The writing is brilliant, the singing is compelling, and you’ll experience a lot you haven’t thought about, or maybe buried somewhere.   A definite Hit.  Available HERE.

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Here’s the Met Opry Schedule for 2016-7

whrb_logoThe Metropolitan Opera broadcast season begins December 3rd.  There are only four Saturdays (including the first one) with an earlier start (12:30 PM).  So HAH will be mostly curtailed by only about 15 minutes for David Elliott‘s Prelude to the Met.  Fans of grand opera (as it used to be called) should also remember to tune in to David’s enthralling Post-Met Vocal Program at the end of each broadcast from Lincoln Center.

December 3
12:30 —> Hillbilly at Harvard ends c. 12:15

December 10
L’AMOUR DE LOIN (Saariaho) — New Production/Met Premiere
1:00 —> Hillbilly at Harvard ends c. 12:45

December 17
SALOME (R. Strauss)
1:00 —> Hillbilly at Harvard ends c. 12:45

December 24
HANSEL AND GRETEL (Humperdinck) — in English — Performance from January 1, 2008
1:00 —> Hillbilly at Harvard ends c. 12:45

December 31
L’ITALIANA IN ALGERI (Rossini) — Performance from Fall 2016
1:00 —> Hillbilly at Harvard ends c. 12:45

January 7
1:00 —> Hillbilly at Harvard ends c. 12:45

January 14
LA BOHÈME (Puccini)
1:00 —> Hillbilly at Harvard ends c. 12:45

January 21
ROMÉO ET JULIETTE (Gounod) — New Production
1:00 —> Hillbilly at Harvard ends c. 12:45

January 28
1:00 —> Hillbilly at Harvard ends c. 12:45

February 4
1:00 —> Hillbilly at Harvard ends c. 12:45

February 11
CARMEN (Bizet)
1:00 —> Hillbilly at Harvard ends c. 12:45

February 18
I PURITANI (Bellini)
1:00 —> Hillbilly at Harvard ends c. 12:45

February 25
RUSALKA (Dvořák) — New Production
1:00 —> Hillbilly at Harvard ends c. 12:45

March 4
WERTHER (Massenet)
1:00 —> Hillbilly at Harvard ends c. 12:45

March 11
1:00 —> Hillbilly at Harvard ends c. 12:45

March 18
GUILLAUME TELL (Rossini) — New Production — Performance from Fall 2016
1:00 —> Hillbilly at Harvard ends c. 12:45

March 25
1:00 —> Hillbilly at Harvard ends c. 12:45

April 1
FIDELIO (Beethoven)
1:00 —> Hillbilly at Harvard ends c. 12:45

April 8
TRISTAN UND ISOLDE (Wagner) — New Production — Performance from October 8, 2016
1:00 —> Hillbilly at Harvard ends c. 12:45

April 15
AIDA (Verdi)
12:30 —> Hillbilly at Harvard ends c. 12:15

April 22
EUGENE ONEGIN (Tchaikovsky)
1:00 —> Hillbilly at Harvard ends c. 12:45

April 29
1:00 —> Hillbilly at Harvard ends c. 12:45

May 6
12:30 —> Hillbilly at Harvard ends c. 12:15

May 13
DER ROSENKAVALIER (R. Strauss) — New Production
12:30 —> Hillbilly at Harvard ends c. 12:15

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No Second Fiddle: Jean Shepard, 1933-2016

jean-shepard-honk-tonk-heroine-classic-capitol-recordings-1952-1962When I heard that Jean Shepard had died, the first thing I thought about was Pete the Cab Driver, as we knew him.  Miss Shepard was Pete Schindler‘s favorite singer, and the last time I heard from him he called to say thanks for playing one of her records.  Pete used to drive in the Boston area, and drop in now and then to our studios on Quincy St., under Sanders Theater, to say hello on a Saturday morning.  At some point he retired from cab-driving and moved to Derry, New Hampshire.  But he’d still call in now and then.

Gordy Brown reports that when he heard about Jean Shepard’s death, he also thought of Pete, and called to let him know.  But, sadly, he discovered that Pete himself had left us, back in February.  I never met Jean Shepard, nor saw her perform live, so in some ways Pete’s death months ago is more immediate to me.  In his absence, I’ll dedicate this note to him. Pete was a friendly fellow and a fan of traditional country music, who used to play Hillbilly at Harvard in his cab.  Sinc and I always enjoyed his visits.

Jean Shepard was country through and through.  Maybe that’s not surprising, as she came out of the Oklahoma-California axis that produced the Bakersfield Sound: Wynn Stewart, Buck Owens, Merle Haggard.  She was in fact an ‘Okie’, a daughter of sharecroppers who lived until age 11 in an Oklahoma cabin without electricity or running water, until her family moved to Visalia, California.   Even from a young age she could sing; in high school she was playing bass in a group called The Melody Ranch Girls, and caught Hank Thompson‘s attention, who recommended her to Ken Nelson at Capitol Records.  From Juli Thanki in The Nashville Tennessean:

“[Nelson] didn’t want to sign me. He wasn’t really sold on female singers,” she remembered in 2015. “But Hank Thompson was a very big artist at Capitol Records and he could demand things from (the label), which he did.”

With the exception of Kitty Wells and Patsy Montana, there were very few solo female artists in country music at that time. Labels didn’t see much viability or sales potential in women who weren’t part of an act. At first, it looked as though Shepard might have proven the record executives right when her debut single, 1952’s “Crying Steel Guitar Waltz,” failed to chart. Her next release, “A Dear John Letter,” a duet she recorded with Ferlin Husky, would be far more successful, selling more than one million records. It spent six weeks atop the country charts and hit No. 4 on the pop charts. It was the only No. 1 song of her career.

Many decades later Jean and Ferlin got together on one of Bill Anderson‘s gatherings, and talked about touring together, singing ‘Dear John’:

Her singing career was assured after that, but almost destroyed when her touring partner and husband of three years, country star Hawkshaw Hawkins was killed in the 1963 plane crash that also took the lives of Patsy Cline and Cowboy Copas,

leaving Shepard a widow, eight months pregnant and raising a toddler. Just weeks after the death of her husband, she gave birth to Harold Franklin Hawkins II. Her fellow Opry members rallied around her, and WSM president Jack DeWitt told her that her job would be waiting when she was ready to return.

One Saturday, several months after the crash, she came to the Ryman Auditorium and stood on the side of the stage, watching the other singers. A few Saturdays later, she mustered the courage to step into the spotlight begin performing again. Although she was grieving, she resumed her music career and worked tirelessly to support her two small boys. —Juli Thanki, The Nashville Tennessean

Here she is on a TV show, with ‘Hello, Old Broken Heart’, an Audrey and Joe Allison song:

Notice the the nice vocal touches, even a hint of falsetto.  At the same time, you can hear the confidence and determination in her singing; it’s a no-nonsense voice, pretty but straightforward.  She was one of the first women to achieve a solo career in ‘country and western’, as it was then known, starting as a teenager (after the huge success of ‘Dear John’, she began touring with Ferlin Husky), and persevering through a long series of charting (but never again number one) singles and albums.  From an NPR obituary:

[Jean] Shepard was invited to join the Grand Ole Opry in 1955, and she performed there until last year. But she didn’t get voted into the Country Music Hall of Fame until 2011, and many saw the honor as overdue. At the award ceremony, she spoke about the start of her career as a woman in country music. “As you know, there wasn’t none of us,” she said. “But I was happy to do my part. I hung in there like a hair on a grilled cheese.”

She had a spunky, confident personality, and never more so than in her defense of traditional country music.  Chances are, if we pull a Jean Shepard album out of the library, just about everything on it will be playable on Hillbilly at Harvard—no egregious ‘Countrypolitan’ production, no pop songs, or what used to be called ‘middle of the road’:

After two decades on Capitol, Shepard switched to United Artists in 1973. Her first single for the label, the Bill Anderson-penned “Slippin’ Away”, was her biggest solo hit since the fifties. She had five productive years with UA, keeping her a presence on the charts until the late seventies. During that period, she created a bit of controversy when she served as president of the Association of Country Entertainers, formed in response to Olivia Newton-John’s CMA Female Vocalist win in 1974. Of course, she was the perfect fit for an organization dedicated to keeping country music pure, as she was a more staunch traditionalist than any of her female contemporaries. . .  —Country Universe

And she never relented.  From a 2015 interview profile in the Tennessean:

. . . For her entire career, Shepard has been a fierce defender of the traditional country music she loves so dearly, even though the industry hasn’t always loved her back.
“It’s a good fight for a good cause and I mean that with all my heart,” she says. “Today’s country is not country, and I’m very adamant about that. I’ll tell anybody who’ll listen, and some of those who don’t want to listen, I’ll tell them anyway. … Country music today isn’t genuine.”

She was the genuine article.  She may have not achieved quite the celebrity of some of her peers (Kitty Wells, Patsy Cline) or those who followed in her footsteps (Loretta Lynn, Tammy Wynette, Dolly Parton), but she showed the record companies that female singers could command every bit of the audience that the males could.  She was no ‘Second Fiddle’:


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HAH History: The Committee Saves the Show!


Ol’ Sinc

Back about 1965 or 1966, Cousin Dave Schmalz was living in an apartment on Upland Rd. in Cambridge, which of course he called Upland Downs.  At one of his weekly poker parties, a WHRB member (whose name escapes me) turned up with the news that there was no one left at the Network (as the station was then called—it was part of the late-lamented Ivy Network) to host Hillbilly at Harvard.  This led to great consternation, much discussion, and ultimately a rescue mission to keep the program going, with long-time veterans and associates: as it turned out, a Committee!

There was Cousin Dave himself, who alone amongst the crew had ‘real radio’ experience (at WMEX, then a popular top-40 AM station in Boston); Uncle Ed Simpson, who had hosted HAH for a couple of years; Old Sinc (Brian Sinclair), who as Uncle Ed’s roommate and high-school friend had provided many of the records the show used when they were undergraduates; Byron Marshall, who had been my roommate and often helped behind the scenes; and for a while (before I left for other climes), me.

The show, which then ran from 10 AM to 12 noon, was joined in the Control Room by David Gesner (known as DurG), who spun the records and faced a withering competition through the glass to see which side made the most mistakes.

At the time, as they may do still, the Cambridge Trust Company in Harvard Square offered its Massachusetts Avenue windows to organizations for promotion.  After I departed, about 1968, our friend ‘Cousin Gwendolyn‘ took it upon herself to create a display for the resurrected Hillbilly at Harvard.  Somehow I inherited the poster, which has lived remarkably unscathed in a closet for all this time.  Just last week, I was cleaning out the closet, and thought: time for a little HAH history.

Of course the show goes back to Pappy Ben Minnich and ‘Barn Howl’ in 1948, but for those of us in what may laughably be called the younger generation, the Modern History of Hillbilly at Harvard begins with The Committee:


Cambridge Savings Bank display (poster and photographs Copyright © E. B. Boatner [‘Cousin Gwen’] 1968; used by permission).

Here’s The Committee closer up, resplendent in. . . well, hats:


Left to right: Cousin Dave, Uncle Ed, Ol’ Sinc, and Byron

And here they are, at their most professional, hard at work:

The Boys Review.jpg

Eventually Ed and Byron moved away, so by 1970 or so Sinc and Dave settled down to regularly hosting the show.  An hour for old-timey music was added at noon, and eventually incorporated into HAH.  Another hour was added, much later, to create the current four-hour show from 9 AM to 1 PM.  More about that anon. . .  /CL

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