Adiós Glen Campbell

(Hits and Misses 6)

• Glen Campbell: Adiós (2017, Universal)

Sinc Reviewing

Ol’ Sinc reviewing the latest Glen Campbell record (1968)

If you’ll look at my post from last September on Hillbilly at Harvard in the 1960s, ‘HAH History: The Committee Saves the Show’, and scroll down, you’ll see a photo entitled “The boys review the latest Glen Campbell record.” Ol’ Sinc is in the process of tearing a single in half. That tells you what we thought, in those days (the late 1960s) about Glen: he was a pop singer, not country enough for HAH.

And so he was. A son of Arkansas sharecroppers, he was a young guitar virtuoso who in his 20s made his way to Los Angeles, where his agile musical chops led him to the recording studios as part of the first-call Wrecking Crew, a collection of musicians who worked for artists of all styles, from Frank Sinatra to The Monkees to Merle Haggard, even The Beach Boys. And he could sing. Glen toured with the Beach Boys as a replacement for Brian Wilson, and was invited to join the group, but smartly elected to pursue a solo career.

His first single in 1961 was a straight pop record on Crest, a song that Glen wrote called “Turn Around, Look at Me.” But then a year later he was signed by Capitol Records and was featured in a somewhat poppy bluegrass record with a group called The Green River Boys. There’s probably a story here, but I don’t know it; it wasn’t a very good record. Capitol was evidently trying to find a niche for him, hence The Astounding 12-String Guitar of Glen Campbell (which we had in the HAH library—have to look for it!) and The Big Bad Rock Guitar of Glen Campbell (never saw that one). Then there came “Burning Bridges” (a Jack Scott song) and then the unlikely poetry of John Hartford, “Gentle on My Mind,” with Glen’s sensitive voice captivating radio listeners across the country and pop spectra. The song, says Wikipedia, is “ranked number 16 on BMI’s Top 100 Songs of the Century.”  Listen to this Nashville-in-the-round version, with Glen throwing in a fantastic guitar break (thanks to Scott Johnson of PowerLine for including this video in his RIP post):

I’m not sure of the date of that video, but Glen Campbell was already a superstar, with hits like “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” “Wichita Lineman,” and “Rhinestone Cowboy.” With his television show, and even the movies, he had managed to keep one foot in the country world, and another two or three feet in the pop world. But his Arkansas roots were never too far out of view. And they are gently revealed by producer, long-time friend and band-member Carl Jackson in a new album just released this spring, appropriately titled Adiós.


Album cover © Universal Music 2017

Glen recorded the vocals following his ‘Goodbye Tour’ in 2012, when it was announced he was suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease. Writes his (fourth) wife of 34 years, Kim Campbell, in the booklet notes to Adiós:

A new Glen Campbell album coming out in 2017 might seem a bit odd since he hasn’t performed since 2012, and even more odd – if not absolutely amazing – when you consider that he has Alzheimer’s disease. Glen’s abilities to play, sing and remember songs began to rapidly decline after his diagnosis in 2011. A feeling of urgency grew to get him into the studio once again to capture what magic was left. It was now or never. . .

Just as our new reality began to sink in, fate found us spending an afternoon with Carl Jackson . . . We reminisced about all of the songs that Glen had always wanted to record but had never gotten around to. Conversation sparked inspiration and the wheels were put in motion. . .

The process of capturing Glen’s vocals for Adiós was heartbreaking at times. . .Glen was barely able to remember the words he was singing at times. Carl held up sheets of paper with large print lyrics and fed them to him one line at a time. Although he struggled at times, he was clearly ecstatic about being in the studio. The songs flowed freely and clearly straight from his heart, and his voice and tone are still remarkably…unmistakably…him.

And indeed they are. Glen Campbell released more than 70 albums, many not so well known (see this Rolling Stone article,“Inside Glen Campbell’s Classic Forgotten Albums”), including a tribute album to Hank Williams, larded with strings, and most beyond my ken, but Carl Jackson’s song selection and tasteful—dare I say ‘country’?—production certainly elevates Adiós to ‘playable’ on Hillbilly at Harvard. Biggest treat for country-music fans is certainly a song by Roger Miller, “Am I All Alone (Or Is It Only Me),” introduced by Roger himself singing the first verse at a ‘guitar pull’ where Glen first heard the song (supplied by Roger’s wife Mary). Then we have Dickey Lee’s country anthem, “She Thinks I Still Care,” which Glen pulls off really well (though I’ll still take George Jones).

I have never cared for country-artists’ attempts at Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right,” but Glen Campbell’s Jerry-Reed influenced up-tempo version made me think of Merle Haggard. There are four Jimmy Webb songs on the album, reflecting his longtime collaboration with Glen. They all have that jazz-standard feel, but they are all moving and worth hearing; the title song, “Adiós,” also made me think it could be one for the Hag.

I really wish Ol’ Sinc were around to hear this album. It’s 50 years since his comical ‘review’ photo, but I think he’d like it; it’s ‘country’ enough. Carl Jackson himself wrote a song about Glen’s rural origins, “Arkansas Farmboy,” which Glen sings beautifully. Carl says in the notes that he wrote it in the late 1970s:

The song was inspired by a story that Glen told me about his Grandpa teaching him “In the Pines” on a five-dollar Sears & Roebuck guitar when he was only a boy. That guitar led to worldwide fame and fortune, far beyond what even some in his family could comprehend. I remember Glen’s dad, Wes, asking our drummer, Bob Felts, at the Hilton in Los Vegas after Glen had become a household name… “Wonder what ol’ Glen makes an hour?”

Kudos to Carl Jackson and to Kim Campbell for making it clear with this album of songs that Glen had wanted to record, that he might have been a popular-music star, but he was also a country boy. Their reflections in the notes alone are worth the price of admission, and the whole album—design, notes, photography, production, and of course the singing and playing—is a masterpiece, a splendid tribute to a great artist. /CL

NOTE: Glen Travis Campbell, born 1936, died of complications of Alzheimer’s Disease, shortly after this album was released, age 81.  RIP.

[Continuing this occasional department.  Previous entries: Hits and Misses 1; 2; 3; 4; 5]

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Hits and Misses 5

Continuing this occasional department.  Previous entries: H&M 1; 2; 3; 4

• Tom Ewing: Adventures of a Bluegrass Boy (2016, Patuxent Music)

I can’t do more than to quote Tom Ewing himself:


Between 1986 and 1996, while I was one of Bill Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys, I had many great adventures. But few equaled the ones involved with the making of these recordings. Unfortunately, most were released on cassette tapes at a time when the CD was making cassettes obsolete, and I was unable to afford to convert them to the new technology. Now, thanks to Tom Mindte of Patuxent Music, I can share these adventures with you.

I don’t recall hearing much of Tom Ewing’s own work, so this was an unexpected, and as it turned out, delightful treat.  Tom sings a confident, mellow lead that reminds me at times of Carter Stanley (who Bill Monroe said was the greatest lead singer he ever worked with).  The picking is impeccable, with familiar players from the ’80s and ’90s, and the songs are a wonderful mix of traditional (can’t think of the last time I heard “Please Come Back, Little Pal”) and—to my great surprise—a large helping (eight out of 14) of originals by Tom himself.  Original, yes, but right in the heart of the mountain bluegrass tradition, gems really.  Here’s a sample, a tribute to his own home state of Ohio (and the only song I recall about that state):

I can’t think of an new album I’ve enjoyed more right out of the folder.  If you’re taking a trip, get a copy and toss it into the CD player.  You’ll be tapping your toes and singing along.  Kudos to Tom Mindte of Patuxent Music for issuing these long-neglected performances from the very core of bluegrass-style country music.  A HIT, for sure! /CL

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Off Again—Pre-Recorded Saturday the 13th

UPDATE (19May17)—or maybe it’s a ‘Downdate’:  We’re back from Wisconsin, but I’m down with a nasty cold (are there other kinds?) that seems to be devolving into bronchitis.  So you’ll be treated to four full hours of pre-recorded HAH tomorrow.  Sit back and enjoy it! /CL

Yup, we’re on the road—or rather rails again, this time on the Lake Shore Limited to Chicago, then on the Empire Builder, but only as far as Columbus, Wisconsin.  Dr Janie’s brother and his wife, Wally and Barb, picked us up and drove us to their home in Sun Prairie, WI (a suburb of Madison).  We’ll also see my cousin Spike, who lives in Madison, and Dr J’s niece Casey and her family as well.  The show will be pre-recorded, actually ending early for the last of the season Met Opry and “Prelude to the Met” with David Elliott (12:15).  We’ll reverse literal tracks next week, so I should be back for a full four hours on the May 20th.

It’s nice that Amtrak has made a point of retaining the names of some of the nation’s most famous long-distance trains, like the California Zephyr and the Capitol Limited, and others, including of course the two I mentioned above.  The Lake Shore Limited has two sections, one originating in Boston, the other in New York.  At 6:00 PM (more or less—more on Wednesday as we got delayed in Pittsfield waiting for the eastbound LSL on the single-track line) the two trains meet at Albany-Rensselaer and link up, minus the locomotives from one.  Here they are, from Boston on the left, and NYC on the right:


Boston section left, NYC section right, of the Lake Shore Ltd, at Albany-Rensselaer, Wednesday 10May17 (Copyright © L. E. Joiner 2017)

Although the New York locomotive bore the more striking ‘Empire Service’ colors, the pair of P42 Genesis locomotives from Boston won the day, and took over the combined 15-car train, overnight to Chicago.

That’s for the railfans in the audience.  I’ll be back live with country music on the 20th. /CL

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Roses in the Snow

Over on the estimable Watts Up With That? website, New Englander Ric Werme has posted a meteorological recollection of the May snowstorm in 1977: “40 Years Ago: Massachusetts Snags a Memorable Snowfall in May Storm.”

May Snowstorm

I remember that snow well, and often refer to it when chatting with other New Englanders about our variable weather.  Dr Janie and I were living in Newton Corner at the time. The day after the storm it was delightful to see the spring flowers with garlands of bright white snow in the sun.  Nowadays I always think of this song:

Of course the roses probably weren’t out yet, and the album wasn’t released until 1980, but whenever I play the song, it reminds me of May 9th, 1977.

Read Rick Werme’s post, and the Comments as well (unlike so many Internet sites, always a treat and an education).  I posted this video there as well.  /CL

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Hits and Misses 4: Loretta Lynn’s ‘Full Circle’

Continuing this occasional department.  Previous entries: H&M 1; H&M 2; H&M 3

• Loretta Lynn: Full Circle (2016, Sony Legacy)

I’ve been meaning to do a little capsule on this album ever since it came out last year.  Now Loretta has been sidelined with a stroke (see below), making it more important not to wait to give her flowers.

Loretta-Full CircleThis is a wonderful album.  John Carter Cash and Patsy Lynn Russell (Loretta’s daughter) have been recording her since 2007, and according to the former have about a hundred songs in the can.  What can I say?  Loretta just turned 85, so she started recording these songs at 75.  She sounds as strong and clear and distinctively ‘Loretta’ as she did at 35!

The program is a mix of hits and favorites, including some old traditional numbers, like “Black Jack David” and “In the Pines.”   This new version of “Fist City” may even be more powerful than the original.  The CD begins with Loretta describing how she wrote her first song (and first album), “Whispering Sea,” and then she sings it.  What a moment!  A 25-year-old mother of four in the Pacific Northwest makes an album on her own, her husband Doolittle gets Speedy West to produce, and an enormous talent is unleashed upon the world.

Here’s Loretta recording “Whispering Sea,” with John Carter Cash producing:

My favorite is the T. Graham Brown-Bruce Burch-Ted Hewitt co-written “Wine Into Water,” for its poignant message.  But I could listen to Loretta sing “I Never Will Marry” with just Randy Scruggs on guitar and Will Smith on autoharp all day long.  The production of the whole album is impeccable.  The addition of Elvis Costello and Willie Nelson on the last two songs does no harm.  All told, a splendid HIT.  Available everywhere.

LATEST NEWS, from Loretta Lynn’s official website (Friday May 5th):

American country music legend Loretta Lynn was admitted into a hospital in Nashville Thursday night after she suffered a stroke at her home in Hurricane Mills, Tennessee.
She is currently under medical care and is responsive and expected to make a full recovery.

Loretta, who just celebrated her 85th birthday, has been advised by her doctors to stay off the road while she is recuperating. Regrettably, upcoming scheduled shows will be postponed.

For information on when shows will be rescheduled, fans are encouraged to visit

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Pre-recorded Show Saturday the 22nd–with Update


New bridge over Sand Creek in the Powhatan woods (copyright © L. E. Joiner)

We finally made it down to Virginia to visit with daughter Sarah and her family.  Last December we were frustrated by our dog Ali’s problems with a corneal abrasion, requiring daily eyedrops and an ‘Elizabethan Collar’.  This Tuesday Ali developed what the vet ended up calling a ‘dietary indiscretion’ two hours before train time.  With prescribed medication and train rescheduling, we got off yesterday (Thursday) on Northeast Regional No. 93.  It was a pleasant ride down to Richmond, and today we explored the new paths Sarah and James made in the 11-acre woods and marsh in Powhatan where the kids plan to build a house.  Enjoy the Generic Hours, and I’ll be back next week.  /CL

UPDATE Monday, 24Apr17: Here’s a photo of me towing the three grandsons (Sam, Miles, Jeff) with the little hand-me-down yard tractor last Friday.  Since then it has been raining steadily and we have been confined indoors.  Oh well; the trees love it.  We did get over to the Virginia Historical Society museum in Richmond, which is definitely worth visiting—they have an original Conestoga wagon, among many other interesting exhibits. /CL

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Me and the Grandkids (photo copyright © S. J. Reilly 2017)

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No Particular Place to Go


Chuck Berry, in 1958 publicity photo (PD, via Wikipedia)

Chuck Berry reportedly wrote that title in prison (for transporting a 14-year-old girl across state lines, violating the Mann Act).  The song devolves into an amusing anecdote when the the protagonist cannot get the young lady’s ‘safety belt’ unbuckled, but after the first verse, where else could you go?

Riding along in my automobile
My baby beside me at the wheel
I stole a kiss at the turn of a mile
My curiosity runnin’ wild
Crusin’ and playin’ the radio
With no particular place to go

It was my favorite Chuck Berry song, in large part because “No particular place to go” fits so perfectly into the Berry-meter (which doubtless has a name, but I don’t know it), making it fun to repeat.  It’s one of those felicitous occasions when the language almost drives the music.  Chuck Berry was really good at finding the sweet spot between lyric and meter, Shakespearesque perhaps.

I also relished the spirit of “No particular place to go.”  It just embodied the restless idleness of youth.  The movie American Graffiti built a whole story around cruisin’.  Of course, Chuck Berry was no teenager when he wrote the song, but he really did have “No particular place to go”:

Ridin’ along in my calaboose
Still tryin’ to get her belt unloose
All the way home I held a grudge,
But the safety belt, it wouldn’t budge

Cruisin’ and playin’ the radio
With no particular place to go.

He was in his own calaboose.

Chuck developed a winning formula of his own inventive rock-‘n’-roll licks, clever lyrics, and simple stories that appealed to a much wider public than the rhythm-and-blues he had grown up with.  Like Elvis, who mixed country and blues, Chuck Berry came from the other direction.  His music had distinctly ‘hillbilly’ themes, and that was no accident:

By early 1953 Berry was performing with Johnnie Johnson’s trio, starting a long-time collaboration with the pianist. The band played mostly blues and ballads, but the most popular music among whites in the area was country. Berry wrote, “Curiosity provoked me to lay a lot of our country stuff on our predominantly black audience and some of our black audience began whispering ‘who is that black hillbilly at the Cosmo?’ After they laughed at me a few times they began requesting the hillbilly stuff and enjoyed dancing to it.” (From Wikipedia, quoting Chuck Berry, The Autobiography, Harmony Books 1989)

Clearly he was no musical tourist.  Along the way he had steeped himself in country music:

At the end of June 1956, his song “Roll Over Beethoven” reached number 29 on the Billboard’s Top 100 chart, and Berry toured as one of the “Top Acts of ’56”. He and Carl Perkins became friends. Perkins said that “I knew when I first heard Chuck that he’d been affected by country music. I respected his writing; his records were very, very great.” As they toured, Perkins discovered that Berry not only liked country music but also knew about as many songs as he did. Jimmie Rodgers was one of his favorites. “Chuck knew every Blue Yodel and most of Bill Monroe’s songs as well”, Perkins remembered. “He told me about how he was raised very poor, very tough. He had a hard life. He was a good guy. I really liked him.” (from Wikipedia, quoting Perkins, Carl; McGee, David (1996), Go, Cat, Go! Hyperion Press. pp. 215, 216.)

So it has been all along.  Jimmy Rodgers brought the blues into ‘hillbilly’ music, and Bill Monroe’s bluegrass did the same thing.  In the first part of the 20th century, there were ‘Hillbilly’ records and ‘Race’ records, for white and black audiences.  By the 1950s they had a child: Rock-‘n’-Roll records.

I never saw Chuck Berry live, but the video clips of his live performances show what a delight he took in performing, and his enormous mastery of his art.  Not so much in singing as in guitar playing and story-telling.  What ebulliance!  Look at the interaction he has with his piano player and the rest of the band in the coda to the wonderful “You Never Can Tell”:

It’s more than than a teen-age dance party.  It’s balladry and great music.  He really did have a place to go, and he went there in style.  Only in America.  /CL

[UPDATE: Thanks to Scott Johnson of the estimable PowerLine Blog for adding a link to this post in their ‘Picks’ list.  Visiting music fans are invited to browse through this blog (when you get to the bottom of a page, click ‘Older Posts’).  You might be interested in posts on some other musicians we lost recently, e.g. Ralph Stanley, Guy Clark, Merle Haggard, and Jean Shepard/CL]

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Another Excellent Joe Val Festival!

NOTE: For higher-resolution versions of the photographs, go to Flickr, HERE. (They won’t be super high, because with my Rebel T2i-Tamron 18-270 combination, I still needed to shoot at 3200 ISO, but they will be better than the ones that are reduced here for space.)

Yes, it was festival time once again for the Boston Bluegrass Union.  I got over Friday evening in time to catch a little of the much-talked-about Mile Twelve (Evan Murphy, guitar; Bronwyn Keith-Hynes, fiddle; Nate Sabat, bass; Catherine [BB] Bowness, banjo; and newcomer David Benedict, mandolin).  While not all Berklee grads, they all bear the stamp of young, Boston-based virtuosi.  I enjoyed the part of their set I heard, and though found it a little on the folky side, they can certainly can handle the country sound of bluegrass.  Here’s a video from an earlier Club Passim gig (before mandolin player David Benedict joined):

img_1114_smOf course, I had packed up my camera, with an extra battery—and left it on the table at home.  I remembered it on the way across the parking lot to the Sheraton.  Unlike previous years of bitter cold, or blowing snow, this was a pleasantly mild weekend, but I elected to proceed, thinking that maybe I could use my iPhone.  But shooting from the audience, it was a washout, literally (see example at right).  Oh well.

The next band was new to me, but turned out to be a real treat: Jeff Scroggins and Colorado.  Change the vowel, and you realize that Jeff could be ‘Scruggins’, and that would be apropos, as he is a terrific banjo player.  Whether for this event or not, but he let his very long hair down, to the point where you wondered how he could see his instrument, but then he probably didn’t need to.  His son Tristan is probably the most energetic mandolin player I’ve ever seen; he seemed to be bouncing up and down like one of those balloons on a string, yet somehow playing forceful but pointed (and I imagine difficult) mandolin lines.  The fiddler, an Arizona State Champion named Ellie Hakanson was no slouch either, complementing Tristan and Jeff—and the flat-picking guitar work of Greg Blake, who is (not incidentally) a fine lead singer (he gave me a copy of his own album, which I heartily recommend) .  The bass player was a fill-in, and I didn’t catch her name, but she propelled the entertaining tempo of the band (even the slow songs) well.   These folks wowed the audience with sheer energy and musicianship.

Again, no camera, so I’ll substitute a YouTube video that that’ll give you a sense of how much fun this band is:

Now I’m a fan of Joe Mullins and the Radio Ramblers, as those of you who listen to HAH know well, but I have to admit that after JS&C they were a bit of mullinsfest17an anticlimax.   Joe is a broadcaster himself (he owns a network of three radio stations in SW Ohio) and was in his best radio presentation voice for the audience.  His show was a tutorial in bluegrass history, and the songs impeccably done.  Before the show I talked briefly with Joe; he remembered appearing on HAH some years before—I think it was with Dudley Connell and James King, when they had just recorded one of the Longview ‘supergroup’ albums for Rounder.  Joe told me that he puts on an indoor festival of his own, like the JVF, in a convention center in Wilmington, Ohio.  Here’s the flyer, from the Radio Ramblers website:

I couldn’t stay Friday night to hear Frank Solivan and Dirty Kitchen, starting at 10:55 PM; have to get up Saturday morning for this radio show. . .

But I got back Saturday evening in time for a little of Flashback, mid-set.  I recognized Don Rigsby, but it took a while before I realized this was a ‘supergroup’; besides Don on mandolin, there was Phil Leadbetter on resonator guitar (which I call a ‘Dobro’ even when it isn’t), Richard Bennett on guitar and singing leads (not the Nashville guitarist and producer Richard Bennett), Curt Chapman on bass, and Stuart Wyrick on banjo.  Turns out they were all, except Stuart, veterans of J. D. Crowe and the New South, who had reunited as “The Flashback Band” in 1995, winning a Grammy, and now (minus J. D.) are rejuvenating that name.  This time, I had my camera, so here are some photos (click to enlarge):

Unfortunately, I got the impression they were going through the motions, no pizzazz.  Whether they were resting on their laurels, or just tired from festival activities, I can’t say, but after a while I gave up and headed out to sample some of the pickers jamming in the hallways and alcoves, who while not past masters were clearly having a lot more fun. Here are some (apologies for not getting names to go with the photos; click to enlarge):

Maybe having two shows, afternoon and evening, is wearying, but The Grascals who followed Flashback also seemed a little tired.  Or maybe the sound wasn’t punchy enough.  They had a lot more energy than Flashback, though, and the crowd was enthusiastic.  The new co-lead singer (with Terry Eldredge), John Bryan, is a worthy successor to Jamie Johnson, and the vocals and instrumental work are jes’ fine.  I was happy to hear them do “Me and John and Paul,” the moving Harley Allen song from their first album, and I even put up with “Last Train to Clarksville.”  The other Grascals are Danny Roberts, mandolin; Terry Smith, bass; Kristin Scott Benson, banjo; and Adam Haynes, fiddle.  Some photos (click to enlarge):

Don’t know why, but Doyle Lawson’s headline band spent a long time fiddling with the sound before their set, and the result was much improved; everything popped out, but without being overwhelming.  Doyle is like Del: age does not seem to diminish his presence or his performance, and Doyle always looks splendid in his Grand Ol’ Opry-style duds.  The personnel of his band changes regularly, but somehow he always manages to find singers who are a cut above the usual, and whose instrumental skills are as well.  Doyle has feet in both the bluegrass and gospel circuits, and that doubtless helps recruitment.  The current band: Josh Swift, Dobro; Joe Dean, banjo; Dustin Pyrtle, guitar; Eli Johnston, bass; Stephen Burwell, fiddle.  The sound of Quicksilver remains amazingly consistent over the three decades, and it is always a rare treat to hear them.  Their 90-minute set ran well past midnight, and my tired guests had spent all day on the train up from Richmond, but we stayed to the end; it was worth it.  Here are some pics (click to enlarge):

Sunday afternoon I had to get the Festival by 12:30 to see Danny Paisley and The Southern Grass.  I was not disappointed.  I’ve seen Danny now and again for years, since he was a youngster with his dad Bob, but on this occasion he was just terrific.  Maybe it was the IBMA Male Vocalist of the Year award last Fall, but his singing was clearer and more powerful than I had ever heard it, especially in the ballads, which were especially moving.  I can’t recall hearing more soulful singing since the now unhappily-late James King was at the Festival a couple of years ago.  I said then, to anyone who would listen, “This is the real thing.”  So is Danny.  There’s still the authentic Galax sound that the Paisleys and the Lundys carried with them to Delaware at the founding of the Southern Mountain Boys, later the Southern Grass.  Danny has T. J. Lundy back playing mountain-bluegrass fiddle; his young son Ryan playing a solid, inventive mandolin; Eric Troutman on bass and high tenor; and Mark Delaney on banjo (I play Mark’s own album Sidecar [Patuxent Music, 2008] a lot; with Danny, Mark plays a straight-ahead traditional style, but with inventive winks behind vocals and on breaks).  My Festival favorite band this year (click to enlarge):

Becky Buller emailed me about doing a ‘phoner’ (radio talk for a telephone interview), but we’re not set up for it in Studio BC, where HAH originates; however, Gerry Katz sent along a promotional announcement for the Festival, which I was happy to play (holding my iPhone up to the mic—don’t ask), and Becky sent along a copy of her 2014 album, ‘Tween Earth and Sky (Dark Shadow, 2014), which I had never heard and quickly got on the air.  So I was looking forward to seeing her in person (much taller than I expected!), and hearing this IBMA multiple-award winner (Songwriter, Fiddler, Female Vocalist) live.  I was not disappointed.  The band features guitarist-singer Daniel Boner, doing a lot of duets with Becky (Dan is the Director of the East Tennessee State University’s Bluegrass, Old Time, and Country Music Studies program, but apparently finds time to tour with The Becky Buller Band—not a bad gig!); mandolinist Nate Lee; banjo picker Ned Luberecki (who teaches banjo on SirusXM radio!); and on bass, Daniel Hardin, who also works at the Jack Daniels Distillery in Lunchburg, TN—another good gig, I guess).  This is a modern bluegrass band with a traditional bent, playing a lot of originals, especially Becky’s own.  They closed with the three-fiddle tour-de-force, setting lyrics to Bill Monroe’s instrumental “Southern Flavor” (Bronwyn Keith-Hynes and Laura Orshaw joined Becky on fiddles for this one).  Pics (click to enlarge):

Blue Highway is. . .  Blue Highway.  Once I used to think they were too modern for HAH, but by this point ‘tradition’ has encompassed them as well, and they have helped it along with more three-chord tunes.  Their latest Rounder album (have they ever been on another label?), Original Traditional, cements that impression with new songs in an older vein.  The band has been together for more than twenty years, with only one change: Gaven Largent replaced Rob Ickes on Dobro in 2015; except for being markedly younger, he fits right in musically.  Wayne Taylor (bass) was sidelined for a while with heart trouble and major surgery, but has emerged on stage singing as wonderfully as ever.  Wayne may be the strongest force on Blue Highway for traditional country music, bluegrass-style—just get a copy of It’s About Time (from—and he anchors the vocal trios, standing right in the center.  Jason Burleson plays banjo; he took a break from Blue Highway for a couple of years (1998-2000) when Tom Adams filled in, but otherwise shares the ‘original’ honors with Tim Stafford (guitar), and Shawn Lane (mandolin).  No fiddle in the band, but the Dobro makes up for it.  Always an entertaining and vital show (click to enlarge):

At some point, a few years ago, the BBU decided to reverse the usual festival custom of having things wind down Sunday, as people packed up and left.  Having an indoor festival in February, with no campers, may have helped them realize that a strong Sunday afternoon could be a huge audience pleaser.  And it is!  As if Danny Paisley, Becky Buller, and Blue Highway weren’t enough, Stan Zdonick and company brought in two-time IBMA Entertainers of the Year, Lester and Earl revivalists, The Earls of Leicester.  Not to my surprise, they packed the house.

The Earls of Leicester are not The Foggy Mountain Boys.  I saw Lester Flatt, Earl Scruggs and all The Foggy Mountain Boys, along with Don Reno and Red Smiley (!), in a high-school gymnasium in North Carolina in the early ‘60s; I saw them again in Boston, maybe in Jordan Hall.  The Earls’ personalities are different, there are modern affectations that slip in, they are slicker pickers, they don’t have a comic bassman, and Jerry Douglas is way too tall to be Josh Graves.  But by golly, you can close your eyes, and they take you back.  You can open your eyes, and there they are, mostly around one mic, wearing hats and string ties, and you’re still back there.  But really, it’s the songs: “Ninety minutes of Flatt and Scruggs, only Flatt and Scruggs, no ‘Rocky Top’,” introduced Jerry Douglas.  I suppose half of the audience had heard a lot of the songs, from bluegrass compilations, and the aspiring pickers probably had followed along with many of them on CDs, but I’ll bet few could remember a Flatt and Scruggs concert, and this was as close as they’ll ever get to one.  The Earls of Leicester don’t ‘play’ the original members of the band, but they do play their music, and faithfully, too.

Notably, Paul Warren’s son Johnny fits right into his father’s shoes.  But I must confess to not knowing about him.  Turns out Johnny Warren followed his father’s advice,

“My dad died in 1978, but his advice to me was, ‘Do music as a hobby and find something where you can stay home with your family.’ That’s the only thing he missed, out there being gone for months at a time. And he didn’t want me to do that.” (from

and became a golf pro and teacher.  But he fiddles and works with the band like he’s been doing it full-time all his life.  Turns out he’s kept playing, and in fact has three albums of fiddle tunes (two are tributes to his father) out with Charlie Cushman, who superbly plays the (musical) role of Earl Scruggs with the Earls.  The role of Lester Flatt is taken by one of the best musicians ever to grace Nashville, singer-songwriter-guitarist Shawn Camp, accomplished at everything from commercial country to bluegrass, working with Guy Clark in between.  Shawn twists his mouth a little and sings enough like Lester to fit the role, without attempting a serious impersonation.  He’s not quite as mellow and laconic a singer as Lester was, but he’s close enough.  Barry Bales on bass does not resemble Jake Tullock, but he got the rhythm right, as far as I could tell, and joins in the quartet singing.  The only major gap might be Curly Seckler, whose distinctive vocal harmonies added so much to the unique sound of the Foggy Mountain Boys.  The Earls have used different mandolin players to plug that gap, and here it was Ashby Frank, who filled in admirably.

It was great fun hearing all those F&S songs again.  It was a delightful weekend.  Wished there had been time to take in the Showcase Stage bands, though; were they recorded?

Congratulations to all the folks at the Boston Bluegrass Union for once again managing one of the premier bluegrass festivals in the country.  I know it is a lot of work, but to those of us who just show up to be entertained, it seems effortless—which means you’re all doing it right. /CL

NOTE: For higher-resolution versions of the photographs, go to Flickr, HERE. (They won’t be super high, because with my Rebel T2i-Tamron 18-270 combination, I still needed to shoot at 3200 ISO, but they will be better than the ones that are reduced here for space.)

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The 32nd Annual Joe Val Bluegrass Festival!

jvf-2017-logo-300x225From the Boston Bluegrass Union—

Join the Boston Bluegrass Union and celebrate the legacy of the late Joe Val with three big days of indoor bluegrass at the Sheraton Framingham Hotel.

We have a great lineup of national and regional talent, expanded workshops, Kid’s Academy, music vendors, and round-the-clock jamming. Our 2006 event won the coveted “Event of the Year” award from the International Bluegrass Music Association.

We will have another great group of bands this year for the Joe Val Festival, including:

Jerry Douglas Presents The Earls of Leicester (IBMA Entertainer of the Year!)
Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver
Blue Highway
The Grascals
Danny Paisley & The Southern Grass (IBMA Male Vocalist of the Year!)
becky-buller-band-show-poster-blank-232x300The Becky Buller Band (IBMA Female Vocalist of the Year!)
Frank Solivan and Dirty Kitchen (IBMA Instrumental Group of the Year!)
Joe Mullins and The Radio Ramblers
Jeff Scroggins & Colorado
The Lonely Heartstring Band
The Surly Gentlemen
Bill and the Belles
Bluegrass Gospel Project
Mile Twelve
Berklee All-stars
The Feinberg Brothers
The Korey Brodsky Band

When: February 17-19, 2017
Where: Sheraton Framingham – Framingham, MA

For Tickets, Schedules, and much more information:

(“Just seven little keystrokes,” says Cousin Stan)

UPDATE: Reuben Shetler, in a comment below, advises that the full Main-Stage and Showcase-Stage schedules are now on the website, and each band’s name links to a profile of the band.  Go HERE.

There is no better way to spend a cold February weekend than listening to pickers and singers in every nook and cranny of this entire hotel.  Just wander around for three days and take it all in, or settle down in the Main Stage or the Showcase Stage, and relish some great music, Country Music Bluegrass Style!  I’ll be there, and I hope to see all of you as well!  /CL

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Memorial Party for Vicki—Now Sunday, April 9th, 1–6 PM!

[UPDATE 2: Now rescheduled for April 9th, 1-6 PM.]
[UPDATE: As most know, the snowstorm last Sunday caused most concerts to be cancelled.  Says Larry: “This event will be rescheduled on a Sunday in April with the hope of much better weather.”  I’ll update this post when I know more. /CL]
For those who didn’t know her, Vicki Benedict was John Lincoln Wright‘s wife of many years.  She was quiet and reserved, yet with a ready smile, and always supportive of Lincoln despite the hills and dales of his musical career, “The only job I’ve ever had,” as he said on the packaging to That Old Mill (1990).  I hope you’ll join Larry Flint and other former Sourmash Boys for this Sunday afternoon gathering, February 12th.  It’ll be fun, and a testament to a fine lady.  Here’s the notice Larry just sent:

When Vicki Benedict Wright passed away nearly one year ago,
she had made it clear that she did not want a public funeral
or memorial service, and we of course respected her wishes.
Because of this her friends were never able to assemble and
share their love of Vicki and honor her life.  So, we are having a

 “Memorial Party”


Victoria Benedict Wright

Sunday February 12 1-6 pm

You are invited to come get together with Vicki’s friends and
Share your memories of the Joy of Vicki’s life. We are sure
that Vicki would not be disappointed if some laughter was
involved, and that perhaps some adult beverages were
consumed in the process. Please pass the word on to
those friends who may not be on this mailing list.
Thank You.
Music will be provided by the 

Sour Mash Boys 


Special Guests


at Sally O’Brien’s

335 Somerville Ave

Union Sq Somerville



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