The Voice of the Blue Ridge Mountains
Rounder CD 0404
Old Joe Clark, Cornbread & Butterbeans, When The Angels Rolled The Stone away, I'm Living Down here On Borrowed Land, Chicken Reel, How Will I Explain About You?, Mississippi Sawyer, Weeping Willow, Forgive Is Number One, Man Of Constant Sorrow, Honeysuckle Blues, A Mansion Will Be Mine, Feed Me Jesus, There'll Come A Time, Gonna Raise A Ruckus Tonight, Story Of The Drunken Driver, The Wreck Of The Old 97, This World Can't Stand Long, Whoa Mule, Natural Bridge Blues, God Loves His Children, I'll Meet You By The River, Cripple Creek, Way Down In My Soul, Billy In The Lowground.Mention Mount Airy to those with an interest in old time American stringband music and they will almost immediately conjure up the names of Tommy Jarrell, Fred Cockerham, Oscar Jenkins and any other of a number who have come to fall into the description Round Peak Area Musicians. Alternatively they may bring to mind the annual fiddler's convention held in the town each June and which draws together old timers of all ages like a magnet. To others of a certain age the town may equally and readily be named as birth place of Andy Griffiths who had a long running and very popular television show from a number of years back and which can still be seen in the locality. With the issue of this disc however the lover of real country music will be made aware of yet another jewel in the crown of this small town in the Appalachian foothills; Radio Station WPAQ.
Opened on Groundhog Day 1948, this station is indeed an anachronism, a regular small town radio station that still features real country music in it's programming and which doesn't have a computer controlled schedule of the big hat pop music that passes for country music in the present day Nashville. Ralph Epperson, owner-operator of the station, said in a radio interview "If people are doing the same thing in 25 places up and down the radio dial, why should I be number 26?" As of 1999, live music by local musicians is still presented on Saturdays, whilst Epperson himself presents another programme featuring early recordings from the station's archives and other recording of local area musicians. In addition the normal weekly playlists are peppered with recordings of local musicians. Paul Brown a former News Director and Operations Manager at WPAQ, and fine old time musician in his own right, has put together this wonderful collection of recordings, all except one of which were made by the station, and he's done a great job. He must have spent months going through what must be an enormous archive.
What you will not hear on this disc are what we might know as the usual suspects when the name Mount Airy comes up - that is, the likes of Jarrell and Jenkins mentioned above. It seems that although these people have become heroes (and rightly so) among many revivalist musicians, they might have been considered Old Hat among the modern listeners of the the late forties and fifties. One exception to this is fiddler Benton Flippen who still turns up at the annual fiddle contest each year and stands in the long, long line of musicians competing for the prizes on offer. However it is not his fiddling that you will hear on this album but his very impressive lead banjo work particularly on Chicken Reel. The opening track appropriately enough is a high speed fiddle led instrumental which could easily serve and maybe did serve as an appropriate signature tune. It includes a slide guitar with a slightly western swing flavour. The fiddler incidentally is Rev H O 'Sleepy' Jenkins, son of the above named Oscar Jenkins and grandson of Frank Jenkins who recorded many years back with Tommy Jarrell's father Ben as a member of DaCosta Woltz's Southern Broadcasters. Cornbread and Butterbeans by the Carolina Sunshine Trio is an old fashioned novelty song of the era which includes the somewhat intriguing lines "eating beans and making love as long as I am able".
Next up are Lee and Juanita Moore a duet with just Lee's guitar accompaniment. On track 10 Juanita sings solo with her husband's guitar backing. The song made well known by the amazing Ralph Stanley version comes over here with a little more gentle lonesome appealing sound, somewhat reminiscent of the recordings of Ruby Vass from Hillsville, Virginia, a town about 20 miles north of Mt Airy on the old Fancy Gap road. Lee Moore, by the way, went on to become famous as the Coffee Drinking Nighthawk - a radio DJ on a long running programme at WWVA Wheeling West Virginia.
The variety and number of musicians here is too long to detail but performances include Chicken Reel in a fingerpicking banjo style, a flat picked five string banjo version of Weeping Willow, white gospel singers, a black a cappella group who were one of the most popular acts on the station, a group featuring a swinging slide guitar played by an armless musician who used his feet, and a beautiful fiddle-guitar version of Honeysuckle Blues featuring great back-up guitar runs by Leroy Martin behind his brother Pete. Leroy reminds me very much of another great back-up guitar man from North Carolina, the late Gene Meade, who often played behind Clark Kessinger on his later recordings. And so it goes on ... 25 tracks featuring a wide range of musicians and some great music. This recording shows how it used to be on rural radio stations in the South, and in fact as it still is in one small corner of North Carolina. Long may it continue.
Frank Weston - 14.3.00
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