Thanks to Paul Ellwood for sending me this track of his modern classical music composition, featuring an electronically altered version of my voice singing (and speaking) “I’ve Always Been A Rambler.”
I am excited to get to play the bass with The Red Hot Sugar Babies for a cool party coming up, please join us!
This June 11-17 for the singing class at Steve Kaufman’s Maryville, TN Kamp, we are only using traditional songs from the mountain areas of Tennessee, North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, and Kentucky. It’s been a fun project picking the songs and realizing the patterns of sharing music up and down the mountains.
My favorite old-time recordings are the earliest examples of a traditional performance that I can find. I have to wonder when and who made the first impression on the world through this special song. The earliest recordings to choose from are from the 1920s and 1930s, and sometimes folklorists’ accounts songs before the age of recordings. Not surprisingly, the same names come up again and again, of both performers and of the most popular songs.
I was born in Covington, VA (near the center of the West Virginia line), and lived there until I went to college. Since then I haven’t strayed too far from the southern Appalachians. As the ballad singer Berzilla Wallin said, “I’ve traveled all over these mountains.” My musical life has taken me to Eastern Kentucky, to teaching at ETSU for 3 years in Johnson City, TN near the Carter Family Homeplace, to 6 years living on the edge of the Smoky Mountain National Park in Bryson City, NC playing for the trains, to 20+ years of festivals like Clifftop, WV and Mount Airy, NC, and now to beautiful Asheville for 17 years, home of folklorist Bascom Lamar Lunsford, not far from the famous traditional ballad singers still living in Madison County. After all these years of going and singing and playing and dancing and being a music history nerd, I’ve noticed there are some songs you hear a lot, and when you look up who sang them first, you find some key groups that tend to stand out.
In the Clinch Valley in Virginia, The Carter Family catalog is a great representation of old songs from that area. They recorded more than 300 songs together. AP Carter collected the songs, travelling to visit with singers near his home to learn from them, like Leslie Riddle in Burnsville, NC. Later the Stanley Brothers (also from Clinch Valley) sang a lot of the same songs, and some more that they knew from growing up there. A little west of there is Ashe County, home of the 78 recording artists Grayson & Whitter, who recorded over 40 songs together in the 1920’s and 30’s. Not far is Galax and Mount Airy, homes to famous fiddlers conventions, and Deep Gap, home of Doc Watson. Songs, songs, and more songs.
There are still spaces left in the class, so please join us if you are interested: http://www.flatpik.com/Steve-Kaufman-Acoustic-Kamp. Our goal is to meet every day and sing the songs of the mountains, try to ring the hills with the familiar sounds of their favorite songs.
I’ll be heading to Palestine, Texas this March for the first time to participate in this year’s Old Time Music and Dulcimer Festival. I hope to see some old friends from the Freight Hoppers days and get in some good singing. Here is a rundown of the weekend’s festivities.
Special Thursday Evening Concert – Ann Kirrane will emcee a variety program with guest performers featuring songs and tunes that emphasize the age-old musical and cultural connections between Ireland, England and America. It will be a fun night!
Friday and Saturday Schedule.
9:00 to 10:15 AM Workshop/Jams
10:45 to12:00 noon Workshop/Jams
12 Noon to 1:15 PM Break for Lunch
1:30 to 2:30 PM Day Concerts
2:45 to 4 PM Workshop/Jams
4:00 to 6:45 PM Free Time & Dinner
6:45 to 10:05 PM Evening Concerts
10:05 PM till…. Jamming
Other musical guests include:
THE DOVE BROTHERS (Sound guys extraordinaire and rock and roll)
DAVID AND ANNETTE LINDSEY (hammered dulcimer and mountain dulcimer pioneers)
MARSHA HARRIS (gifted mountain dulcimer and bowed dulcimer, lovely lady)
LLOYD AND APRIL WRIGHT(my own gifted and talented son and daughter in law)
DANA AND JUDY HAMILTON (champion hammered dulcimer and mountain dulcimer trailblazers)
ANNE KIRRANE (Irish concertina player)
ROGER DIGBY (English concertina player)
CARY FRIDLEY (Old time vocalist, guitar, and bass player from the original Freighthoppers)
ALICE GERRARD (Vocalist, guitar, fiddle, and 2015 Grammy nominee)
EDDIE BOND (Fiddle)
KAY JUSTICE (Vocalist)
STEPHEN SEIFERT (Mountain dulcimer)
GARY GALLIER (Mountain dulcimer)
RICK THUM (Hammered dulcimer)
CHARLES WHITMER (Autoharp)
CASSANDRA DAMPER (Texas State Champion and 2nd Place National Mountain Dulcimer Champion)
The Wright Family (Mountain dulcimer, banjo, banjo uke, mandolin, bass, fiddle, guitar, vocalists)
STEVE AND SHERYL HARTZ (Fiddle, banjo, guitar, mandolin, historians)
Hope to see you there!
Know a kid who may want to learn traditional music with us? Invite them to join us on Wednesdays from 3:30-5:00 each week during the school year. We teach old-time fiddle, banjo and guitar in a fun group setting at affordable fees! Amazing instructors: Cary Fridley, Ben Nelson and Hannah Seng. Home-schoolers are welcome! This is great arts enrichment. Public-schoolers (3rd-9th grades): Owen district bus will drop you at our door! Instrument rental available. It’s never too late to join. Call 828-669-0930, or register online here.
They call what they do Pre-War Electric Blues — referring to an era of musical changes around World War II. ” It’s that mix where the blues was going from the country to the city, after the electric guitar got more popular,” explains Cary Fridley, half of the duo Asheville Aces. “It still has that Southern, old-style beat, but it also starts to sound like rock and roll.”
Asheville Aces isn’t the first chance the public has had to hear acoustic bassist/vocalist Fridley and guitarist/vocalist Scott Sharpe together — but it is the best, most distilled version, the product of years of friendship and musical interaction. They draw from both Delta and North Mississippi (or “hill country”) bluesmen and women such as R.L. Burnside, Memphis Minnie, Junior Kimbrough, and Muddy Waters. This is the rawest take on rockabilly.
Fridley and Sharpe have known each other since the 1990s, when she was in The Freight Hoppers — an old-time string band from Bryson City that released two discs on Rounder Records and were featured on NPR’s A Prairie Home Companion — and he in The Blue Rags, a full-attitude vintage-fusion act he co-founded, and the band that put Asheville on the national musical map.
“We were the folk act on the bluegrass circuit and would run into those guys,” says Fridley. “Then I moved to Asheville. I was learning to play blues with some other friends of mine, and I think Scott and I met up again at a Barley’s old-time jam.”
Similar musical paths led them to connect at various music festivals, and then to begin performing together when possible. As Sharpe says, “We just never really quit playing music together. We went through different band names, band people, but somehow have stayed together doing it.”
After performing at a festival in Louisiana they drove up the Blues Trail in Mississippi. “We went to Memphis Minnie’s grave in Walls, Mississippi, near Memphis,” Fridley recalls. “It’s so fascinating to have been listening to the music so long and then visit there.”
About a year ago, they stopped using the band name the Lowdown Travelers and refocused the music in a new way. “We decided to do a band centered around the two of us. Songs that we’re used to and could do as a duo if we need to,” she says, noting that they also like to have multi-instrumentalist Morgan Geer (Drunken Prayer) join them on occasion.
“It’s half my songs and half Scott’s songs. Mine are a lot from Memphis Minnie, and Scott does a lot by Junior Kimbrough and R.L. Burnside, and we do originals. We each show up with a list and pick them as we go. We know that we’re going to take turns and that each of us is going to be in the hot seat.”
“It’s also reading the audience,” Sharpe notes.
“Scott has a great rhythm and beat, and he really takes cues well,” Fridley says. “So I can trust him to back me up. He can hear what I’m doing on bass and fit right in with it. After playing gigs for so many years, we can relax a little about things, and that’s nice.”
Sharpe pleads his case on the two-beat “Who Been Tellin’ You,” Fridley voices her suspicions on the shuffle “Good Morning.” Personality-wise they are miles apart — Fridley is wide open, with a laugh to infect an entire room, while Sharpe seems more the introvert, soft-spoken, tossing out witty comments in a wry, off-hand way.
The lanky musician grew up in Statesville, North Carolina, within walking distance of a well-stocked public library. “I’m a self-taught person,” Sharpe says. “A funny thing in Statesville — they had an awesome record collection at the library. All of the great old records, just sitting there. I would take them home and put them on cassettes. I was basically just cataloging them, and from there I figured out how to search and find out who they were.
“Mance Lipscomb was the first, and from there, like Mississippi John Hurt and then Mississippi Fred McDowell, a lot of those re-surfaced 1960s stars. That’s the stuff that I was really interested in. I met up with some young people of like-minded interests who were related to people that played music up around the Love Valley [NC] area, more bluegrass-y, swingy kind of stuff.”
Sharpe and harmonica player Abe Reid, the Blue Rags’ original lead singer, caught the ear of Tim Duffy of Music Maker Relief Foundation, and he found them a mentor. “This guy took us to meet this old blues guitar player from Winston-Salem called Guitar Gabriel, and we hung out with him and played the blues a lot as teenagers, basically before we became Blue Rag people,” Sharpe recalls. “The way that Gabriel did it was finger-style guitar, and it has an easier rhythm. It’s more laidback than electric blues. It’s country blues, which is definitely ingrained into what I play, no matter how I approach anything.”
Fridley hails from the town of Covington, in Virginia’s Allegheny Mountains. “I didn’t really know the difference between the blues styles, but I liked country blues. My dad has a Robert Johnson anthology, and I had Muddy Waters’ The Chess Box CD, and there’s a lot of blues in the folk music I was listening to when I was younger. That stuff is from Mississippi, but it’s a similar style of country blues.
“It was kind of uncharted territory. I was learning the bass and was really fascinated with the bass lines of Muddy Waters’ bass player. I started to get into it and then I met Scott, and he knows all the historical influence on everything,” she says.
Fridley holds a Masters degree in music education and taught in the Bluegrass, Old-Time, and Country Music Studies program at East Tennessee State University. These days, she teaches Introduction to Jazz and Music Appreciation at local A-B Tech.
In Asheville, the Aces have played Altamont Brewing Company, Jack of the Wood, and the Bywater; they took the Pack Square Park main stage at last summer’s Big Love Festival. The duo has also appeared in venues on tiny, history-laden Daufuskie Island, off the coast of South Carolina.
“We’re both traditionalists, for sure, and I consider myself an Appalachian person. There’s a strong sense of responsibility to draw from what’s gone on, to keep the link in the chain, so to speak,” says Fridley.
“It’s a rich culture here, and we’re all trying to keep the energy going.”
Asheville Aces appear at Foggy Mountain Brew Pub in downtown Asheville on January 3, at the Black Mountain Alehouse on January 17, and at Altamont Brewing Company in West Asheville on January 23. See caryfridleymusic.com for more information.