January 2020 - The Birthplace of Country Music
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Radio Bristol Book Club: The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek

Welcome to Radio Bristol Book Club! Readers from BCM and the Bristol Public Library are coming together each month to celebrate and explore one book inspired by our region’s rich Appalachian cultural and musical heritage. We invite you to read along and then listen to Radio Bristol on the fourth Thursday of each month at 11:00am when we will dig deep into the feelings and questions raised by the books, learn more about the authors, and celebrate the joys of being a bookworm!

Three covers for The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek, two focused on a woman or girl holding a book and the other showing a pile of books tied with a string or piece of twine.
A variety of covers for The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek – all of these make us want to crack open the book and start reading!

This month’s Radio Bristol Book Club pick is Kim Michele Richardson’s The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek. Cussy Mary Carter is a young woman growing up in the 1930s in the hollers of Troublesome Creek, Kentucky. Cussy is one of the legendary Kentucky Blue People, who share a genetic disorder causing the color of their skin to appear bluish. Books are a joy passed down from her mother, and consequently, she becomes one of the new Pack Horse Librarians, an initiative from Eleanor Roosevelt to increase literacy and get books in the hands of those who would otherwise have none. The days are long and hard, and the dark mountains can be extremely dangerous for a young woman alone, but Cussy is a strong, determined woman dedicated to her mission and her patrons. She forms lasting relationships with those she serves and becomes a valuable part of their everyday lives.

This book is an authentic representation of both the Pack Horse Librarians and the Blue People of Kentucky. The language and heritage of Appalachia is well-represented, and the story is told with heartfelt realism.

A WPA archive image showing a female librarian on a pack horse or mule surrounded by a cluster of children, waiting for her to give out books. They are in front of a small stone schoolhouse.
Works Progress Administration Pack Horse Librarians made regular calls at mountain schools where children were furnished with books for themselves and books to read to their parents and elders, who were often illiterate. The school shown here is a WPA-built school in Kentucky. Public domain image

Kim Michele Richardson was born in Kentucky. She notes: “I love exploring my birthplace in my writings; the beautiful, brutal and mysterious Kentucky land and its people…. I impart my novels with my fierce love for the land, showcase its intriguing people, history, and forgotten songs of the region, exploring historical injustices and the unusual and cherished traditions, myths, and legends of Kentucky.” She is also the author of the novels Liar’s Bench, GodPretty in the Tobacco Field, and The Sisters of Glass Ferry, as well as the autobiographical memoir The Unbreakable Child.

Make plans to join us on Thursday, February 27 at 11:00am! You can find us on the dial at 100.1 FM, streaming live on Radio Bristol, or via the Radio Bristol app. The book is available at the Bristol Public Library so be sure to pick up a copy and read it ahead of listening in. The librarians will be happy to help you find the book. We look forward to sharing our thoughts on-air on this deep and engaging novel!

Our Radio Bristol Book Club pick for March is Lord of the Mountain by Ronald Kidd.

Long Dark Night…Dancing with the Boogeyman

Things are weird in the holler…teen sweat and anxiety mixed with gasoline fumes and a fear of being found out.

Always a fear…

The Cramps with their short five-song gem Gravest Hits was the soundtrack to this time for me. Gravest Hits, a compilation tape and record that came out in 1979, included their first two 45 rpm singles plus a bonus track of swamp rockabilly madness…the gravest of all!

So, in the late 1980s I was a young teen who had been playing music since I was nine years old, and that was all country songs from country’s early days to the poppy 1980s style that was coming out of NashVegas at the time. It was not feeding my pubescent soul. Then along came the Ford Country Squire that belonged to the Swiney boys’ dad, with a warblin’ noise coming out of the tape deck. Reverb garglin’ mess, it was…the tape, not the Ford! I was intrigued and hooked immediately.

I had to have this sound in my heart…. I had to have it in my hands…. I was to be one with it…. I was it, and it was me.

The car sped off down a gravel road leading into the mountains while Lux Interior belched out:

“I’m a human fly

I spell [it] F-L-Y!

I Go BUZZ BUZZ BUZZ

And it’s just becuzz.”

I too felt unhuman and something to be swatted out of existence…

The Swiney boys laughed and thought this tape was just funny, but to me it was serious business. I must find out more about this bunch of miscreants!

I started looking for the name The Cramps in every music publication I could get my hands and eyes on, all the while blaring my recent copy of the Swineys’ Cramps tape. The band showed up in Rolling Stone and in some books on rock-and-roll that I checked out at the library. There was also the name of the record’s producer, which showed up in all kinds of magazines and books – the late great Alex Chilton!!!! He was responsible for making this record sound so creepy, and oozy as an infected sore…

Alex Chilton, the man-child who sang the soulful sound of Memphis, Tennessee’s own The Box Tops in the 1960s! And as with The Box Tops, The Cramps recorded Gravest Hits at Ardent Studios in Memphis. More reverb! I’m begging you – REVERB! Even though the band was NYC-based, they chose another Memphis studio (Phillips Recording) with Chilton again at the helm for the 1980s follow-up, full-length LP Songs the Lord Taught Us.

The years have passed by, and yet this five-song EP still oozes its way into every music endeavor I write and record… Thank you, and Godspeed, Alex Chilton…rest easy, Lux Interior.

  • “Human Fly”
  • “The Way I Walk”
  • “Domino”
  • “Surfin’ Bird”
  • “Lonesome Town”

The Cramps – Gravest Hits

We all live in a world of mystery & deceit…

The Cramps – “Domino”

Roaring into the 20s with Farm and Fun Time!

From honky tonks to desert isles, we definitely roared into the 20s (the 2020s, that is) at January 9’s Farm and Fun Time! Thanks to our sponsor Eastman Credit Union, Radio Bristol was able to bring Farm and Fun Time to not only those in the audience or tuned in to WBCM-LP, but to viewers far and wide via Facebook Live. Be sure to like WBCM – Radio Bristol on Facebook to tune in every month!

Host band Bill and the Belles got the crowd going with their signature harmonies, blending their voices on new and old songs alike, while our “Heirloom Recipe” segment for January was award-winning storyteller Tony Marr. With the holiday season coming to a close, Tony delivered not a tasty recipe, but instead a warning of what can go horribly awry with all the leftovers. Though leftovers seem harmless, Tony proved to the audience that they can also be the stuff of nightmares – and hearty laughs. Moving forward, hopefully the audience will heed his warning and diligently use his guide to identify mold and other food-related horrors. Finally, to break up the nauseous mood surrounding this story, Bill and the Belles delivered a fresh jingle all about the food we leave behind.

Three photos:
Left: All four members of Bill and the Belles singing at the mic together.
Center: Storyteller Tony Marr telling his funny stories.
Right: Three members of Bill and the Belles at the mic -- fiddler Kalia, guitarist Kris, and banjoist Helena.
Bill and the Belles always bring the right song to the Farm and Fun Time stage, including their hilarious jingle to celebrate storyteller Tony Marr’s comedic tale of leftovers gone wrong. © Birthplace of Country Music; photographer: Billie Wheeler

Following the “Heirloom Recipe,” our first guest of the evening was the Vaden Landers Band. Vaden is a familiar face to folks in Bristol and across our region. At an early age, Vaden hit the road riding the rails and learning about American roots music, singing in smoky bars and on street corners. Vaden had previously appeared on Farm and Fun Time with the Fly-By-Night Rounders, but tonight’s show was totally different. Maintaining his ties to the country blues and blue yodels popularized by Jimmie Rodgers, Vaden brought his full, electric honky tonk band over the mountain from Asheville and rocked the Birthplace of Country Music Museum’s Performance Theater like it was a smoke-filled dance joint. Performing new songs that sound like the ones that made the jukebox play in days gone by, Vaden’s show is not to be missed. With frequent performances across the region, be sure to catch him when he’s near you! 

Four photos:
Top left: A close-up of Vaden Landers, wearing a blue cowboy-style shirt and cowboy hat, singing at the mic.
Bottom left: A close-up of the pedal steel player's hands on his instrument.
Top right: The band on stage.
Bottom right: A close-up of the drummer and her instruments.
The Vaden Landers Band’s performance was a musical and energy-driven treat. © Birthplace of Country Music; photographer: Billie Wheeler

For this month’s “Radio Bristol Farm Report,” we visited A Different Chick Farm in Johnson City, Tennessee, to learn about grafting fruit trees. Grafting is a process that involves splicing pieces of trees together to ensure a better product. Here’s the video from our visit:

Our final musical guest came to us all the way from Australia via Nashville: C. W. Stoneking! On his first visit to the Twin-Cities, C. W. delivered one of the most awe-inspiring performances ever on the Farm and Fun Time stage. A musical chameleon and a man of mystery, C. W. blends strains of blues, calypso, jazz, and countless other styles together into something that is stunningly unique. Growling songs of voodoo gone wrong and crooning songs of an island paradise, he has a distinct and powerful voice that matches his deft abilities on the electric guitar. A highlight of the evening was C. W.’s moving performance of “On a Desert Isle,” a masterpiece of songwriting. This was a rare treat, and we hope to see C.W. in Bristol again soon!

Three images:
Left: A close-up of C. W. singing in to the mic.
Top right: C. W. on guitar at the mic.
Bottom right: A close-up of C. W.'s tattooed hand on playing his guitar.
C. W. Stoneking put his heart and soul into his performance, and the audience responded in kind. © Birthplace of Country Music; photographer: Billie Wheeler

Thanks to everyone who came out and helped get the new year off to a good start! Tickets are on sale for February’s show featuring The Kody Norris Show, Wayne Henderson and Presley Barker, and host band Bill and the Belles. We hope to see you there!

Bristol Rhythm: Celebrating 20 Years in 2020

Nearly 20 years ago, City of Bristol Tennessee Councilman David Shumaker had an idea to host a music festival in Historic Downtown Bristol. Bristol had recently been named the official “birthplace of country music” by the U.S. Congress in 1998, and Shumaker thought a great way to celebrate our legacy was to develop a music festival. He began talking to the City of Bristol’s Community Relations Director Terrie Talbert, and with a lot of hard work, a community call out for volunteers, and months of planning, the first Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion was held in October 2001.

Since then, the festival has grown from 7,500 to over 40,000 attendees each year. In addition, the festival hosts 120 bands on 16 stages throughout the three-day weekend in September. Bristol Rhythm has earned many accolades, including being named as one of Rolling Stone’s “Top 20 Tours and Festivals.”

This year, we are taking a look back at the festival with a fun docuseries called Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion: Celebrating 20 Years in 2020.  Our marketing team has been working with Loch & Key Productions to pull together the interviews, old video footage, and photographs to make this film series possible.

Three photos: 
Top: Jim Lauderdale being interviewed in the museum's Immersion Theater for the docu-film.
Center: Executive Director Leah Ross being interviewed in the museum's Performance Theater for the docu-film.
Bottom: A close-up of the "director's chair" bearing the Birthplace of Country Music logo during filming for the docuseries.

The docuseries includes four episodes, and the first episode focuses on how the festival began all those years ago. You can check out Episode 1 below:

Click on Play Button to View Video

We will share the other three episodes in the coming months, available via our YouTube Channel.

We would love to know if you attended during the first few years of Bristol Rhythm, and if so, please share some of your favorite memories with us! 

Putting the Band Back Together!: Using Cutting-Edge Technology to Recover Sounds From the Past

At the Northeast Document Conservation Center (NEDCC) in Andover, Massachusetts, we recently completed an especially rewarding project for the Birthplace of Country Music Museum. The museum honored us with the task of recovering nine previously unheard, live recorded songs performed by The Stanley Brothers & The Clinch Mountain Boys on the Farm and Fun Time radio show, circa 1950, from a damaged transcription disc – a project supported by the Virginia Association of Museums’ “Virginia’s Top 10 Endangered Artifacts” in 2018.

We were so thrilled to be a part of this project for two reasons in particular. One, despite our northern orientation, The Stanley Brothers happen to have quite a fan base here! And two, we always welcome a challenge, and this disc delivered.

The Farm and Fun Time disc showing signs of delamination. © Birthplace of Country Music; donated by Glen Harlow via Dean Casey

The damage seen on the disc in the image above is called delamination, and it means the grooved lacquer coating is separating from the aluminum base. Any missing piece of the lacquer is a loss of the audio content. Additionally, a delaminating disc cannot safely be played with a stylus because the physical contact will cause further damage.

Therefore, in order to safely retrieve the audio from the disc, we used a non-contact, optical-scanning technology called IRENE. With IRENE, we take microscopic images of the grooves, and those images are analyzed in software to produce an audio file. The concept is fairly simple, but the process can be challenging for damaged media like this.

First, we carefully “puzzled” the separated pieces of lacquer back together on the disc. We did this by lining up the grooves as best as possible, without touching the grooved surface. The added challenge here is that delamination occurs with a loss of plasticizer. The lacquer becomes brittle, shrinks, and can warp. This means that the grooves won’t be perfectly aligned. A slight offset of the grooves might not seem dramatic to the human eye, but on a microscopic level (which you can see in the images), the disruptions can be quite dizzying.

After puzzling, we imaged the disc with a Precitek CHRocodile CLS Confocal Microscope. This “camera” captures the horizontal motion of the grooves by measuring the groove’s depth. The disc is carefully mounted on a platter that rotates beneath the camera as the grooves are imaged. The image resolution is based on the disc’s original recording speed and the desired specifications for the resulting audio file. Other factors, such as the disc’s reflectivity and surface wear, dictate other imaging parameters – like the optical sampling rate and exposure.

Imaging the disc with the IRENE system 3D camera. © NEDCC

The process creates a high-resolution TIFF image file of the surface of the disc, where you can see the extent of the damage and misaligned grooves due to delamination:

Image of the grooves on the disc resulting from the IRENE imaging process with the 3D camera. © NEDCC

One of the biggest challenges for us is getting the software – called Weaver – to follow the correct path of the groove as it shifts along the breaks. To enable this software to properly track the grooves on delaminating discs like this, we painstakingly plot the trajectory of the groove in a process called manual tracking. With proper tracking enabled, Weaver can mimic the motion of a stylus through the grooves to produce an audio file.

Weaver is a modular program built on a series of plug-ins, and our work involves selecting and adjusting settings within a set-of plug-ins. Each plug-in enables or performs a different analysis function to produce audio. For example, the VerticalFlip plug-in flips the image. This was necessary because these discs were originally recorded from the inside-out, and our cameras are only configured to scan in one direction. Flipping the image and then reversing the resulting audio file gives us the same results if we had played the record from the inside as it was originally intended. A series of tools like this allow us to manipulate the images in a variety of ways to accommodate different types of media and the unique damage they may have incurred during their lifetime.

A TIFF image of the grooves being processed for audio in the Weaver software after it has been “manually tracked.” © NEDCC

Our goal is to produce a digital file that most accurately represents the audio on this disc in its current condition. On damaged discs like this, there can be brief moments where the audio drops out due to a missing piece of lacquer. Though there is some damage on the Farm and Fun Time disc, the “raw” audio from the Weaver software is remarkably listenable. And the true measure of success for this project: it’s also danceable!

In addition to the raw audio, we created separate listening copies for this project that have been processed with historically-accurate playback equalization and some restoration work to reduce the noise and to get rid of the clicks and pops. Though this process is subjective, we did our best to respect the content. The “cleaned-up” audio is more listenable but still reminds us of the disc’s condition and the music’s place in history.

The quality of the original recording plays a large role in the fidelity of the audio we’re able to capture. In this case, it probably helps that the recording took place in a studio with professional audio engineers. And the musicians were pros too – they knew how to approach the microphone when it was their time to sing or take a solo.

Here’s a short clip to get a sense of the result:

Clinch Mountain Boys – Nine Pound Hammer sample (from WCYB Farm & Fun Time Transcription Disc)

That we were able to image the disc before it incurred any further delamination or other damage was also critical for the quality of the resulting audio. Lacquer-coated instantaneous discs are some of the most inherently fragile formats in archival collections. Delamination is one of the major preservation threats, and it can progress relatively quickly.

The museum is owed much appreciation for their efforts to save the disc before it was too late, and we’re grateful to have had the opportunity to help preserve this audio treasure! And for your chance to hear the first reveal of the songs from this rescued disc, be sure to attend the live Farm and Fun Time show in the museum’s Performance Theater on February 13 or listen online via Radio Bristol’s Facebook page!

You can learn more about the Birthplace of Country Music Museum’s valiant efforts to save the disc, including how the disc was carefully packaged and transported to NEDCC, here. You can learn more about IRENE at NEDCC here.

Radio Bristol Book Club: Gone Home – Race and Roots Through Appalachia

Welcome to Radio Bristol Book Club! Readers from BCM and the Bristol Public Library are coming together each month to celebrate and explore one book inspired by our region’s rich Appalachian cultural and musical heritage. We invite you to read along and then listen to Radio Bristol on the fourth Thursday of each month at 11:00am when we will dig deep into the feelings and questions raised by the books, learn more about the authors, and celebrate the joys of being a bookworm!

Appalachia has a strong place in our consciousness, and the prevailing view of it often focuses in on politics; the opioid crisis; the idea of “hillbilly”; increasing job losses; and a declining population. However, within this, the stories of black Appalachians are too often ignored. Karida Brown’s Gone Home: Race and Roots through Appalachia seeks to redress that balance as she explores the lives and histories of African Americans from the coal mines and towns of Harlan County, Kentucky. From the migration that brought African American families and workers to coal mining (one step in the larger African American Great Migration) to the realities of race and racism they faced to their everyday lives and the routes taken towards new opportunities, Brown sets the context and then shares oral histories from over 150 interviews so that the people who lived and worked there can tell their own stories.

The cover of Gone Home shows a black coal miner walking along a street of family homes, presumably on his way to the mines or after a long day at work. Women and children stand outside one of the houses.
The cover of Karida Brown’s Gone Home: Race and Roots through Appalachia highlights the focus of her book – the everyday lives of African American coal miners and their families. From the University of North Carolina Press

Karida L. Brown is assistant professor of sociology and African American studies at the University of California, Los Angeles, where her research focuses on race, social transformations, and communal memory. During her Ph.D. at Brown University, she did research as part of the Eastern Kentucky African American Migration Project, a collaboration with the Southern Historical Collection at UNC Chapel Hill. In 2019, she was named to the advisory board of the Obama Presidency Oral History Project, along with a host of presidential historians and scholars, acclaimed journalists, and other scholars.

A formal portrait of Karida Brown.
Karida Brown’s official author photograph, taken by Brian L. Christian.

Start your New Year’s reading resolution off right by making plans to join us on Thursday, January 23 at 11:00am! You can find us on the dial at 100.1 FM, streaming live on Radio Bristol, or via the Radio Bristol app. The book is available at the Bristol Public Library so be sure to pick up a copy and read it ahead of time; the librarians will be happy to help you find the book. We look forward to sharing our thoughts on this book’s interesting story, told by the people themselves.

Our book pick for February is The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson; we’ll be discussing it on Thursday, February 27. And keep an eye out for our full list of 2020 Radio Bristol Book Club picks – they will be up on our website soon!