December 2021 - The Birthplace of Country Music
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Pick 5: Songs About Writing and Performing Music

For our “Pick 5” blog series, we pick five songs within a given theme – from heartsongs to murder ballads and everything in between! Once the author picks their “5,” they get the chance to tell us more about why they chose those songs – a great way to get some interesting song choices, which might introduce you to some new music, all easily accessible by tuning into Radio Bristol! Today our guest blogger is C. P. McGuire.

As a music major at Western Carolina University, the theme I’ve chosen is near and dear to my heart. When I have time, I love playing my guitar and singing, as well as creating new music to share with everyone. So here are five songs that celebrate writing and performing music!

“Piano Man” (1973) – Billy Joel

Let’s start out with one that everybody should be familiar with: “Piano Man.” Billy Joel wrote this song while working as a piano player in a piano bar, and all the people that he mentions in the song were apparently real people. It truly sounds like nine o’clock on a Saturday, and what really underlines this song’s celebration of performing music is heard primarily in the chorus with the line, “Sing us the song, you’re the Piano Man.” He’s being called to not only sing, but to sings something that will make everyone want to sing along with him.

“Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song” (1975) – B. J. Thomas

Had a bad day? Work not treating you right? Your significant other left you? Well, this song, in my opinion, is the perfect remedy. With this song, B. J. Thomas is asking a performer to play another “somebody done somebody wrong song,” which I take as being a long way of saying “play me a sad song”! Even though it is a song about performing music on first listen, I feel like we might all need songs like this sometimes, just like Thomas needed to hear a sad, sad song.

“Wrote A Song for Everyone” (1969) – Creedence Clearwater Revival

Written in the midst of the Vietnam War in the late 1960s, this song is a call for truth, probably asking President Nixon why we were still fighting this war that was going nowhere. Lead singer John Fogerty is calling for everyone to get together in peace, and this song seems to be dedicated to everybody that agrees and wants to find their voice. I think that is an admirable thing to write a song about, and I am very happy this song exists.

“Making Memories” (1975) – Rush AND “From Rochdale to Ocho Rios” (1978) – 10cc

I couldn’t decide between these two songs about performing music – actually about touring – so they come together in one choice together! The first song, “Making Memories,” is about having fun on tour and enjoying the entire experience without dwelling on the negatives. With lyrics like “Our memories remind us, maybe road life’s not so bad,” it’s hard to believe that Rush would ever truly dislike touring. 10cc’s song “From Rochdale to Ocho Rios,” on the other hand, makes the band seem to like performing on tour, but makes traveling sound very tiresome and homesick-inducing with lines like, “you spend half your life in transit, but that’s just the way God planned it.” No matter how performers think of touring, whether they’re positive like Rush or more pessimistic or jaded like 10cc, they are still performing, and that’s a living for them.

 

“I Wanna Learn a Love Song” (1974) – Harry Chapin

And finally, a song about learning how to play music. This song is about Harry Chapin teaching his future wife how to play the guitar. Although married already, she hired him to teach her guitar to play for her kids. However, she insisted that he teach her a love song and was more interested in hearing him play. This song, again, just mentions performing, but I think that it is fascinating to hear how these two grew a relationship and got close because of the power of music.

C. P. McGuire is a music major at Western Carolina University. He worked with the Birthplace of Country Music Museum as an honors student, writing this blog post, creating social media posts, and researching museum programming ideas.

Radio Bristol Book Club: Songteller – My Life in Lyrics

Welcome to Radio Bristol Book Club where readers from BCM and the Bristol Public Library come together each month to celebrate and explore books 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 12:00 noon when we dig deep into the themes and questions raised by the books, learn more about the authors, and celebrate the joys of being a bookworm!

This month’s book is Songteller: My Life in Lyrics by Dolly Parton with Robert K. Oermann. This beautiful coffee table book is a joy and an inspiration to read – from cover to cover, or just dipping into the individual stories behind your favorite songs. Told in her own words, Dolly mines over 60 years of songwriting to share the personal stories, candid insights, and vivid memories behind 175 of her songs. She explores the earliest song she wrote (at age six!), familiar and well-loved hits like “Coat of Many Colors,” “9 to 5,” and “I Will Always Love You,” and songs she performed with other artists like “Tomorrow is Forever” (Porter Wagoner) and “Let Her Fly” (Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette) – amongst so many others. It’s not only the insights and the history behind Dolly’s huge songwriting catalog that make this book special; the reader also gets to enjoy wonderful images from throughout her career, photographs of important and personal ephemera and objects that have been saved over the years, and a hint of her “secret song,” locked in a display case at Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort and set to be open in 2045!

The book cover is a pale aqua with red writing; it also has some decorative floral elements in a darker aqua around the central oval. In the central oval there is a black-and-white photograph of a young Dolly Parton. She is a white woman with big loosely curled blond hair, large hoop earrings, and a denim shirt. She is looking over her shoulder.
The cover of Dolly Parton’s Songteller.

Dolly Parton needs no introduction, but just in case you don’t know her and her work well, here are the basics: Born in East Tennessee, Parton began singing and performing at an early age, taking her talent and determination all the way to Nashville – and beyond. She is the most honored and revered female country singer-songwriter of all time, with numerous awards, bestselling albums, and Top 10 hits. She has also acted to great acclaim, and she is well-known for her charity work, most especially her Imagination Library, which has gifted over 130 million books to children across the world. Journalist Robert K. Oermann has been called “the unofficial historian of Nashville’s musical heritage.” When he first came to Nashville, he worked as a reference librarian at the Country Music Hall of Fame; since then he has written nine books, worked on documentary films, and produced pieces for numerous media outlets including The Tennessean, Rolling Stone, and Esquire.

This photograph shows an older white man wearing a dark flue denim button-down shirt over a tee. He has black-rimmed glasses and white thinning hair. He is sitting in a burgandy/brown patterned chair with bookshelves/record shelves and other home decor behind him.
Author Robert K. Oermann. Taken by Larry McCormack for The Tennessean

Please make plans to join us on Thursday, December 23at 12:00pm for the discussion of Songteller: My Life in Lyrics by Dolly Parton with Robert K. Oermann. After our discussion, we’ll have the chance to chat to Oermann about his work with Dolly on this wonderful book. The book is available at the Bristol Public Library, so be sure to pick up a copy and read it ahead of time – even better, pick up a physical copy and look at it while listening to the audiobook version, thus getting the best of both worlds! We look forward to exploring this book on-air, and if you have thoughts or questions about the book that you would like to share with our readers, you can email info@birthplaceofcountrymusic.org (Subject line: Radio Bristol Book Club) – your book insights might appear on air with us! You can find us on the dial at 100.1 FM, streaming live on Radio Bristol, or via the Radio Bristol app.

Looking ahead: Our book pick for January is Storming Heaven by Denise Giardina; we’ll be discussing it on Thursday, January 27. Check out our full list of 2022 Radio Bristol Book Club picks here, where you can also listen to archived shows!

Rene Rodgers is Head Curator of the Birthplace of Country Music Museum and a Dolly fan.

The Root of It: George Jackson on Ed Haley

Radio Bristol is excited to share “The Root of It,” a series connecting today’s influential musicians to often lesser known and sometimes obscure musicians of the early commercial recording era. The sounds and musicians we hear today on platforms like Radio Bristol can often be traced back to the sounds of earlier generations. What better way to discover these connections than to talk to the musicians themselves about some of the artists that have been integral in shaping their music? These influences, though generally not household names, continue to inspire those who dig deep to listen through the scratches and noise of old 78s, field recordings, and more, finding nuances and surprises that inevitably lead them on their own unique musical journeys.

For this installment of “The Root of It,” we spoke with Nashville-based fiddler George Jackson. Born in New Zealand, George discovered bluegrass music at 14 years old and began learning mostly from recordings. He took to string band music quickly and soon after won the Australian National Bluegrass Championship on fiddle three times; he now pursues a professional career here in Tennessee. With two award-winning albums under his belt – 2019’s Time and Place and the recently released Hair and Hide – Jackson has made quite an impact in the bluegrass, old-time, and folk world as a composer, nuanced musician, and band leader. George spoke to us about celebrated West Virginian fiddler Ed Haley.

George Jackson featuring Brad Kolodner performing “Neighbor Mike” off of his latest release Hair and Hide.

George Jackson:

As someone who was born on the other side of the world from where country music comes from – and whose journey through it started as a teen listening only to what I had exposure to around me, mostly just music from Béla Fleck and a few other relatively modern and flash bluegrass pickers – it’s been a continual journey of discovery for me. Throughout, I’ve been diving deeper and further back generation by generation into the history of early American country recording artists, learning where sounds I’m familiar with in modern recordings and players might have originated, or filtered down from, piecing together the lineage though my own experiences playing and learning this music from its practitioners. Ed Haley is a player that brought a lot of threads together for me when I discovered his music and playing, but of course his influence on me had been longer than I knew. Haley is a continual source of inspiration for fiddlers, and though I didn’t know it at the time, his influence on my playing started right back when I started learning American fiddle music, at the age of around 14 in my home land of New Zealand.

I’ve been aware of, and directly impacted by Haley’s music for a good number of years now, but before I knew his playing or even his name, I can trace some early influences that filtered down to me in my teen years. Haley’s virtuosic playing, tune writing, and iconic versions of fiddle tunes are a strong source of influence on subsequent generations of fiddlers in West Virginia and Kentucky where Haley was based, and much further afield spread by the home recordings he made that were later released – these filtered down through the likes of John Hartford into the bluegrass music scene until it reached me in New Zealand many years later. By the time it reached me of course, it had been through many hands and ears, but I can recognize certain Haley-influenced turns of phrase or stylistic details from the way I first learned to play tunes like “Forked Deer.”

This black-and-white image shows Ed Haley sitting in what looks to be a formalized portrait setting for a photographer. There is a painted landscape behind him and a patterned rug at his feet. He is a white man with partly closed eyes; he wears a dark fedora, a white button-down shirt, dark pants, and a lighter overcoat, buttoned-up. He is holding a fiddle and bow in his hands.
Blind from the age of three, fiddler Ed Haley influenced countless musicians including Clark Kessinger, John Hartford, and our guest blogger George Jackson.  Ed Haley seated with fiddle. Photo from West Virginia Music Hall of Fame

By the time I became aware of old-time music specifically, I was closer to my 20s, and as with most people who aren’t brought up in the geographic regions where this music is from or is being played regularly, my first exposure was to modern players and traveling old-time music gateway musicians such as Bruce Molsky. It’s at this point I get that next step closer to Haley’s music, because if his influence is now written into bluegrass fiddling DNA, its inescapable through the playing of almost all modern players of old-time fiddle. There are so many tunes I knew through jam sessions, concerts, and CDs that are Ed Haley specials – I knew this music and its spirit before I knew who to attribute them to specifically.

At a certain point, as happens with most of the music I’m exposed to, I wanted to hear it from the source, so I remember a day when the curiosity got the best of me and I’d heard the name Ed Haley one too many times. And so I finally got around to looking up Haley’s fiddling and listening through the static of some of his home recordings to the wonderfully virtuosic and melodic playing, along with its multiple variations that are his signature. All these threads of my musical journey started to come together, I’d recognize tunes from bluegrass jams amd recordings of modern old-time or bluegrass fiddlers, and I started to hear the root of many influences on my own playing looking back at me. It’s an amazing thing to be able to listen to music made almost a hundred years ago and, in a moment, see how far that sound has traveled, changed, and also stayed the same.

I’ve recorded a few tunes I learned directly from Haley’s playing recently, and when I learn these tunes they feel natural – I recognize the patterns under my fingers. Though playing an Ed Haley tune is never easy, there are always some finger buster moments that make you stop and think, “Boy, this guy was good!” On my new album, there’s a rendition of Haley’s “Ida Red” that’s a total burner of a tune. The first phrase still trips me up if I’m not concentrating, those micro-movements of multiple pinky finger notes on the E string are something else. It doesn’t get much better than Ed Haley, and I’ll be learning things from him for a long time yet, I’m sure.

Ed Haley’s squirrely rendition of “Ida Red.”

To learn more about George Jackson or to purchase his new album Hair and Hide, visit georgejacksonmusic.com. Released in November 2021, Hair and Hide is an exploration of fiddle and banjo through 14 songs featuring some of the finest players of their generation, including appearances from Jake Blount, Frank Evans, BB Bowness, and more.

The cover image shows George Jackson standing in a pasture with a barn or farmhouse behind him. He is a white man with slightly longer wavy hair and a beard. He is wearing a white patterned button-down shirt with a brown or ochre-colored cardigan and jeans. He holds a small black and white goat in one hand and a fiddle in the other.
George Jackson’s critically acclaimed release Hair and Hide debuted on the Billboard Bluegrass Charts in mid-November.

Kris Truelsen is the Radio Bristol Program Director. He also performs in the band Bill and the Belles.