Radio Bristol is proud to offer a platform to local and regional artists who are often underrepresented on a national level yet deserving of that audience. In expanding upon Radio Bristol’s core mission, we are pleased to bring you our latest Radio Bristol Spotlight post. This blog series highlights top emerging artists in our region – through interviews and performance, we learn more about the musicians who help to make Central Appalachia one the richest, and most unique musical landscapes in the world.
Recently at the Radio Bristol studio, we hosted the newly re-formed duo The Willy Nillys, comprised of the easygoing road warrior couple, Christy Lynn Barrett and Ryan Schilling. Currently based in Asheville, North Carolina, the two have been hitting the highway on multiple DIY cross-country road trips for the better part of a decade, playing dive bars and open mics sprawled across sleepy countryside towns. Their long musical journey has incorporated multiple converted vans or other “assorted vintage vehicles,” nights spent everywhere from sketchy Walmart parking lots to majestic National Forests, self-recorded albums with hand-cut vinyl, and a menagerie of analog audio gear including the 1987 Ford Econoline known as the American Sound Truck, which houses a direct to vinyl recording studio.
The Willy Nillys’ Christy Barrett and Ryan Schilling pose in unquestionably classy denim on denim attire. Photo Credit: Izzy Nelson
The dream-manifesting pair grew up in small dusty desert towns in Southern California, home to mystic cowboys such as Gram Parsons and creative origin for the legendary Laurel Canyon folk music scene of the 1960s and 1970s. Meeting by happenstance at a late night party, Barrett and Schilling quickly began writing music together, delving ever deeper into musical influences that lead them to the rich soils of Appalachia. Nowadays the couple own and run American Vinyl Co., a one-stop shop for everything from custom lathe-cut vinyl records, record mastering/pressing, direct-to-lacquer recording, live musical performances, a record shop, and a well-curated collection of historical audio equipment – all located in a beautifully renovated 1940s warehouse on the South Slope near downtown Asheville. To fully grasp the breadth of everything that happens at American Vinyl Co., we highly suggest going there for a visit – you can order from their “menu,” which includes recording a single inside the sound truck, or you can check out a show where they host an impressive variety of emerging roots music and Americana acts. You can check out their event schedule here.
American Viny Co. Stage located just outside of downtown Asheville in the “Brewery District” of South Slope.
This industrious duo also still finds time to crank out inspiring original music, amidst refurbishing retro musical equipment and pressing loads of vinyl records for independent artists. Their latest iteration as The Willy Nillys is the third progression of their musical brainchild. Past projects have included the Christy Lynn Band, which is heavily inspired by Barrett’s lifelong love of classic country, and Triumph of the Wild, which won the couple first place for best recording at the San Diego Music Awards and began their relentless pilgrimage to musical sites of inspiration throughout the rural south. In the Radio Bristol studio, we got to witness a few of their brand new songs and talk about new recording projects on the horizon.
Starting out they played a tune called “American Daydream,” a hopeful yet rugged romp accented by cinematic swells of harmonica and hair-raising vocal harmonies. The lyrics seem to recount their idyllic but at times dangerous and unglamorous experience as OG van lifers – living off of sink showers and hints of Ola Belle Reed melodie,; learning how to befriend locals, and staying out of trouble with local police. The chorus proclaims “Livin our life like we wanted to…In an American Daydream with you,” ending with the road-weary affirmation: “A couple beggars, a couple of crooks, A couple of nobodies you overlooked…There ain’t a risk we ain’t never took.” This band is definitely for lovers of Shovels and Rope, The Everly Brothers, and 1950s pop employing powerhouse vocals and swishing echo-like back beats.
They also shared a somber number, “It Ain’t Fair,” a tune with a lilting melody that felt reminiscent of classic country balladry. The song slowly gallops along with regretful lyrics that recount sacrifices made as traveling songwriters – missing their nephews grow up and their parents aging. The stoic beauty and honesty of this song will leave a lump in your throat and tears in your eyes, with the last verse admitting:
“To my two sisters, I’ve been meaning to call
It breaks my heart knowing, I don’t know you at all
So I’ll pack my suitcase and I’ll go back in time
Back before a song was always on my mind.”
This is a band that is definitely worth checking out – so be sure to keep your eyes peeled for a new EP coming from them this summer, one that is sure to be self-produced and released with hand-pressed vinyl from American Vinyl Co.
Check out The Willy Nillys playing “It Ain’t Fair” live in the Radio Bristol studio.
Ella Patrick is a Production Assistant at Radio Bristol. She also hosts Folk Yeah!on Radio Bristol and is a performing musician as Momma Molasses.
Today is the anniversary of Jimmie Rodgers’ passing on May 26, 1933, and therefore we wanted to celebrate him with this blog post by volunteer Ed Hagen – including a short lesson in Rodgers’ iconic guitar style! Ed moved to Bristol last summer, and he soon joined us at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum as a Gallery Assistant. He has played guitar for many years, mostly jazz, but he has been working hard on the rudiments of country and bluegrass since moving to Tennessee. As Ed says, “There is no better place to start than with the guitar style of Jimmie Rodgers!”
Jimmie Rodgers was born in 1897 in Meridian, Mississippi, and he learned to play guitar while working on the railroad as a water boy and brakeman. He was influenced by the music played and the songs sung by the African American railway workers he met at the railway yard and around town – their call-and-response singing style during work and the blues songs they sang made a distinctive mark on Rodgers’ sound. He also spent time in Meridian’s opera house, vaudeville theaters, and hotels where he heard jazz, parlor music, and popular tunes, all of which also provided inspiration.
In 1927 he moved to Ashville, North Carolina, where he started playing on the local radio station with a small band made up of three musicians from Bristol, Tennessee-Virginia. Later that year they heard about recording sessions that were going to be held in Bristol conducted by the Victor Talking Machine Company, and so they traveled up to audition. These were the famous “1927 Bristol Sessions” that we celebrate at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum today. After arriving in Bristol for their audition, Rodgers and the band ended up recording separately, with speculation attributing this to an internal squabble or a change made by producer Ralph Peer. For Rodgers, this led to a recording contract and huge success as a recording and performing artist – though for only six short years before his death from tuberculosis in 1933 – and he is now celebrated as the “Father of Country Music.”
Jimmie Rodgers’ guitar style is iconic and made a huge impact on country music musicians and beyond – numerous artists have copied and embellished it for their own music playing throughout the years. It is based within a traditional style of guitar playing, but he is one of the most successful and well-known performing and recording artists to play in this style, and he certainly knew how to make it his own!
For guitar players, it’s a great style to learn because it is so versatile. As the bartender in the Blues Brothers would put it, the style works for both kinds of music, country and western. You can slow it down for a Hank Williams’ ballad, or swing it hard for a Bob Wills’ two-step. You can use it to play Gene Autry cowboy tunes or just about any Merle Haggard or Buck Owens tune. And once you master it, the style gives you the foundation to play the related but more challenging guitar styles of Maybelle Carter, Merle Travis, and Chet Atkins.
Playing Guitar Jimmie Rodgers-Style
Before we can play this guitar style, we need to begin with short introduction on how to play traditional country bass, because that is the foundation of the style. For the most part, traditional country bass players play the root note of the chord on the first beat of the measure, and the fifth note of the chord’s major scale on the third beat. The fifth can either be played above or below the root. Playing behind a C chord, these notes would be C and G. This is called playing “one five.”
A triplet (that is, three notes played where a quarter note would ordinarily be played) can be played on the fourth beat of a measure, especially before a chord change. This triplet anticipates the chord that is played in the next measure, either ascending or descending to the root of the target chord. The three notes in the triplet are the three tones just above or below the root of the target chord. For example, if ascending from a measure of C to a measure of F, the triplet at the end of the C measure would be the fifth, sixth, and seventh tones of the F major scale.
If descending from a C measure to a G measure, the notes of the triplet would be the fourth, third and second tones of the G major scale.
Alternatively, a bass player will sometimes play a third on the third beat, especially if that note is a seventh of the target chord (the chord to be played in the next measure). If moving from a C to an F, for example, the third in C (E) is the seventh in F. Or sometimes, just to keep it simple, the bass player will play the root on the third beat.
Rodgers does all of this on the guitar rather than on a bass. He plays a bass line on his guitar by fingering a first-position chord with his left hand, which will typically have the first and fifth notes of the major scale on the bottom three (EAD) strings. Just like any country bass player, he’ll “one five” it, playing the first and fifth tones on the first and third beats of the measure, mix in triplets, and occasionally drop in a root or third on the third beat. While doing this, he’ll strum the treble strings on the other beats. This allows him to effectively play bass and guitar at the same time.
This is sometimes called a “boom chuck” rhythm, similar to a military band’s “oom pah” or a stride piano player’s left hand. The “boom” is the bass note, and the “chuck” is the strum. Sometimes, to spice it up, a down-up strum is added to the chuck, creating a “boom chucka” (sometimes called a “church lick”). So the last beat of a measure might be a “chuck,” a church lick, or a triplet.
A brief note about the strum: These first position chords typically include open strings, and no particular effort is made to dampen them. It is not essential to play every string on every chord; the treble top notes (the B and E string) are often omitted.
There are no strict rules about any of this, except that it all has to done with confidence and a swing feel. You should be able to sing, play the bass and chords, and drop in a triplet or church lick as the mood strikes you. This all comes with practice.
The exercise below will get you used to playing ascending and descending triplets. Start slow and play it until it becomes second nature.
Providentially, Rodgers made The Singing Brakeman, a short sound film released in 1930 where he plays guitar and sings three songs, so you can see exactly how he plays. The film is available on YouTube. You’ll need to take one precaution if you are playing along with the video. The guitar in the film is tuned a half step high, so to play along you’ll have to tune your guitar up a half step or put a capo on the first fret. When we talk about these tunes below, we’ll do so as if the recording was in standard tuning, that is, when he fingers something that looks like a C chord in the film, we’ll call it that, even though we are hearing a C# chord on the soundtrack.
With all this in mind, let’s take a look at the first song in The Singing Brakeman, “Waiting on a Train.” Rodgers begins by imitating a train whistle, and then sings some nonsense syllables over this short guitar opening:
The partial F chords in the first bar are played as four simple down strokes on the four beats. The second bar is a boom chuck, playing the root instead of the fifth on the third beat. The third bar is two church licks. He ends the fourth bar as a triplet leading into the first bar of the chorus, which is played “one five.”
I’m not going to tab out the rest of the song. It goes against the spirit of how these songs are played. Players are free to sprinkle triplets and church licks wherever they like. Jimmie Rodgers likely never played the same song the same way twice. But to get you started, the chords for the first verse go like this:
This is just a start for aspiring Jimmie Rodgers-inspired players, but it should give you a good place to begin as you explore the wonderful musical world of “America’s Blue Yodeler,” “The Singing Brakeman,” and the “Father of Country Music”!
Radio Bristol is proud to offer a platform to local and regional artists, artists who are often underrepresented on a national level yet deserving of that audience. As part of Radio Bristol’s core mission, we are pleased to share our latest Radio Bristol Spotlight post. Radio Bristol Spotlight is a series highlighting top emerging artists in our region. Through interviews and performance we will learn more about the musicians who help to make Central Appalachia one of the richest and most unique musical landscapes in the world.
Singer-Songwriter Chancellor (Chance) Lawson has been turning heads with his acoustic solo originals, recently winning the Tennessee Songwriters Week Competition for the Northeast Tennessee region. Local finalists performed at The Down Home in Johnson City, Tennessee, competing for a chance to play a showcase at Nashville’s acclaimed listening room, the Bluebird Cafe .The competition was hosted at six different historical venues throughout the state, and celebrates the “foundation of the craft for which Tennessee is known – music.”
Chance Lawson at The Down Home in Johnson City, Tennessee, following his performance for Tennessee Songwriters Week Competition finals. Courtesy of Chance Lawson
Growing up in Kingsport, Tennessee, Lawson has been a staple at open mic nights and stages surrounding the Tri-Cities, performing with the collectively run indie-rock band Donnie and the Dry Heavers. This summer the musician also plans to open up a brand new venue in his hometown – the Market Street Social Club will be an inclusive space for pickers of all levels and performers of everything from music to stand-up comedy. The club will host multiple open mics weekly, as well as live performances by regional and touring artists. Recently we got to visit with Lawson in the Radio Bristol studio where he shared plans for the new space, plus some of his original tunes and off-the-cuff asides about his laid back approach to creating music.
Complete with Stetson and cowboy hat, Lawson confidently strolled into the studio and started things off with a bluegrassy original tune called “The Flood.” Fashioned together with idyllic imagery and fluid flatpicking, the song depicts a listless experience of existing – using water as a metaphor for the ebb and flow of emotion, proclaiming Lawson’s ability to remain stable and to keep “holding on” even while expressing an inner need for traveling that keeps his feet from “rooting.” Inspired by heralded Americana songwriters such as Jason Isbell and John Prine, Lawson is an astonishingly polished performer whose dues earned at countless local venues are paying off. His songs, embellished by effortless guitar playing and velvety smooth twang-tinged vocals, offer a bona fide look into the raw talent that comes from our region.
Playing on a brand new Taylor guitar that was part of the prize for winning the Tennessee Songwriters Week Competition, Lawson admitted that he was shocked when his name got called as the overall winner for the Northeast Tennessee region at The Down Home. Lawson’s flare for creating original music has been opening up major doors for the songwriter. He spoke highly about his experience playing at The Bluebird Cafe in Nashville, saying that he felt like folks there were super supportive, and he was impressed by the other songwriters such as Tyson Leamon and Jacob Rice, who made it clear why they had won for their prospective regions.
Raised playing gospel music at Cross Roads United Methodist Church and taught guitar by his mother, Lawson comes from a family with deep musical roots. His grandfather was celebrated country music star Red Kirk, who made appearances on historic radio programs such as WNOX’s MidDay Merry-Go-Round, WLS’s National Barn Dance, the Louisiana Hayride, and the Grand Ole Opry. With country music and traditions running through his veins one might find it surprising that one of Lawson’s earliest and most impactful influences was The Grateful Dead. He described first hearing “Friend of the Devil” during a hazy car ride and becoming completely hooked on the sound, which to him blended the traditional bluegrass scales he grew up on with a more meandering sideways-hippie-infused sound. Becoming a “Dead Head” seems to have sparked a creative ember for Lawson who then shared a song called “Jerry and Jesus.” The song reads as a thoughtful plea for reconciliation across musical and philosophical boundaries. Lyrics such as “Let’s get along, let’s throw a party tonight…now that’s worth praying for. Let’s make mistakes, that’s how we learn anyways…Who said you can’t love Jerry and Jesus?” offer a heartfelt perspective on merging Lawson’s Tennessee roots with a broader worldview. The seemingly paradoxical inclination to meld stylistic influences from traditional music along with subjective songwriting makes Lawson’s songs a provocative and compelling listen.
While playing in the Radio Bristol studio, Lawson also performed “Happy Man,” the tune that won him the Tennessee Songwriters Week Competition. Inspired by his girlfriend, the catchy song mixes pop sensibilities by blending country twang with rhythm-and-blues vibes…think Bill Withers meets Gary Stewart. The song is refined yet maintains its authenticity. To watch a live performance of the song watch the video below, and be sure to follow Lawson’s music online via his Facebook page.
Chance Lawson performing “Happy Man,” winner of the 2022 Tennessee Songwriters Week Competition.
Ella Patrick is a Production Assistant at Radio Bristol. She also hosts Folk Yeah!on Radio Bristol and is a performing musician as Momma Molasses.
Music and work have always gone hand-in-hand. Songwriters often use their craft to reflect the realities of day-to-day life – and for most of us, a big piece of our lives is given over to the time we spend doing our jobs. Therefore, it is no surprise to find songs across genres that tell stories of labor.
Songs that reflect different forms of labor or jobs are common in early hillbilly music, as well as in contemporary country. The songs are often particular to the time period in which they were written or look back on the past with nostalgia. Several different types of labor are commonly reflected in hillbilly music – especially farming, timber and lumber work, coal mining, and work on the railways – and those themes are also found in later country music.
At the turn of the 20th century, almost half of all Americans lived on farms. Farm work and a rural lifestyle was a major part of their lives, though farming for subsistence or profit was – and still is – difficult and uncertain. Artists like Ernest Stoneman sang about that uncertainty. For instance, his 1934 recording “All I Got’s Gone” reflected the impact of the Great Depression on rural people who had bought more than they could afford before it hit, only to lose everything once the stock market crashed so that they had to go back to subsistence farming or survive without much else to support them.
Other songs of the era focused on both the importance and the precariousness of the farming life, songs like Fiddlin’ John Carson’s “The Farmer is the Man (That Feeds Them All)” (1924) and “The Honest Farmer” (1925). Carson’s 1924 recording was later taken up and sung by Pete Seeger as a protest song. One of The Carter Family’s songs – “The Homestead on the Farm” (1929) – is told from the perspective on a man who has left his family farm behind to make his way in the world and remembers it fondly with lyrics like “You could hear the cattle lowing in the lane / You could almost see the fields of bluegrass green.” Many modern country songs hearken back to the farming days with nostalgia and also celebrate the work that farmers do – for example, “International Harvester” by Craig Morgan (2006) and even “She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy” by Kenny Chesney (1999)!
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, abundant and rich natural resources, coupled with low land costs, made Appalachia the site of a major boom in the logging industry. This brought huge changes in land ownership and usage – with land being taken over by outside investors and corporations – and often had devastating environmental and social effects on the region. And it wasn’t just the Appalachians that saw the growth of timber work; other areas of the country (and beyond) have a similar history, and as with farming, songs were sung about this common labor. For instance, the lyrics to “Once More a-Lumbering Go” was written down by a New England lumberman named John Springer in the 1850s, and several versions of the song were later recorded in the field by song collectors and ethnomusicologists. Smithsonian Folkways produced an album in 1961 called Lumbering Songs from the Ontario Shanties, and the library at the University of Wisconsin-Madison created a K-12 lesson plan about Wisconsin’s lumberjack songs. Later artists have also recorded songs about the timber industry, including Johnny Cash’s “The Timber Man” from his 1975 children’s album and Bill Stains with “The Logging Song” (1979).
Coal mining has been a major part of Appalachian communities for over a century and holds a special place in the economic and environmental history of this region. Therefore, it is only natural that working in coalfields and living in coal towns has provided a source of musical inspiration for many, including songs about the hazards and dangers of this labor and the conflicts between workers and the coal companies that employed them. Blind Alfred Reed’s “Explosion in the Fairmount Mines” (1928) and Hazel Dickens’ “Black Lung” both highlight the very real dangers miners faced, both deep in the mines and after they’ve left them behind.
One of our favorite songs about coal mining is “Sixteen Tons,” written by Merle Travis and recorded by Bristol’s very own Tennessee Ernie Ford in 1955, along with a host of other artists over the years. Travis’s lyrics reflected the bravado of the men who toiled underground in dangerous conditions and then later sometimes came to blows in their down time, but most importantly it also focused on the struggles that miners and their families faced living in a company town and owing their bosses their wages to survive. With lines like “You load sixteen tons, what do you get / Another day older and deeper in debt” and “I owe my soul to the company store,” those economic hardships certainly become clear to the listener. Songs like Florence Reece’s “Which Side Are You On?” Joe Hill’s,” Hazel Dickens’ “They’ll Never Keep Us Down,” and numerous songs about union activist Joe Hill underline the struggle workers’ too often faced for safe working conditions and livable wages.
Railroads were also a major industry – and hugely important to the transportation of resources like timber and coal – in the United States in the mid- to late-19th century and early 20th century, and large numbers of Americans worked for the railroad. Train songs were particularly popular in the early 20th century and covered a wide variety of subjects, including railroad construction and changing technology (for example, various songs about John Henry, the “steel-driving man”), rail travel, train bandits, the wandering hobo living life on the rails (Jimmy Rodgers’ “Waiting for a Train,” 1929), and even as a spiritual metaphor within sacred and gospel music (The Carter Family’s “The Little Black Train,” 1937). And sometimes songs turn the usual story on its head – for example, Amythyst Kiah recently recorded “Polly Ann’s Hammer,” a song based on the John Henry tale, though this time told from the perspective of Henry’s wife.
However, railway songs very often focused on train wrecks – an all-too-frequent danger of the early railroading years. Some lamented passengers who lost their lives, but most of them memorialized the crewmen killed in the line of duty on the rails, along with celebrating their heroism. Songs like Henry Whitter’s “Wreck of the Old 97” (1923), Blind Alfred Reed’s “The Wreck of the Virginian” and Mr. and Mrs. J. W. Baker’s “The Newmarket Wreck,” both recorded at the 1927 Bristol Sessions, and “Engine 143” by the Carter Family (1929) share the news of these tragedies in chorus and verse form. Later artists hearken back to these days in song too – for example, “The Great Nashville Railroad Disaster (A True Story),” recorded by David Allan Coe in 1980.
This post just touches on the tip of the iceberg for songs about work – there are so many out there, and so many themes and topics explored in those songs that there’s not room in one post to cover them all! For instance, just a few include Hattie Burleson’s “Sadie’s Servant Room Blues” (1928), which notes the indignities of work when you are required to work long hours for low pay, while being treated with little respect due to race; Dollie Parton’s “9 to 5” (1980), a beloved movie theme song that was inspired by a women’s activist movement that fought for equal pay and treatment in the workplace; Johnny Paycheck’s “Take This Job and Shove It” (1977), chronicling the frustration of a man who worked for years for little reward – and then, being a country song, he also lost his girlfriend or wife; and Sam Cooke’s “Chain Gang” (1960), a song that reflects the harsh realities of Southern justice through unpaid labor in the Jim Crow era.
You can check out the Virtual Speaker Series presentation we did on this topic in December here, along with three related playlists: here, here, and here! I hope this post and the music it celebrates give you a starting point for exploring the history of work through song!
The Way We Worked special exhibit is on display at the museum through Sunday, January 23 so come see it while it is still here! And tune into our Radio Bristol Book Club show on Thursday, January 27 at 12:00pm as we continue our exploration of work history through a discussion of Denise Giardina’s Storming Heaven, followed by an interview with the author.
René Rodgers is Head Curator at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum. Erika Barker is the museum’s Curatorial Manager.
We also contributed a country music playlist for the Appalachian Peace Education Center’s MLK Day programs this past weekend. Country music has been influenced by a wide variety of different musical traditions over the years. Enslaved people from Africa brought the knowledge and memory of the banjo – a common instrument in country and bluegrass – with them when they were forcibly transported to these shores. And since its early days in the 1920s, Black artists have contributed to the history and sound of country and old-time music. Our playlist celebrates several of those artists.
The museum’s Spotify playlist to mark Martin Luther King Jr. Day 2022.
El Watson, Tarter & Gay, and the Tennessee Chocolate Drops played on early country music recording sessions in East Tennessee (though their songs were categorized at the time as “race records” rather than “hillbilly records”). El Watson was the only African American musician to record at the 1927 Bristol Sessions, putting down two songs: “Narrow Gauge Blues” and “Pot Licker Blues.” He also played bones on a few songs recorded by the Johnson Brothers, and Charles Johnson played guitar on Watson’s recordings – these are some of the earliest integrated recordings in country music. Ralph Peer of the Victor Talking Machine Company came back to Bristol in 1928 to record more musicians from this area, and this time the sole African American act was a duo called Tarter & Gay. As with El Watson, they recorded two sides – “Brownie Blues” and “Unknown Blues” – that were marketed as race records. The Tennessee Chocolate Drops – made up of brothers Howard and Roland Armstrong and Carl Martin – recorded “Knox County Stomp” for Vocalion at the Knoxville Sessions in 1930.
Lesley Riddle worked with A. P. Carter as they traveled around Southern Appalachia to collect songs for The Carter Family to perform and record. He also taught them several songs, including “The Cannon Ball,” and his guitar playing influenced Maybelle Carter’s guitar style. Riddle later moved to Rochester, New York, where he sometimes played music in small venues around the city in the 1960s and 1970s. He met Mike Seeger in 1965 and recorded music for him and performed as part of the urban folk revival.
Elizabeth Cotten, guitarist and banjo player, was an important influence in American folk music; her connection to the Seeger family, especially Mike Seeger, played an important role in her amazing musical talent being recognized and celebrated. Her style and repertoire – based on earlier African American music and instrumental traditions and delivered in her unique left-handed playing – impacted a variety of musicians who followed her. Honored as a National Heritage Fellow in 1984 and winner of a Grammy at the age of 90, the Smithsonian recognized her as a “living treasure” before her passing in 1987.
Brownie McGhee, born in Knoxville but raised in Kingsport, made his mark in music locally, but also put down songs for a recording session in Chicago in the 1940s. Alan Lomax later recorded McGhee, providing an important record of his musical talent – and as with other Black musicians whose music intersected with early traditional and old-time music, he was also active in the folk revival. McGhee recorded “Sittin’ Pretty” with fellow artist Sonny Terry.
DeFord Bailey, a talented harmonica player, was the first African American artist to perform on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville in the 1920s. Bailey was nicknamed “the harmonica wizard” by George Hay, WSM’s station manager – one of his most famous pieces on the show was “Pan American Blues,” which recreated the evocative sounds of a locomotive. Bailey recorded for various labels and performed live throughout the South and Midwest, but sadly his music career was curtailed by a business dispute; he later opened a shoeshine parlour.
These early African American performers gave way to later musicians who have made their own mark on country and old-time music. Charley Pride, once a Negro league professional baseball player, rose to fame in the late 1960s and early 1970s. He became a very popular country music star and is one of only three Black members of the Grand Ole Opry. “All I Have to Offer You (Is Me)” was his first number one hit.
Album cover for Charley Pride’s Country, released in 1979 by Reader’s Digest.
Dom Flemons and Rhiannon Giddens are founding members of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, an important Black string band; they now have thriving solo careers. Both artists use their music to illuminate African American histories. In 2018, Flemons released an album focused on Black cowboys through Smithsonian Folkways. He chose to feature “Lonesome Old River Blues,” a song originally recorded by Roy Acuff and the Crazy Tennesseans in the 1930s, on this album in order to illuminate the influence of African American traditions on early country music. Giddens’ musical output has consistently helped to tell the story of the Black experience, and she recently led an all-female banjo “supergroup” called Our Native Daughters that shares African American histories and stories from the female perspective. Her version of “Freedom Highway,” a 1964 Civil Rights protest song, is taken from her second solo studio album and features fellow artist Bhi Bhiman.
Amythyst Kiah, a local musician and singer from Johnson City, Tennessee, did her degree at ETSU in the Bluegrass, Old-Time, and Country Music program and contributed to the exhibit content at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum. She is part of the Our Native Daughters group and has recently released a new Rounder Records solo album, Wary + Strange. Her song “Black Myself” was first released on Songs of Our Native Daughters and then re-released on Wary + Strange – the song’s powerful lyrics, coupled with Kiah’s amazing voice, pack a real punch.
Jerron “Blind Boy” Paxton is a young singer and multi-instrumentalist originally from the Watts district of Los Angeles, California. His playing styles are akin to pre-WWII blues and jazz in the vein of artists like Fats Waller, Bessie Smith, and Lonnie Johnson. The Southern roots of his grandparents who moved from Louisiana to California in the mid-1950s provided the influence that became his signature sound. The song we feature is “Railroad Bill,” the B-side of a single released on Evangelist Records of London, England, which also happens to be a product of his first-ever professional recording session. Paxton has appeared in the documentary film The American Epic Sessions, as well as voicing a character in the animated miniseries Over the Wall. We have been very lucky to have Paxton play here at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum and the Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion Festival.
Texas-born Charley Crockett is a blues, country, and Americana singer-songwriter with 15 albums under his belt starting with 2015’s A Stolen Jewel through to his 2021 release Music City USA. Crockett has been steadily gaining popularity and is an established part of authentic roots music’s current youth movement. Also having appeared at the Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion, Crockett has garnered a faithful local fanbase. The track “Jamestown Ferry” is a mid-tempo honkytonk number from 2017.
These African American artists are just a few of those that have made their mark on roots, country, and old-time music. We hope you enjoy our playlist, and that it leads you deeper into this history and music!
About the Authors
René Rodgers is Head Curator at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum. Scotty Almany is the museum’s Digital Media, Programming, & Exhibit Logistics Manager.
Well, 2021 was quite the year. Despite the hardships we all faced, one thing’s for sure – we learned artists are incredibly inspiring at both adapting and creating under difficult circumstances, helping us to navigate through trying times and challenging situations, and for that we are exceedingly grateful. And so, as we step into the new year, Radio Bristol wanted to be sure to share some of our top albums of 2021 with you.
Amidst the isolation of the pandemic, many artists took time off from touring, and quite a few returned with a multitude of creative work. This list highlights some standout records that were in heavy rotation at Radio Bristol in 2021, but is certainly by no means a comprehensive list of all the music that we loved this year. We hope there are some artists listed here that you may not be familiar with. If so, we encourage you to go check them out (just click on the links provided). We bet you’ll love them too! And don’t forget the importance of supporting the arts by purchasing music and merchandise directly from the artist.
Melissa Carper’s Daddy’s Country Gold is a rare, sparkling nugget of country music realness. After wandering all over the United States as a working musician, playing breweries, festivals, and street corners, Carper wheeled into Nashville to make 12 of the most thoughtfully executed tunes of 2021. Recorded to tape at Nashville’s vintage gear clad studio, The Bomb Shelter, and produced by Andrija Tokic (Alabama Shakes, Hurray for the Riff Raff), this album offers a warm reel to reel sound, and Carper’s exceptional vocals and timeless songwriting create a country-western meets earthy jazz lounge feeling.
Melissa Carper from a recent performance on Radio Bristol’s Farm and Fun Time singing “Would You Like to Get Some Goats.”
Charley Crockett, the “do-it-yourself” cowboy, has officially arrived on the national country music stage with six critically acclaimed self-released albums, millions of YouTube views, and a Grand Ole Opry debut under his belt. Amidst the pandemic, Crockett released Welcome to Hard Times to a growing audience, and with its timely lyrics and hard-core “classic country” production, Crockett’s fanbase expanded exponentially. In 2021 Crockett released two further albums: one a tribute to Texas songwriting legend James Hand, and the other Music City USA. Charlie Crockett amazes us with his ability to turn out high-quality albums at a record pace, and this one is no exception. From the R&B drenched “I Need Your Love” to the witty title track chock-full of commentary on the music industry to the reflective tear-in-my-beer ballad “The World Just Broke My Heart,” Music City USA makes it clear that Crockett is on one heck of a roll!
Layered loops of twinkling Kalimbas over clawhammer banjo and swelling fiddle reels, all nestled among lush vocal harmonies, make this collection of Uncle David Macon tunes recorded by Joachim Cooder on Over That Road I’m Bound absolutely unique and spellbinding. Released on Nonesuch Records, Cooder reveals an atypical approach to old-time music while paying homage to the Opry star and song collector who also bent melodies to his own purposes. And don’t just listen to the record – check out live performances of the songs, which showcase the influence of world and folk music alongside Cooder’s innovative performance style.
Album artwork for Charley Crockett’s Music City USA and Joachim Cooder’s Over That Road I’m Bound.
Currently selling out venues across the country, West Virginia native Sierra Ferrell and her 2021 release Long Time Coming are well worth the hype! Released this past August on Rounder Records, Long Time Coming chronicles unrequited love, thoughts on the struggle of existence, and an un-ending search for genuineness. Co-produced by 10-time Grammy winner Gary Paczosa, and featuring cameo performances by popular bluegrass artists such as Billy Strings and Sarah Jarosz, Ferrell’s album mixes together musical ideas from bluegrass, jazz, and early country to create a sound that seems like it’s being played from the horn of an old Victrola. Now a rising star of the Americana music scene, Ferrell has been igniting music enthusiasts nationwide. We’ve been lucky to work with her numerous times at Radio Bristol!
Raised in Lubbock, Texas, Noel McKay’s rust-dusted vocals and reflective and undeniably engaging songwriting makes him a natural successor to legendary Texas songwriters such as Guy Clark who discovered McKay singing at a small venue back in 1993. In Blue Blue Blue, his most recent release, McKay unveils a solid collection of some of the best country-folk around. Accompanied by old-timey fiddles, well-curated acoustic guitar solos, and tasty percussion shuffles, this album is sure to satisfy listeners looking for a real-deal country-and-western sound. McKay’s knack for writing catchy and humorous tunes make listening to Blue Blue Blue an absolute treat.
Album artwork for Sierra Ferrell’s Long Time Coming and Noel McKay’s Blue Blue Blue.
Regional favorite Amythyst Kiah released debut album Wary + Strange on Rounder Records this year, and the album has since exploded onto the Americana music scene. After recording with the all-women-of-color supergroup, Our Native Daughters, and writing the single “Black Myself,” which gained Kiah a Grammy nomination, Wary + Strange was one of our most anticipated albums of 2021. Blaring with alt-rock-tinged summits, alongside virtuosic valleys of old-time inspired fingerpicking and harmonic pedal steel, Kiah’s remarkable powerhouse vocals shine through in expressive vistas of political discourse and raw vulnerability. This album is a must-listen and delivers on every level of musicality.
An intimate performance from Amythyst Kiah at the Radio Bristol studio where she did a debut performance of the song “Firewater” from her 2021 release Wary + Strange on Rounder Records.
Galax, Virginia-based artist Dori Freeman’s newest release Ten Thousand Roses effortlessly explores a wealth of musical genres including indie, rock, and pop while holding true to her Appalachian roots and distinctive vocal vibrato. Observations about socioeconomics, classism, and the female experience dance across well-crafted melody lines as Freeman once again proclaims her extraordinary talent for songwriting. We’ve been on team Dori for a long time, and it’s been amazing watching her journey.
Recorded at the acclaimed Rubber Room Recording Studio in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, with producer Joseph Terrell (Mipso), Shay Martin Lovette’s sophomore album, Scatter & Gather, has been a breakthrough favorite on Radio Bristol this year. The Western North Carolina-native takes you on a sonic journey where bluegrass and progressive indie-folk brush shoulders. The album is embellished with polished folk-rock arrangements and mindful poetics, offering self-actualized philosophies on ecology, relationships, present-ness, and compassion.
Portrait of Dori Freeman, and album artwork for Shay Martin Lovette’s Scatter & Gather.
Duff Thompson is co-founder of New Orleans-based label Mashed Potato Records – which records to old Ampex tape and specializes in capturing the glimmering and organic. He recently released his debut album Haywire, a record filled with mindful orchestral arrangements, slapback echo, and swishing stripped-down percussion. This album feels like a Phil Spector pop-infused daydream. Atmospheric standout tracks like “You’re Pretty Good’” and “Sleight of Hand” make it a perfect soundtrack for a lazy day, or one for envisioning positive vibes for the new year.
New Orleans musician Duff Thompson performing “Rock and Roll Will Break Your Heart” in a live session shot this past year in the Radio Bristol studio.
Materializing seductive country nods way out on the West coast, LA-based band Lord Huron’s newest album Long Lost is a transformational soundtrack. Theatrical strings swirl around a silhouette of hazy Western meets surf rock-inspired guitar lines. Swimming with dreamy vocal harmonies that drift along to a jangling laid-back tambourine, fuzzy radio excerpts introduce the tracks, and accompanying music videos feature mysterious blurred-out faces in classic country attire. Long Lost has created an expansive buzz around the band, which was originally formed in 2010.
Asheville-based artist Alexa Rose’s release Headwaters is a beautiful snapshot inside the mind of a blossoming songwriter. Recorded at Delta-Sonic Studios in Memphis, Tennessee, and produced by Bruce Watson of Big Legal Mess Records, the album displays lucid lyrical realizations amidst a mesmerizing auditory backdrop. Headwaters fuses the droning of heavy progressive rock guitars with Appalachian folk-influenced narrative ballads, creating a fresh approach to the form. This new album has been winning Rose a dedicated following and landing the emerging artist opening slots for major national acts such as Watch House, Hiss Golden Messenger, and Parker Milsap.
Album artwork for Lord Huron’s Long Lost and Alexa Rose’s Headwaters.
Growing up in Floyd, Virginia, a town known for its ties to early country music, Morgan Wade absorbed music from an early age while attending bluegrass jams with her grandfather. Now in her mid-20s, this past year Wade signed a major recording contract with Sony and released her debut album Reckless to a growing fanbase. Produced by Sadler Vaden, well known as the lead guitarist for Jason Isbell & the 400 unit, the album merges influences from pop, rock, folk, and country. The album’s pop-country adjacent sound claims new ground by employing hues of late 1980s grunge and authentic songwriting that exposes Wade’s struggle with addiction and mental health.
Blasting synths and catchy 1980s inspired glam-rocks choruses make the 2021 release Tasjan! Tasjan! Tasjan! a gleaming cluster of outstanding tunes. Taking sonic cues from the likes of David Bowie and Tom Petty, and combining them with folk storytelling sensibilities, Tasjan has excelled with an innovative take on the craft of songwriting. Introspective lyrics about inner-truth, gender identity, and disillusionment with technology make this album an extremely compelling listen.
Cover artwork for Morgan Wade’s Reckless and Aaron Lee Tasjan’s Tasjan! Tasjan! Tasjan!.
Following Sturgill Simpson’s wildly successful releases of Grass Cutting Vol I & II, his most recent concept album, The Ballad of Dood & Juanita, is an immersive 27-minute long experience, dedicated to telling the tale of a historical Appalachian couple in a poetic western-inspired fashion. Employing the same group of all-star players from his last two albums – the “Hillbilly Avengers,” comprised of bluegrass heavy hitters such as Sierra Hull, Tim O’Brien, and Stewart Duncan – The Ballad of Dood & Juanita is an alluring stylistic departure from Simpson’s previous recordings.
Cover artwork for Sturgill Simpson’s The Ballad of Dood & Juanita.
And so there you have it – just a few of the records that captivated us in 2021. We’d love to hear what caught your ear! We can’t thank you enough for your overwhelming support and for being a part of our community. We look forward to 2022 and talented musicians bringing us another great year of music. We’ll do our best to keep you up-to-date on the most exciting and upcoming talent.
Happy New Year from Radio Bristol!!
Kris Truelsen is the Program Director at Radio Bristol, and Ella Patrick is the Production Assistant at Radio Bristol. Both are also working musicians.
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 is proud to offer a platform to local and regional artists, artists who are often underrepresented on a national level yet deserving of that audience. In expanding upon Radio Bristol’s core mission, we are pleased to bring you our Radio Bristol Spotlight series. Radio Bristol Spotlight highlights the top emerging artists in our region. Through interviews and performance, we will learn more about the musicians who help to make Central Appalachia one of the richest and most unique musical landscapes in the world.
Not too long ago we were able to host a well-known local fixture of the Tri-Cities music scene for an interview and live performance: Ed Snodderly, singer-songwriter, professor, venue owner, and live music devotee.
Folks around the area most likely have heard about The Down Home, the long-running music venue Ed helped found with Joe “Tank” Leach in 1976. The wooden-walled, listening room-focused locale has become legendary for the quality of its musical acts and for the intimacy of the performance space. Famed for hosting major artists such as Old Crow Medicine Show, Townes Van Zandt, and Allison Krauss way before their music became a part of the growing Americana music canon, The Down Home has provided a communal space for experiencing music with a profound dedication to artistry.
Maybe you also recognize Ed’s face from his cameo performance as the “Hillbilly Fiddler” in the movie O Brother Where Art Thou. You may also have seen him running sound during an Open Hoot, or even performing in local community theatre.
If you hang around Johnson City, you may have also caught Ed walking across the ETSU campus, where he teaches songwriting. He is adept at encouraging first-time writers to hotwire their minds and put up their “antennas” to find where an attention-grabbing first line might be hiding in the everyday. This is how I first met Ed via a workshop hosted by the Birthplace of Country Music. His approach to making songs has really influenced me – a lot of his focus hones in on connecting experience to place and allowing the writer to explore “what they know” instead of relying on popular musical tropes.
Ed may wear many hats, but he is first and foremost an amazing songwriter. Indeed, his name is etched beside lyrics from his song “The Diamond Stream” on the walls of the Country Music Hall of Fame. He has released several albums as a solo musician and with his singing partner Eugene Wolf in their duo The Brother Boys, and and currently has new albums in the works in both of these roles, due out later this year and early spring of next year.
Inspired by the extra time during the pandemic, Ed talked to us about the considerable amount of new material he’s written recently, shared a few of his well-crafted songs, and also spoke about his musical journey. Donning a hip pair of rimmed glasses and a country boy swagger, Ed welcomed us into his musical landscape with an endearing East Tennessee drawl. He started off with a nostalgic tune, called “Kiss the Dream Girl,” which recounts a downtown that was once bustling. A steady rhythmic guitar line walks through the verses like someone strolling down an empty street; the “dream girl” acts as a metaphor for those still remembering in the lost spirit of a small town. This song was featured on the Brother Boys record Plow released by Sugar Hill Records in 2006, and you can listen to a recording of it here:
Growing up in the Morristown area near Knoxville, Tennessee, Ed was taught basic chords on an unbranded guitar bought by his father and uncle with money scrounged from farming tobacco. He was encouraged at an early age by his musical family – his grandfather was a fiddler, and his uncle played pedal steel professionally for big-time artists such as Loretta Lynn and Jerry Lee Lewis. With that background, Ed became fascinated with music. He also liked to learn songs by ear, slowing down 33 1/3 records while figuring out how to play the songs himself, and he reveled in the folk music revival that was gaining ground during his childhood. Ed says he’s drawn influence from a wide variety of artists, including Riley Puckett, Guy Clark, and The Beatles – from these, he has pieced together a guitar style that feels extremely unique and captivatingly organic. Part old-timey fingerpicking and part contemporary folk songwriter groove, his guitar licks seem to always be pushing songs rhythmically towards their destination. Ed’s style is both reverent to tradition, while also being totally unafraid to shift itself into another genre, all masterfully cobbled together to best serve the song at hand.
After his first number, Ed shared another original called, “Slow My Girl Around.” which felt like it could be inspired by an old fiddle tune, possibly “Fly Around My Pretty Little Miss.” Its lilting melody hops around his distinctive guitar playing, which guides each note towards the chorus. The lyrics again were tinged with nostalgia, but this time explored modernity’s dependence on technology. Lines like “Your eyes are addicted to the little box screen” and “Where all is quiet and there’s no hum, trying to get back to what we got away from” make it clear that the songwriter is searching for a more genuine existence, unfettered by the mechanics of contemporary life. When asked about his songwriting, Ed replied simply “I write about what I know; I always try to remember what the country smells like.” His dedication to straightforwardly writing about experiences while poetically uncovering personal truths leads to songs that are as thought-provoking as they are familiar and that use easy going off-the-cuff language to describe ego-splitting revelations.
The third song Ed played during his on-air performance – “Love Song in a Low Key” – felt like an expressive anthem to the present moment. The song features driving guitar accompaniment paired with recollections of everyday experiences that effortlessly create joy: pocket watches, a good cup of coffee, the feel of a steering wheel, the sense of “being home and being here.” This song displays stylistic influences from pop and rock music of the 1960s, while still imparting folk-inspired wisdom, and pulls in the listener with a sing-song talking blues-like cadence. Similar to the first two songs, Ed used the subject of romance to talk about larger truths; his approach to utilizing love as a metaphor allows these songs to seem both personal and expansive.
Ed Snodderly is many things to many people, but his interview made it clear that most of all he is an absolute devotee to live music, valuing the magic of performance, the art of songwriting, and holding reverence for person-to-person interaction. This passion is what led Ed to open The Down Home, and it is the subject of the last song he played for us. Also titled after the music venue, the song comes from 2017’s Record Shop and chronicles the rarity of a creative space like The Down Home, which according to the song is “enough to make you feel every kind of feeling.” Check out Ed’s inspiring live performance in the video below, and keep your eyes peeled for new music from Ed Snodderly and The Brother Boys.
Ella Patrick is a Production Assistant at Radio Bristol. She also hosts Folk Yeah!on Radio Bristol and is a performing musician as Momma Molasses.
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 renowned old-time mover-and-shaker Brad Kolodner. Based in Baltimore, Maryland, Brad is an accomplished banjo player, broadcaster (Folk Alley, Bluegrass Country, and Radio Bristol), and event coordinator (Baltimore Old Time Music Festival) who has made a name for himself within the roots music community by taking home ribbons at prestigious fiddler’s conventions like Clifftop and touring with bands Charm City Junction and Ken and Brad Koldner. His recent project Chimney Swifts marks a new chapter for Brad – it’s his first solo album to date and has released to widespread critical acclaim. Brad spoke to us about his love for the nuances of crooked fiddle tunes, pointing to the great Kentucky fiddler Clyde Davenport as being a major inspiration.
Old-time musicians from the past have a tendency to take on somewhat of a mythical quality in our shared reverence of their contributions to the genre. Kentucky fiddler Clyde Davenport is one of those mythical figures in my mind whose influence spreads far and wide across the old-time music landscape. The tune “Five Miles from Town” is one of the most well-known tunes sourced to his fiddling. In fact, it was the very first “crooked” tune I tried to learn (more on what “crooked” means in a sec). I recall hearing the tune on a 2010 recording by The Pearly Snaps, an Ithaca, New York-based old-time duo featuring Rosie Newton and Stephanie Jenkins. I was just getting into playing clawhammer banjo and old-time fiddle when I heard that tune, and I remember thinking “What is that?! I have to learn it.” It was like no other tune I’d heard before.
I distinctly remember sitting in my dorm room at Ithaca College in the winter of 2011 trying to work my way through the seemingly endless looping phrases. I couldn’t quite tell where the tune started and where it stopped. It sounded different every time I listened. Fiddle tunes that have eight measures in the A part and eight measures in the B part are considered “square” because they are good for dancing a square dance to as everything within the tune fits nice and evenly. However, many fiddle tunes have an irregular number of beats in one or multiple parts. These are called “crooked” tunes and are frequently “jam-busters” in that they can be hard to follow when trying to pick them up on the fly. I was deep in the weeds of learning “Five Miles from Town,” but, much to my roommates’ delight, I finally learned the tune after weeks upon weeks of trial and error on my banjo.
As I dug deeper, I learned the tune came from Clyde Davenport. His old-time music origin story is about as classic as it gets. According to the National Endowment for the Arts:
How about that for dedication? He’s a prime example of how playing old-time music isn’t just a desire but a purpose. While I never met Clyde, I’ve heard many tales from pals of mine who were lucky enough to spend time with him. He was always willing to share his knowledge and stories with anyone. He spent time in the army, worked in auto factories, farmed, ran a truck stop, and made and repaired fiddles. He was notably not a contest-style fiddler. I think this fact adds to the rawness of his style as subtlety abounds. There’s a hypnotizing quality to his fiddling. The groove runs deep. It’s the kind of trance-like state that can be hard to tap into but once you’re there, time seems to stand still. He passed in February 2020 at the age of 98.
I recorded “Five Miles from Town” on my debut solo album Chimney Swifts, playing the gourd banjo along with my father Ken Kolodner on hammered dulcimer. My gourd banjo is fretless and takes on some of those slide-y, blues-y qualities the fiddle can have. My father is using the damper pedal on his dulcimer to mute the strings for an added percussive effect. My father and I lean into the percussive and rhythmic qualities of this unusual pairing as we strive for that somewhat elusive deep groove old-timers like Clyde Davenport can tap into.
Here’s a challenge for you: Have another listen to Clyde’s version of the song above, and try to see if you can count how many beats are in each part. Maybe it’ll take you down a similar path I took discovering the joys (and addictive frustrations) of this hypnotizing style of music.
Brad’s latest record Chimney Swifts released on September 10 and is available for purchase at https://bradkolodner.bandcamp.com/album/chimney-swifts. You can tune into Brad’s show Old Time Jam right here on Radio Bristol on Tuesdays at 6pm EST. In the meantime, check out this recent video performance of “Catalpa Hop” from Brad’s debut solo record Chimney Swifts:
Brad Kolodner is a banjo player, event coordinator, and radio broadcaster. Kris Truelsen is the Program Director at Radio Bristol.
Radio Bristolis proud to offer a platform to local and regional artists who are often underrepresented on a national level yet deserving of that audience. In expanding upon Radio Bristol’s core mission, we are pleased to bring you our latest series – Radio Bristol Spotlight – highlighting top emerging artists in our region. Through interview and performance we will learn more about the musicians who help to make Southern Appalachia one of the richest and most unique musical landscapes in the world.
Recently in the studio we hosted singer-songwriter Anya Hinkle, just a few days before her new album Eden and Her Border Lands was released on Organic Records. This newest collection of songs marks the Asheville, North Carolina-based artist’s first solo recording project, after a history of playing within different band formations. Tellico, the most recent band iteration, garnished quite a bit of success on the Folk DJ charts with a #1 single and #2 album rating from their 2018 release Woven Waters. It comes as no surprise that Hinkle’s newest solo project is currently making sizable waves within the Appalachian region and beyond. The title track recently landed a spot on Spotify’s Indigo and Emerging Americana playlists alongside alt-country giants such as Tyler Childers and Sturgill Simpson. During her on-air interview and performance at Radio Bristol, Hinkle shared thoughts about her musical background and played a few tunes from the album, joined by dobro virtuoso Billy Cardine.
Hinkle started things off with her single “That’s Why Women Need Wine” a lighthearted but strategic storytelling song that offers a bounty of reflective musings exploring the headaches women encounter in a male-centric world. Inspired by a bout of depression after losing another band, the song’s message acts as a declaration of self-reliance. With humor and skillfully crafted verse, Hinkle uncovers a glimpse of what it’s like to exist as a woman within the music industry and offers herself relaxing reassurance through, of course, a glass of wine: “After half a glass I feel divine.” During their performance, Cardine’s dobro offered a swelling reel across the steel strings that felt like a rush of Pinot Noir expertly poured by a seasoned sommelier. There was no doubt when listening to the two that they are both outstandingly polished musicians.
Hinkle grew up in Blacksburg, Virginia, the daughter of classically trained symphony musicians. Her mother was a cellist for the Roanoke Symphony and enrolled Hinkle at an early age in violin lessons. As a teenager she picked up acoustic guitar and began to branch out of the classical music umbrella. Inspired by the virtuosity of bluegrass instrumentalists such as Norman Blake and Tony Rice, she began her musical aspirations as solely a “heritage player” looking to emulate bluegrass greats. It was only after starting to perform out at local bars that she felt the itch to “have something to play” and began songwriting. That itch has since gained her awards and accolades; in 2019 Hinkle won the prestigious Merlefest Chris Austin Songwriting Competition and was a finalist for the Hazel Dickens Songwriting Competition. Her dedication to musicality and craft are on full display in her new album, which alongside her unique songwriting, offers a breadth of talented players and co-writers, such as Graham Sharpe of Steep Canyon Rangers, fiddler Julian Pinelli, sacred steel player DaShawn Hickman, Mary and Billy Cardine of Lover’s Leap, and Japanese songwriter Akira Satake.
Hinkle played another tune during her studio visit, an instrumental piece named “Meditation Beyond the Shores of Darkness.” The tune harkens back to Hinkle’s commitment to traditional Appalachian music, while unveiling the musician’s distinctive musicality. It flutters through a beautiful finger-picked theme reminiscent of folk melodies from the past, while exploring some unknown inner psychological and surreal musical space. Hinkle’s music is definitely built for lovers of bands like the Grateful Dead, who value roots in traditional music and effectively work within a bluegrass framework yet push against those boundaries with skill and ease. Aside from this tune, Hinkle’s writing and vocal styling drifts between familiarity, sometimes sounding like contemporaries Gillian Welch and Alison Krauss, while maintaining all the grit and honesty of legendary Appalachian singers like Hazel Dickens and Ola Belle Reed.
Lastly, Hinkle and Cardine performed a standout tune from the new record called “The Hills of Swannanoa,” co-written with songwriter Akira Satake. I personally was excited they chose this song because it instantly grabbed my attention for its lyrical strength and gave me goosebumps with its mysterious sounding, modal musical phrasing. To me this song sounds like an echo from established folk tunes such as “Swannanoa Tunnel/Asheville Junction” while delving into uncharted liquified Newgrass-Jam territory.
To check out Hinkle and Cardine’s performance live in our studio, click here. Also, to learn more about Anya Hinkle and find tour dates, or to purchase her music visit: www.anyahinkle.com.
Ella Patrick is a Production Assistant at Radio Bristol. She also hosts Folk Yeah!on Radio Bristol and is a performing musician as Momma Molasses.