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The Transformative Power of Traditional Music: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Dulcimer. Part I

Trigger Warning: This post contains content about suicide. If you or a loved one is struggling with suicidal thoughts, please contact the 988 Suicide & Crisis Hotline.

I didn’t come from a particularly musical family. My father sang in the church choir and I had a half-sister who played piano. Other than that, there weren’t any musicians in my family. In fact, there wasn’t a great deal of music in my community in general. My only real exposure to live music was the choir at our church. Attending church wasn’t something I enjoyed as a child, but those hymns were always a highlight of my Sunday mornings. It was simple accompaniment: usually just a piano and one or two acoustic guitars. The guitar fascinated me. I asked my parents for one many times, but we couldn’t afford one. I was also very young and my parents were concerned that I might not stick with it.

Woman with short brown hair and glasses wearing a pink cardigan and jean skirt sits in a floral chair with crossed legs and holding a dulcimer upright in her lap.
Image provided by Roxanne McDaniel

I was a quiet child and a bit of a loner. It was difficult to make friends, but music was the thing I always found refuge in. My mother was a big classic rock fan, and she probably influenced my musical tastes more than anyone. I began listening to music obsessively at an early age, but the music that I listened to put me a little out of step with the other kids at school. They all had CD players and were listening to what was current. I was carrying around a walkman, listening to my mom’s old Aerosmith cassettes.

My mom also bought me my first instrument when I was about four years old. It was a Hohner harmonica in the key of C. I never learned to play it well, but I carried it with me almost everywhere I went all the way through middle school. When I was 11, after years of asking, my parents bought me an acoustic guitar. There wasn’t anyone to teach me, so I had to learn a lot from books, as well as lots of trial and error. Once I started getting comfortable with the guitar, I began trying to write songs of my own. It was very therapeutic for a young person as lonely and unhappy as I was.

In my late teens and early adult years, I became increasingly withdrawn. I’d always felt different but was afraid to say why. It made me the subject of a lot of rumors and bullying. It reached a point where I had to make a decision. I could continue keeping my secret and being miserable or try to be happy. I took my chance and revealed to everyone that I was transgender. The reaction I received was hostile. People were threatening to hurt me, I had my tires flattened at work, and I was removed from the church I had belonged to since birth. Things reached such a low point that I even tried to take my own life by crashing my car. Thankfully, I failed, but I will never forget the ambulance ride. A paramedic asked me, “Can I give you some advice? You need to get out of this town”. I knew he was right.

I don’t tell this part of the story to be sensational or to make a political statement. I just feel that it’s necessary to provide this information for context and to give a framework for what follows.

Roxanne McDaniel photographed in Bristol on 8/2/23. Pat Jarrett/Virginia Humanities

Life became dangerous for me; I had to keep my head down and be careful for a while. I needed to leave, but I needed a place to run to. Music was the only thing I was passionate about, and I wanted to go back to school. A friend told me about the bluegrass program at ETSU, and I applied. I wasn’t particularly interested in bluegrass or old-time music, but I figured I would be fine with it if it meant I had somewhere to go. It was ironic: the treatment I had been receiving back home, combined with the negative stereotypes of the region I’d begun believing, had made me want to distance myself from all things Appalachian. Yet, here I was running towards one of the most stereotypically Appalachian things I knew of. When my acceptance letter arrived, I was overjoyed. I didn’t know what to expect, but at least life was going to be different.

During this time, I had become interested in dulcimers by happening across a video online. It was of a dulcimer player named Wendy Songe playing a tune called “King of the Faeries.” The instrument had an almost ethereal sound I found captivating. I bought a cheap dulcimer and practiced for hours on end. I began listening to artists who played the dulcimer, such as Jean Ritchie, Joni Mitchell, David Schnaufer, Stephen Seifert, and Sam Edelston. Edelston was particularly interesting to me because his playing of classic rock songs on dulcimer brought together the two musical worlds I found myself in.

A Conversation with CALT Fellow Pierceton Hobbs

Pierceton Hobbs is a SWVA musician and recipient of the Greater Bristol Folk Arts & Culture Team’s Central Appalachia Living Traditions (CALT) Tradition Bearer Fellowship in 2022-23. This fellowship provides financial support, professional development, and public presentation opportunities for people working in traditional or folk arts and culture.

Tell us all about your CALT Tradition Bearer project

I was very honored to be rewarded the CALT Tradition Bearer Fellowship Grant to support my work as a teaching and recording artist.  I used my funds to acquire necessary equipment to practice my art as well as finish a recording project of original music.  

How has the grant impacted your craft and your ability to do this work?

Without this grant, I wouldn’t have been able to complete my album.  It has been a work in progress since 2022 because of funding issues. I started with an expansive vision and beautiful friends who own a basement studio. They graciously lent their knowledge and expertise in laying down the bones with me.  With help from the CALT Tradition Bearer Fellowship Grant, I have finally completed all production and the project is in post-production with a release date set for August 31! 

White man with backwards ballcap, glasses, and overalls sitting in front of a mic stand. A guitar sits on his lap and he is smiling and resting his head on one arm propped on the guitar.
Image courtesy of Pierceton Hobbs.

Who are your biggest inspirations for your artistic and creative work and music making? 

This is a loaded question, aha! There are so many beautiful people who have either mentored me in some way or helped me come into my own. Apologies in advance if I miss anybody:  


Tyler Hughes, Sam Gleaves, Thomas Cassell, Will Cassell, Kenny Miles, Hayden Miles, Linda Jean Stokely, Montana Hobbs, Larah Helayne, Don Rogers, Jesse Wells, Matthew Carter, Don Rogers, Mitchella Phipps, John Haywood, Rich Kirby, Senora May, Corbin Hayslett, Chris Rose, Anna Mullins, Ron Short, W.V. Hill, A.K. Mullins, Jimmy Mullins, Ron Kennedy…


Circus No. 9, Wayne Graham, The Local Honeys, Foddershock, Sparklehorse, 49 Winchester, Geonovah, The Empty Bottle String Band, The Foodstamps, Kaleb N.F.I., Amythyst Kiah, The Stanley Brothers, Jim & Jesse, The Carter Family… 


Why do you think your work is important to preserving and sharing Appalachian Folkways?

I consider myself a community-based artist.  Every faucet of the work I partake in contributes to capacity building in a resource-deprived area. We have to build the supportive artist community we want to see together! 

As a tradition-bearer, I also pass along tunes I have learned (and continue to learn) to students in the local Junior Appalachian Musicians program.  

A white man sits playing a guitar in front of a mic on a stage with a quilted backdrop.
Image courtesy of Pierceton Hobbs.

You are an Appalachian artist, a musician, songwriter and storyteller. Tell us what these roles mean to you.

The most astounding thing for me is the tendency of Appalachian artists to stick together like burrs in the wilderness fighting to land somewhere fertile to grow…no matter the genre or level of experience there is support to be had out there. 

Songwriting has always proved important in highlighting disparities everywhere, especially here. For me, it’s about comfort. I spill words to get things off my chest, hairy or otherwise. I write and arrange in the context as if I were a spectator or fan looking for something comforting to listen to whether that be happy, mad, melancholy, sad, or silly – it’s all related to human emotion. I try to make music that I want to listen to.  

Stories from Appalachia are fluid and ever-changing.  I love folktales and carry a few with me but emerging stories are my favorite. I think we’re putting away trauma and collectively lifting each other up…not “by the bootstraps” but with open arms.   

Your music tells the honest and true stories of life in Appalachia, be it an original composition or your rendition of a traditional song. What do you want people to take away from hearing these stories and experiences?

I tend to hope listeners have an open mind.  

Interpretations of meanings are just as diverse as the experiences we have in life.  

A white man in a baseball cap and overalls playing a guitar while singing.
Image courtesy of Pierceton Hobbs.

You also teach students music, tell us about the rewards of this experience

My students are a blessing! I feel as though they teach me more about the world around me than all of the world’s wisdom combined.  

It feels especially rewarding when I show them the basics on any number of instruments and they take flight on their own! When I see that creative spark flare, I think I’ve done what I’m supposed to do. 

What is the most difficult thing about being a musician in the Appalachian region? What is the easiest? What do you like most about it?

It’s hard for me to share anything easy about being an artist here. As we talked about earlier, Appalachian artists are very supportive of each other and it’s a beautiful thing. With that being said, there are still so many limiting factors for artists in the region including but not limited to a lack of creative spaces, funding, healthcare, resources, services, transportation, and venues. This subdues our ability to thrive!  

A white man with glasses and a jean jacket is singing into a mic and holding a guitar.
Image courtesy of Pierceton Hobbs.

Pierceton, is a hotdog a sandwich?


What projects are you currently working on/ and or what’s next for Pierceton Hobbs You could mention any upcoming craft shows this summer, workshops etc.

2024 is a busy and exciting year for me! This summer, I’ll be assisting teachers instructing traditional music at Cowan Creek Mountain Music School the last week in June.  This summer, I’ll be performing and releasing singles in anticipation for an album release on August 31! My first show after the release will be at Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion on September 15th!  

Folks can keep up with my artistic endeavors by visiting or on social media (links are accessible on my website). 



Karma Chameleon: The Ever-Changing Muse of “In the Pines”

In February Birthplace of Country Music announced In the Pines, a new music experience coming to Historic Downtown Bristol, TN-VA June 1. Dwight Yoakam, Elle King, Paul Cauthen, and Wyatt Flores are slated to perform at the inaugural event, but the inspiration for the concert goes much deeper than the artists who will take the stage that day.  It is a celebration of Bristol’s music legacy, bridging the traditions of the past with the innovation of the present.

In the Pines takes its name from a song recorded for the 1927 Bristol Sessions by the Tenneva Ramblers called “The Longest Train I Ever Saw.” From its origins of Southern Appalachia in the 1870s, “In the Pines” emerges as both a muse and a chameleon, seamlessly adapting its melody and lyrical essence to the unique styles and interpretations of every artist who dares to unravel its enigmatic allure. The song is believed to have been the combination of two songs, “In the Pines” and “The Longest Train;” the writer is unknown. It has been recorded under many titles over the years, with some artists adding their own lyrics.

“In the Pines” and all of its adaptations serve as a metaphor for Bristol’s creative music scene, which draws inspiration from the roots of Appalachia yet continuously evolves into new territory and genres. Below are a few interesting examples of the versatile tune that continues to shape-shift over time:

In 1923, King Oliver‘s Creole Jazz Band released a version for Okeh records entitled “Where Did You Stay Last Night” as a B-side for “Dipper Mouth Blues.” Louis Armstrong and his wife Lil Hardin Armstrong, both members of Oliver’s band before Armstrong left the group to pursue a solo career, are listed as composers of the track. This jazz instrumental stands out in sharp contrast to numerous other versions, showcasing a remarkable level of creativity and innovation that sets it apart as a distinctive and captivating interpretation of the timeless song.

The Tenneva Ramblers, an old-time string band based in Bristol, Tennessee, recorded “The Longest Train I Ever Saw” for producer Ralph Peer of the Victor Talking Machine Company on the iconic 1927 Bristol Sessions. The Ramblers were briefly a backing band for Jimmie Rodgers under the moniker Jimmie Rodgers Entertainers, Rodgers and the group were supposed to audition for Peer together under that name. Instead, Rodgers auditioned as a solo act. There’s some controversy as to why the band split, but Rodgers’ solo performances for Peer would be his first recordings. The Tenneva Ramblers, sometimes performing as the Grant Brothers, remained active on various radio stations until the 1950s but never achieved the level of stardom enjoyed by Rodgers.

“Father of Bluegrass” Bill Monroe recorded “In the Pines” in 1941 and 1952 as an anthem of heartache and sorrow–a man “pining” for the girl who cast him aside. The crooning “who hoo hoo hoo” vocal harmonies mimicking the sound of a train whistle in that distinct “high lonesome sound,” combined with Monroe’s innovative bluegrass instrumentation, helped elevate the song to that of a country standard for decades to come.

In 1944 Huddie Ledbetter, a.k.a. Lead Belly, first recorded “(Black Girl) Where Did You Sleep Last Night” for release on the New York-based label Musicraft Records. Though he is responsible for the wider popularization of the song, he is often incorrectly cited as its author. Lead Belly’s interpretation was inspired by the 1917 transcription collected by Cecil Sharp and he went on to record several more versions of the track. It has been documented that when performing the song live Lead Belly adjusted the lyrics to “Black girl” for black audiences and “My girl” for white. His haunting depiction of a cheating lover and a grizzly decapitation is in stark contrast to Bill Monroe’s more G-rated tale of lost love, perhaps made darker by Lead Belly’s own past as a convicted murderer.

Joan Baez is an icon and activist who, during the folk music revival of the 1960s, marched for social justice and change during a time of segregation and political unrest in the United States. Baez’s rendition of “In the Pines” shares lyrical similarities with Lead Belly’s version, yet her voice and the contemporary context in which she sang it infused the song with a novel significance for the era. Baez’s iteration was a commentary on racism and violence against Black people from a woman’s perspective. The Black girl referred to in the song is fraught with anguish over the gruesome killing of her father and the disappearance of her lover as she mourns–or pines–her life away, leaving her cold and distant from an unjust world. Joan performed the song live during her concerts from 1961 to 1963, a volatile time in the civil rights movement, but it was not released until 1982. “In the Pines” appears on the album “Very Early Joan,” which contained 23 other previously unreleased live recordings.

Kurt Cobain‘s raw interpretation of “In the Pines” not only paid homage to Lead Belly, but also served as a poignant symbol of the grunge era’s cultural ethos. Prior to the performance Kurt erroneously credits Lead Belly as the writer of “In the Pines,” while declaring him the band’s favorite performer. By infusing the song with his own emotive intensity during Nirvana‘s iconic MTV Unplugged performance in 1993, Cobain brought this traditional folk tune to a new generation. It resonated deeply with Gen X in what is known as the “grunge” era,  which was defined by a sense of non-conformity and disillusionment of society norms. Tragically, Cobain’s performance of the song stands as a haunting reminder of his artistic legacy, forever tied to his untimely death at the age of 27 just a few months after the show aired.

Xavier Dphrepaulezz, a.k.a. Fantastic Negrito, recorded a searing version of  “In the Pines” for his Grammy Award-winning album The Last Days of Oakland, released in 2016. Growing up in Oakland, California, Xavier was one of 14 children. After leaving home at the age of 12, he went into the foster care system. He hustled the streets of L.A. to survive and lost a brother and a cousin to gun violence. “In the Pines” resonated deeply with Xavier. In his version of the song, he added the verse “Black girl, Black girl, your man is gone/ Now you travel the road alone / And you raised that child all by yourself / Then the policeman shot him down” to emphasize the trauma Black women face when their lives are impacted by such senseless acts. The haunting video below is the accompanying “docu-narrative” featuring one such mother whose son was tragically killed.

International Guitar Month Part 1: Guitars of the Carter Family

By Ed Hagen,  volunteer gallery assistant and guest blogger at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum.

The Birthplace of Country Music Museum in Bristol, Virginia celebrates Bristol’s rich musical heritage surrounding the 1927 Bristol Sessions, a series of recordings that launched the careers of the Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers. With April being International Guitar Month”, this two part blog post will take a deep dive into the guitars of these famous musicians and stories surrounding these instruments. 

The first Carter guitar

Maybelle Carter is remembered today as one of the most influential country guitar players of all time. Maybelle learned to play guitar on a Stella guitar. “Stella” is one of many brand names used by the Oscar Schmidt guitar company, a major manufacturer of budget guitars in the 1920s, often sold by catalog or door-to-door and were cheap and affordable instruments.  Maybelle’s brother had purchased the guitar when Maybelle was thirteen. She was still playing the Stella five years later when the then unknown Carter Family made their first records at the Bristol sessions. 

We don’t know much about that guitar. The pictures we have of it are quite grainy (we only know for sure that it was a Stella because Maybelle, in interviews years later, identified it as such).

Two photos of the original Carter family showing Maybelle’s Stella guitar.

Maybelle’s L-5

Shortly after the Bristol sessions, with record royalties coming in and show bookings picking up, Maybelle’s husband Eck bought her a customized 1928 Gibson L-5 guitar. Carter family reminisces and Internet sleuthing indicate that the guitar was ordered at Lamb Music, then a Gibson affiliate, in Kingsport, Tennessee.

From the 1929 Gibson Catalog
Maybelle and her 1928 Gibson L-5 are on the left side of this publicity still of The Carter Family from the collection of the Center for Popular Music, Middle Tennessee State University.

This was an extraordinary purchase for a rural Virginia family in the late 1920s. Introduced in 1923, the L-5 was the very top of the Gibson guitar line and cost $275 ($5,000 in 2023 dollars). 

Note the white strip between the crossbars of Maybelle’s tailpiece, something I have never seen on a Gibson archtop. I’ve exchanged emails with early Gibson guitar expert Paul Alcantara, who maintains the superb “Pre-War Gibson L-5 . He believes that it was a label or advertising insert from the music store. 

Maybell Carter’s truss rod cover

Another unusual feature of Maybelle Carter’s L-5 tells us that it was a custom order. The truss rod cover on the headstock has fancy inlay with Maybelle’s name, misspelled as “Mae Bell Carter.” I had assumed that this was something done later by a local craftsperson, but Paul Alcantara has the inside story on his Web site. It was likely crafted by William C. Schrier, who did similar etchings and engravings for Gibson from 1928 to 1931, working independently from the basement of his home. Examples of his work, including Maybelle’s truss rod cover, can be found here.

A 1928 Gibson L-5 in original condition would be quite valuable today. Working musicians back in the day would be more interested in a guitar’s playing condition than its originality, though, and would replace parts on the guitar from time to time. Maybelle certainly did this. By the 1960s (and perhaps earlier) we can see that the tailpiece had been replaced with a “triple parallelogram” tailpiece (Gibson used these with midrange guitars like the L-7 and ES-175 models), and the tuners had been replaced with Kluson tulip tuners.



More Carter guitars

The original Carter family – A.P., Sara, and Maybelle – broke up in the early 1940s. Maybelle’s three daughters, Helen, June, and Anita, had sung with the original Carters over the years. Maybelle loved show business, and took her daughters out on the road as “Mother Maybelle and the Carter Sisters,” where they had great success, eventually landing a spot on the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville.




Maybelle’s daughter Anita playing her mother’s  1928 L-5 in 1966, and a picture of the guitar now at the Country Music Hall of Fame. Note the replaced tailpiece and tuners. Source:

Here’s a picture of the group in 1944. Maybelle is playing a blonde Gretsch Synchromatic 400, the very top of the Gretsch guitar line. These were big guitars, 18″ wide, with “cats-eye” sound holes, stairstep bridges, harp tailpieces, gold-plated parts, and a chili-pepper inlay on the headstock.


Maybelle’s 1928 L-5 had a 16” lower bout and dot inlay. In 1934 the Gibson company “advanced” the L-5, giving it a 17” body and block inlays. This picture, taken in the late 1940s, shows Maybelle playing a post-1934 17” L-5.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland also has a Maybelle Carter guitar that they date to 1964; If that’s accurate, there were at least three L-5s acquired by the family over the years.

A 1966 photo of Maybelle on the 1928 L-5, Anita on the autoharp, and Helen on a 17” L-5. Source: 





Part two of this blog will be posted next Tuesday, April 9th and is all about Jimmie Rodgers’ Oscar Schmidt Guitar. 


Would you like to read more about Maybelle Carter’s 1928 L5? See also:

Instrument Interview: Maybelle Carter’s Guitar – The Birthplace of Country Music

Lamb’s Music Store may have sold famous guitar | Local News |


The Importance of Intergenerational Learning

By KT Vandyke. KT is a musician, songwriter and luthier who owns and operates Frog Level Guitar Shop located in Bristol, Virginia. KT is also a recipient of the Greater Bristol Folk Arts & Culture Team’s Central Appalachia Living Traditions (CALT) Tradition Bearer Fellowship in 2022-23. This fellowship provides financial support, professional development, and public presentation opportunities for people working in traditional or folk arts and culture.

“Slow down, and move steady.” “Don’t rush, speed leads to mistakes.” I can still hear those words echo in my mind, as I float over my workbench above a 1915 Washburn parlor guitar. It’s been in my shop in need of extensive repairs but at the moment I’m french polishing a coat of shellac on the back to seal some crack repairs. “Don’t stay in one area too long.” “Stay in constant motion.” A variety of little phrases like that will leek their way into my consciousness numerous times throughout any given day, on any given job. Typically they arrive in a voice that isn’t my own. The voice of my former mentor Walter Skip Herman. I still hear the cadence and timbre of his voice during those moments. They’re a part of my daily and personal philosophy, but honestly I don’t think I could get rid of them if I wanted to.  

Two men with their backs facing the camera inspect a broken guitar inside of a small guitar repair shop. The room is filled with tools and instruments.
Walter “Skip” Herman (left) and KT Vandyke (right) in the original Frog Level Guitar Shop in Abingdon, VA.

I first met Skip while I was working at Front Row Music in Abingdon, VA. I had been there only a couple months, and Skip, being the resident luthier, would pass through to pick up and drop off various repair jobs that we couldn’t handle in house (which was most jobs). It was there I witnessed the magic he could work on an instrument that was down on its luck. There were a lot of cracks, rewires, and neck resets, but one repair job in particular always stuck out to me. An older lady brought in a 1958 Gibson B25 acoustic guitar that was in dire straits. It had belonged to her late husband who passed it down to his teenage grandson to learn how to play on (the guitar was in near mint condition). The grandson was interested in the guitar but not playing acoustically, so with drill and knife in hand he drilled multiple tone and volume knobs in the top, and input jack, and carved out the sound hole to fit a humbucker pickup. Skip was able to replace the top with a piece of red spruce that was of similar grade and vintage as the original top, reset the neck, refinish and set up the instrument and restored it to a level of quality it hasn’t seen since it left the store it was bought from. I was absolutely flabbergasted at his ability to restore what I would consider a lost cause condemned to a future of an aesthetic wall hanger, or, perhaps far worse, a canvas for a trendy Pinterest art project.

Instruction on an ongoing guitar repair job in Frog Level Guitar Shop on the workbench.

 Over the following years, Skip and I struck up an acquaintance that would develop into a very fruitful and lifelong friendship. Skip was a retired petroleum and mechanical engineer, and prior to our meeting, had been searching for an interested party to take over his duties and business for a number of years. He had founded his business Frog Level Guitar Shop, located in Abingdon, VA, around 1984 while spending time on leave from his job on Gulf coast offshore oil rigs. For the better part of three decades he served the greater southern Appalachian Mountain region, performing work for a number of collectors and stores, as well as a notable clientele that ranged from Jackson Brown to Jorma Kaukonen to Tony Rice.   

The 1958 Gibson B25 acoustic guitar with two drill holes prior to it’s repair.

Around the back half of 2016 I began to spend more and more time with Skip in his shop, mainly being an obnoxious fly in the room (compared to the less distressing fly on the wall). That would grow from a weekly endeavor to a daily habit. It was immensely fascinating to witness him work on a wide variety of miracles on numerous dilapidated instruments that came through the door. He would painstakingly walk through each step making sure to answer any long-form question that might pop into my head. I soaked up any tiny morsel of information he would throw my way, much like a sponge in the Sahara absorbing any miniscule molecule of moisture.  

This continued until November of 2019, when he reached out to me and announced his official retirement from the trade. He would proceed to make me an offer that would change the trajectory of my life from that moment forward. He offered to sell the business to me, and allow me to work in his shop until I could find proper accommodations (which to my surprise would take well over two years to acquire). Throughout that time frame he was unflinching in his patience and support, always encouraging me to face any hardships head on with a potent and unsympathetic devotion. In April of 2023 I was finally able to construct my own shop space and move Frog Level Guitar Shop from Abingdon to just off Benhams Road in Bristol, VA.  

Frog Level Guitar Shop sign outside of the original location in Abingdon, VA.

There isn’t a day that goes by where I do not experience some minute moment of reflection surrounding the variety of windfalls of tremendous luck and ridiculous number of what-if’s. Most of the time I typically land on the same question: where would I be today had I not met Skip Herman? It’s quite safe to say that I would not be engaged in the work I’m currently doing. I suspect that my station in life would be drastically different. Perhaps I would’ve moved on from my obsession with music, which has always been a proverbial North Star for me. Like so many who hung it up in exchange for a more secure form of employment. It’s hard to tell honestly, and, despite the fact that I hypocritically engage in such day-dreaming regularly, I find it to be a waste of time. I prefer to count my blessings, of which there are many. I’m so incredibly appreciative of not only Skip and the great gifts and responsibilities that he has bestowed upon me, but the plethora of friends, peers, cohorts, mentors, and acquaintances that I have met and befriended since my departure into the world of lutherie. 

                                                                                                                                                                                                                         Skip and KT at the luthiery workbench.

In the final days of working in Skip’s workshop, he shared his feelings about the importance of the work that we do. He expressed that music making is a central and healthy activity for any community, and those who participate in it, despite their proficiency, are engaging in an age-old tradition that speaks to every aspect of life. From the hymnals being chanted in churches, to the front porch jams and kitchen ceilidhs. From the work and prison songs to children’s lullabies and nursery rhymes, music is an integral part of our society. Now more than ever it’s so important to keep the music alive by keeping it prevalent and accessible, for ourselves, for our future generations.  

Skip and KT outside the Frog Level Guitar Shop Cabin in Abingdon, VA.

Additional Resources: 

  1. Intergenerational learning: Proven benefits for both elders and youth
  2. Intergenerational Learning and Its Impact on the Improvement of Educational Processes


Pick 5: Songs to Celebrate International Women’s Day

By Andrea Price. Andrea is a student at East Tennessee State University studying history, museum studies, and Appalachian studies. This semester she is an intern with the Birthplace of Country Music learning about museum management, educational programming, and marketing. When not busy researching and writing, she enjoys the outdoors, spending all her money on concert tickets, and listening to her favorite country and bluegrass hits. 

As a history major and lover of country music, I am excited to share with you my picks of songs for International Women’s Day and some of the stories behind the artists!

“Wildflowers,” Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt, and Emmylou Harris

Is there anything more iconic than Dolly Parton? Well, maybe Dolly forming the female supergroup Trio with stars Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris in 1987. In a world of radio charts and limited air time (especially for women), it can be easy to view other performers as competition. Alternatively, you can take notes from these three world class musicians and choose friendship in the form of beautifully crafted harmonies and paperdoll album artwork. This song in particular makes my list because of its theme of growing up and exploring the world outside the gardens of home. As a “wild rambling rose seeking mysteries untold,” I love the empowering feeling of freedom granted to me by this trio on the road they’ve so excellently paved as women in music. 

“You’re Lookin’ at Country,” Loretta Lynn

As the most awarded lady in country music, Loretta Lynn proved that the pinnacle of success could be achieved by overcoming whatever obstacles life threw her way. Throughout her career, Loretta had multiple songs banned from country radio as she tackled controversial topics in several of her songs. Loretta’s music may have been autobiographical, but her blunt honesty and stubborn nature connected with many of the women who tuned in to her performances. I’ve always loved “You’re Lookin’ at Country” for its outright display of Loretta’s unapologetic ‘what you see is what you get’ attitude. Nowadays, this is my soundtrack to carefree confidence and unabashed action. 

“Keep on the Sunny Side,” Mother Maybelle and the Carter Sisters

I could never write about women of country music without including one of the women who started it all – Maybelle Carter. After recording with her family at the 1927 Bristol Sessions, Maybelle continued her career as a performer throughout her lifetime and became known as the “Mother of Country Music.” Maybelle revolutionized country style guitar playing with her popularization of the playing style known as the “Carter Scratch,”  was integral in the guitar becoming a lead instrument, and is credited with transforming the way the autoharp is played. I truly believe country music would not be where it is today without the influence of Maybelle Carter and her enduring legacy as an innovator and trailblazer. This song reflects the continuation of Maybelle’s career as she shared her passion with her daughters and passed the baton to the next generation of country music. 

“Mean (Taylor’s Version),” Taylor Swift

Before she was the princess of pop, Taylor Swift was dominating country radio and sweeping award shows with her catchy early 2000s country chart toppers. “Mean” is a single from her third studio album Speak Now which was single handedly written by Swift after critics claimed she didn’t write her own songs. This song in particular, which took home Grammy wins for Best Country Song and Best Country Solo Performance in 2012, directly addressed those critics with an earworm of a chorus. Watching this saga unfold while I was growing up, I was inspired by Swift’s courage to stand up to the bigger man and prove herself worthy of the rooms she would one day dominate. I’ll always be indebted to Taylor Swift for the confidence I gained by singing “Mean” at the top of my lungs while I forgot what the girls at school and the comments on social media said about me. 

“Girl Goin’ Nowhere,” Ashley McBryde 

In the world of modern country music, no one does it quite like Ashley McBryde. With an array of hits, it was hard to nail down just one for this blog post but “Girl Goin’ Nowhere” is a song I’ve obsessed over since my first listen. As a love letter to the naysayers, this song is a perfect anthem for proving everyone wrong. Several times in my life I’ve felt like all eyes were on me hoping I would make a fatal mistake or throw in the towel on my seemingly unattainable dreams. Ashley’s lyricism and incredible stage presence are frequent reminders to me that one day when my dreams have been achieved I’ll get to have my moment “where they said I’d never be is exactly where I am.” 


What makes an instrument iconic? The Story of Duane Allman’s 1961

Bob Beatty, Ph.D., is an author, historian, and principle of the Lyndhurst Group.

I’m a lifelong fan of the Allman Brothers Band and Duane Allman. In addition to my publications—Play All Night! Duane Allman and the Journey to Fillmore East (2022) and Long Live the ABB: Conversations from the Crossroads of Southern Music, History, and Culture — I’m also a museum professional. 

One thing I’ve long found fascinating is why certain artifacts instill such reverence. Nowhere is this more true than in music history circles. 

In recognition of National Guitar Day on this February 11th, this is the story of Duane Allman’s 1961 Gibson Les Paul.

Some Background

Guitarist Duane Allman founded the Allman Brothers Band (ABB) in March 1969. Based in Macon, Georgia, the ABB are the first group to emerge from the South in the rock era. From Macon, the band toured relentlessly, spending 300 days a year on the road and building a devoted audience. 

The ABB had a unique lineup that included two drummers—Jaimoe and Butch Trucks—and two lead guitar players—Duane Allman and Dickey Betts. Bassist Berry Oakley and Duane’s brother Gregg Allman (organ/vocals) rounded out the group. 

The band recorded their third album live on the biggest stage in rock. At Fillmore East a one-take album with no overdubs. The record hit gold (500,000 sales) within 3 months. Days after learning the news, Duane Allman was killed in a motorcycle accident in Macon. His bandmates responded by finishing Eat a Peach, which they were working on when Duane died. 

Duane played four main guitars in his Allman Brothers Band tenure. This is the story of one of them. 

The Guitar 

This 1961 Gibson Les Paul (SG)1 is one of the more significant in Allman Brothers history because it is the only guitar that I know of that both Duane and his guitar partner Dickey Betts played on a regular basis. Dickey throughout 1970, Duane in 1971.2

1961 Gibson Les Paul/SG on display at Songbirds Museum in Chattanooga, TN. Courtesy of of Bob Beatty/Long Live the ABB.

Lipham’s Music January/February 1970

Betts bought the guitar in 1970 from the place every road musician in Florida shopped: Lipham’s Music in Gainesville. Just one year earlier, Buster Lipham had advanced the band more than $10,000 in equipment, which they were paying back in weekly installments of several hundred dollars each.3

Duane’s SG was part of a separate transaction altogether, Chuck Emery of the Royal Guardsmen explained. “On a trip to [Lipham’s] in early ’70 a beautiful SG caught my eye. I came to a deal; and the sales guy put the guitar [aside] until my return the next week. The following Monday the sales guy said, ‘Uh, Duane and them came in…played the SG, and uh, well, they bought it.’”4

Dickey Betts and the SG Spring 1970

The SG became Dickey’s main stage guitar throughout 1970. It originally had a sideways Vibrola tremolo which he later swapped out for a stop bar tailpiece (see photos below):

The Allman Brothers Band at Florida Presbyterian (now Eckerd College) St. Petersburg, Florida, April 18, 1970. Photo from Logos, Florida Presbyterian College, 1970, courtesy of the Eckerd College Archives, St. Petersburg, Florida.
Dickey Betts onstage at the Atlanta Pop Festival July 3, 1970. Notice the difference between this photo and the one above. Courtesy of Dennis Eavenson.


The guitar is identifiable by its three “snakebites”—screw holes where the original tailpiece was. 

Detail of “snakebites” on Duane Allman’s SG, on display at Songbirds Museum. Courtesy of Bob Beatty/Long Live the ABB

From Dickey to Duane Spring 1971

The guitar ended up in Duane’s hands in 1971. Because he preferred to play slide in open-E tuning, Duane regularly had to retune his guitar. It not only slowed down pacing, it also bored Dickey Betts.5

“When Duane wanted to play slide he would have to retune his one [damn] guitar every time. I got tired of it and said, ‘Here, take this guitar and tune it, and leave it tuned!’” 

Though it’s unclear whether Duane played the guitar on At Fillmore East, he definitely played in on “One Way Out” from Eat a Peach—recorded the closing night of Fillmore East, June 27, 1971 (photo below)

Duane Allman from the Fillmore East stage, June 27, 1971. Image credit, Don Paulson

When Duane died in a motorcycle accident October 29, 1971, the original intention was to bury the guitar with him. This didn’t happen. Gregg played it through 1972 before giving it to Gerry Groom, a protégée of Duane’s. Groom later sold it to Graham Nash. 

Duane’s other Allman Brothers Band Guitars 

The SG is one of four Les Pauls Duane played in his Allman Brothers Band career. Three of them, a 1957 goldtop he used through September 1970, a 1959 cherry burst, and a 195(?)6 tobacco burst. A private collector owns the goldtop and it’s often on display at the Big House Museum in Macon. Duane’s daughter Galadrielle owns the other two, which she’s loaned out for exhibition from time to time, most recently the Bill Graham and the Rock & Roll Revolution.

In 2011, Gibson reissued the guitar, dubbed “From One Brother to Another.” Duane’s daughter gave Artist’s Proof #4 to Derek Trucks, who played in the Allman Brothers Band from 1999-2014. It’s been Derek’s main stage guitar for more than a decade now. 

Duane’s SG Today

The SG stayed out of the public eye for many years. The first I remember it appearing was a 2013 exhibit called Guitars! Roundups to Rockers at the Eiteljorg Museum in Indianapolis. In 2019, Nash made the guitar available for the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Play It Loud exhibition. He sold the guitar to a private collector who has it on loan to the Songbirds Museum in Chattanooga. Yours truly wrote the label copy. 

Derek Trucks and his SG. Note the snakebite holes. Image credit Amy Harris.


Though it’s a misnomer to call Duane Allman’s cherry 1961 Gibson Les Paul an SG (that name, short for “Solid Guitar,” arrived in 1963), pretty much everyone calls it an SG. I follow that convention here. 2 Dickey Betts also played the SG in some of the too-rare video footage of the Duane-era Allman Brothers Band, including at Bill Graham’s famed Fillmore East in September 1970. 3 Bob Beatty, Play All Night! Duane Allman and the Journey to Fillmore East (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2022), 120. 4 I love Emery’s conclusion, “I was [exploitive] at Duane and them for quite a while, even after I learned about the Allmans.” Ground Guitar, “Duane Allman’s 1961 Gibson SG / Les Paul,” accessed October 31, 2023. 5 Open E is tuned to the E chord on a guitar–EBEG#Be. Standard tuning is EAGBDe. 6 See Ground Guitar, “Duane Allman’s 1961 Gibson SG / Les Paul.”

Bob Beatty is a historian who writes Long Live the ABB: Conversation from the Crossroads of Southern Music, History, and Culture . His latest book, Play All Night! Duane Allman and the Journey to Fillmore East (University Press of Florida 2022), is a musical biography of the Allman Brothers Band. 

Author Bob Beatty. Image credit Tyler Beatty.

Big Lon’s Vinyl Record Collecting Guidelines

 Lonnie “Big Lon” Salyer is a vinyl record historian focused on local independent studios and labels in Southern Appalachia. His show “Diggin’ With Big Lon” airs weekly on WBCM Radio Bristol. 

Hey ya’ll this is Big Lon checking in to make sure you are aware that August 12th is National Vinyl Record Day, a celebration of vinyl records, their history, and their significance in music and culture. If you’re interested in collecting vinyl records, here are some guidelines on what to collect, where to find them, and how to store and clean them. 

A selfie of Big Lon inside of the Radio Bristol studio space holding a record with that reads "The Birthplace of Country Music Bristol" on the front. Big Lon (Lonnie) is smiling and wears a fedora straw hat and studio headphones.
 Big Lon is a Radio Bristol DJ and avid vinyl record collector. 

First off there’s not a wrong answer on what to collect, it all depends on you and what makes you happy. Music provides both a connective social bond and an individual experience, and no two people have the same tastes or collective life journeys. Collecting vinyl records bridges both realms together in a tangible format you can hold in your hand. I’m still learning and certainly don’t know all the answers but here’s my two cents based on my collecting experience.

What should I collect Big Lon? I’d answer that with what do you like about music? What are your motivations when it comes to hobbies, investments, collecting, socializing?  I can break this down into five basic categories to consider. First, what’s your personal connection with music? A great way to start is collecting records that have sentimental value to you on a personal level. Do you remember a song from Saturday morning cartoons or a song that you used to listen to with your grandfather on the drive to and from fishing trips? It may be as simple as the music you and your friends liked back in college or middle school. Make a list of all those songs you connect with as a bucket list you’d like to have on vinyl. Secondly, what genres of music and artists do you like? You can focus on records from your favorite artists or specific genres like heavy metal or even eras such as 1950’s jazz. This will be a great starting point that can lead to discovering similar artists or labels that specialize in the genre of music you like. Maybe you want to get into vinyl for the collectible aspect because you heard of valuable vinyl records and want to invest in records in hopes of your collection growing in value. Limited editions and limited pressings can fulfill this option. Limited releases, colored vinyl, and special editions can be valuable and unique additions to your collection. A great example is this limited pressing orange vinyl 45rpm release by Blake Berglund, recorded at The Earnest Tube in Bristol and released on Armadillo Tail Records. 

A closeup of a bright orange colored vinyl 45rpm record. The text on the front of the record reads "armadillo tail recording company presents" and the bottom text reads "Blake Berglund" in larger lettering with smaller text. An armadillo with his head inside of a cowboy boot is also on the record.
Limited orange vinyl 45rpm record in Big Lon’s collection.

Befriending the owners and sales people at your local vinyl record shop can lead to insight on when new releases will hit the shelves or what unique items your local shop will be getting for Record Store Day, which occurs annually in April. A fourth option is focusing on classic iconic albums that have had a significant impact on music history. A simple google search of the greatest or essential vinyl records in a genre you are interested in or maybe the top 20 of multiple genres so you can build a diverse interesting collection to match your mood or the social crowd you are having over for dinner or a cup of coffee. A final category I recommend is obscure and rare records. Once you get a little experience in vinyl collecting this one tends to happen organically. Seek out records that are hard to find or have historical significance. It can be that local band that you remember from high school that put out one independent record or whatever inspires you. For me, the hard-to-find Kingsport label from the 78rpm era of the early 1950s is one I actively collect.

A graphic collage of records with the text "Kingsport" labeled clearly. In the middle of the collage is a promotional graphic image of Big Lon. He is wearing a fedora straw hat and holding two records.
Big Lon’s Kingsport Records collection featured on an airing of Diggin’ With Big Lon on Radio Bristol.

Big Lon, where do I find vinyl records? We’ve already touched on visiting your local record shops to get an understanding of what they offer. Local record stores often have a diverse selection of vinyl records, both new and used. These stores can be a great place to discover hidden gems and interact with fellow enthusiasts. Online marketplaces like eBay, Discogs, and Amazon offer a wide range of vinyl records for sale. You can find rare and collectible records from various sellers. I’m a member of several Facebook groups of like interested collectors who specialize in specific record genres or format sizes such as LPs (33rpm), 78rpm or 45rpm. Flea markets and thrift stores are essential. Get to know those in your community. These spots can be treasure troves for vinyl collectors. You might stumble upon valuable records at affordable prices. In addition, don’t overlook estate sales and garage sales; occasionally, people sell off their vinyl collections, often at reasonable prices. I’ve personally bought four records that are valued over $1,000 each for a buck or less at rummage sales and from flea market dealers. Another great avenue is music festivals and conventions. Sometimes music events and conventions include vinyl vendors or the artists will have a merchandise table selling vinyl records along with t-shirts and swag. As you get your bearings in the hobby and a focused list of what you are looking for, I recommend record fairs. These events gather multiple sellers in one place, offering a variety of records for sale. It’s a great opportunity to network and learn more about collecting. I host one for Fun Fest in Kingsport, TN to meet new vinyl enthusiasts and network to find records on my want list.

A promotional image of Big Lon's vinyl record expo. The poster features a colorful graphic that resembles 6 hot air balloons in a circle. The background is black with blue clouds and stars. The text reads "Big Lon's Vinyl Record Expo at the 2023 Kingsport Fun Fest July 16 Civic Auditorium 10-4. 1,000's of 33's, 45's, 78's and More!"
Big Lon’s Vinyl Record Expo, July 2023.

How do I store vinyl records Big Lon? The key is vertical storage. Heavy flat stacks of LP’s and especially 78rpm records can cause damage. Store records vertically to distribute weight which helps prevent warping. Use record crates, shelves, or dedicated record storage units. Keep records in protective inner sleeves to prevent scratches and dust buildup. Outer sleeves can safeguard the album covers. For loose 45rpm or 78rpm records, your local record shop most likely carries packaged sleeves you can utilize to protect the vinyl. Climate control is a major priority. Direct sunlight can warp and damage the vinyl and fade the covers. A cool, dry environment is ideal. Extreme temperature and humidity fluctuations can warp records or cause labels and covers to mildew. I’ve run across records with mold growing in the grooves from dirt and debris in wrong storage climates, like records found in musty basements.

OK Big Lon, what if I find the perfect record but it’s not been well cared for, what do I do? Here are some tips for cleaning records: first, handle records correctly by their edges and avoid touching the playing surface with your fingers. This keeps the oils from your skin off the vinyl to avoid the collection of dust and dirt. Sometimes what’s perceived as scratches or skips can be resolved with a gentle cleaning of the grooves. Use a carbon fiber brush to remove dust and debris from the surface before playing. A microfiber cloth can help clean the album cover. Invest in a good cleaning solution or cleaning system. I personally use Pristine Platters and a microfiber cloth for light cleanings and a system called Spin Clean for more challenging cleans. Both products as well as several similar products can be found online or at a local record shop. A static roller can work wonders to remove pops and crackles associated with static energy build up. Some collectors come up with their own system for cleaning records. Research any household cleaners before you use them to make sure they don’t contain chemicals that can damage your vinyl collection. Dry your records including the labels before putting them back in the sleeves and before putting them on your turntable.

Collecting vinyl records can be a rewarding and enjoyable hobby. Remember that each collector’s journey is unique, so feel free to tailor your collection to your personal preferences and interests.

Happy collecting!

Local & Regional Record Stores 


Example Record Collecting Facebook groups 

Rosanne Cash: Americana’s Renaissance Woman

Voice Magazine for Women, a free, monthly publication distributed regionally in Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia to 650 locations, partners with the Birthplace of Country Music to promote our annual music festival, Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion. In August and September of each year, Voice generously allows us free rein to produce cover stories for the magazine highlighting upcoming acts performing at the event. With their permission, we have duplicated the cover article for this month – we hope you enjoy it! To read this month’s issue in its entirety, click here.

Voice Magazine for Women
Rosanne Cash: Americana’s Renaissance Woman
A Q&A on Family Ties to Southwest Virginia, Her First Trip to Bristol, and Fun Stuff You Didn’t Know and Would Likely Never Ask
By Guest Contributor Charlene Tipton Baker
Photo Credits: Michael Lavine

Rosanne Cash is one of the most revered artists in Americana music. At 67, she has an amazing career as a multi-GRAMMY Award-winning songwriter and performer. A born writer, Cash was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2015 and is a bestselling author and poet. Her fiction and essays have appeared in The New York Times, Rolling Stone, and Oxford-American, among others, and she is frequently invited to teach classes in English and Songwriting at various colleges. Additionally, Cash is an advocate for creators’ rights and children’s causes, including education and gun violence prevention.

This September, Rosanne Cash headlines Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion on the 95th Anniversary of the legendary 1927 Bristol Sessions recordings. Rosanne’s familial connection to our region’s music heritage makes her visit extra special; she is the eldest daughter of country music legend Johnny Cash and his first wife Vivian. She also enjoyed a close, loving relationship with Johnny’s second wife, June Carter Cash. June is the daughter of Mother Maybelle Carter of the Carter Family, the “First Family of Country Music.” The 1927 Bristol Sessions included the very first recordings of The Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers, the “Father of Country Music,” and catapulted country music into the mainstream.

Ralph Peer recorded the 1927 Bristol Sessions in the Taylor-Christian Hat & Glove Company building on the Tennessee side of State Street. The building was long gone by the summer of 1971 when Johnny and June traveled to Bristol, alongside Maybelle Carter, Sara Carter Bayes, and other members of the Carter clan, to dedicate a monument to the 1927 Bristol Sessions at the site where they took place. Ralph Peer II (son of Ralph Peer) and members of Jimmie Rodgers’ family were also present. Thousands of people from the community gathered for the occasion. On that day, Johnny expressed to them how he would love to see a museum dedicated to the music history that had been made in Bristol.

Decades later in 2001, the annual Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion music festival was established to honor the legacy of those seminal recordings. The Birthplace of Country Music Museum, an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution, opened its doors to the public in August 2014. One year later, WBCM Radio Bristol went live on the air, broadcasting from the museum.

I relayed the story above to Rosanne’s manager, Danny Kahn, along with a request for this interview and extended an invitation for the artist to tour the museum while she is in town for the festival. He quickly replied, “Rosanne realizes how significant her visit to Bristol is. She has never been. She wants to do as much as possible regarding your requests.” From everything I had read, I was not at all surprised by her generosity.

So much has been written about Rosanne Cash and by her, so in this interview I chose to focus on her ties to our region’s music heritage, while adding a few trivial zingers à la Bop and Tiger Beat to satisfy my inner, pre-teen geek. Rosanne: if you are reading this, my apologies for that – but thank you for kindly playing along! I’m so grateful for the opportunity to make this connection for my hometown, and excited for you to experience Bristol and the festival. I hope you love them both as much as I do.

Below are my questions answered by the artist via e-mail:

This will be your first time performing at Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion and your first time visiting the museum. Knowing that your dad’s dream of having a museum dedicated to the legacy of the 1927 Bristol Sessions is now a reality, what are your thoughts?

He was right. I’m grateful that he spoke those words that day, and that a ripple of enthusiasm went out and planted the seed to create the museum, although, honestly, it seems like it was destined! Such a historic moment and location in the cultural makeup of our country deserves to be forever immortalized. I’m thrilled to be going to perform in Bristol and see the museum for the very first time. I’ve actually sent people there, but never been myself!

When tourists come to visit the museum in Bristol, we make it a point to encourage them to visit the Carter Family Fold in Hiltons, VA. We consider it hallowed ground, and it is poignant that your dad’s final performance was there. In the beautiful eulogy you wrote for June Carter Cash after her death in 2003, you mention that Johnny hosted a “grandkids weekend” for June on her birthday one year someplace in Virginia on the Holston River. Do you have any more memories of visiting there growing up?

In 2001, we visited the Maybelle and Ezra Carter house in Maces Springs, where June grew up, and which she and my dad owned in their later years. We went canoeing on the Holston River and had a celebration for June’s birthday on the property. All the children and grandchildren had to give her something that was not a physical gift— a song, a story, a wish of some kind. I remember I sang “The Winding Stream.” We visited A. P.’s grave and sang together on the porch. It was a wonderful weekend. When I was young, I remember going with Dad and June to visit some of her kin in the Valley and eating the best biscuits I’ve ever had.

This year is the 95th Anniversary of the 1927 Bristol Sessions, which many consider to be the most influential country music recordings in history. The themes in those old songs are universally timeless. Given your family ties, it makes sense that the music of the Carter Family would impact your own music, and in the past, you have cited them as an influence. Can you point to a particular Carter song – or songs – that most resonate with you?

Helen Carter spent a lot of time with me, teaching me the Carter Family canon, when I was 18 and 19 years old. It was an invaluable education. I loved “Black Jack David,” “Hello Stranger,” “I Never Will Marry,” “Sinking in the Lonesome Sea,” “Banks of the Ohio,” “Bury Me Beneath the Weeping Willow”— all classic and essential songs— but most of all, I loved “The Winding Stream.” I recorded that, and I also recorded “Bury Me Beneath the Weeping Willow” on my album “The List.” I still perform that song in concert and will be singing it with added poignancy in Bristol!

I once ran across an old video of a Carl Perkins concert from the 1980s.The Stray Cats were his backing band, and there you were – along with Eric Clapton, Dave Edmunds and George Harrison and Ringo Starr. You were the only woman on that stage, and you absolutely rocked “What Kinda Girl.” You have collaborated with so many amazing artists over the course of your career. What is it like to meet your heroes and to be respected as a peer among them?

As a pre-teen and teen Beatles obsessive, absolutely in love with and deeply affected by the Beatles, I couldn’t, in my wildest dreams, imagine being on a show with George Harrison, or becoming friends with Elton John, and singing for him at his birthday party, or so many other instances where I met the heroes of my youth, or a contemporary artist who inspires me. At some point, as a musician, after 40 plus years, you seem to run across everyone who is out there doing the same thing as you, like a person in a multi-national corporation who meets her colleagues in other branches of the company. 😉

You have been a big advocate for change on many issues, including artists’ rights to get paid fairly for the use of their music by tech companies like Spotify and Apple Music. You serve on the board of Content Creators Coalition, an artist-run nonprofit advocacy group for musicians. You have testified before the House Judiciary Committee in defense of artists rights on behalf of the Americana Association, as your dad had done in 1997 in support of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. With so many artists, artists unions, and political leaders pushing to enact reform, do you see change coming any time soon? Does more need to happen?

The Content Creators Coalition dissolved and morphed into the Artist Rights Alliance, on whose board I serve. Change comes, change is slow. I realize I’m working in a garden I may never see bloom, but we do have some small successes piled up lately, and intellectual property rights’ issues seem to have bipartisan support in Congress, which is hopeful.

The pandemic and the political climate in the U.S. for the past several years has forced many of us to re-evaluate our lives and careers. Artists were forced to get creative to keep their audiences engaged and are only just starting to recover from months of not touring. What effect has the pandemic had on you personally and as an artist?

I wrote—both songs and essays— and I enjoyed being at home. I realize I’m very privileged to be able to say that. I thought a lot about what I want to do in the next phase of my life—less touring, more strategic, important events, more writing, more staying put. I got Covid on the road, and it’s become an occupational hazard for touring musicians. It’s not just that, however— it’s that the lifestyle is not sustainable for me. I love the audience so much, and the community and connection, but the other 22 hours of the day are hard!

I follow you on Twitter and you are brilliant at it. You have an amazing sense of humor; your barbs are witty and razor sharp. It takes skill to effectively diss in a concise and timely manner and you nail it. When are you going to take the plunge to Tik Tok? You don’t have an account, but you are definitely in that space – people from all walks of life are dancing and singing to “Seven Year Ache” and “Tennessee Flat Top Box.” It’s a beautiful thing. Search your hashtag and give me your thoughts. I’ll wait…

Oh wow. My daughters send me Tik Toks all the time, and I enjoy them, but… it will be a learning curve for me, and also… how much time does one give to social media before it starts taking back from you…??

Because I rarely get the opportunity to fully embarrass myself in front of my heroes, I’m gonna go ahead and ask the hard-hitting questions nobody but me really cares about:

You’re alone in the house and it is on fire. You can only grab one thing before fleeing. What do you take?
Irreplaceable photos of my kids that aren’t digitized and family scrapbooks. It would be hard to leave behind my guitars and diamond earrings, but….

If you could have one superpower (that you don’t currently possess), what would it be?
Heal the trauma of every child in the world. (Then… play guitar like my husband.)

What is your recurring dream?
Giant waves are coming toward me.

What book are you reading right now?
“One Hundred Years of Solitude” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

What music is in your current rotation?
Wilco, the Avett Brothers, and Annie Lennox

What do you always keep in your purse?
A guitar pick, lipstick, and Pepcid.

What is your least favorite household chore? Favorite?
Emptying the dishwasher is my least favorite. I love sweeping and cleaning out drawers.

What is your favorite movie?
Hmmm… probably “All About Eve.”

Are you a cat person or a dog person?
I have a cat I love, but I like dogs better, generally.

Do you believe in ghosts? Aliens?
The jury is still out. Ghosts…not traditional-type ghosts, but energy that survives, and the resonance of people and places that survive death or destruction. I believe that because energy doesn’t die. Aliens…? It’s a statistical impossibility that we are alone in the universe, but I have no idea what form that takes.

Marvel or D.C. Comics?
Ooh. I don’t know. Not my area.

Toilet paper rolled out or under?
No opinion on that.

What is your spirit animal?
The ocean.

Favorite toy as a kid.
Chatty Cathy doll

You really are a Renaissance woman. You continue to accomplish so much and seem to have a deep well of creative reserves. What’s next for Rosanne Cash?

I’m the lyricist on a new musical called “Norma Rae,” based on the bio of the real woman who became Norma Rae in the film starring Sally Field. We are staging a workshop with full cast in September, and I’m excited. I love working collaboratively like this.

Thank you so much for your time and consideration! I really appreciate this opportunity!
See you in Bristol!

I highly recommend reading Rosanne Cash’s memoir, “Composed,” and “Bodies of Water,” a collection of short fiction stories. Catch her performance on the State Street Stage on Sunday, Sept. 11 at 5:15 p.m. EDT during Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion. The Stage is located right beside the monument to the 1927 Bristol Sessions on the “Tennessee side” of State Street. Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion is scheduled for September 9-11, 2022, on State Street in Historic Downtown Bristol. Visit for lineup and ticket information.


Radio Bristol Spotlight: Zach McNabb and The Tennessee Esquires

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 series – Radio Bristol Spotlight – highlighting top emerging artists in our region. Through interviews and performances, 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.

For today’s installment of Radio Bristol Spotlight we caught up with 19-year-old Zach McNabb, a musician who can turn out classic country covers with astounding precision. He joined us in-studio accompanied by his 17-year-old brother Caleb and Radio Bristol DJ Bailey George on guitar. Zach’s stunning gift for recreating the musical past has been gaining him fans both regionally, where he plays festivals and performs regularly at Gatlinburg’s Smoky Mountain Tunes & Tales, as well as internationally where he’s played on live streams for German Rock-a-Billy savant Randy Richter.

While at Radio Bristol, Zach and his band The Tennessee Esquires offered a handful of marvelous renditions of time-honored hits such as Johnny Cash’s popular tunes “Folsom Prison Blues” and “Get Rhythm,” and Don Gibson’s “Oh Lonesome Me.” Zach also gave insight into his passion for playing early country music, a trait rare in the growing Gen Z age of “digital natives” who are generally more familiar with putting their fingers to screens than to steel strings.

Black-and-white image shows a young dark-haired white man wearing a white shirt and dark pants. He is seated and playing a guitar, and there are various framed images on the wall behind him, along with a display of microphones, and a studio space with various pieces of equipment is seen through a doorway.

Zach McNabb shot in the Big Tone Records studio. Photo courtesy Travis Stevenson

The talented teen grew up just outside of Johnson City in Carter County, Tennessee, and began showing an interest in music at an early age. Picking up the guitar at eight years old, McNabb was introduced to Johnny Cash by his guitar teacher who recognized that he had a natural inclination towards country-sounding rhythm. Homeschooled in rural Tennessee with his four siblings and raised by a supportive family whose history is steeped in Southern gospel, it begins to make sense why the young musician gravitated towards country music. McNabb later offered asides about his musical family – both parents play at Sunday worship services, and his Baptist preacher Paw-Paw is infamous for carting around cardboard boxes in the trunk of his car, all full of self-released gospel CDs to hand out after prayer meetings.

With extra time on their hands due to learning at home, both Zach and his younger brother Caleb dedicated themselves to focusing on their musical technique. Zach absorbed full songs to play and sing, and Caleb studied the classical violin from the age of five and transcribed that knowledge to the stand-up bass he now plays to accompany his brother. The two began “playing out” at music venues around the area at just 15 and 13 years old. They also attended the Birthplace of Country Music Museum’s Pick Along Summer Camp, where Zach says the scope of his interest in early country music was greatly broadened. He also made connections with other musicians with similar interests, such as bandleader and performer on the Farm and Fun Time Noon Show Kody Norris, for whom Zach has manned merch tables at music festivals.

In 2019 McNabb released his first album from Big Tone Records, the Bristol-based, vintage-gear-focused studio. Complete with 1950s slapback echo, McNabb’s seamless vocal performance is remarkably unique, blending influences from classic country and bluegrass singers, reminiscent of singers like Jimmy Skinner and Hank Snow.

Zach McNabb and The Tennessee Esquires’ version of “Wreck of the Old 97,” recorded live to tape at Big Tone Records.

Looking towards the future, Zach currently attends college at Northeast State where he is studying entertainment technology with the hope of applying what he learns to live performances and expanding his breadth of recording techniques for future releases. McNabb shows a true dedication to his artistic vision and stated that one of the things that draws him most to country music is the “honesty and rawness of it.” He feels it’s a type of music that’s easy to connect to, with straightforward empathetic storytelling centered on real-life events. He also enjoys that performances connect families and friends, bringing people together to hear live music.

Before leaving the studio, we filmed Zach and his band’s rendition of “Sittin’ on Top of the World,” a tune that has become synonymous with American traditional music and has been recorded by countless artists. Zach revealed that his version is heavily influenced by Carl Perkin’s 1958 recording of the song, and we know you all will enjoy hearing it performed by this amazing artist on the rise!

Zach McNabb and The Tennessee Esquires performing “Sittin’ on Top of the World” at Radio Bristol.

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.