Pick 5: Songs from the Still - The Birthplace of Country Music
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Pick 5: Songs from the Still

Inspector stands to left of photo holding a glass of moonshine; still is to right of photo.

For our “Pick 5” blog series, we ask members of the Radio Bristol team to pick five songs within a given theme – from heartsongs to murder ballads and everything in between! Once they pick their “5,” they get the chance to tell us more about why they chose those songs. With a diverse staff of knowledgeable DJs, we’re sure to get some interesting song choices, which might introduce you to some new music, all easily accessible by tuning into Radio Bristol!

Today is National Moonshine Day!

My Dad’s family made moonshine in the dark corner of upstate South Carolina and western North Carolina for many years, and my folks would deliver corn, sugar, shorts, and yeast from their grocery store to his relatives way out on the back roads. My Mom recalled seeing one of the Plumley girls come get a 50lb. sack of sugar, toss it over her shoulder, and disappear up through the woods to the still. After the hard work of distilling had been done, they would take the train with pockets and valises full of mason jars of shine from my hometown of Tryon, North Carolina, up the mountain to Saluda, connecting with many rich Charlestonians who were coming up to their summer homes; my relatives would then return down to Tryon with pockets full of cash.

That history gave me the inspiration to pick five of my favorite liquor songs to mark this day:

“The Prayer of the Drunkard’s Little Girl,” Blind Alfred Reed

The great Blind Alfred Reed was one of the 1927 Bristol Session musicians, and he was well known for his self-penned songs about social issues. “The Prayer of the Drunkard’s Little Girl” was, of course, a morality tale about the evils of drink and the toll it took on families, especially children.

“Prohibition Blues,” Jorma Kaukonen

Jorma Kaukonen was the guitarist for Jefferson Airplane and has a wonderful guitar camp in southeast Ohio called Fur Peace Ranch where I have taken classes and also performed on a number of occasions. He is a long-time musical hero of mine and also a great friend. Check out the folks playing on this version of “Prohibition Blues” – a Jimmie Rodgers composition! – on Jorma’s album Blue Country Heart. Popular Georgia fiddler Clayton McMichen was the first to record this song back in 1930, and he later played fiddle on Jimmie’s recording of the tune, which unfortunately has never been recovered. It’s the only Jimmie Rodgers side still missing.

“Moonshiner,” Peter Rowan

“Moonshiner” has been done by lots of folks, but Peter Rowan’s version is my favorite. As usual, he puts his own enthusiastic spin on it. I’ve seen him do quite a few duet shows with Jerry Douglas in days of yore, and this was always a highlight of the night. The first two verses give a sense of the song:

I am a moonshiner
For 17 long years
And I spent all my money
On whisky and beers

And I go to some hollow
And set up my still
If whisky don’t kill me
Lord, I don’t know what will

“Copperhead Road,” David Lindley

Another musical hero and great friend here, David Lindley is a most unique performer who puts a Middle Eastern take on this Steve Earle classic by playing it on the saz, a long-necked instrument in the lute family. I’ve performed with David numerous times, and he is one of the smartest and funniest people on earth who has played on hundreds of recordings. Most importantly, however, remember: take a trip down Copperhead Road but keep an eye out for the revenuer man!

“Rum And Pepsi,” Moolah Temple $tringband

These two gents are from Sylva, North Carolina, where I used to live, and their versions of old-time and traditional music through the lens of musical heretics like Harry Partch, Captain Beefheart, The Residents, and others are some of the most unique and oblique music to be found anywhere. Their fearlessness in turning staid forms upside down and inside out is a continual source of musical wonderment.

 

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