I became aware of Old Time Music in about 1938 when my dad bought a Silvertone battery radio and I first heard the National Barn Dance and later the Grand Ole Opry. It took me a long time to get over wanting to play cornet in a Dixieland Jazz Band, but after I heard Flatt & Scruggs during my service in the U. S. Army in Germany, I began to listen to Bluegrass and go to some festivals. Finally, in 1982, I bought a dulcimer kit at Mtn. View, put it together and learned to play it, (the old time way, with a noter).
Folk music as played in the Ozarks had a special attraction for me. I like the sounds of acoustic instruments and the vocal harmonies that go with it. I also like the historical side of the old ballads and fiddle tunes. My Granddaddy Bone (who died before I was born) used to play fiddle for dances before he joined Mt. Olive church and laid his fiddle down. My older brother inherited that fiddle, but I managed to try to play it a few times. My mother and sister both played the piano and I can remember our family singing together at home as well as at church. Two of my sons have played drums and guitar in rock and blues bands,
With the following exceptions, I have been a listener, not a picker. During Christmas 1954, I was on a troop ship headed for Germany. I played cornet with a small combo for a Christmas dance for the dependents (families) on board.
Later on that spring I played with another group and we won a talent contest. (This got me on the "music detail" instead of K.P.) In recent years, I have played and sung at senior citizens clubs, churches, retirement homes, etc.
Since retirement from Kellwood Company in 1994, I have been manager of the Davy Crockett Cabin/Museum at Rutherford and have had oldtime music there as part of our annual Davy Crockett Days. I have helped to edit and write a couple of local history books. When we had the Dyer Music Lovers' Club, I was always asked to come up with an annual folk music program. This gave me the opportunity to get some friends to come in to pick and sing the oldtime tunes.
Back in the 1990's my wife and I would sometimes go to the Old Country Store on Thursday nights and listen to the oldtime music. It was not until Coley and Marilyn Graves came by the Cabin and invited us to come down and play with them that we started attending and soon joined the Club. Sue and I have made a lot of good friends who enjoy the music as much as we do and who share many of the same values that we hold. Old Time Music has created many friendships that would never existed without it.
Once again you voted and another great choice. A very talented young oldtime banjo picker whom I've had the pleasure of picking a little bit with recently. He plays banjo in the oldtime style - my personal favorite - being an oldtime fiddler. I think it's wonderful that we have a growing group of young musicians coming on that will pick up and carry the torch on into the future. Ryan is certainly one of those rare oldtime enthusiasts that will carry on our legacy. It gives me great pleasure to introduce our Picker of the Month - Mr. Ryan Beard.
When did you first become interested in oldtime music: After "O Brother Where Art Thou" was released. The first time I became interested in the banjo especially was on a mission trip in Romania. An American missionary was playing his banjo at a free clinic in a village there. That was the first time I messed with a banjo.
How long have you been playing old time music: Since I was 14, so for 7 years.
What are your musical influences: Grandpa Jones, Uncle Dave Macon, Stringbean, Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs, Don Reno and Red Smiley
Does anyone in your family play music: My brother mainly plays rock music, but we play old time almost every time we get together. He plays the guitar and the mandolin.
What kinds of times and places have you played music in your life: When I was 16, I started playing with the Turkey Creek Bluegrass band from Savannah, TN. I played with them for almost a year. We played in West TN and North MS the most. My favorite show was when we played at the Dixie in Huntington.
What else do you do besides play music: I visit with friends and piddle around the house and in the garden.
What makes this kind of music "good" to you: The variation of instruments and rhythm driven songs are more appealing than a guitar and drum based music. The focus on playing the instrument well instead of loud is good to me too.
Why did you choose to play this kind of music: Because it's fun, but it's also a music best enjoyed live and in the person.
Started following William Moore around to bluegrass festivals. I think the first group was the Blue Creek Ramblers. William was the bass player for that group and from him I have learned many valuable lessons about music as well many other topics.
- What kinds of times and places have you played music in your life?
I have been a photographer, raced boats, built airplanes (the ones you ride in), built dune buggies, built a hammer dulcimer, a lap dulcimer and Celtic harps. William has also taught me to repair fiddles.
I have way to many hobbies:
- What else do you do besides play music?
I didn't it just happen to be there. It's the music of good common people and you just can't beat that.
Picker of the Month:
Mr. Benny Coley
P'- Picker of the Month
Benny's been around the Plectral Society
since the onset. He's been pickin' mandolin and
singin' those old Louvin Brother tunes for years. I
thought it would be interesting to hear his story on
oldtime music, so here it is - Mr. Benny Coley -
P'Picker of the Month:
When and how did you first become
interested in Oldtime Music? Someone in the family
acquired an old guitar. I played approximately a
year-and-a-half. I heard The Louvin Brothers and got very interested in the mandolin.
Bought my first one from a man's attic and gave $2.50 for it.
How long have you been playing Oldtime Music? I started around 1946. Their
was very little music, books, etc. available to me at that time. I've been playing now 62
What were your musical influences?
I like Country, Gospel, etc. - the Louvin Brothers more than any of the others.
Does anyone in your family play music?
My mother played the piano.
What kinds of times and places have you played music in your life? Early on, we
played school houses, some radio. Later, moving to Madison County - we played the
old Hayloft Frolic, Farm and Home Hour. We played as the "Pierce Family" - Country
Gospel from 1972 - 1983.
What else do you do besides play music?
I like fishing, sports, baseball, and softball.
What makes this kind of music "good" to you?
The real reason for my music - I love harmony, and that seems to fit the mandolin
I love so much.
Why did you choose to play this kind of music?
I think the acoustic music brings out all the qualities in most any instrument.
Some of the greatest pickers are in this type music.
- Benny Coley
Amature radio operator have a general class licens. I have talked to stations around the world also made voice contact with space shuttle. and also sending and receiving code on a streight telegraph code key and a inverted V, copper wire di pole for a antenna . Like to work in the yard.
7. What makes this kind of music "good" to you? Being able to share it with others and pass it on . The interesting thing about this music to some it talks about life from beginning to end and beond.
8. Why did you choose to play this kind of music?
I think this kind of music just grows on you.
Thanks Jeff . Hope this will do i"m not the best at E mail.
Your choice for Picker of the Month - a true southern lady, one of the most congenial, kind-hearted, delightful members of the Plectral Society, and a repository of oldtime music.
Ms. Marilyn Graves:
When and how did you first become interested in music?
I really don’t remember a time when I wasn’t interested in music. We always had a piano at home, and every time our extended family would visit, we would gather around the piano and sing the old time gospels and hymns. In my family, taking piano lessons was just something taken for granted that all the kids did when they started school. I still have the piano that has been in our family for over 100 years.
How long have you been playing music?
I started playing piano in second grade, but it was not until Coley and I married that I got involved with other instruments. His family always had music in their home, but they had guitars, fiddles, and mandolins. There was always a crowd at their home on Saturday nights, playing the old time music. It was at one of these jams that Coley found out that one of the pickers had an accordion for sale. He went that night and bought the accordion for me. I can’t tell you how I learned to play the accordion, it just seemed to come natural.
What are your musical influences?
For many years we had a gospel band, playing primarily at churches, and then a country band, which played for line dances at community centers. In our gospel group we had a guitar, mandolin, bass, fiddle, and accordion. Like the hammered dulcimer I play now, it was unusual back then to have an accordion in a group. In the country band we had a keyboard (which I played), bass, fiddle, electric guitar, and drums. The person who influenced me most was Coley’s uncle, Tim Walsh. He was one of the best old time fiddlers in the mid-south area, and he played with us for many years until his death in 1995. I learned to play a lot of the old time fiddle hoedowns from him. He played by ear, and had learned these tunes from his mother’s family. In the early 1990’s, we had a monthly Friday and Saturday night show in Mt. View, AR. Being in Mt. View often gave us the opportunity to attend shows at the Ozark Folk Center. On one such occasion, I heard Grandpa Jones’ daughter, Alicia, play the hammered dulcimer. I was intrigued by the sound , and told Coley I had to get one. The rest is history, and I was playing on stage within three weeks after getting the hammered dulcimer. Here again, I can’t tell you how I learned to play this instrument. I play strictly by ear, and have never been to a workshop.
Does anyone in your family play music?
My mother played piano, and my dad ‘led the singing at church’. An aunt was a music major in college and taught music in the school systems in Kentucky, Illinois, and Tennessee for many years. Our son plays drums, our daughter and granddaughters sing, and have been featured with us many times in the past.
What kinds of times and places have you played music in your life?
For the more than 50 years that Coley and I have been playing together, it would be hard to remember all the times and places we have played. Some of the most enjoyable places would be the show we had in Mt. View, AR, conventions at the Peabody Hotel in Memphis, our association with the Jackson Area Plectral Society, the many times we have played at the Old Country Store, and all our travels throughout Arkansas, Mississippi, and Tennessee, which we continue to do. These travels include playing for churches, schools, civic organizations, festivals, wedding receptions/rehearsals, funerals, TV appearances, and ‘just jamming’, with our band "Wildwood Express".
What else do you do besides play music?
We enjoy camping in our RV (but music is usually involved in our camping)! We are active in our church, and enjoy spending time with our family and friends.
What makes this kind of music “good” to you?
It is the music passed along by our forefathers, with a simple beat.
Why do you choose to play this kind of music?
We have played different styles of music through the years, but the old time music has won us over. It is good to play music you like without all the amplification. Russell Cook, who owns the company that made my hammered dulcimer, once told me to play music “as you hear and feel it – not like how someone says you should play”. The old time music is easy to play that way. I like the hammered dulcimer because we never play a show that someone doesn’t ask – “What is that instrument called?” This has given me a chance to meet and talk with the people from all walks of life and from all around the world.
Bought my first mandolin in 2000 and started picking.
- How long have you been playing oldtime music?
Church music which led to gospel music were my initial influences in performance music.
- What are your musical influences?
- Does anyone in your family play music
My dad whistled all the time and that is the extent of family musical influence. :)
In the early fifties, in Memphis, I sang in a group called "Teenagers for Christ".....name drop.... Elvis was a member of the group. :)
- What kinds of times and places have you played music in your life?
In the 60s traveled with a gospel group from Charleston, SC....The Oakland Quartet. We won a national contest in Bryson City, NC which got us a spot on The Mull singing convention show (WWL clear channel 870 , New Orleans) That sold quite a few albums. We had a 30 minute weekly TV show in Charleston for a number of years. We once opened for the Oak Ridge Boys at the Ryman. The marque read "The Oak Ridge Boys and others". That got a few laughs.
70-72 learned to play bass while in the Air Force in Southeast Asia and played a bit of country in the clubs on base.
I played bass and sang with The Layman Quartet from Brownsville a number of years (late 70s and 80s) and played bass for the Jones Family for a short stent.
I still work at my profession/hobby.....photography.
- What else do you do besides play music?
I call it "real" music as opposed to "artificial" music. There is a place for both but to be able to get some friends and sit under a shade tree and play and sing raw music is a joy and it's real.
- What makes this kind of music "good" to you?
- Why did you choose to play this kind of music
It's an anytime, anyplace music.
P'-Picker of the Month
Mr. David Killingsworth
I wanted to rekindle a column that Marilyn started and
hopefully try to continue this each month. I really like the
concept of highlighting one of our Plectral Pickers, hearing
their stories, their background in oldtime music. We have a
lot of very talented oldtime musicians within the Plectral
Society with some very interesting stories to tell, and the
one I'd like to start with is mine and everybody's favorite
fiddler - Mr. David Killingsworth. David's been fiddlin' for
a long, long time. He's one of the most sought after fiddlers
in our area, but did you ever wonder how does someone get
that good? Well, here's David's story - one I know you will
My early musical influences were my mother, Louise Killingsworth,
and my aunt, Shelby Jean Fisher, who played gospel and old-time
music on the piano. I also had a great-uncle, Miley Higgins, who
played the fiddle at our annual family Christmas gatherings when I
was a small child. I only heard him at Christmas because he lived
so far away, in Fayetteville, Tennessee. One of my great
grandfathers, Calvin Higgins, was a fiddle player as well but I have
no memory of hearing him play.
Each Saturday night I would listen to the Grand Ole Opry on
WSM until falling asleep. I can remember hearing Flatt and
Scruggs, the Louvin Brothers, The Crook Brothers, and the Fruit
Jar Drinkers. After we got a television, I got to see what Flatt and
Scruggs really looked like!
I also loved the Lawrence Welk Show, which came on Channel 7
each Saturday night. I was fascinated by the accordion and horn
playing, especially. At that time, I made no differentiation between
types of music. If music was tasteful and well played, then it was
all just good music, as far as I was concerned.
In 1965, I decided I wanted to get my own instrument, so I told my
parents I wanted......a bugle. This met with a less-than-enthusiastic
reception, so I said "OK, I'd like a set of bagpipes instead." (I loved
the sounds of the bagpipes and drums on the old Shirley Temple
and Laurel and Hardy movies.) Mama said, "First, I am going to
order you a guitar, and you can see how you do with that, Then,
we will see about the bagpipes or something else." So my first
musical instrument was a $24.95 guitar.
A man named Ocie Humphrey lived near us. He had been the
champion fiddle player in my area in the 1920s and 30s, and I
figured he could show me how to tune the guitar. So I took it to him
and he sat in his wheelchair and tuned it for me. I noticed this little
guitar-looking thing sitting on the bed, with a round, yellow-and-
brown striped back on it. He said, "That's my mandolin," and he
picked it up and started strumming it, and that was the most
beautiful musical sound I had ever heard. I can still remember the
rippling, chiming tone and how it stirred me, to this day.
I took the guitar back home and started practicing it, but I was
ruined. The mandolin was in my head and heart, and I got myself
one as soon as I could.
I went frequently to Mr. Humphrey's home to pick with him and
began learning the old tunes. He usually played the fiddle and I
would accompany him on the mandolin or guitar. He was in failing
health and passed away in 1967, and I acquired his fiddle soon
afterward and started playing it. I still have it.
My mother and aunt started playing the mandolin and guitar at
this time, so we had our own little family string band. I usually
played fiddle by this time.
Other musicians I played with as I progressed were Con Crotts
(Father of Mississippi TV personality Kay Bain,) Dixie Donnell from
Shiloh Park, and George E. Knight, a fiddler and also one of the
first 3-finger banjo players in out area. George E. gave banjo
lessons to Tom Murray, who gave banjo lessons to Billy Joe Autry,
who gave banjo lessons to Kurt Stephenson. I learned many old
tumes from these men, some of which dated back to the Civil War
and before. Wayne Jerrolds also became a musical and personal
friend at this time.
Most of my "pocket" money in my teenage years was made from
playing at square dances with Earnest Whitten. My Dad drove me
to my first square dance in 1967, and neither of us really knew
what to expect. Dances of any kind conjured up evil images in the
minds of most of the churchgoing Christian womenfolk in my area,
but my mother was willing to look the other way while I gave it a
try. I remember Daddy saying, "Now son, tonight you're going to
see what the other side of life looks like." Then when we got there,
all we found were people of all ages, from babies to old folks, just
listening to the music, visiting, dancing and having a good time.
(Not even a faint odor of brimstone.) At the square dances, I
usually played either guitar or banjo, while Earnest played the
fiddle. As the money came in, I started buying records and became
familiar with the music of Bill Monroe, who started having an
influence on my mandolin playing.
I never tried or wanted to play professionally, but did play banjo
one time on the WSM Ernest Tubb Midnight Jamboree in 1973,
and have played mandolin a couple of times at the Station Inn in
Nashville with the Wayne Lewis band. I have also played fiddle in a
few shows with Ramona Jones, and bass fiddle with Kenny Baker
and Josh Graves.
I did play on the same stage with Bill Monroe one time, in 1990 in
Savannah, Tennessee. I had played fiddle with another band that
night and, as was Monroe's custom, he had all the musicians to
appear together on stage with him to play the final "number," as he
called it. We played the "Soldier's Joy" and after the show was
over, he walked up and stuck his hand out without saying a word,
and I shook it. Of course, that was a memorable moment.
So, old-time music has been a part of my life almost from the
beginning. It was actually something I grew up with, rather than
something I made a conscious choice to get into. I never wanted to
get really serious with it, but it has been a rewarding pastime. Life
is not easy for anyone, especially in these times, but if my music
has made the load seem a little lighter and the way seem a little
better for someone, then it has all been worthwhile.
Don was the premier fiddle maker in West Tn. He made the best fiddles around and anyone who was any kind of fiddler knew Don Penix.
Seen here L-R are Aubrey Taylor, Don Penix, and Sammy McCadams . . . The Master and his Apprentices . . . each holding two fiddles that Don made. Don charged $300 for each constructed fiddle.
- photo by Ellis Truett
When and how did you first become interested in oldtime music?
(Don) I started going to square dances at the Lion’s Club in Corinth, Ms. when I was about 14 and I’ve always loved the music. I would occasionally go to Marjorie’s house when they had musical groups there, (We lived about a mile apart.) I did not play an instrument at that time. I was on one of my Air Force assignments to Vietnam when I bought a banjo for $25 in the Philippine's, when I was about 28 years old. Just about drove Marjorie crazy trying to learn how to play the darn thing!
(Marjorie) As a little kid, while my hands were still too small for a guitar, Dad gave me a ukulele and taught me the chords in the keys of “C” and “G”, and I played along with the rest of them when I could.
(Don) When people ask me that question I usually say about 40 years. Sometimes their response is: “ You must be pretty good,” and my reply is “No, I just play badly with more confidence.”
(Don) Eunice Smith was playing the piano at all those square dances I went to in Corinth and also Bolivar, and certainly Marjorie’s folks were very encouraging. Her dad allowed me to “play” along when I couldn’t tell one chord from another. Certainly our association with the Jackson Area Plectral Society has been a major influence over the past twenty-plus years.
(Marjorie) No one still living except my cousin, James Smith, of Huntsville, Alabama. He plays autoharp and sings the old-time songs. Our daughter learned the flute, and sang alto in our church youth choir as a teenager, but doesn’t sing or play an instrument of any kind now.
(Don) I was one of ten children in my family and brother Steve is the only other member of my immediate family that plays an instrument. I had a great uncle, Rob Moore, that played the banjo in the early 1900s and I have his restored banjo.
(Marjorie) As a teenager I occasionally sang on WCMA in Corinth, Mississippi on their live Saturday morning music programs, usually with Arnold English’s band. Don was career Air Force, and when we came home on leave we’d play with a group that gathered weekly at the store in Eastview. Don’s brother Steve was usually part of that group, and a young banjo player named David Killingsworth. (yes, “banjo”!)
Don was stationed at the Air Force Academy 1969-73, and a group of us got together at someone’s house about once a month. Quite a mixture—faculty, staff, cadets, playing everything from banjo to piano to trumpet—but we had fun with it. Mostly old-time and country.
(Don) I could not come up with a list! We often put our banjo and autoharp or dulcimer in the car when we travel, and we’ve played at an old country store in Floyd, Virginia, the porches and the barns in Cades Cove in the Smokies, on a hotel balcony overlooking a mountain stream in Gatlinburg, in an old log church at Shiloh, and many times in Mountain View, Arkansas. we are usually the last to leave the grounds at Athens State College every October and at numerous jam sessions at festivals all over the country. We enjoy playing with our brother Steve at family gatherings.
(Marjorie) Our church is important to us. Don has taught a Sunday School class of adults for at least fifteen years. He’s also a trustee and I’ve been assigned to a committee position beginning in January. We’ve sung in the choir since joining First Baptist in 1984, and right now the Living Christmas Tree is our focus—16 songs to memorize! We follow the Union University basketball and golf teams, and Don’s the scorekeeper for home basketball games. We’re avid golfers (though we’re not very good), and we like to travel. We’ve put 26,000 miles on our minivan since April of this year.
(Marjorie) Keeps me in touch with my roots, my heritage—it’s the kind of music my father and grandfather played, and it reminds me of family and my Tennessee home wherever I am, whenever I hear it. It’s easy to listen to.
(Don) Certainly the whole spectrum of people that just get together and have fun with this music is a great attraction to me. It draws people from all walks of life.
(Both) It’s the kind of music we like best, and most of it is simple enough that it’s fairly easy to learn. Also, we like the kind of folks who play old-time music—just good, down-to-earth, friendly people who accept you and encourage you and help you learn.
Buck dancing and flat footing are traditional Appalachian dances. People dance in a small area of their own; no one worries about dancing the same steps as everyone else.
Buck dancing is a general name for any type of fast paced solo dance. Buck dancing is similar to tap and clog dancing, but with steps designed to create more sounds per beat.
Here Mr. Dudley buckdances on his 100th birthday.
Ellis Truett Picker Profile 4/15/2011
1. How did you first become interested in Oldtime Music?
I'm a most fortunate man. Both sides of my family were musicians. I had a great great grandfather who had a family string band in the Glendale Community before the Civil War. His two sons played button accordians and one of the girls played the fiddle and another of the girls played a Martin guitar - an old OO Martin Guitar. Allen Kincade Jones was his name. Part of his home is still standing down in the Glendale community. I've been through it several times. It's located in Chester County not very far from Henderson. My mother's family was named Benson and they were musicians also. Levin Benson Sr. was in the colony of Deleware before the Revolutionary War. His son, Levin Benson Jr. is buried down there near Reagan, and my grandaddy Benson could play anything - fiddle, anything. My mother picked the guitar and sang. You'd of forgotten Loretta Lynn if you'd heard my mother sing.
2. When did you first start playing?
I grew up listening to my Grandaddy Truett singing old songs like "Hawk Shot the Buzzard", etc. My daddy's mother's family had a man named Singin' Russell. I've got his old 1835 Army Songbook. He started the annual singing at Mt. Pleasant up around Sand Ridge. I grew up also listening to the Vestal Family. Tom Vestal had an old Gibson lute, and Robert Vestal, his brother played fiddle. Annie Vestal played a mandolin. I've been to a lot of Ice Cream Suppers and stuff like that when I was a small kid back in the 30's. Their's been string music in my family back way back before the Civil War. I got started playing horns. I played the trumpet - started when I was 12. When I was 14 I was playing first chair trumpet in 3 bands - The 4-H Club Band, The Union University Band, and The American Legion Band.
3. When did you first start playing a string instrument?
Well, I've got small hands and I couldn't chord a guitar, but I saw one time in the paper, back in the 1970's where in Mt. View Ar. they were gonna' have a Dulcimer Festival, and I went over there, carried my first wife (she died in 1984), and I met Jean Simmons, and a bunch of other oldtime musicians over there.
4. I know you and Marion played a lot of places together. She was a very special lady. Where were some of the places that you played music?
Unfortunately, Marion and I were only married about 3 1/2 years before she died. We played at Reelfoot Lake at the Festival there. Played with Wendell Cruz and Lucille Parker and Boss Wadley, Marion and myself, but mostly just local places. We played at the Carnigie in Jackson, and played at the Folk Center at Mt. View. Marion and Boss and I couldn't go to all the places we were invited. We played a lot of church groups - played a lot of old songs like Ragtime Annie and stuff like that.
5. We've talked about playing music, but I know besides playing the music, you also built a lot of instruments. How did you get started in that?
Well, I went over to Mt. View, AR, and I went to a workshop - the first one they ever had over there and got started building the dulcimer from there.
6. Do you have any hobbies outside of music?
Well, I like to build things. I can build anything out of wood from a dulcimer to a house. One of my biggest disappointments - I had a lot and all the materials and all over in Mt. View AR. and was gonna' construct a building, and suddenly I got too old to try to do it. I've still got 17 stacks of old lumber there at my house, and already made arrangements to carry it over there.
7. You built an old replica one-room schoolhouse down there behind your home. Tell us how that came about?
Well, in 1892 my granddaddy James Macintosh Truett was gonna be elected squire. He said, "I want you to know I ain't a runnin'". They elected him anyway, and they re-elected him 4 years later, and he wouldn't take it after that, but they built a one-room school on his property - called it The Truett School. The first building later burned. One year they didn't have enough students to have school, and 8 men and 4 women lived in it for that year. I built a replica of it - started in 1991.
8. A lot of your materials for the replica came from the old school didn't it?
Yea, a good bit of the weatherboard, and some of the wood I put on the walls. The slate/blackboard in there came from the old Tiptonville High School when they tore that down. I've got a lot of old furniture in there. I've got an old organ in there. I can't find anybody to play it.
9. Why would you say you chose to play this kind of music?
Well, it's what I grew up with. I tried to play a guitar, but my fingers were to small to chord it. My Daddy bought a fiddle out of a pawn shop in Jackson for $10 one time and nobody ever showed me a thing in the world about it. Only thing I ever learned to do was make it go like a fire engine, and he took it back and they gave him $8 for it back, That was my first experience with a string instrument. I later played one string melodies on tenor guitar, tenor banjo, and mandolin, played harmonicas and dulcimers, played Tennessee Music Boxes. Did you know those had their origin right here in our area. The area around Wayne, Lewis, and Lawrence County was where they originated - changed the whole history of the dulcimer. I have 5 old ones myself, and I've made 4 or 5.
10. I want to wrap it up here and I have one more question - what do you like best about this kind of music - our oldtime music?
Well, to me it's the only kind of music. This stuff we got now - most all this stuff is just noise, but most all those old songs had a moral to them. It was about something that questioned morality. It had a theme. Most of this stuff now is just racket - gonna' produce an awful lot of deaf old people.
I truly appreciate Mr. Ellis, not only for his wonderful story, but his steadfast devotion to the preservation of our oldtime music, and more importantly the friendship we've had over the years - I truly hold dear. He has been my musical father for almost 30 years and I will always treasure that.
Thanks for everyone casting your ballot this month for our Picker of the Month. This is the first time we've actually voted on a Picker of the Month, and I don't think you could've picked a better choice. He's been around the club since it's inception, picks with everyone in the club, has a vast knowledge of our oldtime/bluegrass music, always cordial and friendly, a welcome to any jam session - your choice for the month - Mr. Kevin Wright.
1. When and how did you first become interested in Oldtime Music?
We had an old Fender Flat Top Guitar laying around the house, that I used to play with as a small child. It stirred up my curiousity, but I couldn’t play it. My first recollection of oldtime music was my step grandfather, Oscar Stewart, had some Flatt & Scruggs Albums that I heard. We’d always watch Hee Haw on television at home, since it came on one of the channels we picked up with our antenna. I had a friend who went to church with me from Trenton, TN and he played banjo, but was killed in a auto accident while in college. After hearing him, I wanted to learn the banjo. I really got interested, however, in my first year at Tennessee Tech, I believe it was about 1984 and the guy who lived across the hall in my dormitory played a banjo. His name is Jeff Cales. Jeff had an old guitar and taught me the 3 chords to back up Foggy Mountain Breakdown, Mother Maybelle Carter style, with a thumb pick and strumming with the back of the fingernails. They had music jams at a music store in Cookeville and that’s where it all came together. It was kind of like the Plectral Society, but not formally organized. Jeff Cales also showed me some 3 finger banjo stuff while at Tech.
2. How long have you been playing Oldtime Music?
I guess it is almost 27 years now since I started in 1984.. I worked with Betsy Autry at Tharp Brothers’ Grocery Store in Humboldt, and she invited me to come to her father-in-law’s house and pick with her banjo pickin’ husband, Billy Joe Autry. His father, Mr. Lewis Autry, would have supper and pickin’s on Sunday nights. Billy Joe or Carlton Harrison invited me in 1987 to the beginnings of what is now the Jackson Area Plectral Society. The club wasn’t even incorporated at that time. I remember we played at Medon Community Center, Upstairs in Darol Aylor’s business in Casey Jones Village, Highland Park School, and Arlington Street back then and you used to get everyone to perform on a microphone on Saturday nights occasionally. You were always good at including everyone Jeff and that really meant a lot to everyone back then. My how time flies when you are having fun.
3. What were your musical influences?
I’d have to say Accapella Church singing while attending church with my grandparents was the biggest thing. We’d always sing 4 part harmony at my grandparents Church of Christ congregation. Also I remember my grandfather Barrett, who was from Pinetop in Hardeman Co., TN, singing standards such as “Shanty in old Shanty Town”, he had Bing Crosby records also and my grandmother Barrett, who came from the Pickett County, TN hills, singing ”Froggy Went a Courtin”, “It’s A Long Way To Tipparary” and other folk songs. I remember watching the Lawrence Welk show at my grandparents and I still love to watch the reruns. My grandmother Wright, being Baptist, loved Southern Gospel music, and we’d listen to those Southern Gospel Quartets on some television show on Sunday Mornings before church, when I spent the night at her house. As a child I listened to my mother’s lp’s which included Peter, Paul & Mary, The Kingston Trio, and we had lots of country 8 tracks (if you remember them). My mother would also sing to me and play her piano. I would try to sing with her and sit on her piano bench. As far as when I started playing guitar, I loved Tony Rice from the minute I first heard him. My 2nd roommate at Tennessee Tech was a guy named Tim Eldridge. Tim was introduced to me by my grandmother’s first cousin, and boy could he flat pick a guitar. He and I would jam in our dorm rooms when we should have been studying. He really gave me an introduction to bluegrass and we’d go to Nashville on the weekends and visit the Station Inn and Ernest Tubb Record Shop. I also listened to Flatt & Scruggs, The Seldom Scene, The Country Gentlemen, Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver, Newgrass Revival and The Bluegrass Album Band, back then. Much later on, did I learn to appreciate the music of Bill Monroe, Stanley Brothers, Reno & Smiley and the Louvin Brothers. I got a cheap banjo and tried to learn how to play banjo. A good banjo picker from
Cookeville named Mike Garrison showed me some stuff on the banjo also. I learned a bunch of fiddle tunes while playing back up for a legendary Old-Time Fiddle player named Frazier Moss,
from the Cookeville, TN area. Also, I learned so much from my dear friend, Ben Stockard, who is now deceased, and was a former President of the Plectral Society. Ben could play so fast, it was unbelievable and he kept learning stuff until the day he died. I couldn’t even keep up some of the time. He and Aubrey Taylor and I must have played a thousand tunes a million times over the years. I’ll have to say that Brad and Brandon Apple have had such a profound influence on my music that I just can’t put it into words. They are both incredible musicians and are inspirational. Curtis Mann has influenced me on my timing more than anyone. Kurt Stevenson, James Kee and David Killingsworth have all influenced me musically as well.
4. Does anyone in your family play music?
My mother was a voice major at Indiana University, but later became a school teacher and principal. She played piano and a folk style of guitar. She could sing the highest soprano notes until she got a respiratory infection, which lowered her entire range. Oddly, enough she didn’t show me anything on the guitar that I can remember, but she did help me understand some elementary music theory early on. My sister and I took piano lessons for a little while, but neither of us wanted to practice. That was the beauty of oldtime music, I could learn it by ear, when I wanted to, and practice whenever I wanted to.
5. What kinds of times and places have you played music in your life?
While at Tennessee Tech, we used to play every Saturday night in Pickett County at an old school building at the Independence Community. That is where I first met a very young Jamie Dailey (of Dailey & Vincent) and Sierra Hull. It is a hotbed of music. I was in a country/rockabilly band for about a year or so nearly 20 years ago and we’d play for some dances in Crockett County. Also for 10-15 years I’ve traveled to several of the local fiddle contest festivals, jamming till the wee hours. We’d jam sometimes with guys who are pros now, such as Cody Kilby and Josh Williams. I’ve had the privilege of playing for ballets, symphonies, contests, square dances, benefits, weddings, auctions, cake walks and traveled to several places with our bluegrass band, Stone County Connection. It’s always special to play on the stage of The Ozark Folk Center in Mountain View, AR. Stone County Connection opened so many opportunities for me musically, playing festivals in Arkansas, Alabama, Mississippi, Kentucky, Missouri and Tennessee of course. The musicians that have played with me in this group, are some of the best anywhere. I’m fortunate to have gotten to play guitar with these guys.
6. What else do you do besides play music?
Well I have to work for a living still. I’m a commercial lending officer for BancorpSouth. I’ve been in banking going on 26 years now and I really do have banker’s hours. I like to cook and watch my kids play sports. I like to do things with my girlfriend and she’s so supportive of my music. I like to travel and fish. I love good movies. Listening to music is just as fun for me as playing and often times is more fun.
7. What makes this kind of music "good" to you?
Instrumentally, good timing makes me feel good. What I mean by this, if everyone is playing on the beat or off beat (whichever the case may be), hitting a bad note is still ok. It’s not the end of the world to hit a bad note, as long as it’s in time. Getting out of time, is not so ok, because it effects the whole group. Bad notes only effect you, bad timing effects everyone. Also, simplicity makes music good also. Just play what you should and don’t try to overdo it. Being courteous of others with your volume, fills, etc., especially over the vocals, this really can make the music good. What makes this music good vocally?, I’d have to say singing 3 or 4 part harmony on pitch, makes me feel good also. This acoustic oldtime music can be so beautiful if we let it be. It calms my nerves if the music is good, and is a good medicine (as David Killingsworth once put it).
8. Why did you choose to play this kind of music?
I think this music chose me instead of me choosing it. Seriously, I don’t always want to play, but when I do, I have to feel it. If you don’t have anything to feel, it is so hard to play the music. I think I do play because it allows me to express emotions that couldn’t be expressed any other way. I mean, sometimes it makes you happy, sometimes sad and you just want to cry or something. This music stirs the emotions. Music is an outlet. I know that sounds weird, but that’s what it does for me.