Sunday, March 27, 2011

Early Festivals

Jamming with some of the featured bands was very prominent back in the early days of festivals. I can remember the first Jam sessions I was in back in 68 or 69. It was at the Union Grove Old Time Fiddlers Convention. Joe Greene was there to enter the contest and Kenny Baker had just come down for the weekend to visit with Mr.Tommy Jarrell and just fiddle around.
This was a short time after Joe and Kenny did the twin fiddle recording for County Records. The little Firehouse at Union Grove was packed with Pickers...I can't remember who all of them were, I do remember Butch Robins and Roger Sprung were in the group and that I was definately the most novice banjo player there. What impressed me was Baker and Joe would fiddle a while and then nod to each picker to take a break, they didn't care how good you were, just give what you had. Then at Bean Blossom in 70 I would get with Eddie and Peanut Bush from Louisville and we would jam every night. "Peanut" I never knew her name, she was always called "Peanut" was a wonderful lady singer and Eddie was a great mandolin player with "The right timing" Bill would come by every night and take Eddie's mandolin and play and sing a few with us. Then he would then go on to the other camp sites and do the same thing until he had covered a good amount of the grounds. Those were wonderful days.
When I was working for Gibson from 86 to 93 I walked the grounds at alot of festivals and was very depressed at the amount of jamming that was there. At this point I was looking at things with diffent eyes. I was doing my own research as to potential future instrument sales and I didn't think that jamming scene looked that healthy. The only place I really saw major amounts of jamming was Grass Valley Calif. I was used to the Bean Blossom's and McClure's of the 70's where you would see the likes of Dale Whitcomb and Grant Boatwright come and play for 4 days almost non stop.
It was not uncommon to hear Bill mention on stage as he did in Cosby Tennessee in 71 "I think Joe (Stuart) and Kenny have played non stop since we landed in here on thursday, I don't think they have even been to sleep".
After a fair amount of studying I realized why I was not seeing as much jamming back east. First many of the big time jammers had made thier way to the stage and were in performing bands and there were more listeners than pickers at the time and secondly and most important: bands were not being booked in the same festival for 2 or 3 days. In the early days of festivals, late 60's and until 71 or 72, usually bands were hired for all 3 days and most of the times stayed on the grounds from the beginning until the end of the festival. The first major groups I remember that began working one day or two was at Myrtle Beach either 71 or 72 when the Osborne Brothers and Lester Flatt either left out and went somewhere else or came in after working another date. Prior to this time there were not nearly as many festivals scattered around the country so you really didn't have anywhere else to go unless you had an individual date at a fair or auditorium anyway.
Until that point it had been common to work two or three days for a better price (per day)than just one day. I guess we could go back and check out some ads in old BU's and other publications from the period to verify when this began on a larger scale. As promoters realized that they could put more names on the flyers to create bigger lineups for the weekend the entertainers began to travel from date to date and make more money, lets say working 3 different locations for $500.00 or $600.00 per day rather than one place for 2 or 3 days and get $1,200. At this point also, most bands did not have drivers that were not in the band. When Danny Jones and I joined the Blue Grass Boys, Joe and Kenny wasted no time in putting both of us to driving the coach. Danny had been in transportation in the service and I was off the farm used to driving farm equipment so it wasn't a big leap for either of us.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys Summer 1971

On June 26, 1971 I stepped on stage with Bill Monroe to play bass for one tune, Bill ask me an hour or so before the show if I "had ever played any bass" to which I replied 'no not really', then he said "Go out there and let Joe Stuart show you how to play "Tallahassee". (a tune which was on his latest single record) Tonight you can play that number, then go set up the record table". Joe was very happy to show me the notes on the bass because that would mean that he would play twin fiddles with Kenny Baker and Joe loved to play fiddle.

It was "Shindig at Cripple Creek", Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Dan Jones first show on guitar, Jack Hicks was on the banjo, Kenny Baker on Fiddle and Joe Stuart had been playing bass for several months since Skip Payne's departure from the band. Bill had invited me on the previous Monday at Bean Blossom to travel around with the band for the summer, "sell records, and keep gas in the air conditioner generator".
photo borrowed from

Bill had asked me the previous fall to work with him for the summer and I had been at Bean Blossom Indiana since mid May helping Birch and Bertha, Bill's brother and sister in getting the Park ready for the week long festival that was held the 3rd week in June. After the week long festival we spent a couple of days cleaning up the cans, bottles and bags of trash left at camp sites. It was then Bill had asked me what it would cost me to go to school for the next year. (I had just finished my freshman year at Berea College) I told him it would be about 8 or $900.00. He counted out 9 one hundred dollar bills and said "take this home and put it in the bank and meet at the truck stop on 11W South of Roanoke on Friday afternoon". The plan was for them to call me as they came thru Bristol in order to give me time to get there.

After "Tallahassee" I started to take Joe's fiddle, give him the bass and go set up the records, Bill said "just stay with us". After a second tune; Footprints in the Snow, (Joe had slipped over near me to show me encouragement on the bass) again I started to take Joe's fiddle and give him the bass when Bill turned around and said "are you determined to leave us" I said "well no not really", he said "You stay right here until I tell you to go". This was only the second time I had ever played bass with a group on stage, up until this time I thought I was a banjo player .

In the March 1972 issue of Atlantic Monthly, Robert Cantwell wrote a piece called "Believing in Bluegrass." He was impressed with the performance of a young group "The Brown County Boys" who had won the band contest at Bean Blossom and how they paid tribute to Bill Monroe when someone in the audience called out one of his popular instrumentals by saying "lets leave that one for the master".

Well as Paul Harvey says, here is the rest of the story.

Three of the Brown County Boys were brothers and as brothers tend to do, a couple of hours prior to the performance, for some reason one of them along with another of the band members left and went home, leaving the group with out a mandolin or bass player. Darrell Sanson was a very good young mandolin player from Ohio so they asked Darrell to play mandolin but couldn't find a bass player.

They were discussing the situation at Calvin Robins camp site along the fence of the wooded area of the park and Calvin suggested that I play bass with them. I had literally never played bass but they convinced me to give it a shot. We borrowed a bass from Buck White and the girls who were camped right beside us, the boys were going to play "Mention her name" that they had written and recorded and was later recorded by the Bluegrass Alliance, then"Love Come Home was next. Like I said earlier I was not a bass player anyway, sure I could play simple G positions but only simple tunes. Calvin suggested that I use a Bill Russell guitar capo and told me to put it on backward so I could slide it to the appropriate position on the neck of the bass and continue to play in simple G notes and all I had to do was just keep time, smile allot and ease through it.

Things were going well, we had played 2 or 3 tunes then someone called "Rawhide". Rawhide was one of Bill's signature mandolin instruments that I had played on the banjo countless times but I had no ideas of the bass lines for "Rawhide" so I told the boys "Lets leave that one for the Master" as Bill and The Blue Grass Boys were following us. I had no idea that anyone would remember those words.

I guess all this just goes to show that doing something that I wasn't comfortable at all, lead to a great opportunity. In later years I've often wondered if Bill had seen me on stage that night as he walked toward the stage and the idea was possibly planted that lead to be becoming the bass man for Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys from June 26 until August 28th 1971.

There are lessons in everything we do, opportunities are all around us, all we have to do is be open and accepting to new and exciting possibilities.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Carlton Haney "That's a Blue Grass Festival"

Bonnie, Carltons daughter asked Steven Martin to read this at the grave side.

“When the festivals are over and my friends leave, well I cry. Because they’re part of me. They’re part of the festival. You never know when next year that one might not be here. And when the music’s over on Sunday night, you’ll never know how lonely it is. But I sit in the pines and always write a story. I can still hear them singing, oh yeah, I can hear them singing. And then they always come back… the musicians and the people. It’s part of their lives and part of ours. So it hurts me to see them go… it hurts me to see them leave. But I know that most of them enjoyed theirself and the heard the greatest music in the world played by the greatest artists in the world. And that’s bluegrass music. That’s a bluegrass festival.”

Carlton Haney, Camp Springs, 1971

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Visiting Carlton Haney's Grave

I visited Carlton's final resting place yesterday afternoon for the first time. He rest near his Mother and Father in Roselawn Memorial Gardens near Reidsville North Carolina.
I had an appointment not far away and wanted to go by and make sure things were ok there, the flowers were beginning to fade a little, but all was well.

I had been given a copy of the 1972 Blue Grass Awards at Carlton's Funeral on Saturday by Mr. Knight(wish I could remember his first name) who used to tape many of the performances at Camp Springs and listened to it on my trip down. Sonny Osborne and Fred Bartenstein were giving the awards and Carlton spoke of the Museum and Learning Center he wanted to create on the grounds there. Unfortunately he never received the support he needed.

Carlton Haney had dreams; more dreams than the common man, but the difference in Carlton Haney and the common man was when Carlton had dreams many times he did something to try to make them materialize where as the common man's dreams go un acted upon.

On Saturday afternoon I was the last to leave his grave site, remembering Don Reno's funeral in 1984 where John Palmer, David Deese, Carlton and I were the last to leave.
Carlton, David and I stood as John's grave was filled, David passed only a few days before Carlton on March 13,th, I was at Davids funeral when Carlton passed from this earth.

Carlton's grave was filled and grass seeds strown at 4:43 PM on Saturday March 19, 2011.

Now they are all gone now and I feel very musically and creatively alone.

Carlton in his later years talked of being in rhythm and in tune with the Universe, it was fitting that on the day of his services, that night the moon was said to be brighter and closer to the earth than any time in the next 27 years. Fitting that the Universe shared it's special light on a Carlton who did so much in the background and never seeked the fame of the "bright lights".

Rest easy ole pal....I look forward to hearing your ideas again someday....

Friday, March 18, 2011

Carlton Haney

At Fincastle for a reunion (Photo: Marcia Goodman)

I went to Berryville the first time in 1969 and was camping (basically sleeping in the car). I got there on Tuesday of what Carlton called his "Blue Grass School". He had Monroe's band to come in on Wednesday to do some workshops and they were there until Sunday. On Thursday evening about sunset I ran upon two guys from New York, Kenny Kosek and Jim Pelzer. Kenny was a good fiddler and Jim played a good Monroe style mandolin. But we were just jamming at the back of my car when this guitar player came by and began picking with us. After a few minutes we were picking pretty good this other gentleman came by and the guitar player said Dewey get your bass and he did. We'd probably played an hour or so when Carlton and John Miller came walking by. They stood and listen til we ended the song and he said Del, I know Dewey but who is the rest of your band. Del said I really don't know these guys we just got together a few minutes ago. (We didn't know it until then but the Del was Del McCoury)

Carlton couldn't believe it...he said you guys don't know each other? We said no and he ask each of us who we were were and where we were from. Kenny and Jim were from New York and I was from Spencer Virginia. Carlton was elated. He said Boys this is just what I hoped would happen. People from all over the country meeting and being able to play and sing together. He listened a while then walked on down the field a little ways, turned and came back. He said that JD Crowe was supposed to close out the show on Friday night but he had to do something in Washington for the Smithsonian and how would we like to play JD's spot. (At Carlton's visitation March 18th, 2011, I asked Doyle Lawson about that night at Berryville. He was playing with JD Crowe and said they had worked a show over at the Folklife Festival in Washington that they had there during the 4th of July each year)

It floored all of us.... So Friday night at 10:00 Fred Bartenstein was introducing us when Carlton came out on stage. Fred had said that we have these guys and what are we going to call them...lets call them the Watermelons...Then Carlton came to the mike and said that "these boys have made my dream come true", "when We first started doing these shows I hoped that people from all over the country would meet and play this music together". Lets call them the Muleskinner Boys...With that Del did the C-run intro and Kenny went into "Watermelon Hanging on the Vine". We went on into "Toy Heart" and "On and On", the tunes kept flowing. After a little while someone called for "Uncle Pen" and Sonny Osborne came out and sang baritone, Then Billy Baker and Wayne Yates came out for a tune or two. We were running over on time bad but having a wonderful time, finally Carlton came out and said that we'd have to shut it down for the night but invited us to be a part of the "Story" on Sunday. We did an hour and the sound man did a tape of it for me.

This was the first time I was ever on stage at a Blue Grass Festival and after we came of stage that night Carlton came out to my car about the time I was getting ready to get in the back seat and go to sleep and said there is a little building on the other side of the stage with a cot in in. Why don't you sleep there from now on, you'll be much more comfortable. For some reason I didn't remember when to be at the stage on Sunday and I missed the "Story" tune. Earl Sneed was playing banjo when I walked up while the "Story" was being done.

I've always regretted missing that but it was a great time on Friday night.

In later years Carlton brought up that night many times that "his dream came true" of having people from all parts of the country and walks of life be able to play Blue Grass together having never done it before.

In recent years I've spent countless hours on the phone with him. Any call always lasted a couple of hours and I wish I had taped some of our conversations. He was one of the most wonderful "Characters" of this industry and always thinking creatively.

In his later years he did a lot of thinking of how and why things happen, rather than making things happen as he had in his early days. Due to this many just sort of 'wrote him off' as having lost it, I guess that is not uncommon when we hear information beyond our comprehension. He spoke of Pythagoras, being in rhythm with the rotation of the earth and its place in the Universe, he studied the notes of the instruments, the vibrations, pitches, I wish I had all of what he said recorded.

Possibly someone has all this recorded, and in the future we might understand it better all bye and bye.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

David Deese

Dan Jones, David Deese, Rob Marshall, Doug Hutchens in Owensboro Kentucky June 2011
Photo courtesy of Rob Marshall

David Deese and Tater Tate

David, always being the thoughtful one with flowers for Tater's wife who could not attend that afternoon.

April 16, 2007 Tater Tate Appreciation Day

Bristol, Tennessee

April 16, 2007

Randy Franks, Blake Williams, David Deese, Wayne Lewis, Tom Ewing

David Deese

"From the Red Smiley 'Top of the Morning' Days circa 1965"

This past Sunday March 13th, 2011 I lost a great friend.

David was the closest thing I ever had to a brother when it came to music. I watched him when I was a teenager on the Arthur Smith TV show and also later when he took Don Reno's place with Red Smiley on "Top of the Morning" each morning on WDBJ TV in Roanoke Virginia.

It was a Don Reno's Funeral in October 1984 that our friendship grew. As the final prayer was prayed and most folks began to leave the cemetary the grave was filled. When the final shovel of sod was placed, there was 4 people left standing at the head of the grave. John Palmer, Carlton Haney, David Deese and myself. We all knew each other from the music business. Later when John passed Carlton, David and myself were there. Now David has joined Don and John and Carlton is suffering from a stroke. (Sadly Carlton passed at 2:15 on the day of David's funeral March 16, 2011)

When James Monroe asked me to put together a reunion of Bill Monroe's band members David was always there. We traveled to Rosine time after time to Honor the Memory of Bill.

Once after visiting the legendary fiddler Gordon Terry, and seeing he was not in good health, on the way home David looked over at me while driving along and said "Buddy I want to make sure that one thing is straight between you and me. If for some reason I don't wake up tomorrow morning, I want you to know that you're my friend." and that's the words we parted with each visit with from that time on.

We gave each other our flowers while we were living.

I am going to miss him.

David was a life long musician. He and his father Tom played in his early years, they traveled many times to Richmond to the New Dominion Barn Dance and it was on these trips where he met Bill Monroe and Red Smiley.
Barely out of high school he became the banjo player for the "Arthur Smith Show" based out of Charlotte NC. Later he went to Nashville to take a job with Wilma Lee and Stoney Cooper only to find the were out of town when he got there and a chance meeting with Frank Buchanan let to David becoming a Blue Grass Boy with Bill Monroe.
When Don Reno and Red Smiley parted company Red chose David to fill the banjo position and he kept that spot until he was drafted and pulled a tour in Vietnam.
Upon returning to the states David worked with George Wynn near Richmond for a while, but when the group was planning a USO tour and Vietnam was on the tour, David and Fred Duff switched bands as he had no interest to return there. He later joined the Jones Brothers for over 20 years and later with the Briar Hoppers. In the early 1990's he and Betty Fisher joined forces in the Betty Fisher-David Deese and Dixie Bluegrass for a period. He did numerous recordings with friends and Pat Ahrens is working on a book about his life and times.

I am going to miss him so much.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011


"Wheelwright" I worked that out tune in Ottawa, Ohio on a F2 mandolin that Kenny Baker had traded for when I was working for Bill. Bill came on the bus and ask me about what I was playing and I told him it was a tune I was working on and I was going to call it Wheelwright. He said that he worked that little town in Kentucky one time years ago and they had some sort of a disturbance there that he "had to take care of" and kind of chuckled.

A year or so later I went home from college with Jake Fraley from Wheelwright and when he told his dad I had worked for Bill he said that once Bill played the Wheelwright Theater and during the show some guys who had been drinking kept hollering during the show and the three of them got in a scuffle in the back of the theater. Bill laid his mandolin down with the still band playing, went to the back of the theater grabbed each by the seat of their pants and the neck of their shirt and threw all three of them out thru the box office. He walked back up and picked up his mandolin and finished the song.