My father, Aubrey Hutchens, had never called dances before, but he had been to dances during his early years, and he began calling the square dances. I was just learning to play banjo and I used to sit and watch Arthur Hall week after week. Christmas of 1963, I got my first banjo, a “Beltone” that Dad got from Harold Cummins, who he had worked with at the Carnation Milk plant in Stuart.
Don Reno & Red Smiley were on TV each morning at WDBJ-TV, and Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs were on Winston-Salem's WSJS on Saturday night and the same show would be on WDBJ-TV in Roanoke on the following Monday night. In talking with Earl Scruggs in the late 1980s, he said they would "bicycle" the shows. This was in the days before UPS, when the fastest shipping method was by bus. They would send out the video tapes from Nashville and the tapes would go from town to town by bus. A station would go to the bus station, get the video, show it, then take it back to the bus station and ship it on to the next place, where it would be seen the next night, finally making it back into Nashville a week later.
Marshall Hall’s brother Cecil was playing a round and square dance at the skating rink in Stuart during this time. After a few years, for some reason Gervace quit coming to the Virginia-Carolina dance and joined Cecil at the skating rink, at which time Arthur Hall began playing fiddle at the Virginia-Carolina dance. At first, Dean Shelton, who had been learning to play the banjo, began picking with the Virginia-Carolina band. After a while, Arthur, too, began playing at the skating rink, and Marshall moved from the guitar to the fiddle for the square dances.
About this time, Doug and Larry Cobbler and I were just learning to play. They had a guitar and a mandolin and I had a banjo. Our parents, Richard and Mildred Cobbler and Aubrey and Lillian Hutchens, were at the dance each week and, before long, they began getting together to play Rook every week or so. Doug and Larry and I would go upstairs at our house or in the basement when we went down to the Cobblers'.
Before long, we were joining in from time to time at the dance. This was our first introduction to playing music. Soon, Doug, Larry, and myself starting playing more around the area, mainly at country stores and the like.
WHEO radio had opened in October of 1959 in Stuart, Virginia, and like most radio stations in rural areas, had some live music on it, especially on Saturdays. I’m not sure how many groups worked it, but I think Jim Eanes, with Roy Russell, worked it and I know that Gervace Pendleton and Arthur Hall had played with various bands on the station. In those days, it was live rather than pre-recorded. Besides, it was a great way to advertise the dance they would be playing that night.
During this era, there were many "round and square" dances around the area. There was one at Stella, Virginia, the American Legion in Martinsville, as well as the skating rink and the Virginia- Carolina Ruritan building. By the late 1960s, the Virginia-Carolina dance had about played out, but about this time, I had gotten to where I could play some on the banjo.
The first time I ever played out anywhere, except the dances, was the fiddlers' convention at the Collinsville Recreation Center. Camden Joyce played banjo with Cecil Hall and a band he had put together on Friday night, but "Cam" couldn’t play on Saturday night. Cecil asked if I could play with them. Cam was a great banjo player and I’ll never forget him playing the Friday night. They did “Just Because” and he really sounded good. On Saturday night, we only played one tune. I can’t remember the fiddler's name, but he played “Bear Creek Hop.” We didn’t place in the top 5 groups.
Then, by the next year, Doug and Larry Cobbler and I had met Henry and Louis Mabe. We heard about them and went over to see them on a Wednesday night, and then went to Boone's Mill, Virginia, to a fiddlers' convention and came in second that Saturday night. Henry was a good fiddler and Louis was a good mandolin player. Later that fall at Collinsville, we didn’t place as a band, but Henry won second on the fiddle.
The same stage where Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs played each year
(the week after they split up)
Cecil Hall, Louis Mabe, Henry Mabe, and Doug Hutchens....we were really into in it.....it looks like anyway. Louis Mabe, Doug Hutchens, Doug Cobbler in Collinsville
Meanwhile, during the year somehow I had worked my way into doing the radio show with Marshall and Cecil Hall’s Mayo River Boys. By the time I started playing with them, we didn't do too much live on the air, but we taped them, usually two at a time, every couple of weeks. At first, it was Arthur, Marshall, and Cecil and myself. Later Mike Hazlewood, a good mandolin player and singer, started doing the show with us. After that, we began recording the shows in Cecil's basement, and Doug Cobbler would either play guitar or bass with us.
Marshall Hall, Mike Hazlewood, Cecil Hall, and Doug Hutchens at WHEO, 1972.
Over the next several years, we entered various competitions around the area while doing the radio show. In 1972, we went to Berryville, Virginia, to a competition at Watermelon Park that Carlton Haney promoted. Marion Hall, Mike, and I did the singing and we got second place. That fall, we also worked Camp Springs for Carlton Haney, since we had done well at Berryville.Cecil Hall, Doug Hutchens, Mike Hazelwood, Marion Hall at Camp Springs, NC, 1972.
I went to school in Berea, Kentucky, in the fall of 1970, but continued to record radio programs with the group when I would come home every few weeks.
I had also started doing some radio at WMYN in Madison, Virginia, with Lee Kiser and Sidney Thornton in mid-1969. I continued that until about 1972, recording shows when I would come in from college.
Crossing the Cumberlands
I remember one night about midnight, heading home from doing some recordings with Lee and Sidney. I was listening to the Mac Wiseman Record Shop show on WWVA in Wheeling. I had just turned at Sandy Ridge, North Carolina, and headed toward home.
It was a beautiful clear night with a big full moon. I could almost see Bull Mountain, 30 miles away in the distance…….. about that time there was a lull in the program for a moment, then this slow, deliberate banjo tune started on the radio….It was eerie sounding and I pulled over to the side of the road to listen to it. After the banjo came the fiddle…I was almost sure it was Kenny Baker playing fiddle as I had spent some time around him in the past couple of years…then the banjo again, then the mandolin….when it ended, again there was an eerie silence, for it seemed a long time before another tune started.
I listened closely hoping they would tell what the record was, but they didn’t. It was nothing I had ever heard before…I thought it must be Bill Monroe, and the next week I sent 3 dollars to the Mac Wiseman Record Shop in Wheeling and asked them to send me the eerie banjo tune that was played on their show at about midnight the preceding Saturday night on WWVA. It was about two weeks and I got the record “Crossing the Cumberlands.” It had “I Haven’t Seen Mary in Years” on the other side. On clear, full moonlit nights, even these days when I’m driving, I’m reminded of that night. The recording was released on May 19, 1969, and this was the first time I had heard it.