Pioneers of Bluegrass Gathering
See photos from the historic first Gathering in 2008 on this website's splash page; read Trustee Nancy Cardwell's article covering the event, as published in Bluegrass Now and reprinted here with their permission.
During ROMP, the Museum's annual River of Music Party and Bluegrass Festival, we honor all the musicians who have participated in VOHP thus far. This is our way of publicly thanking them for their contribution to bluegrass music and for helping this museum create its most valuable and prestigious archive.
Many bring their entire bands and perform. VOHP interviewers are also especially invited. This is a rare opportunity to meet, thank, and get to know the musicians who made bluegrass what it is today...
Article by Nancy Cardwell, published in Bluegrass Now Magazine
On Thursday, June 26, the best seat in the bluegrass universe may have been my own, at the Bluegrass Legends concert at RiverPark Center in Owensboro, Kentucky.
Emceed by the inimitable Ron Thomason, founder of Dry Branch Fire Squad, the concert featured performances by The Sullivan Family, The Lewis Family and The Isaacs. The program kicked off the International Bluegrass Music Museum's ROMP ("River Of Music Party") festival, which continued Friday-Saturday, June 27-28, at Yellow Creek Park on the outskirts of town.
This year's concert, which focused on the full spectrum of bluegrass gospel music, provided some of the finest and most inspiring entertainment this side of heaven. But the high point of the evening came right after intermission, just before Lilly, Sonya, Becky and Ben Isaacs took the stage to sing everyone's socks off. One by one, 65 legendary pioneers of bluegrass music were introduced and escorted to center stage, while IBMM director Gabrielle Gray introduced them with a biography and list of accomplishments for each.
"The gathering included a large number of the people who kept this music going in the 1950s--the real deal," comments Bluegrass Hall of Famer Lance LeRoy. "It was so good to see them again, because I worked with most of them when I got in the business professionally. The museum management deserves the gratitude of everybody involved in bluegrass. I was amazed at the turnout and the enthusiasm. Let's hope it becomes an annual event!"
Invitations were sent to all of the subjects interviewed for the museum's Video Oral History Project, which preserves the stories and music of first and second generation bluegrass musicians and industry leaders for the benefit of future scholars and fans. The IBMM staff and my fellow board members were thrilled with the response-65 legendary bluegrass pioneersmade their way to Owensboro, where they were honored at a recognition dinner on Thursday night before the show, and enjoyed a storytelling session facilitated by bluegrass historian/radio broadcaster Fred Bartenstein the following morning.
I've had the pleasure of meeting and hearing many of these folks perform in the past, but never in my life have I seen them in all in one room, sharing memories that seemed to focus on their passion for music.
See if you can ID these folks in the photo on this page: Eddie & Martha Adcock; Homer Bailes of The Bailes Brothers; Kenny Baker; Gloria Belle; Bonny Lou & Buster (Moore) and Lloyd Bell; Bud Brewster; Carlos Brock; Jimmy Case (who played with Scotty & Donna Stoneman in The Bluegrass Champs); Gene Christian; Bill Church; Jimmy Cox; Noah Crase, Bill Thomas and Jerry & Tom Holt (from The Boys from Indiana); J.D. Crowe; Doug & Rodney Dillard; Ward Eller; Tony Ellis; Bill Emerson; Tom Ewing; Ernest Ferguson; Connie Gately; Bill Grant; Al Hawkes; Bobby Hicks; Ramona Jones (who played fiddle and mandolin with "Sunshine Sue" on the radio before teaming up with her well-known husband, Grandpa Jones); Peter Kuykendall; Katie Laur; Lance LeRoy (former manager of Lester Flatt and the Bluegrass Cardinals, and current manager of Bobby Osborne and Paul Williams & the Victory Trio); Miggie, Polly, Janis and "Little Roy" Lewis; Tex Logan (who performed with The Lilly Brothers in Boston and wrote the song "Christmas Time's A-Comin'"); Mac Martin (still playing with his Dixie Travelers in Pennsylvania at age 83); The McCormick Brothers-Gerald, Haskel and William; Curtis McPeake; Jesse McReynolds; The Murphy Brothers (Dewey & John); Bobby & Sonny Osborne; The Ozaki Brothers, Hisashi and Yasushi, who introduced bluegrass music to Japan; Carl Pagter of the California Bluegrass Association; the family of Ola Belle Reed--Bud, Ralph & David; Ramblin' Tommy Scott, age 101 ("the last of the real medicine show men" who performed with Charlie Monroe and Curly Williams & the Georgia Peach Pickers); Curly Seckler; Jim Smoak (who wrote "This Heart of Mine" and played with Carl & Pearl Butler, among others); Roni Stoneman (of Hee Haw and Stoneman Family fame); Enoch & Margie Sullivan; former Blue Grass Boy Arnold Terry; Roland "Smokey Val" Valliere; Roland White (who looks 20 years younger than his 70 years and is heading up his own Nashville-based band); and Paul Williams.
It would take more than a couple of pages to list the accomplishments of these music legends. They were all asked what they'd like to be remembered for someday, and their responses (sometimes surprising, touching or humorous), were shared during the introductions. Rodney Dillard wants to be remembered as simply "the world's oldest living man." Eddie Adcock (who played with the IInd Generation, Mac Wiseman, Bill Monroe and The Country Gentlemen before forming a duo with his wife, Martha) said, "Remember me as a leader, not a follower." Hall of Famer Kenny Baker, who defined the role of the fiddle in bluegrass music as one of Monroe's Blue Grass Boys before forming a partnership with late Dobro legend Josh Graves, says he's just "a fiddler who loves music."
Gloria Belle, 71, who worked with Jimmy Martin, Cas Walker and Charlie Monroe before fronting her current band, Tennessee Sunshine, hopes to leave a legacy as "a friendly person who was able to meet so many wonderful people as I traveled across the country." Doug Dillard, 71, wants to be remembered for "being a part of The Andy Griffith Show and for preserving the sound and tradition of bluegrass and carrying on the tradition of the five-string banjo."
Paul Williams, who played with the Lonesome Pine Fiddlers and Jimmy Martin before launching his own gospel group, The Victory Trio, attended the event with his wife. "Edria and I enjoyed everything so much," he said. "I thought that was very nice for the folks at the museum to do what they did. It was good to see some old friends and get acquainted with some I had heard of but never met until this past weekend."
"It was nice to be a part of the bluegrass pioneers recognition at Owensboro," said Bluegrass Hall of Famer Jesse McReynolds, who worked in the legendary Jim & Jesse duo with his brother for many years and now leads the Virginia Boys himself. "I would like for the world to know that I'm still going strong and working hard to keep my career going."
Guitarist and songwriter Connie Gately, my tablemate at dinner Thursday night, performed in the Connie & Babe duo as well as with Bill Monroe, and recorded for the Republic, Rounder and Starday labels. Gately, who wrote the standard, "Home is Where the Heart Is," wants to be remembered "as a songwriter and a person who loved the music, even though I was not a full-time professional musician."
Bill Grant, who performed in a duo with Delia Bell, is "the man who brought bluegrass music west of the Mississippi River, and the host of one of the biggest and oldest bluegrass festivals in America... a musician and a songwriter who told stories with my music." Ramona Jones, remembering the touring she did during her career, said, "Grandpa and I went to Korea in 1951 to entertain the troops. We stayed for five weeks-even on the front lines during heavy fighting. I am still proud of what we did."
Katie Laur, the band leader and radio DJ from Cincinnati, said, "I like to think The Katie Laur Band made people laugh and even that we made them think a little. Mostly, we had a good time." Curtis McPeake, 80, who performed with Earl Scruggs, Wilma Lee & Stoney Cooper, and Danny Davis & the Nashville Brass, "would like to be remembered as someone who tried to be a gentleman and treated people right."
Bluegrass Hall of Famer Curly Seckler said he wished to be remembered "as still breathing, and also as a guy who's always tried to treat the other person how I'd like to be treated myself. I've tried to be honest and sober all through the years."
Legendary banjo stylist Sonny Osborne, co-founder of The Osborne Brothers along with his brother, Bobby, and manager of the Sonny Osborne Banjo Company, originated the idea of recognizing the bluegrass pioneers, including sidemen and industry reps along with the stars, with a large plaque in the Bluegrass Museum. "The pioneers were my concern, and they have been my concern since the beginning when the plaque was agreed upon and made," he said. "From the start, it was my thought that they not be forgotten, and this ‘get-together' proved that they were all interested in the same thing. Thanks to IBMM for their recognition of us."
ROMP turned out to be a bluegrass family reunion for the attending pioneers, many who hadn't seen each other in years. When I escorted Tex Logan across the room to his place at the table with his daughter, Jody, we had to stop every three feet so Tex could greet and shake hands with another of his old friends.
As a member of bluegrass music's third generation, I can speak for the younger fans and musicians attending the event. We all knew we were in the presence of greatness, and we were proud and grateful to honor these talented folks who paved the way for us in so many ways. Ron Thomason said that instead of emceeing the show, he felt like he ought to be hanging out backstage, getting autographs!
"I would have loved this weekend even if I weren't being honored," said Katie Laur. "I saw Tex Logan getting to the motel Thursday afternoon, tall and stick-thin. He went around to the trunk of his car, not saying a word, and opened a hatbox and placed his large, John B. Stetson hat on his head and said, ‘Now, I'm ready,' and it was like magic. Kenny Baker came in our motel room and fiddled some. He looked like a wizened little elf, but it was still Kenny. He said, ‘I haven't had this fiddle out of the case in four months, and I'm goin' to sound as rough as pig iron.' He tuned it up a little and looked at me just as straight and said, ‘I dread it!' I fell on the bed laughing."
The event was deeply poignant for all of us, and especially for the pioneers themselves. "I knew I was being taught a lesson when I saw how old we all were," Laur observed. "I think the lesson is this: the body ages and changes constantly and eventually wears out, but the essential personality or energy remains the same. Once I got past the shock of seeing people using walkers and canes, I didn't notice it any more. I accommodated quickly, as I hope others did for me. It was a gentle weekend with dear people."