Read an Excerpt
Banjo Ringing Loud and Clear,
Mountain Music in the Air
When Ann Moore, Foxfire's president, approached me about being coeditor of The Foxfire 45th Anniversary Book, I knew immediately that I wanted our readers to be engulfed in the Appalachian mountain music that is near and dear to my heart. The mellow sounds of the guitar, the whining of the fiddle, the high pitch of the banjo, and the lapping notes of the big standing doghouse bass are the pure sounds of traditional music that draw in the audience like a moth to a flame. Once you have been captured by its rich and pure melodies, you will never be free.
Music has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. From the time I was three years old, I traveled with my daddy, an old-fashioned Baptist preacher, to churches all over northern Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina to attend their monthly singings. The pews were always full, with people spilling out to the porch and yard and even huddled outside the church's open windows. Many drove long distances to savor the sounds of the pure Appalachian music. There was no air-conditioning, only the paper fans provided by the local funeral homes and an occasional breeze drifting through the tall windows.
Sometimes our travels took us to tent revivals, where folding chairs were placed in straight rows on the fresh wood shavings covering the ground. The smell of recently cut grass, which had been trimmed with a sling blade around the perimeter of the newly erected tent, mingled with the smell of the new shavings from the local sawmill. If it rained, sometimes water would begin to drip on your head from holes worn in the tent from many years of use. The roughly hand-painted sign, which read REVIVAL, was visible from its strategically placed anchor near the roadside. The music was mostly bluegrass gospel with the groups playing strictly acoustic instruments. Usually this included a guitar, banjo, mandolin, and possibly a fiddle. The sound was mellow and the harmony tight.
Occasionally, these singings featured southern gospel groups accompanied by a piano. I longed to play the piano, but my parents could not afford to buy one, much less pay for lessons, so I would sit at the kitchen table, carefully press the wrinkles from my dress with the palms of my hands, and pump away at the make-believe pedal on the floor. It was about this time in my life when my uncle Eddie bought me a guitar. It would be the second one from him. The first had been a small plastic version when I was three years old. That toy guitar had brought me many hours of enjoyment as I sat on a swing made by my dad from an old board with the words JESUS SAVES painted on the seat. This one was a real wooden guitar. I was so proud of that old used guitar. I still own it after fifty-some years. He, along with my mom and dad, taught me a few chords, and I learned to play rhythm well enough to get by. I love the guitar, but to this day I still dream about playing the piano.
As the years have passed, etching their ever-lingering reminders in my face, my love fore bluegrass has continued to become more ingrained in my being. I grew up listening to the music of the Carter Family, Bill and Charlie Monroe, the Blue Sky Boys, the Stanley Brothers, Jimmie Rodgers, and the Delmore Brothers, just to name a few. Wayne Raney of WCKY, in Cincinnati, Ohio, and the Grand Ole Opry could be heard above the static on the old cracked red radio we owned. Mr. Raney, the DJ, would announce and play music for a while, play his harmonica, sing a few songs himself, and then sell baby dominicker and red leghorn chickens to his listening audience. He also sold and shipped hundreds of harmonicas across the country through the years. The slow, fast, happy, and sad ballads told stories that bounced off the cardboard-ceiled walls of our little country home. The aroma of Mama's homemade cake, baking in the old woodstove, would fill each room while the sound of Daddy's chopping ax was daily splitting wood for the heater that kept us warm during the cold winter months. There was no running water in the house; an aluminum dipper floated on top of the spring water that had to be carried to the house in a two-gallon aluminum bucket. Beside the bucket was a matching aluminum wash pan placed beneath the hand towel hanging from a nail driven in the wall. We all drank from the same dipper, washed our hands in the same water, and dried on the same towel.
The station from Greenville, South Carolina was the only one we could pick up on our old black-and-white television. I often strained to watch The Roy Rogers Show, The Lone Ranger, Sky King, and Sergeant Preston of the Yukon through the snow and interference that were ever present on the screen. Although these programs were entertaining, my favorites were always the music shows. I tried to never miss The Porter Wagon Show, Flatt and Scruggs, and The Wilburn Brothers Show. These were not only music to my ears, but I could actually see the entertainers. I loved the sound and admired the fancy "show" clothes that they all wore. The wagon wheels adorned with rhinestones and jewels distinguished Porter Wagoner's clothes from all the others. The ladies' full-skirted ballroom gowns were often clenched with both hands and raised to knee length as they broke out into a buck-dancing routine.
So many talented groups rise out of the hills of Appalachia. Deciding who would be included in this edition was a very tough decision. The groups you will learn about throughout these pages, whom you can also listen to on a companion CD available directly from Foxfire, are just a sampling of the talent that enriches our area. You will experience the music of well-known, well-traveled, award-winning groups like The Primitive Quartet, The Gary Waldrep Band, Curtis Blackwell and The Dixie Bluegrass Boys, and David Holt; multitalented miracles like Johnathan Bond and Young Harmony; talented songwriters and performers like Dale Tilley and Morris and Greg Stancil; and true diamonds in the rough like LV and Mary Mathis, who had ever recorded any of their music until now. Whether it be from the stage of the Grand Ole Opry, the Stompin' Ground in Maggie Valley, or Old Mater Farm in Sylva, North Carolina, the voices of the Crowe Brothers and Mountain Faith will awaken your senses to the true sibling harmony experienced only in family music. George Reynolds and The Foxfire Boys are the true soul of the Foxfire music program. From the classrooms of Rabun County High School to the World's Fair in Knoxville, Tennessee, to the Olympics in Norway, The Foxfire Boys cut their teeth on bluegrass music under the direction of their mentor and teacher, George Reynolds. Each of these groups submitted one song to be featured on the CD (see foxfire.org). Information on how you can obtain more of their music is listed at the end of each article.
While music was a dominating factor in the social gatherings of my childhood, I also vividly recall the stories shared by family and friends while sitting on the front-porch swing listening to the rain beat against the rusty old tin roof or stretched out on a patchwork quilt around the woodstove as the poplar logs popped and cracked on a cold wintry night. The stories of crime, murders, ghosts, legends, and "haints" would often bring chills to your spine and sometimes keep you awake for hours just listening to the strange noises of the night. We have shared a few of these in the "Knoxville Girl" section of this book.
The older generation often refers to yesteryear as the good ol' days, but the days were not always good. People often suffered heartache and pain, but the love of God, country and family is so evident in all the stories printed within these covers. From the farm families to the family farms to just stories about life, these people shared a love for one another and a moral obligation to society that we have lost somewhere along the way. It has been an honor and a privilege to be a part of The Foxfire 45th Anniversary Book: Singin', Praisin', Raisin'. I will always treasure the memories and be thankful for times spent with contacts; my coeditor, Casi Best, who was and is the "best"; and the Foxfire book staff during the summer of 2010. It has been good to reflect on my childhood and share the countless memories of the childhoods of another generation. God richly blessed me with a loving, hardworking family who instilled in me the desire to love and care for my fellow man.
From the Trade Paperback edition.