Musical Meetings: Rocky Adamson

Rocky Adamson, The Singing Constable of Dayton, NV

Constable's Office, Dayton, NV

Rocky with his 1918-style campaign tent he used as his constable’s office in Dayton, NV 
Courtesy Laura Tennant collection.

In September of 1967, my band, The Scragg Family had been the house band at the Red Dog Saloon in Virginia City, Nevada, for three months and we’d  continue through October. It’s about 3+ hours’ drive from the haps at San Francisco’s Haight/Ashbury, where they were busy with their Summer Of Love. We perform shows at the Dog six days a week; afternoons for the tourists and evenings for the locals.

Nevada Political Ad, ca 1940.

Rocky Adamson came up from Dayton to see us,  in living color, though seemingly right out of a black and white John Ford film: Stetson hat, blue denim shirt, blue jeans, tall cowboy boots that have seen some wear, and a bright red bandanna. He orders a whiskey, watches our show, and introduces himself: “I’m Rocky Adamson, out of Dayton, down Six Mile Canyon. I like your music and I was wondering if you’d like to hear some cowboys songs.” I told Rocky that, seeing as how I’d been raised since a 7 year old kid on Tex Ritter songs, I’d like nothing better! I also told him we have cowboys in Switzerland, but they work on foot, as there’s not much room for horses! He laughs. I ask him about his life and music. I ask him if I could record a few of his songs and he agrees, providing I help him do some cowboy work, doctoring a sick  steer.

Rocky politocal ad

An ad for Rocky, running for re-election as town constable. Courtesy Laura Tennant Collection

We agree to meet one Monday evening at Sutro Saloon, a bar made from an old machinery warehouse at the site of the famous Sutro Tunnel, east of Dayton. (You can see the exterior in the photo used for our front page logo.)

I set up a microphone and stool for him and get my tape machine ready. Rocky asks that I play some mandolin with him, but I keep it low key, since it is his music I want to record. A few friends stopped by and we had a fine song session. Here are a couple of songs recorded that evening.

Sutro Saloon

Sutro Saloon, site of the recordings. Peter Feldmann photo.

Songs by Rocky, ca. October, 1967. Roberts 1/2 track mono recorder, Sony F-97 microphone.

Tying Knots In The Devil’s Tail was composed by Gail I. Gardner of Prescott, AZ in 1917, and has now entered into the oral tradition. It’s a song about a couple of cowpokes who go on a spree on Whiskey Row, a string of saloons in old Prescott, well known to Wyatt Earp, Doc Holiday and their compadres. And who do they run into but the Devil himself!


Yavapai Pete was composed by another Arizonan, Curley Fletcher, most famous for his song The Strawberry Roan. It’s the story of a cowboy n’ere do well superhero, who — down on his luck — encounters a “she grizzly bear”. Our hero isn’t a bit fazed and turns his bad luck to good in the encounter. The song has become known throughout the West, but to northern cowboys not familiar with Arizopna’s Yavapai County, the name has been changed, eg. in Montana, it’s known as Iron Pants Pete.

For those of you who’ve enjoyed Rocky’s songs, we hope to shortly release a CD with several more songs, along with other music recorded up in the Sierras and California’s Central Valley. Contact us if you’d like to be informed when the CD project is finished. Thanks for reading!


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Eck Robertson, Texas Fiddler, and “Sallie Gooden”

I’ve been corresponding with my music friend Wayne Erbsen, talking about Texan fiddler Alexander Campbell “Eck” Robertson of Amarillo, Texas in the heart of Panhandle Country. I’ve long been intrigued with Eck, and count myself a lifelong fan.  Here’s some excerpts of what I wrote to Wayne, plus more comments and a tune:

I first heard Eck’s playing (Brilliancy Medley) on the Harry Smith Anthology, which I bought in early 1962. That six-volume Lp set really changed my life! Later, it became the foundation of my musical world: I wanted to play *everything* on it! When I put together my musical group The Scragg Family [ https://bluegrasswest.com/ideas/scragg.htm  ], I added several selections from that set to our repertoire. What struck me about Eck’s playing was first, his extremely precise timing, notation, and bowing. Eck did this without sacrificing the emotion, the “feel” of the tune, along with its drive. Later, when I heard Sallie Gooden, it’s inventiveness, charm, and quality stunned me!

Eck made that record for the Victor Talking Machine Company on the morning of Saturday, July 1, 1922, solo. He’d visited the studio the day before with traveling companion Henry C. Gilliland, but on the second day of his sessions, he left Henry visiting friends and faced the dark maw of the recording horn by himself for Sallie and Ragtime Annie, using Victor studio pianist Nat Shilkret as accompanist for two other selections.

Eck Robertson, publicity photo, 1923.

Eck Robertson, publicity photo, 1923.

Sallie (Sally Gooden) is, to me, the finest recorded example of American fiddle playing we have. Period. It is a magic record. Something happened that Saturday morning in  the hub of a busy city, and it happened to be captured by the Victor recording technician. In one take. The music is driving and intense. Dropping the needle on that disc is, to the listener, like stepping on one of those moving sidewalks at airports, etc: you begin to move, immediately, with no turning back. Eck’s bowing is fluid, managing to maintain a droning accompaniment, just as a tanboura is used in classical North Indian music still today. But there is something more. The low A drone seems to catch the edge of the recording horn somehow, making it resonate with what Eck is playing, a series of variations on a simple county play party tune that brings the listener into the melody, holding a diamond in the

light and turning it, each facet bringing out more

Henry C. Gilliland, who accompanied Eck on his new York trip.

Henry C. Gilliland, who accompanied Eck on his new York trip.

sparkling beauty. Keeping that powerful drone, Eck launches a series of upward sweeps on the high E string, bursting sky rockets on the fourth of July. Nearing the end of the tune, Eck returns to the original phrases and then, bringing the cascade of notes to a halt without slowing down, drops into an F# minor double stop, resetting the melody into a more subdued, moving, light before returning to the beginning once again to end his offering with a smile and a musical wink.

I met Eck 42 years after that recording session in a covered walkway just outside of UCLA’s Royce Hall. He was appearing at one of their annual folk festivals, traveling with his 50-ish son as companion. He was a small man, thin, frail, and spoke with a very soft voice. And he could talk! Talk about fiddlers and fiddles, fiddle contests and his own prowess as a showman. He was enjoying the sun and the attention he was getting from all the bystanders.

Eck Robertson

Eck Robertson

Later, for a workshop, he’d brought out his fiddle. He had a leather strap around his neck attached to the end pin of the instrument. He spoke of fiddling and occasionally, would raise the instrument to playing position and run his bow across the strings to make a point. His frailty vanished as soon as he laid that bow to the strings: there was the Eck I knew from his recordings! Done with making his musical point, still speaking, he let the fiddle drop in front of him. Several of us made a jump to catch the thing but the strap held it and there it was, swinging back and forth in front of him like a clock pendulum while he, oblivious, continued assuring us that yes indeed, he was the World’s Greatest Fiddler!

Later, speaking aside to me about Sallie, he said:
Long time ago there was a girl named Sallie, the most beautiful in the land. She had many suitors but couldn’t make up her mind which one to marry. So she held a fiddle contest for her hand. Her beau made the tune and played it for her to win the prize. His name was Gooden, and there have been 13 generations of Goodens since that time. That’s where Sallie Gooden came from and that’s why I composed a variation for each generation in my version of the tune.”

Click (on the far left of the box) to listen to Sallie Gooden:

 

In 1976, I produced Eck Robertson – Master Fiddler, a reissue of all the 78 RPM discs that Eck had recorded in the golden age of country music, issued on my label Sonyatone Records, STR-201.

Eck Robertson - Master Fiddler

Eck Robertson – Master Fiddler

My reissue Lp was accompanied by a 12-page booklet which contained a biography and discography of Eck Robertson. It is available for download here:
Eck_Robertson_Booklet

If you’ve enjoyed this article and booklet, please consider making a donation to BlueGrass West! to help us continue our work.

Donation Page

Thanks,
Peter Feldmann                  

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Bluegrass: Country Soul

1971 was a banner year for bluegrass music. It had come of age the decade before, following its invention as a musical style by Bill Monroe in the mid-1940s. Little known, except by country music fans for its first twenty years, it had begun blossoming among a much wider audience on a national scale, helped by film soundtracks and national TV broadcasts involving bluegrass musicians.

It was in 1971 that filmmaker Albert Idhe, then in his 20s, stumbled upon a festival produced by Monroe’s friend Carlton Haney in Camp Springs, NC. The festival, held over Labor Day weekend, attracted over 10,00 fans and featured performances by Earl Scruggs & The Earl Scruggs Revue, Ralph Stanley, Jimmy Martin, J.D. Crowe, Chubby Wise, The Osborne Brothers, The Country Gentlemen, Mac Wiseman, The Lilly Brothers, Tex Logan, Don Stover, The Bluegrass Alliance, The Bluegrass 45, Del McCoury, The New Deal String Band, and (unusually for such a festival) Roy Acuff, among others. The result was a documentary film, Bluegrass Country Soul, released by Time/Life videos, which became a cult favorite beginning in 1972.

Albert and Ellen Idhe

Albert and Ellen Idhe

Albert and his wife Ellen stopped by my home recently for a visit. I’d wanted to know more about the film for a long time. It’s a significant movie in that it documents a time when the music began to extend itself into new sounds and styles, not the least of which was then called progressive bluegrass, which melded urban rock and roll and pop music into the genre. The second generation of country musicians, such as Del McCoury, JD Crowe and Doyle Lawson joined young city dwellers such as those in the Country Alliance with far flung bands like the Bluegrass 45 from Japan to broaden the spectrum of sound.  They joined older “originals” such as Earl Scruggs, Ralph Stanley, Jimmy Martin, and Chubby Wise, all there to share their sounds with fans young and old alike.

Albert had written a screenplay around a fictitious country star, but his backers were more interested in a documentary about a rural music festival. He’d never really encountered such music before and was fascinated by what he heard. Soon, he was bringing a team of professionals with lights, sound equipment, and three 16-mm cameras down to North Carolina for the weekend’s activities. The film became a best seller but is now out of print. That situation will soon be remedied with a special Golden Anniversary edition of the film, to be released in a deluxe box set containing Blue Ray and DVD prints of the film, a coffee table book on its making and many other goodies. Idhe is soliciting supporters to help with the release. Those who contribute $100 or more can have their names listed in the film’s credits. (Deadline for this is April 30, 2019.)

Bluegrass Country Soul Box Set.

Bluegrass Country Soul Box Set.

 

 

For more information on the film, visit Albert’s website. CLICK HERE.

 

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The Lilly Brothers and Don Stover: Little Annie

Yesterday, March 6th, was banjoist Don Stover’s birthday. I wanted to share one of my favorite recordings of his, made with The Lilly Brothers, Everett and Bea. The song is from the romantic period of the late nineteenth century, and was first recorded by county music patriarch Earnest Stoneman with autoharp. He did it in archaic-sounding  4/4 time. It was charming enough, but here we have it in all its 2/4 glory!

If I were to be asked to describe Don’s picking, I’d call it some of the cleanest and most inventive I have heard. “It sparkles!” The instrumentals feature both Don’s banjo and Everett’s mandolin picking. Both have great drive. Since Everett is singing, he doesn’t do much instrumental fill during the verses, but Don more than makes up for it, including some nice harmonics (what country pickers call “chimes”) during the third verse.  What got me excited was Don’s “tag” or ending of his banjo break. It’s four beats of pure delight, sort of going off sideways like a plot twist in an Alfred Hitchcock film! Don also adds a great tag to Everett’s mandolin break. Combined with the fine singing and harmony work, this cut is just plain fun to listen to.

If I’m not mistaken, the record was first released as a 78, [per Jim Beaver, they were 45s, not 78s] but I heard it on one of Dave Freeman’s Lps from County/Rebel Records.

 

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Earl Johnson, a Wild Georgia Fiddler

Earl was a Georgia, short-bow fiddler with a brisk attack, highlighted by upward slides in the melody that pushed his tunes forward impressively. Mississippi Sawyer (a descriptive term for a river snag, long-used by steamboat pilots) was very popular in Georgia, and was recorded on OKeh by his Georgia contemporary Fiddling John Carson. Carson added words to the second part of the tune: “Christmas time will soon be over (x3); Then we’ll join the band!”

Fiddler Tex Logan took that part of the tune, changed the key to E, and made the song “Christmas Time’s A-Coming”, recorded by his friend Bill Monroe. (an “in-joke” if there ever was one.)

Here is Earl, with his version (a crooked one at that!) of Mississippi Sawyers.

And here is John Carson with Christmas Time Will Soon Be Over.

And finally, here’s Bill Monroe with Christmas Time’s A coming.

 

 

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