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Well Met—It’s Opry Time Again!

Met Calendar picThe Metropolitan Opera broadcast season begins December 1st.  Again this year there are seven Saturdays starting earlier than 1:00 PM.  In all cases we subtract about 15 minutes from the Met starting time for WHRB’s Prelude to the Met.  Fans of ‘grand opera’ (as it used to be called) should also remember to tune in to WHRB’s Post-Met Vocal Program following each broadcast from Lincoln Center.

Notice: WHRB’s David Elliott, long-time producer of our Met broadcasts, creator and host of the Prelude to the Met and the Post-Met Vocal Program, is seriously ill and will not be on the air this season.  WHRB’s astute Classical Department will take over in his stead.  HAH listeners will remember David from his occasional appearances on the show, and from his role as erstwhile ‘Fillbilly’.  More in a separate post. /CL

December 1
1:00 —> Hillbilly at Harvard ends c. 12:45

December 8
12:30 —> Hillbilly at Harvard ends c. 12:15

December 15
LA TRAVIATA (Verdi) – New Production
1:00 —> Hillbilly at Harvard ends c. 12:45

December 22
LA FANCIULLA DEL WEST (Puccini) Performance from October 27, 2018
1:00 —> Hillbilly at Harvard ends c. 12:45

December 29
1:00 —> Hillbilly at Harvard ends c. 12:45

January 5
OTELLO (Verdi)
1:00 —> Hillbilly at Harvard ends c. 12:45

January 12
ADRIANA LECOUVREUR (Cilea) – New Production
1:00 —> Hillbilly at Harvard ends c. 12:45

January 19
12:30 —> Hillbilly at Harvard ends c. 12:15

January 26
MARNIE (Muhly) – New Production/Met Premiere
1:00 —> Hillbilly at Harvard ends c. 12:45

February 2
CARMEN (Bizet)
1:00 —> Hillbilly at Harvard ends c. 12:45

February 9
IOLANTA (Tchaikovsky) / BLUEBEARD’S CASTLE (Bartók)
12:30 —> Hillbilly at Harvard ends c. 12:15

February 16
1:00 —> Hillbilly at Harvard ends c. 12:45

February 23 RIGOLETTO (Verdi)
1:00 —> Hillbilly at Harvard ends c. 12:45

March 2
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March 9
1:00 —> Hillbilly at Harvard ends c. 12:45

March 16
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March 23
SAMSON ET DALILA (Saint-Saëns) – New Production
1:00 —> Hillbilly at Harvard ends c. 12:45

March 30
12:00 —> Hillbilly at Harvard ends c. 11:45

April 6
TOSCA (Puccini)
1:00 —> Hillbilly at Harvard ends c. 12:45

April 13
11:30 —> Hillbilly at Harvard ends c. 11:15

April 20
1:00 —> Hillbilly at Harvard ends c. 12:45

April 27
11:00 —> Hillbilly at Harvard ends c. 10:45

May 4
LES PÊCHEURS DE PERLES (Bizet) Performance from Fall 2018
1:00 —> Hillbilly at Harvard ends c. 12:45

May 11
12:00 —> Hillbilly at Harvard ends c. 11:45


Tony Watt Launches JamVember


It’s at the Sheraton in Framingham, it’s taking over a good portion (but not all) of the hotel for a weekend, but it’s not a festival.  So what is it?

It’s JamVember, a “Boston’s bluegrass Jamming non-festival.”  The neologism is meant to convey jamming in November (don’t ask me what happens with one in March, or August—I guess it has to be November).  The weekend of November 16-18, 2018, to be exact, when bluegrass pickers, singers, and workshop teachers will take over an entire wing of the Sheraton.  Tony reports that the hotel wing is already sold out, but for out-of-town attendees, there are hotels available nearby.  Shades of the Joe Val Festival‚ but this isn’t connected with the JVF, and there are no concerts as such: just jams, wherever you can find them, all night long.  Fun sounds, and yes, sounds like fun!

Here’s how Tony describes it:

JamVember is a weekend-long “non-festival” focused on jamming and one
big difference from usual festivals: no stage show to distract from
the picking!

There will be over 40 teachers hosting jams and teaching workshops,
but it’s not about learning (ha!), it’s about jamming!

JamVember is not a BBU event, but it will be held at the Sheraton in
Framingham, the same hotel as Joe Val

JamVember is coming up the weekend before Thanksgiving, November 16th – 18th, and many more details can be found at

You can get weekend and single-day tickets at the JamVember website.  Tony and his dad Steve will be on HAH on November 10th to pick a few tunes and remind you all about JamVember.  /CL

The Whiskey Gentry’s Dead Ringer—Is Lauren Staley!

Hits and Misses 8

TWG-Dead Ringer“It was a face I’d seen a thousand times at every Derby I’d been to.  I saw it, in my head, as the mask of the whiskey gentry – a pretentious mix of booze, failed dreams, and a terminal identity crisis; the inevitable result of too much inbreeding in a closed and ignorant culture.” —Hunter S. Thompson

When Lauren Staley Morrow came across this quote from Hunter S. Thompson, she envisioned being in a band called The Whiskey Gentry.  Within two years, that vision was a reality. . .
—Dave Stallard, Blue Ridge Outdoors

When The Whiskey Gentry’s Dead Ringer arrived last year, I paid attention, as I’d liked their previous album, Holly Grove (though the title song was a bit on the gruesome side). The new album knocked me out. This band has bluegrass origins, but their hearts are straight honky-tonk country, and they manage to play the Americana ‘jam-band’ game without succumbing to the noisy and trivial. How? By celebrating the startling writer and singer in their midst, the ineffable Lauren Staley. That’s her face on the cover, and she’s the ‘Dead Ringer’, though her name is nowhere on the outside.

Lauren Staley Morrow is married to guitarist Jason Morrow, and the two are the heart of The Whiskey Gentry. Lauren and Jason kick serious butt with ‘Dead Ringer’, ‘Rock & Roll Band’, and ’Martha from Marfa’, and others, verging on rock-’n’-roll, but Lauren writes country songs. In ‘Dead Ringer’ she describes herself as ‘a country-folk singer’:

Now I play one-four-five chords in the key of G
Hoping everybody will look at me
And tell me ‘Good job’ at the end of the show;
And I’m a half-drunk full-broke country-folk singer
And everybody tells me I’m a dead ringer
For a more famous girl—on the radio.

And then Lauren turns around and covers Merle Haggard’s sad ‘Kern River’ (even though she’s a girl), sings her own plaintive lament, ’Is It Snowing Where You Are?’, and follows that with a simple love-song that might have done Merle proud: ‘If You Were an Astronaut’. This album generates calls when I play songs from it: ‘Who was that?’ If Lauren can keep writing and singing, at some point the fools in commercial country radio are going to realize that ‘Alt-Country’ is ‘Real-Country’ and The Whisky Gentry (and J. P. Harris, and Chris Stapleton, et al.) are the Real Deal. Then TWG better put Lauren’s name on the cover.

Here’s the clever ‘official’ video for ‘Dead Ringer’: it’s a riot.

Color this one a HIT.

PS Some of the songs on this album contain the ’s’ word. Radio promoter Al Moss kindly gave me downloads of bowdlerized versions to play on the air. /CL

UPDATE: Al Moss writes:

Great to hear from you, and thanks. Not sure if you are aware that Lauren has a new EP. They’re (Lauren and Jason) changing the branding from The Whiskey Gentry to Lauren Morrow. Perhaps they read your mind (“Then TWG better put Lauren’s name on the cover.”) Perhaps you knew already, or perhaps the timing of your previous review is just ironic

So it’ll be ‘Morrow’ not ‘Staley’.  Either way, she’ll sound as good.  I didn’t know.  Looking forward to hearing the ‘EP’ (which, as I’ve explained many times on HAH, should be ‘RP’.) /CL

Harvard Football vs. HAH: A Draw!

This year the Sports Department has elected to dispense with their customary Pre-game shows, so they won’t be taking as much time away from HAH.  And there are three Friday games, plus two 1:30 Saturday games, so only five games cutting HAH short!

  • 15 Sep:  Game 12:00 noon; HAH ends 11:45 AM
  • 22 Sep: Game Friday; no effect on HAH
  • 29 Sep: Game Friday; no effect on HAH
  • 6 Oct: Game 1:30 PM; broadcast begins 1:15 PM (longer HAH?)
  • 13 Oct: Game Friday; no effect on HAH
  • 20 Oct: Game 12:00 noon; HAH ends 11:45 AM
  • 27 Oct: Game 1:30 PM; broadcast begins 1:15 PM (longer HAH?)
  • 3 Nov: Game 12:00 noon; HAH ends 11:45 AM
  • 10 Nov: Game 1:00 PM; HAH ends 12:45 PM
  • 17 Nov: Game 12:00 noon; HAH ends 11:30 AM (Yale game)
    Harvard Football 18

Why I Cancelled Barbara Martin Stephens

I’ve been wondering whether I needed to explain this at all, but I did mention it on air, so if anyone is curious, this is what happened:

Stephens-Don't GiveBarbara Martin Stephens lived with Jimmy Martin from 1953 to 1966, and had four of his children (they were never married, and Tennessee has no common-law marriage statute). Last year she published a book about her life with Jimmy and thereafter, Don’t Give Your Heart to a Rambler: My Life with Jimmy Martin, the King of Bluegrass (University of Illinois Press, Urbana, 2017).

Back in January, Ken Irwin (Rounder Records) mentioned that Barbara Martin Stephens would be coming North in the summer and was looking for opportunities to promote her book. I responded,

I might well be interested in interviewing her on HAH, especially if the conversation could focus on Jimmy Martin’s history, and if we could juxtapose talk with plenty of Jimmy Martin songs—much as I did with David Johnson and his book on the Stanley Brothers.

Feel free to pass this on to whomever might be doing promotion for the book.

Then in April I got an inquiry from a representative of an outfit called ‘Handsome Ladies, Women in Bluegrass’, named Cindy, who put me in touch with Barbara Stephens. We arranged for her to come to WHRB on June 16th, a week before she was scheduled to appear for a Jimmy Martin tribute at the Jenny Brook Bluegrass Festival. I was enthusiastic at that time, telling Barbara:

I’m a long-time fan of Jimmy Martin’s music, and have played him on the radio for many decades.  It will be a great opportunity to revisit some of the music, and learn about his life with you. . .

Hillbilly at Harvard is an informal show, running from 9 AM to 1 PM (Eastern time), and I can certainly spend an hour or two with you, providing we play enough music.  What might make the most sense is to proceed chronologically, relating the events in your book with the songs that he was recording at the time. Since HAH is a country show, our listeners would enjoy hearing about your experiences with others in the country and bluegrass fields, too.

She arranged for me to get a copy of her book, which I began to read. It was a revelation, though not as it developed a pleasant one. I knew of course that while Jimmy Martin was a terrific musician, he was a roustabout, if not worse. I had a hint of this way back in 1981, when I reviewed the Berkshire Mountains Bluegrass Festival for The Boston Globe:

The Seldom Scene, from Wahington, D.C., led by the quixotic John Duffey, performed with their usual alacrity, and drew their usual ovation. Jimmy Martin, on the other hand, following a reportedly successful show on Friday evening, fell flat on Saturday, despite his coarse jokes and constant entreaties. “Is everybody happy?” he kept asking, while the wind grew chilly and people gazed anxiously at black clouds. . .

Piazzai-True AdventuresThen there was the slim 100-page book that music writer Tom Piazza wrote, originally a magazine article, with the imposing title, True Adventures with the King of Bluegrass (Vanderbilt University Press, 1999). It mostly described a backstage visit to The Grand Ole Opry with Jimmy, who at his irascible and chronically inebriated best managed to insult Ricky Skaggs and started after Bill Anderson: “I’m going to knock his ass right off him.” We never learn what Jimmy had against Bill, but Ricky apparently wouldn’t sing harmony with Jimmy on some earlier occasion, and Jimmy never let go of a grudge. In a blurb the publisher put on the back cover of Barbara’s book, Bill Anderson writes:

Jimmy Martin was a sparkling stylist. both as a singer and a guitarist, a brilliant showman whom few could follow onstage, and a tortured soul who once, when I simply said hello to him at the Grand Ole Opry, threatened to whip my ass right there on the side of the stage.  I met Jimmy early in my career and I thought I knew him fairly well.  After reading Barbara’s painfully honest portrayal, however, I realize I hardly knew him at all.

Maybe unbeknownst to Tom Piazza, standing backstage at the Opry, amidst the country and bluegrass stars Jimmy knew well, would have fanned the embers of resentment that he bore for having been denied membership in that celebrated club. From the first days the young Barbara Gibson knew him, his fondest desire was to be recognized among his Opry peers. That was to never be, and for what it is worth, we now know why: her name was Melissa Monroe, Bill Monroe’s daughter, whom Jimmy was seeing even when he started dating Barbara. She describes an encounter with Bill at the DJ Convention in 1962:

Back at the convention, I ran into Bill Monroe and we stopped to talk.  I was proud of the fact that we were moving back to Nashville, so I said to Bill, “Jimmy and I are moving back to Nashville.”  He said, “Barbara, don’t do it.”  I asked, “Why?”  Bill said—and I quote—”Jimmy will never be on the Grand Ole Opry as long as I live.”  (p. 83)

That was worth knowing, as are many of the other tidbits about the music business that enliven Don’t Give Your Heart to a Rambler.  But as I spent more time with the book, it began to seem more like the old True Confessions magazine, a constant litany of personal detail. I told Barbara, “Your memory of events from years past is amazing. I suppose living through such a long emotional roller-coast will impress a lot of details on you, which might have otherwise have been forgotten.” Just an example at random, from the late ’50s, when Jimmy and Barbara were living in Detroit and Jimmy was working with the Osborne Brothers:

One morning in Flint, while Thelma [Jimmy’s aunt] and I were making breakfast after the boys [Jimmy and his uncle Oscar Fields] had been out drinking the night before, Jimmy came into the kitchen and said, “We really liked that potted meat you had in the refrigerator.  Buy that same kind next time.”  Thelma and I almost fell on the floor laughing.  They had eaten dog food and liked it.  When we told them, they were nonchalant and said, “It was good.” (p. 49)

That was funny, but after a while the documentary detail became wearying, and increasingly sordid. The babies kept coming, Jimmy kept drinking and cheating, and then began to get violent. There was a constant backdrop of interactions with relatives and friends and many others, some with famous names. It was interesting to learn how Barbara began to take over booking Jimmy’s tours—and eventually others’ as well, as she was one of the very first women to become a professional booking agent. But there was precious little about the music itself. The book, I began to understand, was really about Barbara Martin Stephens, not about the music, not even about Jimmy, and for me just reading it was becoming increasingly distasteful. Finally, on June 5th, I wrote her:

Since my last response to your note, I’ve been reading more of your book, and I have to tell you I’m disappointed.  You write well and engagingly, and with great honesty, but it’s all about personal issues, not about bluegrass.  It tells me nothing about Jimmy’s music, about the way he crafted and developed it, and how he worked with so many of the other talented musicians in his bands.

Hillbilly at Harvard is a music show, not one for celebrity gossip or revelations, and I think it would be a disservice to the audience to spend any time talking about strictly personal matters.  Many people might find them compelling, but they are subjects for a different kind of program.  So I regret to say I must cancel our interview on the 16th.

I can tell that you are an engaging, friendly person, and I’d enjoy meeting you.  But I simply cannot promote a book to my listeners that I myself don’t see positively.

True or not, I never got the impression that Barbara really liked bluegrass or country music. Her book can be viewed as a graphic case study of the difficulties women have had in disentangling themselves from abusive marriages, especially half a century ago. If I were running a different radio program, as I said, I’d have welcomed Barbara into the studio, but HAH is all about the music, and I certainly could not have given those issues adequate voice.

Barbara was unhappy with my decision, but I had been increasingly concerned by the incongruity of book and impending show, so it was a relief for me. I had no illusions about Jimmy’s character, but I had no great desire to spend a couple of hours trashing it. To be fair, Barbara does make it clear that, overall, Jimmy was not irredeemably vile.  So let us close with her warm assessment, her perspective in her 82nd year, from the Preface to Don’t Give Your Heart to a Rambler:

Jimmy was a kindhearted man and a father who cared deeply for his children but was unable to let them know it.  He was a terrific entertainer and singer, a man who suffered humiliation and coped with it in ways that only further injured his pride and his standing in the music world.  He was often misunderstood.  He hid behind the “don’t care” façade he built around himself.  Now you will know the reason for his behavior as well as my part in it—both good and bad. (p. xiv)

JImmy Martin by BAM_sm

Jimmy Martin (Copyright © Byron Marshall,