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Time for the 2019 Joe Val Festival!

2019-JV-LOGO-V-744x1024Far and away the major winter bluegrass event in this part of the country, and maybe in the whole country (as Alex MacLeod of Rock Hearts corrected on the show back on the 26th), it’s time again for The Joe Val Festival this weekend, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday 15-16-17Feb, at the Sheraton Framingham.

From the Boston Bluegrass Union’s Joe Val page:

Join the Boston Bluegrass Union and celebrate the legacy of the late Joe Val with three big days of indoor bluegrass at the Sheraton Framingham Hotel.

We have a great lineup of national and regional talent, expanded workshops, Kid’s Academy, music vendors, and round-the-clock jamming. Our 2006 event won the coveted “Event of the Year” award from the International Bluegrass Music Association.

the lineup of bands that will appear on the Main Stage:

  • The Gibson Brothers
  • The Seldom Scene
  • Sister Sadie
  • Laurie Lewis and the Right Hands
  • Danny Paisley & The Southern Grass
  • Frank Solivan & Dirty Kitchen
  • Appalachian Road Show
  • Tony Trischka with Michael Daves and special guest Kenny Kosek
  • The Lonely Heartstring Band
  • Shawn Lane & Richard Bennett
  • High Fidelity
  • Jesse Brock presents Mainline Express
  • Carolina Blue
  • Southern Rail
  • The Feinberg Brothers
  • Level Best
  • Rock Hearts
  • Berklee All-Stars

Go to the Festival page for capsule descriptions of the bands and links to their websites, plus the schedules for the Main Stage, and for the Showcase Stage for regional up-and-comers (and stalwarts).

One band that I hadn’t heard of was Level Best, and there is not yet a link to their website—but, it turns out they have one, HERE.  They’re an aggregation of veterans from up and down the East coast, including an old friend, James Field, a former Charles River Valley Boy.  Has he moved back from France?  We’ll find out Friday evening, when Level Best makes their debut at 7:15 PM.

Two of the members are touring with Valerie Smith and Liberty Pike, who will be playing the Joe Val Wind-up Hoe-down, the post-festival dance, along with a group called Mamma’s Boys (four-fifths of Mamma’s Marmalade), both bluegrass outfits, so no old-timey and swing this year.  But still bound to be fun.  /CL


Rhode Island’s Best-Kept Secret? Rock Hearts on HAH!

I had heard the name, but knew nothing of the band when Tony Watt asked if I’d like to have them on live.  They are scheduled to appear at the Joe Val Festival this year, so I said, sure, if you help.  Tony did, along with Gerry Katz, and so Rock Hearts showed up promptly at 9:30 Saturday.

What a treat!  Rock Hearts (named after a Jimmy Martin song) is a traditional bluegrass-style country band, based in Rhode Island.  The members are spread out a bit: Alex MacLeod (guitar) lives in Charlestown, RI;  Joe Deetz (banjo) lives in Mendon, MA; Billy ‘BT’ Thibodeau lives in Cumberland, RI; Danny Musher (fiddle) remained in Providence after graduating from Brown; Pete Kelly (bass) lives in Farmington, CT.  All of them are seasoned pickers (even the youngest, Danny), and they settled right in, playing one tune after another, for the better part of an hour, including a lovely original by Alex, ‘Starry Southern Night’.

rock hearts-img_2705_sm

Rock Hearts through the glass, at Hillbilly at Harvard, WHRB, 26Jan19.  Left to right: Danny Musher, Pete Kelly, Billy Thibodeau, Joey Deetz, Alex MacCloud (iPhone photo by CL).

Danny is originally from Maryland, so we played do-you-know-places; Alex also lived in Maryland when young, and as my paternal grandmother was a McCleod (no ‘a’), we are probably cousins of some degree.  Billy retains his French Canadian name, but his Maine father and uncle anglicized theirs, as Sam and Bob Tidwell (the Kennebec Valley Boys).  I remembered Joey Deetz when he was a much-younger New England Bluegrass Boy (though my hazy memory confused him with Karl Lauber).  Pete Kelly is I think a Connecticut native, but may have the most national-touring experience of the group: he’s a noted banjo player who has worked with Dale Ann Bradley and Michael Cleveland (in both Dale Ann’s band, and in Flamekeeper).  He says he’s happy playing bass with Rock Hearts.

These guys are going to be at the Joe Val Bluegrass Festival, Friday the 15th on the Showcase Stage at c. 7:20 PM; and Saturday the 16th on the Main Stage at 10 AM.  Check ’em out!

Here’s Rock Hearts playing the old blues standard, ‘Stagger Lee’ bluegrass style at the Pemi Valley Bluegrass Festival; they played it on the show (turn up the sound!):


Rock Hearts’s website is HERE.  /CL



The Legendary Al Hawkes Dies at 88

I met Al Hawkes at one of the Joe Val Festivals, back in the Green Room.  It was not the one where he received the 2009 Heritage Industry Award from the Boston Bluegrass Union.  It might have been 2016 when he answered a question about the now-famous Coke bottle that he used for the sound of the spike-hammer on the Lilly Brothers‘ recording of ‘John Henry’.  The Lillys with Don Stover were in his Event Records studio back in 1957.  You can hear Al at the beginning, striking the ‘spike’ (video HERE):

That’s Everett Lilly on the vocal and mandolin, B Lilly on guitar, and Don Stover on banjo, my favorite recording of ‘John Henry’.   Here’s Al in his signature red hat, talking about the Coke bottle (video HERE):

Here’s the text of the award from the BBU:

Al Hawkes
Musician, entertainer, record label owner, and collector Al Hawkes has contributed to bluegrass and country music in nearly every possible capacity.  In 1956 in Westbrook, Maine, he founded Event Records and released early recordings by such key artists as The Lilly Brothers and Don Stover,  Charlie Bailey (of the Bailey Brothers), Dick Curless, and many more. Born in 1930,  Hawkes formed his first band in high school, singing and playing an array of stringed instruments.  To this day, he continues to be an active performer, and has received over 25 awards.  In addition to releasing a number of important recordings on Event, Hawkes is one of the foremost record collectors in New England, whose archive includes over 40,000 45s, 78s, and LPs.

Even at an advanced age, when I met him briefly, Al was an indefatigably energetic man, which characterized his whole career of adventures in sound and music.  As a youngster he got his father to string an high antenna so he could listen to early country music on AM radio.  In his teens he started an independent (pirate) radio station; after a year or so the FCC threatened legal action, and his father shut it down.  In the meantime, in the late ’40s, he formed a trio, The Cumberland Ridge Runners, with a black kid named Alton Myers playing guitar, Al on mandolin, and another guitarist, Don Williams.  Al and Alton often performed as a duo, Allerton and Alton; their recordings were issued by Bear Family Records (Germany) as ‘The First Interracial Country Music Duet’ in 2010.  When I met Al, he gave me an Allerton and Alton card, saying he’d send me a copy for airplay.  Unfortunately, I never got it; I’ll have to remedy that, belatedly.  Here’s a promotional video from Bear Family (video HERE):

Al went to Broadcast School in Boston.  The invaluable records subsequent events:

During the Korean War, Al was an activated Maine Air National Guard and stationed on an air force base in Tripoli, Libya – North Africa. He worked as a disc jockey and engineer on the AFRS radio station that was located there.

He appeared live on the AFRS radio station with Don Fields’ western band and then formed his own hillbilly group called Al Hawkes and the Cumberland Mountain Folks, doing five live radio shows a week.

After returning to civilian life, Al started a retail Television and Stereo business that he ran for 35 years with his wife Barbara.

In 1956, along with Barbara and Richard Greeley, he formed Event Records and built a recording studio with offices in an abandoned blacksmith shop building in Westbrook, Maine. Many country and bluegrass artists were recorded there – some going on to national fame, such as the Lilley Brothers, Don Stover, Dick Curless, and, Lenny Breau, to name just a few.

Unhappily, Event records was going strong, with not only country and bluegrass records, but rockabilly as well, when a fire in a Boston distributor’s warehouse destroyed some 20,000 records, and the company folded.  But we should mention Lenny Breau, the son of Hal Lonepine (Harold Breau) and Betty Cody, popular New Englanders achieving national ‘country and western’ recognition.  Lonepine and Betty would sometimes drop Lenny off at Event Records in Westbrook when they had business in Portland.  In the first part of this video (up to about 14:00, introduced by a rockabilly song, “Baby, Baby,” that Al Hawkes wrote), Al tells how he first came to record the 15-year-old Lenny, the short-lived guitarist whom Chet Atkins called the “greatest guitar player to ever to walk the face of the Earth”.  The conversation moves to the recording of “Baby, Baby,” in which Lenny played lead (video HERE):

Lenny Breau became famous as a jazz guitarist, only to die in what are described as “mysterious circumstances” in his 40s.  The informal tracks of young Lenny that Al recorded were later released on a CD, displayed during the conversation above.

The video is also neat because it shows the inside of Al’s Event studio, including the wall clock that plays a role during Al’s recording of the Lilly Brothers, as Al describes in this video with Everett Alan Lilly and Jim Rooney (video HERE):

Back in 2010, Maine Public Radio produced a video (from Rockhouse Mountain Productions) called, cleverly, The Eventful Life of Al Hawkes.  It’s available via Vimeo HERE.  (Thanks to Gerry Katz for the link.)  I’ll try embedding it, but if it doesn’t work, go to the link.  It’s 47:40, and well worth your time.

RIP Al Hawkes.  The more I learn about him, the more I wish I’d gotten to know him back when I was just getting interested in country music.  /CL

It’s the Eighth of January!

And that means it’s time for ‘The Battle of New Orleans’ with Johnny Horton (1959):



Johnny Horton of course took the song from Jimmy Driftwood (whose real name was James Morris).  From a site called the Greasespot Cafe, a post by one ‘dmiller’:

Jimmy Driftwood was a high school principal and history teacher who loved to sing, play instruments and write songs. Mr. Driftwood wrote many songs, all for the sole purpose of helping his students learn about this battle and other historical events.

But this song turned out to be so popular that it won the 1959 Grammy Award for Song Of The Year (awarded in 1960 for musical accomplishments in 1959). Johnny Horton also won the 1959 Grammy Award for Best Country And Western Performance for his recording of this song. “The Battle of New Orleans,” is about a battle in the War of 1812, and it became one of the biggest selling hits of 1959.

The words were written to correspond with an old fiddle tune called “The 8th of January,” which is the date of the famous “Battle of New Orleans”.

Here’s Jimmy singing the original, with all the verses left out of Johnny Horton’s version:


Jimmy Driftwood himself wrote (quoted by ‘dmiller’ on the Greasespot thread):

“After the Battle of New Orleans, which Andrew Jackson won on January the 8th eighteen and fifteen, the boys played the fiddle again that night, only they changed the name of it from the battle of a place in Ireland to the ‘Eighth of January’. Years passed and in about nineteen and forty-five an Arkansas school teacher slowed the tune down and put words to it and that song is ‘The Battle Of New Orleans’.”

It would be nice to learn the name of that Irish tune.  However, it was apparently not called ‘The Eighth of January’ right after the battle.  From a detailed account on a site called The Fiddler’s Companion:

One of the most popular and widespread of Southern fiddle tunes. The melody was originally named “Jackson’s Victory” after Andrew Jackson’s famous rout of the British at New Orleans on January, 8th, 1815. This victory, by a small, poorly equipped American army against eight thousand front-line British troops (some veterans of the Napoleonic Wars on the Continent), came after the peace treaty was signed and the War of 1812 ended, unbeknownst to the combatants. The victory made Jackson a national hero, and the anniversary of the Battle of New Orleans was widely celebrated with parties and dances during the nineteenth century, especially in the South. Around the time of the Civil War, some time after Jackson’s Presidency, his popular reputation suffered and “Jackson’s Victory” was renamed to delete mention of him by name, thus commemorating the battle and not the man. Despite its wide dissemination, Tom Carter (1975) says that some regard it as a relatively modern piece refashioned from an older tune named “Jake Gilly” (sometimes “Old Jake Gilly”). Not all agree—Tom Rankin (1985) suggests the fiddle tune may be older than the battle it commemorates, and that it seems American in origin, not having an obvious British antecedent as do several older popular fiddle tunes in the United States. A related tune (though the ‘B’ part is developed differently”) is Bayard’s (1981) Pennsylvania collected “Chase the Squirrel” (the title is a floater).

I’m guessing that a ‘floater’ is a song title that’s applied to many different fiddle tunes.

So the tune, which may have come from an old Irish song about a battle—or may not have—got its name changed to “Jackson’s Victory’, and then again to ‘The Eighth of January’ after President Jackson fell out of favor (in the North?).  At any rate, it’s a fine tune.  Listen to Johnny Warren and Charlie Cushman play it, bluegrass style:




Man, I could listen those two all day!  They’re touring, of course, with the fabulous Flatt and Scruggs revival band, The Earls of Leicester.  /CL

Extra! Fiddlin’ John Carson Played Tex’s ‘Christmas Time’ in 1927!

Well, sort of. After I played Tex Logan fiddling his composition, ‘Christmas Time’s a-Comin’’ with The Lane Brothers, followed by Bill Monroe’s classic first recording of the song, listener Paul Murphy emailed me with this news (reprinted with his permission):

Hello  Cousin Lynn. . .

I certainly hate to discredit the great Tex Logan in any way, but it is fairly apparent that he was inspired by this tune that Joe Bussard plays on his radio show every now and then by Fiddlin’ John Carson and His Virginia Reelers called ‘Christmas Time Will Soon Be Over’.  Tex certainly did add a very catchy chorus to go along with his new lyrics.

Joe Bussard’s Link:

YouTube Link:

Your faithful listener,

Paul Murphy

You be the judge. Here’s Bill Monroe:

Undeniably, Fiddlin’ John’s song, which I had never heard, has the same melody, and it’s even about Christmas. But, as Paul says, it’s not the same song. Tex has written all new lyrics with new meaning, and added a second part (“Don’t you hear them bells. . .”) as a chorus. In other words, Tex has taken a simple fiddle tune with rudimentary lyrics and made it into a real song.

It’s the old ‘folk process’, of course. Like all ‘roots’ music, country has re-used countless simple melodies for hundreds of songs. Just remember ‘I’m Thinking Tonight of My Blue Eyes’, ‘The Great Speckled Bird’, ’The Wild Side of Life’ and its answer, ‘It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky-Tonk Angels’; there are doubtless others that I can’t think of.

I quoted Richard Thompson’s Bluegrass Today account of the first recording of ‘Christmas Time’s A-Comin’’ HERE.  As far as I know, Tex never mentioned the Fiddlin’ John Carson recording, though listening to it, it’s inconceivable that he hadn’t heard someone play ‘Christmas Time Will Soon Be Over’. Perhaps some afficiandos of old-time fiddling will let us know how current it was back when Tex was growing up.

When I heard the link that Paul sent, though, it was a revelation. It was as if we’d discovered a letter from a long-gone ancestor, recounting an early version of a tale we thought was new.

But it’s Tex’s song that everyone sings today. /CL

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PS For more on Tex Logan, see my posts: Tex Logan (1927–2015) — Part I and Tex Logan (1927–2015) — Part II and Tex Plays “Christmas Time’s A-Coming”