Crowe on the Banjo: The Music Life of J.D. Crowe (Music in American Life)

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Larry Rice (musician) - Wikipedia

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Buy It Now. Condition see all Condition. And we liked Mike, and he liked us, and so it was only after that we began to know him better, and he us, and began to hear more about what his musical background was, and what his tastes were, and began to feel what that would mean. Actually, that began before that, when Jim Watson and I first got together. I had been mostly involved in some fiddle tune bands, and we wanted a singing band. And he was a good fiddler, and he was getting better. He had that Tommy Jarrell bite in his fiddling, and we liked that.

So we brought him in to see if that kind of fiddle style would go with what we envisioned as a very different kind of band than Jim and I had been in. So that was an experiment, too. Where that took us had more to do with the instruments we played and how we played, more than any preconceived idea of what the music should be like. John: It just seems to me, from the changes through each record, or from hearing you in concert, that you are always stretching in different ways.

Tommy: Relative to what the other string bands are doing, we have. Our records are identifiable. John: Definitely! So I think somehow this new, crystallized Red Clay Ramblers sound is going to form at least in part around this new material. John: Rather than the traditional music? Tommy: I think so. I mean, there is there is no way we can ever deny our musical past. So it will always have a very strong flavor of where we come from. John: Yeah. John: Where does it come from:. White, one of the composers of many songs like that. We heard it later, and then a friend of mine discovered it in an old hymnbook.

It was almost the identical arrangement, and we got that from the hymnbook, plus whatever influence those guys had on us.

Larry Rice (musician)

Our conception of harmony singing has always been different from that of bluegrassers. In bluegrass, the ideal has always been to find people whose voices are as similar as possible. Genetically, being brought up in the same family? Tommy: Right. And they all have different voices. The idea is to see how you blend those all together so that you get a unified sound.

So our harmony is different. We like it because you have more variety. Even when you sing the same parts, you can take any three guys out of the five, say, and sing the same parts, and it comes out different. Could you describe the particular backgrounds upon which you all can draw? Tommy: Sure. Mike Craver, the piano player, was trained in classical music.

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Tommy: Right! And Stephen Foster songs, things like that. And Jack Herrick, who plays bass and trumpet, was also classically trained. Jim Watson got involved in music when there was an old-time music scene going on, around where we lived. He picked up the mandolin, and learned to play fiddle tunes on it. His greatest asset is a strong, sharp sense of rhythm. He also likes country and western music, and that affects his singing.

John: His vocal style. Bill Hicks, now: our musical backgrounds are hymns and old-time mountain instrumental things. He is from Raleigh, North Carolina, a very rural background, but his father was very well educated, and taught in what was at that time the Department of Philosophy and Religion at the state university in Raleigh. So Bill has both a rural background and a somewhat citified or at least educated background.

He has the feel for the country, and also the sort of sophistication that goes along with that educated background, too. And now Bill has gone and changed on them. You can still hear Tommy Jarrell in it. Why should he change his style to do what has already been done? John: Were his family fiddlers? Tommy: His grandfather was one. He could only play in A then, and if we did a song in G, he'd just tune the fiddle down. Then he took a trip to Canada, and heard some Nova Scotian fiddlers. John: Cape Breton? And he came home and got real serious about it then. He worked them out, and of course the more he did that, the more he began to hear the values and quality in the mountain fiddling around.

And that was about the time Tommy Jarrell began to get stirred up again. Tommy: Oh yeah. John: Do you think Bill would regard himself as a band fiddler, or? Tommy: More of a band fiddler, I think. All of us regard ourselves more as ensemble players. Of any of us, Mike probably has the tendency to feel most at home as a solo player. But none of the three of us would dare go on and do a show all by ourselves. What makes a band work, though is that you have to have that ensemble instinct. John: So how long were you guys together before you knew it was going to go, that it was going to catch on?

Tommy: Jim and Bill and I had been together about a year when Mike joined us. And there were the four of us, and then we got into that play, Diamond Studs, the musical about the life of Jesse James, that played off-Broadway in New York. And that was what forced the issue of giving up our jobs. We were on leaves of absence and we had to decide if we would leave the show or let our jobs go. And we let the jobs go. I spent most of the eight or nine months we were in New York on the phone, trying to line up bookings for the fall, when the show would end.

So we started working as a full time band, and that was in Tommy: Yeah, she replaced somebody in the show. I really had hopes she might show up here this weekend. John: I like her a whole lot too. She does a really good stage show. And then we could make a living as a band. We had no idea of doing anything other than being another band that was making a living. But that never worked out, exactly. For a start, we began to get invitations to places further afield. John: Do you think the records helped? Tommy: The records helped a lot.

J.D. Crowe | Architect of the New South

Just being able to send them out. For the first couple of years I spent all my non-playing time just writing to people, sending records, just phoning and so on. So we were forced to go further from home. Most of it is by invitation now. Apart from the old mountain music things, when I was little I used to listen to the pop music a lot. I was three in , and so in those impressionable ten years I heard all those Cole Porter songs, I heard Billie Holliday, and I just put all that music out of my head for all these years, and only in the past four or five years I've begun to remember them.

I feel the pressure of that music wanting to come out in me a lot. John: Then there's a whole comic tradition in what you do. Well, I like music that's serious but doesn't take itself seriously. And I like a stage show that's serious but doesn't take itself seriously. Wit, to me, is as much a musical virtue as manual dexterity, laughter , and of course we say a lot of things onstage that we really don't mean, or that we may think are funny, but our audience doesn't see anything funny about at all.

And that also varies from one locale to another. John: An in-the-band sense of humor that comes from travelling together? Tommy: Yeah, but then playing so much in the South, and being from the South, influenced by the South, we find that sometimes in a Northern city--things that are funny to us somehow aren't funny at all, or the way I say them doesn't strike the audience as funny at all. John: But I hear you do some Irish things that do come off. I know a number of old-timey bands that are doing it, but usually it doesn't come off at all.

Tommy: Well, some Irish things we're working on don't come off - we haven't got it just yet. Irish music has its own idiom, its own standard of quality. It's a music that's both subtle and complex, and also very strongly rhythmical. And I think that people just getting started on Irish instrumental music - if they play mountain music - often focus on the subtlety, the smooth part of Irish music.


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And they get that, but they don't get beyond that, back to the place where they can play Irish music with the same excitement and drive with which they play mountain music. And Irish music does have that same power too, that excitement and drive. It's just more subtle in different ways, and I think that may be one reason why it doesn't come off. But they'll get it. We will too. Tommy: Well that's one medley that we have been working on for three years or so. But there are Irish things we're working on now where I'm using the flatpick to play, and it's a jig, and I'm not much of a flatpicker anyhow, and at an important job like this we won't do it because it doesn't yet come off.

But it will.

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It may take another year of working on it, but it will come. John: But it seems to me that the blues things you do come out of a Black tradition--but then it is an American tradition, too. Uh huh. Well I think so much of white music has been just so influenced by Black music, a lot of mutual influence and so on. So long as you don't attempt to "sound" Black - white musicians can do Black music fine. The only awful thing is if you try to ape Black dialect - say an old blues man's dialect.

That sounds just terrible. Your "Woman Down in Memphis" really does work. Oh, that's a good song. Actually, I think that it is white in its origin - but so very strongly Black-influenced. Is that because you are Southerners? Do you think that maybe a Northern string band might have some disadvantages in this? Tommy: I think maybe we do have some advantages over a Northern string band, that helps us to do things like that and have them be effective.

John: It's funny how the social history comes thorough in the music. That is something that I feel intuitively is true. But I don't know if anyone - certainly I'm not able to articulate exactly how it is that certain social things get expressed through the music. I do think that most people who listen to the music carefully can sense it.

When somehow the performance is awkwardly detached from its social context, so that something that's supposed to be coming through isn't. We can certainly tell when something is doing that, and we just drop it. John: Would that also be why the shape note hymns really come off with you guys? All of our band - or four of the five guys - are from the South, the Bible Belt, an area where Bible teaching, fundamentalists, are strong. Where, even if we're not ourselves fundamentalists, part of the fabric of our culture is - we know it, we understand it.

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John: A rich emotion comes through in that. Tommy: Yes. Religious feeling is a very strong day-to-day feeling, not just a Sunday feeling. And it's very easy, when you're doing a song like that, like "Parting Hand," to feel a rapport with the source. To sing it expressively and not feel like a hypocrite. Even if, when it comes down to dogma, we may not share the doctrines that are expressed in there, we certainly share in the kind of feeling out of which these songs come. John: Have you noticed a change in attitude of Northerners towards Southerners over the past five to ten years?

I think it's linked to a whole lot of things. The fact that Southern music is important now around the country in ways it hadn't always been, and it's spreading to people with peculiar tastes, like all of us who've been interested in folk music. For example, the Allman Brothers was not just a Southern band, they were a national band, but all those guys were just fantastic guitar players and singers, and what they were playing and singing is Southern.

As Southern as they could do it. But there are a lot of political things that have to do with it, too. Oh, maybe what I'm saying is that the North has dominated our culture since maybe the Civil War, and maybe a lot of things that were supposed to work out haven't worked out, and maybe people are saying, "Turn to the South," hoping that maybe that part of our culture will help.

But I wouldn't guarantee it! And I think many of my classmates, when I arrived there, had never encountered a Southerner, and they kind of assumed that I'd have to be given help. John: You were a redneck cracker? Tommy: Yeah, I think we've passed that now, pretty much. Jimmy Carter has a strong Georgia accent, and when the President has one, then people sort of have to swallow it, you know! John: Oh, yeah. You mention Kenyon College. Was there much bluegrass music out in that part of Ohio then? Tommy: Things were just getting started, and I didn't know much about it.

I think it was about that time that Alice Gerrard and her husband at the time, Mike Foster, were starting to play bluegrass music and some old-timey music at Antioch. But I didn't even know them. It was just about the same time, but not much at Kenyon. I remember one guy who had a five-string banjo. Tommy: Oh, Seth - yeah! Let's see, what was really hot in Ohio at the time was another influence on my taste: Dixieland. There were lots of small colleges in Ohio, small private schools like Kenyon, with maybe students and it was not the kind of budget that brought big names through every two or three weeks like there is at the University now.

That was considered really hip. The guys who played it were special people, and all this charisma came from these guys playing tenor banjos and tubas, two-four piano. I learned a lot of music, though I wasn't playing music. A lot was being pumped in that I wasn't even very aware of at the time.

Sleepy Man Banjo Boys With JD Crowe and The New South!

John: Speaking of stardom. Have you noticed much of that has happened to the Red Clay Ramblers? Tommy: Oh, not much. I guess some. There are certain areas of the country where for some reason or other things come together in a way. We happen to appeal to the people, somehow, in a special way. There happens to be a radio station where a couple of DJs like our music and are independent enough to play it, and so when we go into that area, we get treated as if we were something special.

And that's fun, but it's I think that most of even the best rock music - the Eagles, or Fleetwood Mac, for instance -- what they're doing is in I think pretty good taste. They're all excellent musicians, and their songwriting skills are admirable. But I don't think they're breaking any new ground. Fleetwood Mac cannot do anything like say the Beatles, who were always a year or two ahead of their time.

Fleetwood Mac is a reflection of what the culture is. Bob Dylan and the Beatles were ahead of what was happening. Now, there isn't anything in rock music that's like that. In the past, now, there was rock, and pop, and there was this underground stream of bluegrass and now old-timey music which has sort of edged its way in there. They were like two separate things with neither paying attention to the other.

But those days are ending. They're now beginning to converge. They're always be the big AM bands will always appeal to the teenagers, and they'll always make the big money. But there's a kind of anti-star feeling of the underground thing as we begin to influence the other. Somebody who'll like let's say Emmy Lou or Bonnie Raitt. Now there are two great examples of really great women singers whose musical roots are like ours. He's been a star, he's had TV exposure and that kind of thing, I'm sure he's wealthy -- but where he's working and the kind of music he is writing, the kind of show he puts on, he's very folkie, he'd fit in at any folk festival!

John: For sure. Tommy: And that's a new thing. To me, that's a very exciting thing. John: People who didn't get taken over by the big money? All the big American musics have come out of folk music, every one.

And these are people who may be big time, but who are aware of that, who let it show. And so I envision a new middle ground in music - a crossover ground there has never been.