Paxton, Dillards Help Celebrate Homefront's Seventh Anniversary

By Bill Ede

Louisville Homefront Performances recently celebrated its seventh anniversary with two major concerts: The Dillards on March 9 and Tom Paxton on March 15, both at the Spalding Auditorium on South Fourth Street.

The Dillards' current roster of players includes original members Rodney Dillard (guitar), Dean Webb (mandolin), Mitchell Jayne (upright bass), along with local multi-instrumentalist Steve Cooley, who joined the group in the early '80s. (Banjoist Doug Dillard hasn't performed with the group since the mid-'60s, when he was replaced by Herb Pedersen, who now performs with the Desert Rose Band.)

Highlights of their performance included the Webb-Jayne now-standard "Old Home Place" and "Dooley," both of which seemed familiar to the audience, bringing to mind the time many of us first encountered the Dillards as the Darlin family on T.V.'s "The Andy Griffith Show" in the early '60s. Their version of the much-performed "Ol' Blue" was perhaps more matter-of-fact than Joan Baez's emotional solo version _ a fact Jayne only half-jokingly attributed to growing up around more dogs with less time to get personally attached to them. (Baez would be outdone years later by Peter, Paul & Mary's super-emotional version of the song, complete with '50s-style recitation and 6-minor chords aplenty.) Also performed in the Dillards' set was Bob Dylan's "Walkin' Down the Line," generally considered to be the first Dylan song performed by a bluegrass band _ at least on record. (By the Dillards, of course, on 1964's Live ... Almost L.P.) Dylan's Nashville Skyline, Blood on the Tracks and other LPs would employ bluegrass musicians, and various bluegrass or bluegrass-related groups would continue to record and perform his songs through the years, most notably the Byrds and the Earl Scruggs Revue.

Another tune featured in their set was the tune which is now generally referred to as "Duelin' Banjos," which evolved from a 1955 recording by Don Reno and Arthur "Guitar Boogie" Smith called "Feuding Banjos." The Dillards popularized this tune during the '60s, which led to its inclusion in the 1972 film "Deliverance," making it a "hit" as well as a "bluegrass standard."

The Dillards were preceded by Mark Rosenthal performing Lyle Lovett's "If I Had a Boat" and Lowell George's "Willin'" with a back-up band consisting of Larry Raley (electric bass), Mike Schroeder (mandolin), Bruce Krohmer (sax and clarinet), Kenny White (guitar), and Dave Wilkins (guitar). (Mark also sang a duet with John Gage on the Grateful Dead's "Friend of the Devil." John's solo set had included Jerry Jeff Walker's "Driftin' Way of Life" and Tom Paxton's "Ramblin' Boy," the latter being a taste of things to come the following Friday.)

Tom Paxton's first Louisville appearance showed the master songwriter to be as enjoyable in person these days as he has been in the past. Thinking it unlikely that I would ever get to hear him in Louisville, I'd twice made the long journey with the primary aim of hearing this guy "live": in 1988 to Dayton, Ohio's Canal Street Tavern, and in 1977 _ by thumb, no less (in my more reckless days) _ to the Philadelphia Folk Festival in Schwenksville, Pa. His two recent sets included the classics "Ramblin' Boy," "Bottle of Wine" and "The Marvelous Toy" (which he has referred to as the first "keeper" in what has been estimated at 1500 or so self-penned songs of varying degrees of quality), as well as the lesser known (but still classic) "Whose Garden Was This" (the title song of a very early John Denver album) and "Forest Lawn" which John Denver also helped popularize.

"Billy Got Some Bad News Today" is a sad portrayal of a young person recently diagnosed with AIDS and how this news changes the behavior of people (including a doctor) toward him. "She Sits on the Table" is a chilling, though subtle, tale of spouse abuse and the vicious cycles often at work within both abuser and abusee. As always, Paxton breathes life back into the statistics as few others can. He balances such stark realism with humorous tales about broken guitars ("Thank You, Republic Airlines" _ an "anti-commercial," which was likely only humorous much later), an ever-ready post-nuclear postal "service" ("The Mail Will Go Through") and poor conjugal-mood synchronicity (did I really say that?) ("Not Tonight Marie"). Other highlights included his much-celebrated "Yuppies In the Sky" and two other songs that also qualify as classics, "I Can't Help But Wonder Where I'm Bound" and his signature song, "The Last Thing On My Mind," which closed out the show.

Paxton was preceded by local song stylists Bill Ede, who performed a bluegrass-backed rendition of his "1943 Copper Penny" (with help from Mike Schroeder on mandolin and Steve Cooley on banjo), along with the P.F. Sloan chestnut "Here's Where You Belong"; Susanne Wood, who did a stirring version of her "Hard Heart for the Heartland," as well as Ferron's "Misty Mountain,"; and Tyrone Cotton, who did a too-short-for-my-ears set of folk-blues, based on adaptations to music of two Langston Hughes poems, "Early Morning Quarrel" and "Fire-Angel Wings." John Gage also dusted off his "Tennessee Mountain Hideout" for a long-overdue reprise of same.

Ms. Wood's vocals are as powerful as ever, ringing with tonal clarity and all-out conviction, making her one of the brightest voices I've heard in this area in some time. Here's hoping she continues to make the rounds of local venues.

Cotton totes a very diverse repertoire, which includes folk songs and classical pieces for guitar, as well as the Hughes adaptations. His rich vocals call to mind Odetta and the great Son House, and he must be heard to be believed. One complaint that came to my attention was that Cotton's vocals were, in fact, not fully heard. Too bad to the extent that that was true (assuming it was), as they are packed with raw emotion rarely witnessed by this listener. It would be a shame for such a performance to have been missed because of "technical difficulties," whether the fault of the performer or the sound man. Perhaps he and Susanne will get to perform longer sets somewhere down the line, as Homefront continues to present the kind of concerts for which it has become deservedly acclaimed.