Berk Bryant

Bluegrass Beat
By Berk Bryant

Again, time has really flown by. Thanksgiving has passed — we hope you had a most enjoyable one — and the Christmas season is here again already. Time to get those Christmas tunes out for my program [Sunday Bluegrass on WFPL 89.3 FM] and tell you about a terrific new CD later in this article.

Skipping back up, on Oct. 29 we went to the Masters of the Banjo concert at Kentucky Center for the Arts. A good show and an interesting one. Seleshe Damessae demonstrated the early African banjo. Wasn't bluegrass with a three-fingered roll, but it was interesting. Others who were there included Tony Ellis, Will Keys, Kirk Sutphin, Carroll Best, Seamus Egan (Irish banjo), Hal Lassiter (one of our dedicated listeners who was there as a fan to listen, not play) and the legend himself, Dr. Ralph Stanley. Some very able backing was provided by Laurie Lewis and Dudley Connell.

I had seen and heard Will Keys often at the Museum of Appalachia Tennessee Fall Homecoming each October. It is always good to see Ralph, and at this show I saw an old friend I had not seen for over thirty years. I knew Tony Ellis when he was learning to play banjo. I was a country DJ, Tony was a listener and we got acquainted that way. Tony played with several local groups around home at one time or another before running off to play for Bill Monroe.

Tony has a couple of albums out now, his latest being really good. I'll try to get to that one next time. His first one was a bit of a surprise when I saw it and an even bigger surprise when I heard it. Tony Ellis, the dedicated Bill Monroe full-speed-ahead, that-ain't-the way-Bill-plays-it, Bill-plays-it-faster-than-that fan, had an album with horns, tubas, etc., and a speed somewhere between waltz and snail pace. I could hardly believe what I was hearing. I had to ask him about that and, with a slight Tony Ellis chuckle, said, "I guess I burned out on that speed." The new CD is really good, Tony, and my listeners will be hearing it on Sunday Bluegrass. He also made me feel real good with an acknowledgment from the stage. I hope we can keep in touch, and, thanks, Tony, it was really great getting together again.

There are some good shows to look forward to in the area. Next one coming up as of this writing will be Ralph Stanley at Shepherdsville on Dec. 10. Don't want to miss that one. C.R. Wilson has a bluegrass show going in Brownsville, Ky., each Saturday night. Make that one when you can.

Our fund-drive show, Nov. 7 at WFPL, was another success story in spite of a couple of rather last-minute changes. We weren't able to use the First Unitarian Church and had to move into the lobby of the main library. Acoustics and sound, for on-site audience, were not too great but did sound good on the air. And we did have a good turnout. I must thank the musicians who came down to help us out, all of them, with very special thanks to Josh Williams and the High Gear Band; 200+ miles just to help us and show support for our program and bluegrass music. By the way, happy 13th birthday last month, Josh.

I must also express great thanks to the legendary Redd Stewart, writer of 400 songs, including the immortal "Tennessee Waltz," and whose first song, "Soldier's Last Letter," was a hit, and the many songs we have danced to and romanced to, back when romance was just that. Redd's brother Bill, one time known as the youngest old-time fiddler on the Grand Ole Opry, and Bill's wonderful family. Thank you seems inadequate, but THANK YOU. These people did this to support our kind of music and show, bluegrass, traditional and old-time, giving freely of their time and talents to do so.

A couple more tidbits. Hope you caught Michael Cleveland, who was invited by Alison Krauss to be her guest and play on the Opry. Date was not exact at this writing but would have been the last weekend in November. My friend Randall Hylton has recorded two new tapes and as soon as we get them I'll play and review them.

Thank you all for your support this year, and now is the time to once again wish you a blue Christmas — bluegrass Christmas that is — and a new year full of great festivals. Make that festival resolution now.

Will there be a Hank Williams program New Year's Day? I don't know now but I sure hope so. Do you want it?

It's been a year now since Mr. Acuff left. Perhaps not so much in conscious thought, but you can just feel something is missing. Roy Acuff, you are missed.

Recording Review

Christmas Time with Ralph Stanley
(CRFRC, Freeland Recording Co., Inc.)
Ralph Stanley

Eleven numbers on this CD, and all — every one — good. "I'm Going Home," "It's Christmas Time," "Beautiful Star of Bethlehem," "Christmas Praise," "Jesus Christ Is Born," "Christmas Time's A Comin'," "Don't Make Us Cry On Christmas Day," "The Christmas Spirit," "Just a Moment Now to Pray," "Bright Morning Star," "Christmas Is Near," and "That's Christmas Time to Me." I have played this several times already. To me it is one of those I wanted to tell you about and air it as soon as I got it. I don't like to start Christmas songs on my program until after Thanksgiving — a little old-fashioned I guess, but then what's wrong with that.

Ralph Stanley fans will not be disappointed with this one, and you will be hearing it during December. I think it is probably the best bluegrass Christmas album I have heard. I highly recommend it to all bluegrass fans. Just listen to my show, WFPL, 8:30 Sunday nights, and I'm sure you will agree. Another Ralph Stanley success album for CRF recordings, this is a great combination.

Merry Christmas.

(CRFRC, Freeland Recording Co., Inc., Asbury, WV 24916, or from Ralph Stanley at concerts.)