Berk Bryant

Bluegrass Beat
By Berk Bryant

Looking back to the Scene article in the January 2 issue of The Courier-Journal, the article concerning local bands on local radio was pretty much directed to the lack of such currently. Since the C-J Scene contained an obvious omission concerning bluegrass and the bluegrass program I do, I thought I should comment and fill in the blanks.

Our Sunday Bluegrass program on WFPL [8:30-11 p.m.] has had a lot of local groups, both recorded and live. That's right, I said live. There have been many comments — very positive comments — from listeners and bands alike, about the fact that I do play local groups.

Part of the Scene article dealt with the issue of cassette tapes vs. CDs as almost being a criterion for being programmed: CDs favored, cassettes unlikely to be programmed. It seems, in the minds of some, that the only groups worth airing or that are serious about getting in the music business (in this case country music) are those who produce a CD and then maybe — maybe – it will be aired. I realize that CDs are much easier, more convenient to cue, but I find cassette tapes are really not that big a deal to cue up. A local group who wants to record will, in most cases, have to start with cassettes. Finances are a prime consideration for these groups who cannot afford the CD, unless of course they are among the fortunate few who have big money behind them, which in turn may get them played. I for one do not think groups should be penalized local play because they can only afford a cassette.

As for desiring to be played on local radio, why not? Maybe you are good here and never heard of across the country. At least you are good somewhere and have a chance to "pay some dues" and (dirty four-letter word) WORK your way up or somewhere. Everybody can't start at the top and work their way down. If a group can't get local support, why should anyone else give it? I guess I should have expected — or should not have been surprised —that any reference to bluegrass was left out, just as I should not have been too surprised at another omission in November. Mr. Haynie, the C-J's very talented artist, has drawn a number of excellent cartoons noting the passing of various pop stars, etc. In another snub of bluegrass and real country music, the passing of the King of country music was barely noted and definitely not noted with one of those excellent drawings I was anticipating.

(A small portion of the above was run in the January 23 Scene.)

If you missed Larry Stephenson at Shepherdsville, too bad for you. Although she didn't play, Larry's wife — and former New Coon Creek Girls fiddle player, Carmella Ramsey, now Stephenson —came along. This young lady is an impressive fiddler; maybe that is why she now plays for Patty Loveless. It's always nice to see someone like her — someone you have met or are somewhat acquainted with.

Our Sunday Bluegrass show on Sunday, the 31st of January, had a couple of really great surprise callers. Those of you who listen to us may well remember Dave Stewart. Dave was a ministry student, working part-time and was our tech man/engineer. Answering the phone and greeting visitors, Dave became well known to our listeners and was practically a part of the show. He recognized regular callers by voice and eventually had many fans also. Dave gave us a call from Carrollton, Ga., where he is presently located and finishing requirements for his graduation.

Back a little before Christmas, Herman Barnett called and asked that we mention his daughter, Beverly Reynolds, in Boise, Idaho. He was taping the show to give to her when she visited during the holidays. During that visit she was nice enough to call and thank me for the mention and the program. The same night that Dave Stewart called from Georgia, Beverly called a little before we went on the air, this time from Boise. Again she wanted to express how much she enjoyed the tapes her father had sent her. She wondered if she might call back and express her thanks on the air, which she did. Not only are the tapes going there, but she is also sharing them with her sister in, I think she said, Utah. She mentioned that the programs mean a lot to them because they have missed this music so much. It's folks, comments and sentiments such as these that really make all of the effort worthwhile. Bless 'em.

February 5 brought another great show to Shepherdsville that too many bluegrass fans missed. The Gillis Bros. from Georgia did a capital fine show. John and Larry Gillis played to many folks who, like myself, had never seen them before. Roughly two-thirds of the audience had been introduced to them by way of their recordings on our show. In taking requests from the stage, it seemed similar to a game of stump the band and the band won.

A young foursome, the Gillis Bros. are a very personable and talented group. We have written about their recordings before but this is the first time to write about a personal meeting. I am sure you will be hearing a lot more about this fine group and you will be hearing them on Sunday Bluegrass.

Coming to Shepherdsville in March will be Paul Mullins on the 5th; what I consider a must-see on the 12th: Randall Hylton, master guitarist and definitely an entertainer and Kentucky Blue; Bluegrass Thoroughbreds on the 19th; and on the 26th, Carl Story and the Rambling Mountaineers. Carl, one of the old-timers (now in his late 70s), gives a strong performance and is an all-time favorite. Lots of great gospel and a lot of interest has been expressed in his coming to Shepherdsville.

Remember, festival season is not that far away now, so be getting that fever and looking ahead to your favorite festivals and another visit with your favorite stars. Nothing beats being there!

This is all about a new double CD. A new CD that I immediately wanted to sit down and write a review of. I do get a lot that I hope to review, but none that I feel like I want to do right away. The title of this package is Saturday Night/Sunday Morning. Saturday Night songs and Sunday Morning gospel. The artist is one that I get more requests for than any other single artist: Dr. Ralph Stanley. Right, Ralph Stanley. And in this case that is a big AND.

Here it is, Dwight Yoakam, Judy Marshall, Emmylou Harris, Ricky Skaggs, Vince Gill, Jimmy Martin, Charlie Waller, Charlie Sizemore, Patty Loveless, Larry Sparks, George Jones, Bill Monroe, Tom T. Hall and Alison Krauss. That's a bunch of AND.

This, coupled with the fact that there are 15 Saturday Night songs and 16 Sunday Morning songs, will explain why this would be a little lengthy if I named or talked about all of them.

The first one really sets the pace for the rest of the set. Ralph and the Clinch Mountain Boys open this up with a tune called "Mountain Folks." At first glance I couldn't help but think something like, "Oh great, I can hardly wait to hear George Jones doing bluegrass with Ralph Stanley." Do not misunderstand, I am a George fan, but "Possum" singing bluegrass? To borrow from a Mac Wiseman tune, you can't judge a good CD by its cover.

I think these are great, all 31 of them.

Even with George or Dwight or whoever, the bluegrass sound is there, Ralph's sound is there and it is a wonderful surprise. Leads me to believe these guys way down deep must really like bluegrass. None of them that I know of have been sentenced to community service and required to do bluegrass with Ralph Stanley. Kinda makes you think they did it because they wanted to.

I strongly recommend this one from CRFRC, Freeland Recording Co., Inc., Asbury, WV 24916.