Berk Bryant

Bluegrass Beat
By Berk Bryant

Bluegrass Beat, December

The flakes are falling, the flakes are . . . .

I have seen some flakes of the variety that fall from the sky. Sleigh Bells Ring, Hark the Herald Angels Sing, Christmas Time's A-coming. Strong enough hint? Get with it, hit those malls, charge the card, and get those surprises hidden away or wrapped. Make sure there are some BLUEGRASS surprises in that bag you're carrying.

Ups & Downs in November

OK, now that we've looked ahead, there is some looking back I must do. Back into turkey month. There were ups and downs, for me at least.

UP: Remember Tessie? I was asked to find out about Tessie for Bluegrass Unlimited magazine. In October Tessie was to celebrate her 100th birthday. The answer: Tessie had a big birthday bash with folks attending from a half dozen states or more and she can hardly wait for next summer to get back to the festivals. (Bless you, Tessie!)

UP: A fellow I met at the IBMA bash, Barry R. Willis, author of America's Music Bluegrass, surprised me with a call one night. Big surprise. Barry lives in Colorado. He, of course, wanted to know what I thought of the book. (I had gotten a copy from him.) It's a big book and I have not come close to reading it yet. But I do know that so far, and looking through it, it is a really good, well-done book. Lots of fascinating pictures and stories. I am going to read it all. I would strongly recommend it as one of those gifts to the bluegrasser on your stocking, er, uh, make that shopping list. If it is not available through a local bookstore Hawley-Cooke or whoever you can use the following: Pine Valley Music, P.O. Box 101, Franktown, Colorado 80116, or This is a very good and impressive book any bluegrass fan would love to have. Take it with you to every festival and get it signed. This is also an excellent book for anyone just getting into bluegrass or flirting with bluegrass. There is much background and great anecdotes here. Trivia and other information we all should have. Tell Barry I sent you.

DOWN: In a big way. As a result of my Sunday Bluegrass show [WFPK, 91.9 FM, 8-11 p.m. every Sunday], I have met many listeners and formed friendships with a lot of you. One of those who began by calling, learning of groups new to him, and becoming a top-of-the-hill Dry Branch Fire Squad solid fan was Keith Russell. Keith would call for a DBFS number each week and I began calling it his "DBFS fix." We became good friends. I visited him at his home several times and entertained with some magic at his annual Christmas party. Keith was sometimes limited in getting around because of polio some years ago. He didn't let that stop him or slow him up any more than he could help. He could play a bass, and recorded with a group years ago. We became very good friends who enjoyed each other. He made calls to the show each Sunday night, as well as direct calls to express his dislike at some group or singer, which was seldom. He, as we all do, had his favorites and non-favorites. Keith had serious surgery the week following the WFPK fund drive. Keith's wife, Carol, called me for him on Nov. 2 as he didn't feel like talking but wanted me to be sure to remember his "fix." I played "Walk the Streets of Glory." Carol called again on the 6th, this time to me at home. In a very brief conversation she informed me Keith had died the day before. (Keith, my friend, I will miss you, but rest assured your "DBFS fix" will be there for you each Sunday night.

Just a brief afterthought to the preceding. I want to say thanks to Ron Thomason. Ron took time, at my request, at an Otter Creek Park festival a few years ago, to go back and meet Keith. That was a special and very good moment for Keith. (Thank you, Ron.)

Bad, Bad Leroy Troy

The 14th brought a visit of a fine young man and a good friend to West Point. The "Tennessee Slicker," Leroy Troy. A moderate but highly enthusiastic crowd was on hand to be thoroughly entertained, and they were. Leroy, sometimes boisterous, very straight-ahead and always honest, kept them laughing, clapping, requesting songs and wanting more. Leroy's dad, Wallace, was along, but unfortunately his mom, Francis, was under the weather at home.

Hunka, Hunka Burning Booze

Our song writing, pickin' Editor-in-Chief Bottle Washer (that's before and after), Paul Moffett, has penned a very good ditty concerning the big fire at the distillery in Bardstown last year. That's what it is: "Big Fire in Bardstown." Paul sent me a demo copy and I have played it a couple of times on the show. I have heard Gary Brewer will record it next time around. (Paul, it's a good tune, good idea and well put together. Best wishes for much success with this. Maybe somebody else will pick it up also.)

Saint Nick of Time CD

Just in the nick (as in Saint Nick) of time, a new CD from Larry Sparks: A Rebel release, Christmas in the Hills. As of this writing it is so new to me I have not had time to listen to all of it. Given Larry Sparks fans and Larry, it is a safe bet to say it is a good one. A lot of familiar Christmas songs here, done the way Larry does them. "White Christmas" is a little different from what I am used to and is OK. Other numbers include "Christmas in the Mountains," "Beautiful Star of Bethlehem," "Christmas is Near," "Christmas Memories," and more. There is an even dozen of Christmas songs from Larry Sparks that will please all of his fans. This is one of those I feel I can play on the show and a pre-listen on my part is not required. Larry is dependable. Check with a local record shop for Christmas in the Hills (Rebel 1745).

Who's Where and When

At Shepherdsville:

Dec. 5, my friend and favorite of many in this area, Randall Hylton. I am really looking forward to seeing Randall.

Dec. 12, Gary Brewer & the Kentucky Ramblers.

Dec. 19, Mr. Roy Harper. I know this one is a little close to the holiday and all of that hustling and bustling about. but take a break. Mr. Harper has also acquired a lot of fans in this area. Especially those who like the traditional sound and the sound of Jimmie Rodgers. Remember, too, this will be the last show until:

Jan. 2, when Ralph Stanley will start the new year.

Remember, the secret to keeping the shows good shows, good people, coming and available is YOU. No support, no interest, and no audience, will equal no show.

Time flies when you're having bluegrass.

Hard to believe another year has become a blur. Events we look forward to come at the pace of a speeding snail and are past and gone like a speeding bullet. Time already to wish you a most Merry Christmas in the sincere and true spirit of this very special season. Also time to face the new year with all the best wishes for it. Be good, be safe, and you will be happy. As for me, I think I'll go get a donut!

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, everyone.