Fish on Display
At Renfro Valley, deep in Kentucky's country and bluegrass territory, is the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame and Museum. This new facility opened in May of 2002 and is run by two co-executive directors, Wayne Combs and Robert Lawson. Lawson tends to the finances and Combs is in charge of the building and exhibits. Renfro Valley's reputation was established by John Lair, a pioneer in radio broadcasting. He provided a national showcase for Kentucky music and musicians by establishing the "Renfro Valley Barn Dance" in 1939, broadcasting traditional country music. The program was enormously popular in the Twenties and Thirties. Today this quaint setting of buildings includes the original barn, a new auditorium, turn-of-the-century shops, a motel, festival grounds and the museum. The rustic complex is nestled along Renfro Creek in Rockcastle County, framed by the Daniel Boone National Forest. The museum has three areas: an entrance lobby and gift shop, the Hall of Fame for the twelve original 2002 inductees and a large exhibit hall.
Combs said, "We want the museum to be inclusive of all types of Kentucky music, not just country and are grateful to receive any donations of music memorabilia." When local record collector and musician Butch Williams heard of their needs, he gathered together some of his recordings, articles and posters of Mary Ann Fisher plus other Louisville musicians and singers. He even got Mary Ann to donate a black-and-blue sequined dress she used to wear. When the exhibit was completed on January 3, several of us visited the museum for a dedication of the display. Besides Butch, Mary Ann and myself, the group included Marjorie Marshall, Leslie Graham, Keith Williams, Peter Rhee plus spouses and friends, including the co-directors. In the middle of a large room, which had a timeline of Kentucky performers from 1950 to 2002 on the back wall, was the display case of Louisville's contributions to jazz and blues. Mary Ann was thrilled as she sang lyrics from her recent CD, which was piped into the room. She shares the exhibit with Helen Humes, Jonah Jones, Jimmy Raney and Harvey Fuqua & the Moonglows. Pretty good company! After several photos were taken by Keith Williams, who is both Mary Ann's nephew and a photographer for the Courier Journal, we examined the other exhibits. Lionel Hampton is honored, having received the Governor's Lifetime Achievement Award. The 2004 inductees into the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame include Jerry Chestnut, J.D. Crowe, The Coon Creek Girls, Vestal & Howard Goodman, Boots Randolph, Ricky Skaggs and Billy Vaughn. The ceremony will be February 19 in Frankfort followed by a concert on February 20 by Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder in the old barn at Renfro Valley. We are hoping that Mary Ann will be a shoe in for the next class of inductees.
L&M Productions (Leslie & Marjorie) are planning a Birthday Benefit Tribute for Mary Ann at Stevie Ray's on Sunday, February 22, from 8 p.m. to midnight. Because there were no records of Mary Ann's birth certificate in her hometown of Henderson, Kentucky, she had to set a birth date, February 12, 1923. In 1997, Mayor Jerry Abramson proclaimed February 26 as Mary Ann Fisher Day which she likes to celebrate each year. Everyone, especially musicians, is invited to show their appreciation and perform in her honor.
Between Midnight & Day
There has been a glut of CDs and books on the blues released during and in the aftermath of the 2003 Year of the Blues celebration. One book is worthy of mention. When I attend the major blues festivals like Chicago and the King Biscuit, I usually wear my favorite cotton blues tee shirt, which I got from the U.S. Postal Service nearly ten years ago. On the front are two enlarged pictures of the Howlin' Wolf and Muddy Waters stamps, with the bold wording "Made in Mississippi." Every time Dick Waterman sees me wearing it at a festival, he comes over and exclaims how he was responsible for the production of that shirt. He usually is wearing his khaki photographer's jacket with a camera around his neck taking black and white pictures. Waterman holds a unique position in the history of the blues, having managed many of the legendary musicians during the blues revival of the `60s. He can tell first-hand accounts of Son House, Booker (Bukka) White, Skip James, Mississippi John Hurt, Robert Pete Williams, plus the next generation of musicians like Buddy Guy, Junior Wells, Luther Allison and Bonnie Raitt. The stories he could tell and he does in his new book, Between Midnight and Day. The book, subtitled, The Last Unpublished Blues Archive, includes some familiar published photos but mostly never-before-seen pictures that capture the historic and personal moments of these musicians, who are no longer alive. However, it's Waterman's candid stories that accompany these black and white photos that make this book so special. He pulls no punches in his sometimes frank comments, which made me both chuckle and choke up. His words and images take the reader there when Skip James, who had just been rediscovered after three decades of obscurity, made his first public appearance at the 1964 Newport Folk Festival. The story of how the dapper Lightnin' Hopkins conned Waterman into buying him a bottle of liquor on the way to a gig is classic. Lightnin' is in his best white suit with only a hundred dollar bill. He didn't want to get back a dirty ball of ones and fives for change, for "It would mess up my line." Rather than tell you more, you need to see and read for yourself this excellent soft cover publication for the equivalent price of two CDs.
MERF Helps Dennis
It has been ten years since Dennis Ervin first started jamming around town and put his band together for the MERF Blues Fest and Barbecue at Phoenix Hill Tavern in 1994. This fiery guitarist can mix Motown, R&B and blues with the quick stroke of his pick. Unfortunately Dennis has had his share of hard knocks over these years with a theft where he lost most of his equipment, the passing of his wife and most recently, a cut back in his performing due to heart problems. The newly energized MERF - thanks to the leadership of Wayne Young - held a fundraiser for Dennis on January 15 at Jim Porters. Robbie Bartlett was into "Chain of Fools" when I arrived. She was backed by John Burgard on guitar, Mark Richardson on bass and drummer John Haynes. The small crowd had .grown by the time Tanita Gaines got on stage. Burgard stayed around to trade guitar licks with Dave Witherspoon during Tanita's set when she sang "Ride My Pony." She threatened to sing country if she didn't get adequate applause. Before Wayne started the final set he said, "I had hoped that Dennis could have been here to play but he is in the hospital." Let's hope Dennis can get back physically and financially soon.