Hooked on Bluegrass

Dan Hays

As a Kentucky boy, it might not be too hard for folks to imagine I grew up "surrounded by the music"...but not in the way that expression suggests.

My parents, Hershel & Okley Hays, grew up in the same rural Jackson County where our big city, McKee, still only has only 600 people. Dad's little burg is called Gray Hawk (which is where I would also spend my most formative years) and Mom was from Moore's Creek about 5 miles away. They have a combined 20 brothers and sisters. If my math is correct, by the time those siblings were all married, I would be blessed with 40 aunts and uncles. As you might imagine, there were too many to work the old homestead.

There's not much of an economy in Jackson County and after WWII and the Korean War (in which Dad served), a great many folks from our world headed north to Ohio, Michigan and Indiana to find better work and raise their families. Several of my aunts and uncles settled in and around Dayton/Middletown/Cincinnati, but we migrated to and from and I was actually born in south/central Kentucky (Campbellsville) while Dad was working on some drilling rigs there in 1959.

We were constantly back and forth to home in Jackson County where family and grandparents were still based. I believe there's an inherent tug for most Kentuckians that no matter where you live, Kentucky and the land of your family is always home. Maybe it's the same everywhere, but still today, having lived away from Jackson County for 30 years and now happy in Franklin, Tennessee...it's a temporary place that I may live in another 30 years, but I'll someday go "home."

It must have been about the time I was 4 when my first memory of - not only bluegrass - but to music period, was created. We were living in a rural area in southwest Ohio and Dad was working construction around Dayton about 30-40 miles away. He had a little commute each morning before daylight and of course on the way home. Why or how he was able to take me to work with him one day, I don't know...but he did. Nothing, of course, could make my chest swell any more than getting to ride with Dad to work in the pickup truck. And on the way too and from, there was the ever-present radio as company.

I didn't know at the time, but we were blessed to be able to listen to Paul "Moon" Mullins being broadcast from WPFB out of Middletown, Ohio going both too and from. ("Moon" pulled double duty sometimes as I recall and broadcast mornings and evenings.) "Moon" was a Kentucky boy, too, so naturally all us "briar hoppers" (as some referred to us recent migrants) tuned in because he was "one of us." But more specifically he talked like us, spoke our language, carried on about things we understood and played music that was familiar. It was ours! When you're homesick and don't get to go back to Kentucky for another week or two....that's important.

So "Moon" on WPFB was the vehicle that delivered the first memories of music to me. But you didn't ask about the truck that got me there, but what "hooked me."

The stories of the bluegrass scene in southwest Ohio in the late 50's and early 60's are widespread and important pieces of bluegrass history. A number of great artists made fertile ground of it during that time....but none any more than two brothers who were also "one of us" and "from back home."

I'm sure I heard something else before this, but the first notes of music I can recall - that stuck - were on a ride with Dad in that pickup on the way to the construction site. It was coming from two brothers from Hyden, Kentucky (a few hills and hollers away from Jackson County) who made their home for a time in the Dayton area working in factories, driving cabs and the like - just like us - and undoubtedly thinking of home, too. It was Sonny and Bobby, The Osborne Brothers and they were singing "Ruby." (Ruby just happened to be my grandmothers name...who, of course was back home in Kentucky.)

It hooked me then and still does. Every time I hear it, I catch a whiff of that old truck and see the morning sun not quite up, but pretty on the clouds, as I swelled out my chest, getting to go to work with a man I still admire more than any other...my Dad.

"Ruuuubbeeeeey! Ruuubeeey! Honey are you mad at your man?"

(posted 3/13/82008)

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