Author: Martin, George

Final vinyl
We have been trying to downsize. After my mother died three years ago Barbara and I discovered what it is like to clean out the house of someone who saved everything. After we emptied and rehabbed Mom’s place we rented it to a woman who was something of a clean freak and who was proud of her “less is more” lifestyle. The place was always spic and span and there was never a lot of stuff lying around.

I was impressed. I knew we would never reach that zen level of living (hell, just my banjos clutter up my office a lot and that doesn’t count the guitars, mandolins, and my bass) but I knew we could do better. We went through our bookshelves and gave away boxes of books. I sent a bunch of shirts and pants to the second-hand store. I even reduced the number of neckties to the exact number of holders on my tie rack.

Then Barbara said, “You should get rid of your big stereo and vinyl records.”

All that stuff took up a good portion of the living room: a large, old cabinet with a turntable, 5-disc CD changer, twin-deck cassette deck, a receiver-amplifier unit and a two large speaker cabinets with about six speakers in each. We gave that stuff to a couple of fellows who hang around the metal recycling yard near where we live. Then I turned to the “upstairs records,” about 30 linear inches of 33 1/3 rpm albums that had lived in the stereo cabinet. Down in the basement there were another three feet or so of albums, all boxed up.

The downstairs albums wouldn’t be much of a problem; I had sorted through all my records a few years ago and determined that these eventually would go. But the upstairs albums were the ones that I had an emotional connection to. In some cases I remembered buying them, from others I had learned songs that I have sung for many years. A few, like Songs from the Ozarks by Vern & Ray are not replaceable. That album was released without a contract, Vern and Ray never got any money from it, and it has not surprisingly never been released on CD.

I probably don’t really need Merle Haggard’s Okie from Muskogee album, but I remember the great pleasure I used to get when I was performing with my first bluegrass band and sang “...we don’t let our hair grow long and shaggy like those hippies out in San Francisco do” when my hair was down to my shoulders.

Some of the albums contain performances that have boggled my mind. The Starday issue of New Grass Revival has a photo of an impossibly young Sam Bush with long, wavy hair and dressed in bell bottoms with colorful applique on the cuffs. But more importantly it has the late Courtney Johnson’s banjo solo on a song called “Cold Sailor.”

The song itself is a wonderful one by Steve Brines and Jim Smoak that never caught on; I think it should be a jam standard. Johnson was a great melodic-style banjo player and he created a break (including stealing a popular Vassar Clements fiddle lick of the time) that still resonates in my head.

Another astonishing banjo performance is by Little Roy Lewis on a record called Gospel Banjo. I had heard a live take of Roy on the radio playing a medley of “America the Beautiful” and “God Bless America.” It sounded so cool I tracked down the record by mail order and sent for it. Then I sat down with my banjo to try to at least approximate Roy’s version. Now, remember, those are not three-chord songs and I expected learning them to be tricky. I struggled and couldn’t even come close to what he was doing. And then a light went on: Roy was playing in D tuning!

Then there’s County 726 The Shenandoah Valley Quartet, one of my two favorite gospel albums of all time, the other being Ralph Stanley’s Cry from the Cross which is also in that pile. Jim Eanes sings lead on that album and the songs have become classic: “I’ll Be No Stranger There,” “In His Arms I’m Not Afraid,” and a bunch more.

I could go on, but long story short, some of these albums are going to have to stick around.

They can bury me with them.
Posted:  2/13/2014

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