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I can remember that Dwight McCall… Dwight was about 15 or 16 and Dwight would come along and just chuck mandolin with them. Just play rhythm and stuff. Course Dwight’s working with JD Crowe now. So we had him and then Frankie passed away in July of ‘85 and we had some more jobs we had to play that we had committed to. So we had to do them. And the last job that we played as a band was Lucketts in February of ‘86 and then the band just split up.
TB – So tell us a little about your session work that you were doing from ’74 to ’84. You always heard of the records coming out of Nashville, but I guess there were a couple records being made in the Baltimore/DC area too.
RH – There was a studio here in Baltimore called “Recordings Incorporated”. It was over on Cold Spring Lane and we went over there to do a session with Walt. Walt had an album out called “Pickin on New Grass”. We did that in ‘69. We were playing Whitey Johnson’s and we would get off at 8:00 on Sundays and go over to Recording Incorporated at 9:00 and try to lay tracks down.
Walter Hensley's Pickin On New Grass album from 1969
Well the first Sunday, the guy who owned Rebel records at the time, Dick Freeland, brought in this guy who was a PR man for a potato chip company up in New York called Cardinal Potato Chips. And Dick said “Can you guys cut a jingle for him?” So we all stood around in a circle and the guy hummed a tune and it took almost an hour and a half to lay it down because he didn’t want 62 63 or 67 seconds. He wanted 60 seconds right on the money. Now I don’t know how many takes it took us to get exactly the 60 seconds but it was a few times. I understand it was sent off to NY and they did the voice-overs. I never did hear the finished commercial.
But that was the first Sunday. And I think we only laid one or two tracks down on “Pickin on New Grass”. We went back the following Sunday night and we laid down about three or four tracks that night. The following Saturday we went in and spent the whole day in the studio… just to finish it up. We had 11 in the can and Walter said to me. “What do you want to do?” and I said “It’s your album what do you want to do?” and we had been playing a slow song because people wanted to get up and dance. And it was called “It’s Over”. So I said “Why don’t you do It’s Over?”.
Okay… so we went right into it and the guy that did the engineering was a guy by the name of George Massenburg. And George was the engineer for the Trio which was Emylous Harris, Linda Ronstadt and Dolly and a bunch of others. George was a good engineer. So we went through “It’s Over” one time. The song is long. It’s almost 4.5 minutes long. And we finish the last note and we all sort of looked at one another and George comes over the intercom and he goes, "I didn’t get the stereo signal quite right on that would you mind doing it again."
So we all sort of looked at one another, rolled our eyes, and Walt went right into it again. And that second take is what’s on the album.
But I would get phone calls… Eanes would come to town and call me and we did a session at Recordings Incorporated with Charlie Waller on guitar, Walt Hensley on the five string, Duffy on mandolin, Ed Ferris on bass and myself. We laid down 12 tracks that day. Somewhere around 4:00, Duffy makes the announcement that he had to go because he had a bowling league he had to go to. So the last 3 songs we did Charlie Waller sang tenor.
I did another session with Eanes in Gaithersburg at Webco Studios. Buzz Busby’s brother Wayne Busby owned Webco record company. So we did six sides with Jim. It was Jim, Bill Emerson and Buzz Busby, but Carl Nelson was on the fiddle and a guy by the name of Doug Ward on bass. And when came out on CD I think it was called something about doing Bluegrass Yesterday and Today. The yesterday’s stuff is some tracks that he dug up from Alan Shelton and a few others. And the today was our stuff … I think that was ‘81 ‘82… somewhere around there.
TB – So all these studios were in Baltimore and DC… you didn’t really have to leave this area.
RH – Pretty much. Some were in Virginia. I went over to Pete Kuykendall’s, who went by the name of Pete Roberts and owned a studio in Alexandria. He’s the one who owns Bluegrass Unlimited. We did a session at his place for a guy named Mike Kelly. He was a college English professor. We cut two sides with him using Busby, Charlie Waller, myself, and Pete Kuykendall. I think that might have been it on that session.
One side was called “How do you make Sogo Mogo Kie and give it a taste that’s snappy”. Which they played on AMU for a while… and the Chinese embassy went berserk. The other side was just a ballad.
I did some session work over in Clinton Md at Roy Homer’s studio. I cut about five or six sides with Leon Morris. The four guys on that session were Freddie Geiger on banjo, myself, Leon, and Gary Henderson playing bass… great bass player.
Then I went back over and did two sides with Delmar Delaney. One side was Freight Train, it was an instrumental and the other side was the Orchids of Love… and that was an old Jim Eanes song. The thing was done in D and I can remember the night before we went over to do the session. We were at Delmar’s kitchen, Danny, myself, and Delmar. And we were working on the thing and it’s just a standard D to G to A and back again. So I said to Danny, “Let’s do something else with this one”. Danny kicked it off in D, then Delmar does the verse and the chorus and when I come in from my break, we go from D to E. and I do the complete thing in E, and when I come out of my break in E, Danny goes into F and does his break. He ends it up in G which allows you to come back to D major… and everybody seems to like that arrangement. It was a neat arrangement. But I remember walking into the studio and talking to Hensley. “We made some changes to this one… I’ll have to show you what they are.”. [Chuckle]
I’ve had a lot of fun working with Walt. He’s one heck of a banjo player. In the early 60s, when he did “Five String Banjo Today” on Capitol Records. That’s when he used the Jordanaires and Boots Randolph. He was just great on that record.
CH – Russ, how many recordings have you actually played on. Do you have any idea?
RH – I’ve got 392 tracks under my belt up until this point. But I’m supposed to go into the studio with Bluestone in November to do a Gospel CD. That should put me over the 400 mark probably.
TB – So you were recording with a lot of big names during that period. In fact it sounds like there was a lot of camaraderie amongst the players and bands in the area.
RH – Sure. All the guys in the Baltimore area back in those days… Kimball Blair, Frankie Short, Walter, myself, Marvin… All the guys, at one time or another, helped each other out.
If Marvin needed a guitar player, he’d call Frankie Short. If Frank wasn’t playing, Frank would help him out. If it wasn’t Frank, he’d get Leroy Cole, if it wasn’t Cole, He’d get Al Jones. In fact back in ‘63, we had Del McCoury playing guitar with us for about three months. And his brother Jerry was playing bass with us. When Del left us that’s when he started playing with Monroe. Also one of the guys that was really sort of a nucleus for all this was Frank Joyner.
But everybody at one time or another helped each other out in this town.
TB – That’s great…
RH – And that’s the way it was… There were two major groups at one time that were playing the Baltimore area. It was Bob Baker and the Pike County Boys and it was Earl Taylor and the Stoney Mountain Boys. You had a couple little small satellite groups that really weren’t playing out that much. But they were the ones that were out there playing on a regular basis.
But sometimes guys didn’t get along too. You know, even though you’re only making five dollars a night, there would be people that would fight you for that extra dollar.
Earl Taylor was working a place in West Baltimore called the Franklin Town Inn on Franklin Town Road and Earl got in touch with Bob and said “We gotta go out of town to play a show, will you fill in for us?” I think we were between places then trying to play somewhere. Bob said “Yeah, we’ll do it”.
Well we went over there and we played Friday Saturday and Sunday. But the guy liked Bob and his group so much that he hired Bob and never said anything to Earl. So Earl came up next weekend to play… Earl, Boatwhistle, Porky and Walt. And they walked in and we’re playing. Well they hung around all night long. Then they followed our guys out to the parking lot and I can hear them arguing with each other. I’m putting the Dobro in the trunk of the car and there’s Boat standing there and there’s Porky and Bob Baker and Bob had a brother who played bass. Billy Ray Baker and he was a pretty big boy.
Well before you know it they’re beating the hell out of each other. And I’m thinking… you know… this just isn’t worth it.
I got in the car and left. [chuckle]. Think I only got about four hours of sleep that night. But you know… that’s the way it was back in those days. Cut each other’s throat for another dollar.
TB – So how about house parties? You always hear about bluegrass music at house parties in Baltimore back in those days. Did you do much playing outside of the bars, clubs and studio sessions?
RH – Oh there were house parties. Oh Yeah… that’s how I got to know Bud’s dad and Hazel and Mike Seeger, because there were house parties going on.
BD –Carl Chatzky used to have a bunch of house parties.
RH – Carl… last thing I heard about Carl was … and this was before Danny died. He moved out to Oregon, somewhere around 1999. Last I heard, Carl’s still out there.
TB – So how do you find the time to do these house parties if you’re doing all these gigs too.
RH – You try to find time [chuckle].
George McCeney. I don’t know whether you know George, but George used to write columns for Bluegrass Unlimited. He’s one of the trustees on the IBMM board, down in Owensboro.
George used to have picking parties at his house. And I would get invites from George and go out there. That’s where I first met Mike Auldridge and his brother Dave. And Mike was just learning how to play Dobro. I can remember him and me going over to the corner and exchanging licks. I got to know Mike really well after that but it all started at a house party.
Mike Auldridge and Russ
BD – How about Tom Gray’s Birthday Party?
RH – Yeah I got a couple photos of that. Sally got us together to come over for a surprise party for Tom. She got him out of the house to take him out to dinner under the pretense that it was dinner for his birthday. Then everybody snuck into his house and went down in the basement and when he came back there was the big jump out surprise and all that kind of thing. So we played downstairs until it was almost about midnight. And I went upstairs with a couple of guys to the living room and just sat and talked for a while and right around midnight there’s this knock on the door. I open the door and there’s Bill (Monroe) standing there. And I looked down past him and the bus is standing right there in the drive way. And I said “Come on in” and that’s when he had Richard Green, Lamar Grier, Peter Rowan, and his son was playing bass.
Bill Monroe playing with Russ and Hazel Dickens at Tom Gray's Birthday Party
So we got Bill in and about a half hour later we got him downstairs. Tom Morgan threw a mandolin into his hands and we played solid until 5:30 in the morning.
BD – Great stuff… speaking of other influential players, who were some of your influences when you were getting started?
RH – Back then when I was coming up, when I was 12 or 13, there were a couple radio stations I listened to. I lived in Suitland and there were a couple radio stations that would play country music. Not like the garbage you hear today. There was a station called WEAM and they had a DJ on there named Cactus Matt. He would occasionally play some Bluegrass type of things.
And Don Owens. Don was on WBMD for a while and then he went to WARL over in Virginia. But I could get those stations and I would listen to them and every once in a while you would hear a Dobro.
I never cared too much for Oz’s (brother Oswald, Pete Kirby) stuff, although I got to meet him and talked with him for the longest time. But my earliest influences were guys like Bill Carver who was Wilma Lee and Stoney’s first dobro player.
Speedy Krise, who is still a friend of mine to this day, he’s 88 years old. I love the guy to death. He was working with Molly O’Day and Carl Butler. That was 1947-1949.
Ray Adkins… used to call him Duck Adkins… Ray played with Johnny and Jack. Ray was on everything Johnny and Jack did up to “Poison Love”. After Poison Love, Shot Jackson came. And I remember listening to Shot. He played in a different tuning than I play, but I liked what I heard, even though I never tried to copy his stuff.
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