Baltimore Bluegrass Paper by Blaze Pappas (page 2)

<< Go to page 1


In 1962, The Franklin County Boys recorded four songs with Rebel Records. These tracks included the original compositions “This Heart of Mine” and the instrumental “Dobro on the Ridge, ” and Mac Wiseman-penned “Bluebirds Are Singing For Me,” a song which the Baltimore boys were the first to record. These four songs would appear on the sprawling 70 Song Bluegrass Spectactular, which was Rebel’s second LP release. Dan Curtis estimates that Russ Hooper appeared on almost half the album’s tracks, so much in demand were his skills on the resonator. The record did remarkably well, and Russ has remarked that it allowed founder Dick Freeland to quit his day job. Hooper, who had been working at Western Electric since 1955, remained with his.[39]

One interesting incident did occur the following year, which further demonstrates the high regard in which Russ was held as a musician. In 1963, Hooper received a phone call from Earl Scruggs, asking if he would be interested in taking over from Buck Graves, who had recently left the Foggy Mountain Boys. A week of thought on the matter passed, Russ weighing becoming a Foggy Mountain Boy against a gruelling life on the road, not able to see his three year-old son for months, with no assurence that Graves would not return. In the end, it was a clear choice for Russ, who chose to remain with his job and family. A short time later, Graves did return to the Foggy Mountain Boys, proving the foresight of Hooper’s choice.[40]

“I’ve learned over the years that bluegrass in Baltimore always been peaks and valley. Always,” Hooper observed many years later.[41] As the sixties progressed, bluegrass in Baltimore began to slide into just one of those periodic troughs. It may not have seemed apparent at the time, at least not initially. First, Earl Taylor and The Stoney Mountain Boys made an attempted break-out to Kansas City. The reality of this is that the band endured a sort of mini-Keroacian
Check the spelling
“On the Road” with a trunk-full of banjo, guitar, fiddle, and mandolin, traveling broke and sleeping in the car on the way to Chicago, St. Louis, and ultimately Kansas City. In Kansas City they landed a steady gig, but after a few weeks Hensley decided to return anyway. After their return Hensley left the band to join the Country Gentlemen.[42] His time as a Gentleman lasted about a year, after which he returned to The Stoney Mountain Boys, who cut a record with Columbia, Blue Grass Taylor-Made, in 1964. This recording lead to an album under Hensley’s own name, 5-String Banjo Today, after which time Hensley formed a band which would become a mainstay of bluegrass in the Baltimore area for nearly two decades, The Dukes of Bluegrass.[43]

Capitol Records was not forthcoming with other releases for Hensley or crew, however. By 1964, trends in popular music had begun to noticeably impact bluegrass nationally as well as regionally. The shake-up of the music industry, and popular musical styles and tastes which resulted from rock and roll in the mid-1950s, occurred just as the Baltimore scene was coalescing. While bluegrass in Baltimore survived this and did not “die-a-borning,” neither did it interact in any apparent way with rockabilly or rock music. Local bluegrass was able to survive in a relatively traditional stylistic form, as long as there was an audience for a “conservative” style locally, and as long as it remained linked to progenitors of traditional bluegrass on a national level. Hence, contacts with Flatt & Scruggs remained to offer potential for a prolific and talented Baltimore musician after the early infatuation of the folk scene had waned, finding traditional bluegrass “too country.” However, rock and roll limited the youth market for bluegrass, and this became more the case after the release of the first Beatles album in the States on Capitol.

The Cozy Inn and the 79 Club were joined by another downtown club in the 1960s, the Chapel Café. Located on Chapel Street, near Johns Hopkins University, Carroll Swam reports that in the Chapel, inter-band jealousy was sometimes settled by fisticuffs.[44] Though Baltimore had gained another bar where bluegrass could be heard, a bluegrass fan visiting Baltimore in 1966 might be forgiven for thinking that the city’s scene had packed-up or packed it in.

In a certain narrow sense, this might have been true. The downtown scene centered around three bars, and dominated largely by two bands through which almost every notable bluegrass picker spent his or her apprenticeship, was of a pioneering generation. Many members if not most had come to Baltimore seeking work in factories and shops. They played in their spare time – the more dedicated eating, sleeping, and drinking bluegrass – as much as one could and still work, start a family, and remain arguably sane. This first generation of Clipper City pickers both influenced and, especially, took cues from a larger national scene in which they moved. This wave contained a very small cadre of musicians talented, inventive, resourceful, and driven enough to have been capable of taking the national stage.

If this generation overly defined its musical limits in its day, two things must be kept in mind. First, becoming famous is seldom the sole and genuine intent of most people who have ever picked up an instrument and actually learnt to play it. Secondly, the musicians who blazed the bluegrass trail in Baltimore actually comprised a second generation of bluegrass musicians, in the national sense. The oldest were learning to spell when the Monroe Brothers stood hairs on end with their pitch-bending in the mid-to-late 1930s, and in their teens during Flatt & Scrugg’s brief tenure with Bill Monroe in His Blue Grass Boys. They came of age as rock and roll and the Nashville sound defined the popular airwaves; the mountaineers among them faced discrimination and disdain in the city to which they came to labor, and sought to preserve the mountain traditions which most expressed their individuality, in ways that suited them. They were young at that moment, and wanted to have fun. Eight or ten years on, often with family obligations, this generation likely had little luxurious time for reflection on what had happened to bluegrass in Baltimore. At that moment, they knew they were growing up.
An excellent summary of this second generation

As every working generation grows, it is almost as if some of their unrealized dreams have fallen to the ground, where they find a receptive hummus
You mean “humus” (you eat “hummus”)
in the rising youth, who, obsessed with the fashionable concerns of their peers, may not be aware at first of this unconscious implantation. The implantation may be given through songs barely remembered from childhood radio, from old records accidentally discovered on rainy days indoors; or the seed may wait many years in dormancy for the right soil, the right time.
Your metaphors are getting a little out of hand

At this moment, Carlton Haney was developing the bluegrass festival out of the ideal created by the Newport Folk Festival in the idealistic Kennedy years. Haney’s initial two festivals in Fincastle in 1965 and 1966 were followed in Summer of Love year 1967 by the first Watermelon Park Festival in Berryville, Virginia. On the Blue Ridge outskirts of Northern Virginia, Berryville is within a couple hours’ or so driving distance of Baltimore. It is estimated that approximately 9,000 fans attended the second festival at Berryville in 1968.[45] In 1969, Haney moved the Watermelon Park Festival to Fourth of July weekend.[46] In a summer coinciding with Woodstock and the first Moon walk, a whole new world was being awakened in bluegrass as well, and it was now impossible to separate bluegrass – or subcultures within it - from American culture at large.
This nicely places the festival movent into a national context

That autumn the first annual Maryland Indian Summer Bluegrass Festival was held in Callaway, on the Western Shore of the Chesapeake Bay, the first regular bluegrass festival to be held in the Old Line State.[47] In 1971, Bluegrass Unlimited magazine, based in Burke, Virginia, promoted the first Indian Springs Bluegrass Festival in the Blue Ridge county of Washington, Maryland. Though both festivals were at opposite ends of the state (Baltimore forming the apex of a “triangle” between them), both were about the same distance from the Baltimore area as was Berryville.

With Indian Springs, which would last until the very early 1980s, Bluegrass Unlimited created a musically “traditional” bluegrass festival with “family-friendly” rules in an actual mountain setting.[48] The atmosphere of Indian Springs was definitely a reaction to several years of “bleed-over” from counterculture – the Newport Folk sprinkling in the crowd at Fincastle, and lately young people energized by Woodstock, who had begun to “invade” bluegrass events, dancing, smoking, and tripping. In May of that year, Bluegrass Unlimited featured an article entitled “A Threat to Festivals,” which catalogued the hazards bluegrass festivals faced because legislators wanted to curtail party-grounds for “long-haired youths” who “eat weird chemicals and have a fondness for skinny dipping.” As law-makers only had at their disposal the power to prohibit “24-hour gatherings,” rather than to discriminate by music, Bluegrass Unlimited (and traditional bluegrass fans who agreed with them) felt that it was imperative bluegrass be seen to “clean up its act” rather than have state assemblies step-in and do it for them.[49] This practical concern, however, was also part of what had become, at times, an “us versus them” split in the bluegrass community at large over not “merely” cultural issues, but how those issues revealed themselves in how bluegrass was played. Or, in different phrasing, a schism was threatened over what constituted “real” bluegrass.[50]
Billy Hamilton (used to play in Buffalo, is now a dean at Wake Forest), used to refer to the “green t-shirt” kids who approached bluegrass form the counter culture.

The same year as Woodstock, Walter Hensley, at 33 now an “elder” statesman of Baltimore bluegrass, had released an album on Rebel entitled Pickin’ On New Grass. The album also featured Russ Hooper’s playing, and was one of several album-title references to a shift within the genre, which became most apparent when New Grass Revival was formed early in 1972 by four former members of Bluegrass Alliance. That summer, The Bluegrass Folk Festival (italics author’semphasis added) was held by Jim Clark near Culpeper, Virginia – about forty-five miles from Berryville. With the event featuring the Dillards playing electric instruments, and Country Gentlemen spin-offs The Seldom Scene and the appropriately named II Generation, Maria Gajda in Carlton Haney’s new Muleskinner News estimated that about seventy-five percent of the crowd were between the ages of eighteen and twenty-five.[51]

The long-haired and casually-attired band New Grass Revival were mirrored in one aspect of the future of bluegrass in the Baltimore environs - which, increasingly suburbanized, was now spread-out beyond the city. Carroll Swam ventured into the Baltimore scene in the 1960s. Swam was born in the early 1940s. He can either be reckoned a younger member of the first generation of bluegrass musicians who called Baltimore home territory, or an “intermediate” between Depression-born Hensley, Hooper, and Dickens, and younger musicians. Fiddler Jude Restivo, “stage-named” Judd “Hawk” Hawkins (founding member of Windy Ridge, now of the Satyr Hill Band) recalls seeing Bill Haley and the Comets in grade school, when they visited Baltimore, just as the Cozy Inn and 79 Club scenes were getting started - and avows no awareness of bluegrass until 1971.[52] Mike Munford, who would join Restivo in Windy Ridge mid-decade, ventured into bluegrass in the early and mid 1970s. Carroll Swam formed ties with the first generation of musicians, but saw bluegrass changing stylistically, and relocating to new venues. While Swam played with Hooper and Hensley in the venerable Dukes of Bluegrass, it was not in an old brownstone bar, but in the new Cub Hill Inn out on Harford Road, in the north Baltimore suburb of Parkville.[53]

Parkville would be the proving ground for the nascent generation of talented bluegrass players in Baltimore. It was home to Jude Restivo, and also the Steve Cunningham’s store Baltimore Bluegrass, where Mike Munford made some of his first connections in the scene, leading to his joining Windy Ridge at the age of 19. These men describe a Parkville scene that had little connection to downtown Baltimore or to “Appalachian” roots, other than the presence of the Dukes of Bluegrass, who moved from The Cub Hill Inn to Pete’s Lounge on Harford Road. The surroundings of the new generation of players surroundings reflects the times: Jude recalls that most of the bluegrass people he knew and played with were “hippy New Grass people” rather than “hillbilly” players, cites Jimmy Carter and roots music as influences on the times, and Vassar Clements as a personal influence.[54] Munford similarly cites Clements, and Sam Bush, and lays stress upon Nitty Gritty Dirt Band-collaboration Will the Circle Be Unbroken, as well as both Old and In The Way and J.D. Crowe and the New South, as defining albums of the Parkville scene and of his and his peers own formative musical lives.[55]

From its inception, Baltimore had always had its own bluegrass scene distinguishable from (and, according to Russ Hooper, pre-dating) that in Washington, D.C. It was a musical scene that, unlike the Capitol City, drew from the presence of a large Appalachian, working community, yet is also was uniquely shaped by locus, benefiting from its ties to the Washington, D.C. and Northern Virginia communities. It was given character by ties to the New York folk revival of the 1950s, shaped in the earliest days by the proximity of country music parks straddling the Mason-Dixon line, and enriched by the early bluegrass festivals, first in Northern Virginia, and then Maryland, on the cusp of the next generation.

However, the bluegrass scene in Baltimore was, from the first, connected by a life-line to both nationally–known bluegrass talent, and the Appalachian communities from which many of the earliest musicians came. The next generation – which would form in the mid-1970s, come of age in the 1980s, and become “statesmen” in their turn by the 1990s, formed largely out of middle-class, suburban Baltimore. These players retained ties to the national bluegrass scene. The spate of records represented by “Rounder 0044” and Old and In the Way, which appealed to the younger generation of bluegrass, were shared by young Baltimorean pickers. Less tied to community, these players had greater range of freedom stylistically, even as they lacked the close community support for their music enjoyed by their forebears.

Bibliography of Works Cited

Allen, Bob. “Walter Hensley: The Banjo Baron of Baltimore,” Bluegrass Unlimited, 38:5 (November, 2003

Tina Aridas, “Walter Hensley: The Banjo Baron of Baltimore.” [on-line] (The DC Bluegrass Union, not dated; accessed 2 December 2009). Available from http://dcbu.org/walte...

Dwight Billings and David Wall, “Appalachians,” in Harvard Encyclopedia of American Ethnic Groups, 1980.

Hazel Dickens and Bill C. Malone, Working Girl Blues: The Life and Music of Hazel Dickens (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2008).

Bill Friskics-Warren, “Coal Miner’s Sister,” in The Best of No Depression: Writing About American Music, ed. Grant Alden and Peter Blackstock (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2005).

Maria Gajda, “Muleskinner Newsletter,” Muleskinner News, No. 3 (July 1972): 4.

Geoffrey Himes, From the Hills: How Mid-Century Migrants from the Mountains Brought Bluegrass--and More--to Baltimore [on-line] (Baltimore City Paper, 12 January 2000; accessed 1 December 2009). Available from http://www.citypaper....

Russ Hooper, interview by author, 5 December 2009, via telephone, transcript.

Pete Kuykendall, “The Osborne Brothers: From Rocky Top to Muddy Bottom.” Bluegrass Unlimited 12: 6 (Dec. 1977)

Mickey Maguire, “Walter Hensley: The Banjo Baron of Baltimore,” Banjo Newsletter, 30 (March, 2003).

Greil Marcus, "The Old, Weird America," liner note essay, Anthology of American Folk Music, ed. Harry Smith. Folkways Records FP 251--FP 253, 1952; Smithsonian Folkways/Sony Music Special Products SFW 40090, 1997. Compact disc.

Mike Munford, interview by author, 4 December 2009, via telephone, transcript.

Eric Warren Neil, “From these Hills: The Spatial Diffusion of Bluegrass Music Festivals, 1965-95: A Thesis,” (M.A. Thesis, Appalachian State University, 1999).

Angus Phillips, “Bluegrass: The Friendliest Festival of All,” Weekend - The Washington Post, 2 June 1979, p. 6

Dave Reimer, “Russ Hooper: Baltimore’s Resonator Pioneer,” Bluegrass Unlimited. 36, no. 3 (November, 2002).

Jude Restivo, interview by author, 12 November 2009, via telephone, transcript

Madelyn Rosenburg, “Hazel Dickens,” Bluegrass Unlimited. 36, no. 3 (September, 2001).

Neil Rosenberg, Bluegrass: A History (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1985).

Thaddeus Mondy Smith. “Where There Are No Mountains: Appalachian Culture and Migration to Baltimore,” (Ph.D. thesis, Brown University, 1987).

Carroll Swam, interview by author, 4 December 2009, via telephone, transcript.


27

________________________________________
[1] Dave Reimer, “Russ Hooper: Baltimore’s Resonator Pioneer,” Bluegrass Unlimited. 36, no. 3 (November, 2002): 36.

[2] Thaddeus Mondy Smith. “Where There Are No Mountains: Appalachian Culture and Migration to Baltimore,” (Ph.D. thesis, Brown University, 1987): 157-158, 161

[3] Dwight Billings and David Wall, “Appalachians,” in Harvard Encyclopedia of American Ethnic Groups, 1980.

[4] Neil Rosenberg, Bluegrass: A History (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1985), 31.
[5] Marcus Greil, "The Old, Weird America," liner note essay, Anthology of American Folk Music, ed. Harry Smith. Folkways Records FP 251--FP 253, 1952; Smithsonian Folkways/Sony Music Special Products SFW 40090, 1997. Compact disc.

[6] Eric Warren Neil, “From these Hills: The Spatial Diffusion of Bluegrass Music Festivals, 1965-95: A Thesis,” (M.A. Thesis, Appalachian State University, 1999): 5.

[7] Neil Rosenberg, Bluegrass: A History: 20-27.

[8] Hazel Dickens and Bill C. Malone, Working Girl Blues: The Life and Music of Hazel Dickens (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2008): 10.

[9] Ibid.: 6; Madelyn Rosenburg, “Hazel Dickens,” Bluegrass Unlimited. 36, no. 3 (September, 2001): 30; Himes, Geoffrey, From the Hills: How Mid-Century Migrants from the Mountains Brought Bluegrass--and More--to Baltimore [on-line] (Baltimore City Paper, 12 January 2000; accessed 1 December 2009). Available from http://www.citypaper....

[10] Hazel Dickens and Bill C. Malone, Working Girl Blues: The Life and Music of Hazel Dickens: 8,10.

[11] Ibid.; Bill Friskics-Warren, “Coal Miner’s Sister,” in The Best of No Depression: Writing About American Music, ed. Grant Alden and Peter Blackstock (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2005): 203-204.
[12] Bill Friskics-Warren, “Coal Miner’s Sister,” in The Best of No Depression: Writing About American Music: 204.

[13] Hazel Dickens and Bill C. Malone, Working Girl Blues: The Life and Music of Hazel Dickens: 9.
[14] Neil Rosenberg, Bluegrass: A History: 98.

[15] Hazel Dickens and Bill C. Malone, Working Girl Blues: The Life and Music of Hazel Dickens (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2008): 9; Mike Munford, interview by author, 4 December 2009, via telephone, transcript.

[16] Himes, Geoffrey, From the Hills: How Mid-Century Migrants from the Mountains Brought Bluegrass--and More--to Baltimore [on-line].

[17] Russ Hooper, interview by author, 5 December 2009, via telephone, transcript.

[18] Russ Hooper, interview by author, 5 December 2009.

[19] Carroll Swam, interview by author, 4 December 2009, via telephone, transcript.

[20] Russ Hooper, interview by author, 5 December 2009.

[21] Ibid., Dave Reimer, “Russ Hooper: Baltimore’s Resonator Pioneer,”: 37.

[22] Carroll Swam, interview by author; Mike Munford, interview by author.

[23] Hazel Dickens and Bill C. Malone, Working Girl Blues: The Life and Music of Hazel Dickens, 10.

[24] Himes, Geoffrey, From the Hills: How Mid-Century Migrants from the Mountains Brought Bluegrass--and More--to Baltimore [on-line].

[25] Hazel Dickens and Bill C. Malone, Working Girl Blues: The Life and Music of Hazel Dickens, 10; Russ Hooper, interview by author, 5 December 2009.
[26]
Himes, Geoffrey, From the Hills: How Mid-Century Migrants from the Mountains Brought Bluegrass--and More--to Baltimore [on-line]; Dickens and Bill C. Malone, Working Girl Blues: The Life and Music of Hazel Dickens, 10; Russ Hooper, interview by author, 5 December 2009.

[27] Russ Hooper, interview by author, 5 December 2009.

[28] Tina Aridas, “Walter Hensley: The Banjo Baron of Baltimore.” [on-line] (The DC Bluegrass Union, not dated; accessed 2 December 2009). Available from http://dcbu.org/walte... ; Himes, Geoffrey, From the Hills: How Mid-Century Migrants from the Mountains Brought Bluegrass--and More--to Baltimore [on-line]

[29] Allen, Bob. “Walter Hensley: The Banjo Baron of Baltimore,” Bluegrass Unlimited, 38:5 (November, 2003): 39.
[30] Himes, Geoffrey, From the Hills: How Mid-Century Migrants from the Mountains Brought Bluegrass--and More--to Baltimore [on-line].

[31] Tina Aridas, “Walter Hensley: The Banjo Baron of Baltimore.” [on-line].

[32] Russ Hooper, interview by author, 5 December 2009.

[33] Allen, Bob. “Walter Hensley: The Banjo Baron of Baltimore,” 39

[34] Rosenberg, Bluegrass: A History: 173.
[35] Ibid., 39; Mickey Maguire, “Walter Hensley: The Banjo Baron of Baltimore,” Banjo Newsletter, 30 (March, 2003): 17; Tina Aridas, “Walter Hensley: The Banjo Baron of Baltimore.” [on-line]; Himes, Geoffrey, From the Hills: How Mid-Century Migrants from the Mountains Brought Bluegrass--and More--to Baltimore [on-line]

[36] Dave Reimer, “Russ Hooper: Baltimore’s Resonator Pioneer,”: 37; Allen, Bob. “Walter Hensley: The Banjo Baron of Baltimore,” 39.

[37] Russ Hooper, interview by author, 5 December 2009; Dave Reimer, “Russ Hooper: Baltimore’s Resonator Pioneer,” 37.
[38] Ibid.; see also: Pete Kuykendall, “The Osborne Brothers: From Rocky Top to Muddy Bottom.” Bluegrass Unlimited 12: 6 (Dec. 1977): 12.

[39] Dave Reimer, “Russ Hooper: Baltimore’s Resonator Pioneer,” 37
[40] Ibid.; Russ Hooper, interview by author, 5 December 2009.

[41] Russ Hooper, interview by author, 5 December 2009.

[42] Maguire, M., “Walter Hensley: The Banjo Baron of Baltimore,” Banjo Newsletter, 30 (March, 2003): 18-19.
[43] Ibid.; Tina Aridas, “Walter Hensley: The Banjo Baron of Baltimore.” [on-line]; Allen, Bob. “Walter Hensley: The Banjo Baron of Baltimore,” 39.
[44] Carroll Swam, interview by author, 4 December 2009.
[45] Eric Warren Neil, “From these Hills: The Spatial Diffusion of Bluegrass Music Festivals, 1965-95: A Thesis,”: 41.

[46] Mike Munford, interview by author, 4 December 2009; Neil Rosenberg, Bluegrass: A History: 278, 280-281.

[47] Neil Rosenberg, Bluegrass: A History: 283.

[48] Mike Munford, interview by author, 4 December 2009; Angus Phillips, “Bluegrass: The Friendliest Festival of All,” Weekend - The Washington Post, 2 June 1979, p. 6.

[49] Eric Warren Neil, “From these Hills: The Spatial Diffusion of Bluegrass Music Festivals, 1965-95: A Thesis,”: 44-45.

[50] Mike Munford, interview by author, 4 December 2009.
[51] Maria Gajda, “Muleskinner Newsletter,” Muleskinner News, No. 3 (July 1972):4; Neil Rosenberg, Bluegrass: A History: 298.

[52] Jude Restivo, interview by author, 12 November 2009, via telephone, transcript.
[53] Russ Hooper, interview by author, 5 December 2009.

[54] Jude Restivo, interview by author, 12 November 2009.
[55] Mike Munford, interview by author, 4 December 2009.

<< Go to page 1

Table of Contents

Page title Most recent update Last edited by
BBMG Store July 23, 2012 1:11 AM Tony
Jim Cox - Part 2 February 10, 2011 9:09 PM Arnold D.
Jim Cox - Part 1 February 6, 2011 8:03 PM Tony
Russ Hooper - Part 4 November 15, 2010 10:12 PM Tony
Russ Hooper - Part 3 November 15, 2010 10:04 PM Tony
Russ Hooper - Part 2 December 17, 2010 12:44 PM Tony
Russ Hooper - Part 1 December 2, 2010 12:29 AM Tony
Baltimore Bluegrass Paper by Blaze Pappas (page 2) September 14, 2010 12:01 AM Tony
Baltimore Bluegrass Paper by Blaze Pappas (page 1) September 14, 2010 12:02 AM Tony
Mike Munford - Part 4 November 11, 2010 12:58 PM Tony
Mike Munford - Part 3 November 11, 2010 12:58 PM Tony
Mike Munford - Part 1 November 11, 2010 12:55 PM Tony

Our Sponsors

People in this
Meetup are also in:

Sign up

Meetup members, Log in

By clicking "Sign up" or "Sign up using Facebook", you confirm that you accept our Terms of Service & Privacy Policy