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Russ Hooper - Part 4

<< Go to Russ Hooper - Part 3

Then somewhere around ’51, I hear a Wilma Lee and Stoney Cooper record… and I’m thinking… man… whoever’s playing dobro… this guy knows what he’s doing. And I found out it was Buck. And Buck stayed with them until ‘54. Then he went to work with Mac Wiseman and he played bass mandolin and dobro with Mack. So when Lester and Earl used to come through because they were doing the Old Dominion Barn Dance in WRVA in Richmond, they would guest on the show and of course Mac was on the show as a regular. So Buck and Earl got to know one another and that’s when Earl showed him the forward roll on the dobro and how Buck picked that up.

So they knew Buck already and Flatt and Scruggs hired him in April of ‘55 to play bass. He played bass with them for about 6 weeks then they approached him and said, “What would you rather play? dobro or bass?”. And he said “I’d rather play Dobro”, so they said we’ll give it a try and see what happens.” [chuckle]

Well, the rest is history.

Josh "Buck" Graves

He was such a neat guy. I liked Buck. He and I got along great with each other. I got a lot of respect for Buck.

TB – So you’re up in Baltimore, yet you seem to have a lot of interaction with a number of folks like Josh Graves who usually played further south. How did you maintain these relationships?

RH – New River Ranch… Sunset Park or carnivals. Like the the Liberty Road Carnival. You could go there and see Jim and Jesse, you see any of these guys.

CH – Gywnn Oak Park

RH – Oh I played Gwynn Oak Park with Marvin quite a few times.

Yeah those types of shows. But then in the early days, I worked a lot with the Gents. I got to know them. And whenever Auldridge would take a break for vacation. I’d sit in. So I knew Duffy from the Gents. And of course I knew Tom Gray, I knew Ben Eldridge… all those guys. So whenever Mike would take vacation, I’d be over there at the Red Fox in Bethesda sitting in with them.

In fact I was there one night. We did the second set and I came off the stage and as I went towards the back, I look up and see Mike sitting there at the table. So I walked over, sat down and I said “What the hell are you doing here? I thought you were on vacation”. And he goes, “No I just want to make sure I got a job”, I said “Pal, I don’t want your job… It’s yours!” [chuckle].

For a while when I worked with the Gents that’s when they had Bill Emerson and Doyle Larson working with them.

So you know, you get to meet these guys and know these guys from there. So whenever you’re going to a festival with somebody and they’re on the same day, it’s just like old home week. That’s what it is.

TB – That must be great!

RH – Oh it is! Just to see these guys at the shows and you’re shaking hands and catching up.

Russ with friends Doug Livingston, Jerry Douglas and George Mayo

One guy that had known of me, but I had never really met until about five years ago was JD Crowe. He was a Walt Hensley fan, absolutely loved Walt’s banjo playing. And we talked one time for around two hours, had the nicest conversation about Walt and the old days with Flatt and Scruggs, you know, that kind of stuff. So I said to Dwight, “What did you do to this guy?” Because JD wasn’t always that approachable… that’s just how JD was. And Dwight said, “I’ve been working on him” [chuckle]

Russ and friends Gene Wison and Pete Smith playing "The Storms Never Last"

BD – So did you ever do any of the competitions at those carnivals or big shows like New River Ranch?

RH – No no… I tell you, New River Ranch in July would always run a banjo contest. They’d have 23 or 28 banjo players and I remember one contest I saw… Reno was a judge and so was Earl. They narrowed it down to three banjo players… place was packed that day. But Reno and Scruggs wouldn’t make the final decision themselves. They’d walk up to a guy put a hand over his head and see what the audience’s reaction was.

The guy that won that thing was a sailor from Bainbridge who played a tenor banjo like Eddie Peabody. [Chuckle]. Never even played a five string. They gave him a brand new Gibson… a 150 I think. And the guy got up on the mic and said, “I don’t know how to play this, but I guarantee you I’ll be back next year.”

And some of the banjo players that the guy beat out were great banjo players.

Another time there was a contest going on up in Frederick at the State fairgrounds and Ray Dickerson talked me into going up there and playing this thing with him and Mike Hartnett on fiddle and Kenny Ninkovich on banjo. So we entered the thing and we came in second. Who beat us out? It was a family with the old man playing a comb with wax paper.


And I said “That was it, Never again…”

The one thing that you don’t do at a contest is you don’t follow a family act and you don’t follow a young kid or somebody who has a handicap, because you’re gonna lose… every time... regardless of how bad or good you are.

BD – So let’s move on a little, can you tell us about Bluestone… the guys you play with now?

RH – Bluestone? Great bunch of guys. They really are. It’s Carroll Swam… and I’ve known Carroll forever. He played bass with Marvin and myself probably in ‘67 and ‘68. Carroll couldn’t stay with us because we were playing too much and he was teaching school… and he said “I can’t keep the pace.”. So we lost him back then but he was a good bass man. So he’s with us now.

Tommy Neal on banjo. I’ve also known Tommy for a long time. I played music with him probably back in the 60s. Dick Laird… he used to work with Jimmy Martin. And then Dick’s two sons… Heath and Jeff, they’re the youngsters. They’re coming along well. Jeff plays a good guitar and Heath is a good bass player. Every once in a while when we use a fiddle player, we’ll use Patrick McAvinue who’s working with Audie Blaylock on a full time basis. We used to use John Glick but Glick’s just not playing much these days.

But they’re a good bunch of guys to work with. I’ve been working with them steady now for a little over three years. It’s nice to get out there and play and know that when you step up to the mic, the other four or five guys are gonna hold up their end and do their job.

And they’re just a great bunch of guys to work with.

Bluestone playing Sunny Side of the Mountain

In fact we played a corn festival in Shippensburg last Saturday. The 3rd of October we’re playing the National Apple Harvest up near Gettysburg. That’s an all day thing. We start at 11:00 in the morning and go up to about 4:00 in the evening. We play 45 on and 45 off. We do about four shows.

But we got a couple private things to do in December. April 16th we’re doing Lucketts School house. And April 2nd we’re doing this PBS show, Song of the Mountains. We’re going down to Marion, we’re gonna tape that segment at the Lincoln theatre. It’ll be a live audience and the show starts at 7:00 and there are about six bands down there that night. It’s a little mini festival. And what they do is they tape each group’s show to be aired later on. And it will be playing on 192 PBS stations across the country.

So with Bluestone, their territory is South York… those little burgs up in Pennsylvania… Dallastown, Red Lion, Shrewsbury, They play these fire halls and stuff like that. But they’ve been trying to expand the fan bass a little bit.

We’ve been playing a lot of private stuff and church things. Three weeks ago we played a crab feast I think on Saturday. Sunday we played a church up in Dallastown Pa. The reason we’re excited about doing the churches is so that we can get the material for a gospel CD. And we’ve been working up some new stuff. Tommy’s been writing a lot of songs.

I’ve been talking to a lady in Vermont about doing a show up there. We’re also working on a festival in Ohio I think we’re gonna do next year. The problem is trying to get down South and work a festival. It’s a matter of economics, because you’re gonna have to have a certain amount to pay for travel and lodging in North Carolina. But why would they pay somebody that’s unknown down there when you can get two local bands for the same price. But we understand that

BD – Do you want to tell us a little about Owensboro.

RH – Oh yes. George McCeney… the IBMM is a spin off of the IBMA. The IBMA moved to Nashville and the IBMM stayed in Owensboro, and George McCeney’s been after one of the directors to do something with me for a couple years. So George finally called me and said. “They’re gonna be in town for this particular weekend, Are you available?”… and I told him I could do it.

So they interviewed me Monday. And the day before that, they interviewed Lamar Grier. And the day before that they interviewed Charlie Smith who played fiddle with Monroe. So they came here and three guys come into my living room and they’re setting up umbrellas for lighting and cameras and all that stuff and they went through it.

George did the actual interview, took about two hours. Then they packed up, took Janice and I out to dinner and headed back to Owensboro. I think they’re finishing up some stuff on Monroe then they’ll start work editing my interview and they’ll put it in the museum.

So you’ll be able to go into the museum down in Owensboro and you can push a button and see anybody’s interview you want, including mine. They’ve got me officially listed now as a Pioneer and they’re going to induct me into their hall of fame down there.

BD – I hope to check it out some day. So with you being officially listed as a bluegrass pioneer, give us your thoughts on the future of bluegrass in this area. Do you see any up and coming dobro players in the Baltimore area?

RH – There’s not that many around that are playing dobro. Chuck (Hatfield) will tell you that. Chuck is just starting. He’s starting out and he’s learning and he’s doing very well. He’s learning and he wants to learn. He’s got that desire to play. But as far as seeing groups around here with a dobro player… there’s just not that many.

Bluegrass in Baltimore has always had peaks and valleys. Always.

The peaks… Oh Brother Where Art Though… Every once in a while you’d see car ads that would use a banjo or bluegrass music behind it and when that happened. Like when we were playing the Cub Hill Inn. We were pulling in people like doctors and lawyers... professional people, because they thought it was trendy to go there and listen to this stuff. When Bob Turk, the weather guy over at WJZ first came to town, he used to come out to the shows at the Cub Hill Inn. He even brought Oprah Winfrey with him one time.

That kept it going for a while. Then when the interest would start to wane it would go down into a valley. And basically that’s what’s happening right now. There’s not a lot going on right now. But we’ll hit a peak again some time.

TB – Well we’ve taken up a good chunk of your evening tonight Russ. I think we’d better wrap this up. Thanks for talking with us. We sure do appreciate your time.

RH – Thank you guys.

caricature of Russ drawn by Carol Curtis (Danny Curtis's wife) in 1960

<< Go to Russ Hooper - Part 3

Table of Contents

Page title Most recent update Last edited by
Free Bluegrass Backup Tracks for Practice October 12, 2015 11:11 AM former member
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

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