(Photo by Gary Clardy)
In Our Archives:
Visits with David Davis, The Watkins Family, The Crowe Brothers, The Marksmen Quartet, Archie Watkins and Carol Channing
98 Years, still fiddlin’, still creating, Violet Hensley
I am honored to come to know some of the most amazing fiddlers in American history.
Over the past three years, I added to that list someone that when I was a little boy, I saw perform on “The Beverly Hillbillies,” and “Captain Kangaroo.” That fiddler is America’s first woman fiddler of note known to millions through the advent of television and live performances and demonstrations of her craft of making fiddles – Violet Hensley.
On October 21, 2014 she marked her 98th year and throughout that week she greeted fans and friends at the National Cowboy and Harvest Festival at Silver Dollar City in Branson, Mo. where she has held court for the past 47 years.
Violet Hensley signs a book for Silver Dollar City visitor James Roach in Branson, Mo.
I am privileged to share this occasion with her in a way as many who have stopped to see her this month carried home her new autobiography “Whittlin’ and Fiddlin’ My Own Way: The Violet Hensley Story” which I helped pen.
“I never thought I would be writing about my life, my music and my fiddle makin’,” she said. “I could have never dreamed coming from a farm in the backwoods of Arkansas that the things I learned on that farm would make me a TV personality and gain me fame around the world.”
The Arkansas Living Treasure Award winner from Yellville, Arkansas learned to fiddle in 1928 and make fiddles watching her father George W. Brumley in the community of Alamo, Arkansas in 1932.
It was an amazing experience to work with Violet weekly to refine the experiences from her life and compile a book which not only reflects what many rural families endured in America in the 20th century but what was most unique about Violet as she grew artistically, to find folk music stardom at nearly 50.
She raised a family of nine with her late husband Adren while he moved the family from town to town and state to state.
With the advent of the folk music revival, Violet’s blossoming musical and fiddle-making talents, caught the attention of Grammy ® winner Jimmy Driftwood and the owners of Silver Dollar City in Branson, Missouri.
She joined the crafter’s cast at Silver Dollar City in 1967, becoming part of the City’s celebrities who used radio, television, and newspapers to invite visitors to the amusement park.
Sharing her talents in front of millions, Hensley became one of the first woman fiddlers to reach a large international audience appearing at the Smithsonian’s Festival of American Folklife, festivals, colleges, and on countless local, regional and national television and radio shows such as “To Tell the Truth” and “Live! with Regis and Kathie Lee”
“I hope folks will enjoy getting a glimpse at what my near century on this world has been,” Violet said. “It’s been a hoot so far and what’s even better is while the book is written – the story continues. I hope folks will join me for what is yet to come, they can start by reading the book.”
The 258-page soft cover book from Peach Picked Publishing includes 145 photos and is available for $25 including shipping.
For more information about Violet, visit http://violethensley.com. Order the book above. The book can also be liked on Facebook.
Jeff Foxworthy, more than a comedian
After our show “In the Heat of the Night” went off the air, I was looking for an opportunity to move on to another show.
There were not many opportunities for Southern actors at that time, “Walker, Texas Ranger” was on the air, comedian Brett Butler had a Southern base sit-com called “Grace Under Fire.” My friend and co-star Alan Autry eventually found opportunities with both. I was hopeful that I might find an opening with another talented Southerner who was seeing his sit-com revamped for ABC – Jeff Foxworthy.
As timing would have it, Jeff and I were both appearing for the CMA and the Grand Ole Opry at Country Music Fan Fair in 1996 and I had the opportunity to talk with Jeff about his new series and he suggested I contact his casting director in Los Angeles and audition. He was even kind enough to write down her contact info for me.
While I was in Los Angeles, I was doing some Appalachian and American music tutoring for the youth on “Grace Under Fire” and was invited to do the same for the young actors starring on “The Jeff Foxworthy Show.”
Jeff took the time to meet with me while I was there, and though there wasn’t a regular role that I fit in the show, he still made me feel like I was at home. Jeff shared me his hope would be to film a show in Georgia like we did.
Flash-forward 19 years, I am sitting up front a couple of tables over from Jeff Foxworthy and his family at the Georgia Music Hall of Fame Awards in Atlanta, Ga.
I listened to his childhood friend, who made the presentation, describe the Jeff he knew – a man concerned more with helping others and being there for his family than someone chasing a bigger star. As I listened, that was the Jeff that I came to know in those two visits nearly 20 years ago.
As I saw him walk to the microphone to accept the induction, I once again saw beyond the lovable Southern comedian and star we all have come to know throughout his amazing career, to see that kind, considerate man, who volunteers at the Atlanta Mission, a fellow Georgian who took the time to be interested in my life and that of my folks years before.
He has become the largest-selling comedy-recording artist in history. He hosted, produced and written numerous TV shows including “Blue Collar TV,” and the “Blue Collar Comedy Tour” films. He also voices characters for film such as “The Fox and Hound 2,” “Racing Stripes,” and ”The Smurfs.”
While all these are great accomplishments, his greatest ones were sitting around him at the awards, his beautiful family that he chose to make the center of his world forsaking opportunities so they could all be together in Georgia.
I encourage you; if you do not already know about my old friend, check out these websites to learn more about his entertainment career and his other interests - http://www.jefffoxworthy.com/ and http://www.foxworthyoutdoors.com/.
Jeff joins Lady Antebellum, Ed Roland, Wet Willie, Francine Reed, Wally Fowler, Danny Beard, Bobby Byrd, Sean Costello, Frank Fenter, and Eddie Horst as this year’s inductees.
Bluegrass reigns in Raleigh
There is nothing quite like walking through halls of musicians four or five gathered up close together playing and singing reveling in the blessings that the gift of music brings.
I was honored to attend the International Bluegrass Music Association’s World of Bluegrass and Wide Open Bluegrass in Raleigh, N.C. That is what I saw as walked around the convention center, the streets, the nearby hotels. What was most endearing is that many of the players appeared to be college and high school age and younger.
It is safe to say that the sounds of the music are safe in many talented hands.
The event features exhibits, numerous concerts, seminars, a film festival, and awards. I was privileged once again to serve as one of the producers helping honor our legendary performers with the Distinguished Achievement Award and new award winners in several categories. I want to congratulate them all but I especially want to recognize banjo legend Bill Keith, who helped redefined how the banjo was played, and The Delmore Brothers, whose music fueled the bluegrass music catalog.
Two shining moments in the evening awards were the induction of historian and musician Neil Rosenberg and the original Seldom Scene into the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame.
The performance by the surviving original members of the Seldom Scene and those who have fostered the legacy throughout the years of their classic song “Wait a Minute” was soul stirring.
Balsam Range was the clear break through of the evening taking Vocal Group, Entertainer of the Year and Male Vocalist of the Year for their Buddy Melton. Emerging Artist of the Year went to a talented group – Flatt Lonesome while Song of the Year is “Dear Sister” performed by Claire Lynch and written by Georgia composer Louisa Branscomb and Lynch. These are just a handful of the evening’s honors and more info can be found at ibma.org. Various nominees sharing the best of what gained them attention in the last year filled the evening with outstanding performances.
The city of Raleigh deserves a great round of applause for all they do to support the event and the IBMA staff and volunteers should receive a standing ovation for coordinating a great success. If you have never attended, I hope you will make plans to do so in 2015. If you love bluegrass, you should spend some time enjoying it there.
Banjo legend Bill Keith, Distinguished Achievement Award winner, visits with banjo player Sammy Shelor of the Lonesome River Band at IBMA Awards reception. (Photo: Randall Franks)
New quartet convention - worth the trip
When the evening air begins to cool, my thoughts move towards visiting the mountains. This year I took advantage of going to Pigeon Forge, Tenn. to take in the National Quartet Convention in its new home at the LeConte Center there after moving from Freedom Hall in Louisville, Kentucky.
I must say I was greatly impressed by the atmosphere of the facility, the lodge feeling of the interior and the closeness to the artists that the booths allowed. It seemed less like an exhibit area and more like visiting with the artists in a well-decorated mountain retreat.
The concert area with the stage centered provided an opportunity to watch the show and artists who were able to work all sides gave the audience a full effect.
Attendees were able to also take in activities around the area including shows at Dollywood and convention-related and regular entertainment events in the area.
The only issues mentioned to me by other attendees related to limited parking and traffic delays. It seemed Pigeon Forge rolled out all stops to ease the expanded presence of convention attendees with additional police and support to move people through in congested areas.
Amongst the convention concerts the Southern Gospel Music Hall of Fame inducted several new members including Eddie Crook, Paul Heil, Claude Daniel Hopper, Faye Ihrig Speer and the following late inductees: Claris G. “Cat” Freeman, Colbert Croft, Warren Lester Roberts, and Francis Jane “Fanny” Crosby Van Alstyne.
Congratulations to all the new inductees and you can learn more about them at the Hall of Fame located at Dollywood or by visiting, sgma.org.
During my time at the event a couple of the funniest hours I spent there was attending a Southern Gospel Music Guild event honoring Dr. Jerry Goff of the Singing Goffs with the presentation of a Lifetime Achievement Award. His group was one of the most successful of the 1970s and 80s. With love and humor friends and former group members praised his service in the Lord. The room was filled with artists, industry executives, and music enthusiasts whose admiration for Dr. Goff was apparent not only by their attendance but by the time they lingered before and after the event.
A talented singer, musician, and songwriter, he also helped pioneer some of the most successful ventures into television in the 1960s. Behind the scenes of the popular Gospel Singing Caravan, he stepped forward with his own popular gospel music program several years later under the title America Sings, where his musical abilities earned him the unofficial title of “Mr. Gospel Trumpet.”
He also became well known as a Gospel Music emcee. A talented performer, speaker and promoter, Jerry Goff always represented Southern Gospel with class and dignity.
Congratulations to Jerry on his honor. Thanks for all the great music and the inspiring words that have touched millions.
If you are thinking about attending the National Quartet Convention next year in its new home of Pigeon Forge, I encourage you to do so, plan ahead and I am sure it will be a trip to remember for you and yours. Find out more at natqc.com.
Randall Franks presents SGMG Lifetime Achievement Award Recipient Dr. Jerry Goff and Little Jan Buckner-Goff a copy of his book Encouragers I, in which they are included.
Time’s a wastin’ – do something
As I walked across the yard this morning the wind whirled around me with a chill that reminded me that today is the first day of fall.
I cannot remember a year thus far in my life that has seemed to fly by like this one has.
I remember as a child, it seemed that time just crawled by especially when school was in or I was waiting on something I looked forward to - such as a holiday or summer break.
But once I stepped out of childhood and into adulthood, it seemed that the clock went into a full-speed-ahead mode and that has not stopped since.
I am thankful that it has not stopped short like in the old song “Grandfather’s Clock.”
I am grateful for each and everyday. I just find it harder to pack as much into each one as I once did. It seems I turn around a few times and the clocks hands have just rotated around so quickly, I wonder how smoke is not expelled from its face by the friction of the rotations.
Please do not think that I am complaining about being busy either. Having many tasks allows us to accomplish much with our lives. I think that is one of the objectives that we are afforded by our existence; the opportunity to use the time to invest in others and create things that will benefit or impact others in the world around us.
Do you use your time wisely?
How much of your day is filled with pastimes that contribute to the world around you?
Do you spend time with your family or friends helping them reach their life goals, sharing your wisdom, or simply being an encouragement?
Do you use your time to improve the area you live in, your neighborhood, town, city or state?
Do you have a skill that you are blessed with that you are passing on as a mentor to someone else?
Are you creative? Are you using your artistic skills to create works that will uplift others when seen or heard by others?
We all can get caught up in the routine chores that almost everyone shares in some respect - clean the house, mow the yard, weed eat, do the laundry, cook, paint, errands, etc.
The key is not to let those tasks take over our lives. Always set aside some time to also fit in some of the opportunities that will bring meaning to your life and the world around you as well.
We must work to master the time we are given and not let the speed at which the clock hands move be the determining factor in what we accomplish with our day and our life.
Yes its fall and three quarters of the year are past, but there is still time for you to do something that will make this world a better place. Go do it before your clock “stops short never to run again.”
Communication is the key to relationships
Communication - the exchange of thoughts, messages, or information, as by speech, signals, writing, or behavior.
Most of us begin this process from the first time we point at something to indicate we want it. After we slowly master “Mama” and “Dada,” we eventually grow our vocabulary and with the right training we become equipped for life.
Over time we gain experience and add to the tools that help us establish the ability to in some cases to communicate clearly with a minimal amount of effort.
I have noticed of late more people tend to communicate with their thumbs than their mouths. Some are pretty proficient at it and its shorthand language.
I have been told in government leadership conferences that one of the greatest issues we face for economic development is the lack of employees who are able communicate well with others and have a lack of soft skills knowing how to dress, act, conduct themselves etc.
But the largest issue is simply being able to properly conduct a face-to-face or phone-to-phone conversation with a customer, co-worker or supervisor.
Even those who have all the skills find trouble.
Have you ever found yourself in the midst of a misunderstanding?
I recently discovered that even those who read and speak well could become embroiled in a lack of communication.
Sometimes as we become friends or family we rely on things unspoken or assumed depending that nothing else needs to be said.
To our chagrin though, later down the road, we find we have misread the situation or that our assumptions were mistaken.
There can be nothing more disconcerting than to find yourself in a situation with someone.
From such occurrences, hurt, anger, and if serious enough, frustration, can create a spiral effect to make actions and decisions worse.
I hope that if you find yourself in one of these circumstances, that you will take a moment and look at the basis for your concerns and then ask the other person to sit down and talk about it. Cleat up the misunderstanding and move on. Don’t let a small hiccup turn into a much larger issue that impacts your relationships.
We depend on those that we know and love to create the stability in our lives, let’s work to foster the same for them. Learn to communicate, share and treat each other with respect, no matter the form of communication.
The world will be the better for your efforts.
World of Bluegrass is coming
My bluegrass excitement always builds this time of year as I prepare for the coming of the International Bluegrass Music Association’s World of Bluegrass September 30-October 4 in Raleigh, NC.
I am returning this year to assist with directing a portion of the award presentations. There is a star-studded line-up for the 25th International Bluegrass Music Awards, to be held on Thursday, October 2 at 7:30 p.m. at North Carolina’s Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts (Memorial Auditorium).
Performers include all five 2014 Entertainer of the Year nominees: Balsam Range, Blue Highway, Dailey & Vincent, the Gibson Brothers and the Del McCoury Band. Also scheduled to perform is Female Vocalist/Song of the Year nominee Claire Lynch, Instrumental Group of the Year nominee Frank Solivan & Dirty Kitchen, last year’s Emerging Artist recipient Della Mae, and the Boxcars, leading the pack in 2014 with ten nominations. Awards Show hosts Lee Ann Womack and Jerry Douglas will also perform that evening.
Members of the original Seldom Scene - Ben Eldridge, Tom Gray and John Starling - will be part of a special Seldom Scene performance celebrating their induction into the Hall of Fame. Also, Emerging Artist of the Year nominee the Spinney Brothers will give tribute to this year’s other Hall of Fame inductee, bluegrass historian Neil Rosenberg.
There is a star studded list of presenters that will be broadcast live on Sirius XM Satellite Radio (Bluegrass Junction), streamed live by Music City Roots and available at ibma.org and musiccityroots.com.
The Wide Open Bluegrass StreetFest is the free street festival portion of Wide Open Bluegrass on October 3 and 4. The ticketed concerts for both days will take place at Raleigh’s Red Hat Amphitheater and the Raleigh Convention Center.
“If you’ve ever wondered what ‘bluegrass heaven’ would be like, you need to come to Raleigh, North Carolina October 3-4,” said IBMA Executive Director Nancy Cardwell. “You’ll hear some of the best bluegrass music from around the world, played by talented musicians of all ages. There will be banners in the street, barbecue wafting through the air, banjos on every corner, red-hot jamming and dancing, and a smile on every face. In the Raleigh Convention Center we’ll have a fantastic Bluegrass Expo Hall, a Masters Workshop, and celebrity jam sessions, plus all sorts of great music and fun outside at the StreetFest. Get your tickets now and make plans to enjoy every joyous part of the Wide Open Bluegrass festival!”
In addition to the free Wide Open Bluegrass StreetFest, as recently announced, tickets for Red Hat Amphitheater/RCC are limited, and expected to sell out before the performance dates. To purchase tickets for this portion of Wide Open Bluegrass or find out more information, go to ibma.org.
A little funny never hurts
One of my readers said that I needed to share a bit of comedy in my column to raise the spirits of the folks back home. Well I don’t know if I can do that but I’m willing to take aim at it.
One of my favorite places to find funny comments or situations is in church and sometimes the funniest thing you find relates with youngin’s and church thinkin’
I remember a few years ago my nephew asked me if he had a guardian angel. I told him ‘Sure you do. Your guardian angel is always with you.”
“Does he eat with me?” he asked.
“Sure,” I said.
“Does he sleep with me?”
“Sure,” I said.
“That must have been who kicked me out of bed last night,” he said.
Now I won’t take credit for this next one, it is one I heard from an older feller which will remain nameless:
Do you know where radio was invented?
The Garden of Eden.
God took Adam’s rib and made the first loudspeaker.
A little known fact about Noah’s Ark:
There were three camels on board.
The first was the camel many people swallow while straining at a gnat.
The second was the camel whose back was broken by the last straw.
And the third was the one who shall pass through the eye of a needle before a rich man enters the kingdom of Heaven.
Farmer Jud and his wife Jeweldine, a childless farm couple prayed to have a child.
As an answer to the prayer, the couple received the blessing of triplets.
The preacher commented as to how their prayers were answered.
Jud said, “Yep, but I never prayed for a bumper crop.”
A lady searched endlessly to find the love of her life with no success so she finally turned to prayer:
“Oh Lord, I am not asking for a thing for myself but please send mother a son-in-law.”
A father asks a prospective son-in law “Can you support my daughter in the manner she is accustom to?”
He replies “ She ain’t gonna move is she?”
I have always heard that bread cast on the water always returns. Bread cast on the water, may return but all the bread we send overseas sure doesn’t.
Laughter has always been an important part of life in our family mainly because of the nature of our ancestors to lean towards being stoic in their approach in life. That approach comes even more naturally to me than laughter does. I am often asked “Why don’t you smile more.” My answer is sometimes “I am smiling on the inside.” Moments of joys and laughter are even more cherished to me. May laughter always fill your days because God does have a sense of humor otherwise, he would have never made someone quite like us, would he?
Did you ever wonder if 1+1 really is 2?
I often wonder what happened to math in America. I know I had my own trouble with it when I was in school. They always wanted you to follow some method of reaching the answer and show how you reached the answer. Even if you got the right answer, if you didn’t go at it the right way you were wrong.
I realize that we were taught these approaches to aid us in developing a sense of reasoning and help us learn to solve problems.
I greatly admire those underpaid, under supported patriots of education, our teachers. I know many of them took their time to help me through some tough subjects. I have seen first hand, as I have spoken to children around the country, teachers going above and beyond to help out a student. So, please do not take what I am about to talk about as a commentary on the ability of teachers.
I went into a grocery store chain with a card. They scan it before ringing up the things you are buying. If you watch those prices closely as they ring items up, this store is frustrating because the register shows the full price and then shows the deduction for their store savings.
After watching all the prices, the tally had overcharged me around one dollar and twelve cents. I then proceeded to customer service where I shared with them my problem.
I had bought six or twelve of one item that was on discount and one other item. Adding the cost up in my head, I told the clerk what it was suppose to be plus whatever the tax was in that county. This figure subtracted from what I paid the cashier would have been the amount of my refund. My next twenty minutes involved two clerks and an assistant manager or a store manager, all took the figures I had given them from my head and repeatedly added them up on their calculator. In the end they gave me a refund of over two dollars.
Despite of my attempts to convince them they didn’t owe me that much, I could not convince them. I even took a piece of paper, wrote the numbers down and added them for them. I finally took the refund and went on my way. I figure that twenty minutes must be worth that extra little bit.
Unfortunately, what I have just described is a sad trend all across our country. Folks just don’t seem to be able to do basic everyday math problems without the aid of a calculator or cash register. How many times have you walked into a store to buy a candy bar or something, handed the cashier a dollar, and they had difficulty figuring out your change. Now, I’m not saying that we all have to be math geniuses.
My granddad Bill was a farmer most of his life. He went west and was a cowboy in the late 1800’s. If he went to school, it was the school of life. When it came to the math he needed to raise cattle and hogs, grow and sell crops, buy and sell land, in his head he could figure better than most accountants could with a calculator.
When I was little, my parents made sure I could add, subtract, multiply and divide before they even sent me off to first grade. So those are tools I carry with me. These basics at times were a disadvantage to me in those previously mentioned math problems, which required a certain method to be followed. But all in all I owe my parents and teachers a great debt of giving me the basics.
Maybe folks just depend too much upon calculators that are now part of the computers we carry around in our pockets. It is easier. I use them myself, but usually just to double check my own solution when adding a chain of numbers. In recent years, I have found myself doubting my own answers derived from figuring in my head. Not that I’ve been wrong that much, but the calculator is so much easier. And it’s never wrong. Just look how well it worked at that grocery store. If I could just find another 999,999 clerks using calculators like that, I could retire.
A fiddle, a fireplace, and the Grand Master Fiddle
I recently attended my family reunion and was reminded of this story I shared some years ago. Some say it was a coalmine cave-in, while others say it was the fever that took his folks leaving orphans; while others say it was simply a family squabble that placed my great grandfather on the road a young age. Whatever the reason my Grandpa Harve found himself forced to strike out on his own in a time when children were lucky if some relative or caring neighbor took them in.
I don’t know much about his childhood, although I am told his tales of life on the Tennessee River rivaled those of Mark Twain’s “Huckleberry Finn.”
When my dad was a boy, Harve gathered the children around the fireplace and before bed told a story of an orphaned boy named A.J. (his real initials), filled with intrigue of riverboat gamblers and the dangers of riding the rapids on a handmade raft.
By this point in his life Grandpa Harve had become what my late cousin, Reece Franks, called demanding. Of course, Reece often found himself out tending to his horse and buggy after he came in from a visit to the general store where he sat and reminisced with his friends.
For some reason, as Harve became a man the waters of time brought him to Catoosa County where he courted a young girl named Emily Jane Bandy.
Already a talent at the fiddle, he brought the fiddle along while he courted. Although I think Grandma Emmer often thought he spent more time a fiddlin’ than he did a courtin’.
He eventually won her heart and the couple settled into a life of farming and raising children.
The love of music was something he shared with several of his children, teaching the fiddle to his son Tom. Henry took up the banjo, Ethel learned the piano, Jesse played along on the harmonica and the juice harp, while another one of the boys took up guitar.
As the sun lowered itself behind the hills, the clan would often gather in the parlor after supper and play a few tunes like “Turkey in the Straw,” “Leather Britches,” and “Camptown Races.”
Lester and Griff would roll back the rug and, although she’d probably not admit it the next Sunday at the Baptist church, Emmer and Harve danced a jig or two.
Harve had already passed his love of music along when a farming accident injured his left hand, making him unable to play anymore. That was probably one thing that pained him deep within his soul.
Henry’s death would eventually take the strains of the frailing banjo from the group, and as the family grew and the boys and girls married they took their music with them.
As the grandchildren came buzzing around, I know he would have given anything to pick up his old black fiddle and play them a tune but instead Harve entertained them with his stories of a youth making his way into adulthood in the reconstruction-era South.
I wish some of them had written the stories down but, alas, they are lost with time and even the memories that they ever existed are about gone.
It was from my great-uncle Tom, who made his life in Gordon County’s Sugar Valley, that I first heard play the fiddle close-up. He played some of the same licks that his father played before him.
While Grandpa Harve was not there, I could imagine him sitting at the fireplace, his old black fiddle in hand, playing with all his great-grandchildren gathered around him.
While many gather their earthly musical inspiration from the pop icons of this era that parade across the Grammy Award stage, I still draw my strength from family musical roots that run deep into the Appalachian soil.
As I reflect back on the fiddling my ancestors shared, I wonder what Grandpa Harve and Uncle Tom would think to know one of their folks hosts the forty-third annual Grand Master Fiddler Championship on Saturday and Sunday, September 27-28, 2014, at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville, Tennessee. This is an event I competed in as a youth before my day’s guest starring for the Grand Ole Opry and now I am honored to continue in the tradition led by Roy Acuff and Porter Wagoner before me as celebrity host. The program is included in museum admission. For more information about competing, visit www.grandmasterfiddler.com.
When the rain wouldn’t come
As the water trickled down the rocks of Frog Leg Creek, the girls and boys gathered at its bank dangling their feet in the cold waters.
Summer days always meant early rising and chores finished before the heat of the day scorched the back of the neck. Often the children were free to find other summer diversions like swimming in Wilson’s Pond or cooling their toes along the Frog Leg.
There along the banks were the red-headed Scaley Wilson, he was called that because he shed his skin a lot sort of like a snake but in smaller pieces, the almost-always-mean Matilda Morris, who was generally to good to play with the other children because her folks didn’t want her to mess up her store-bought clothes, Jump Jemison, who could climb high up in the old oak tree beside the creek and hit the swimming hole every time and Pearl, who generally sat and played with her doll Maggie given her by the Rev. Smathers.
On this hot day much of the valley below the Gravelly Spur had succumbed to a drought and the fields and hillsides just weeks before green and teaming with life were brown. All of the farmers worked hard to irrigate their crops from the creek so not to lose them completely but the fields of the farms nearest the water were the only ones holding on despite all of the farmers banding together to haul barrels of water to the outer most farms in the valley on wagons.
The next greatest adult fear was that the wells might begin to dry up in the valley but this did not phase the effervescent play of the children around the swimming hole as they simply tried to wash away the heat with a little fun.
But even the kids noticed that the things were harder, their parent’s faces were not breaking with even the occasional smile.
Pearl had overheard her parents Bill and Kitty talking the night before about the Jemison's maybe pulling up stakes and leaving in hopes of making it somewhere else.
She didn’t mention it to Jump at first thinking he might not know. She had always liked Jump because he was full of life. He was the type of person who could find adventure in any situation and make even the most mundane task fun.
The kids often found themselves following behind him as if he was the pied piper to some mysterious location on the mountain where he concocted some tale of buried treasure left by pirates, an old Indian ceremonial ground filled with spirits, or just some game which could test the patience of any parent if they actually saw what the children were doing.
Pearl was saddened with the thought of Jump leaving and as she sat there retying the bow around Maggie’s neck she decided it was time the kids do something about it.
She stood up and called them all closer and said, “Jump, I hear you might leave us.”
“Yeah, if we don’t get rain soon, Pa says we will lose the crop and we’d have to move on,” he said.
“Well instead of playing in this water why don’t we spend this time trying to get some water to Jump’s farm to see if we can keep him here,” Pearl said.
“That’s a great idea,” Scaley said. “But how do we do it?”
“Well Dad has an irrigation ditch that runs from the creek to Scaley’s farm, that connects to one on Matilda’s farm, the problem is that Jump’s farm is uphill from there so what can we do?” Pearl asked.
It was Jump that had the idea. “What if we build a water wheel with buckets that puts the water higher so it runs down onto the farm. We could use the mules to turn it sort of like a cane press.”
It didn’t take much convincing before the group started enlisting every kid in the valley, scrounging buckets, looking for planks and nails, and cutting cane poles to put together a water wheel. Old man Johnson wondered for years where those big planks from the side of his abandoned barn went.
They didn’t even tell the parents what they were doing; they just spent all their time away from chores working on the project until about a week and a half later they had finished and borrowed Grandpa Bill’s mule Rawel to see if it would work.
As Rawel began going round and round the buckets turned filling with water from the irrigation ditch pouring into the elevated wooden ditch they built sending the water into a new earthen ditch they dug onto the highest portion of the Jemison field. The water began to flow down the ditch and slowly moved across the rows of corn down the hillside.
As the water flowed the children screamed in elation. You may wonder where Jump’s father had been all the time the kids were building this mechanism, he went ahead to visit with some relatives and see if there was a new place for the family with them in the west but as the kids were carrying on, he rode up on his chestnut mare, Elihue.
“What’s going on here?” he asked.
Jump came forward telling his father what all the neighbor’s children had done to make the water flow on their crops.
He put his arm around the shoulder of his son as the others gathered round and they watched their contraption turn around and around as the water kept flowing giving the corn a new life to fill the Jemison family with a new hope and the valley with a glow of success that was shared with the other hillside farmers as the men and children worked to keep all the crops from floundering in the heat.
It is amazing what can come even from the minds of a child when sometimes simplicity is the best approach to solving a problem, that is what the people of the Gravelly Spur found the summer that the rain forgot to come and they held on to a Frog Leg for dear life.
The ferris wheel
As I held tightly to my mother’s right hand, I gripped the striped-red string that held my blue, green and yellow balloon we bought from the bright-colored clown. I knew if I didn’t hold on to both with all my might they might get lost amidst the crowd moving between the fair rides. I never saw so many people bumping into each other in my life. It was wall-to-wall people.
We waited in line to get a chance to ride the huge, white, wooden roller coaster. Burt Reynolds years later blew it up in one of his movies, but today it was one of the biggest rides I had ever seen, and I want to tell you I was a little scared and excited at a chance to ride it.
I was not sure if my stomach would keep down the combination of cotton candy, popcorn and hot dogs that had been the diet I pleaded for from my parents. Only a candied apple remained on my list of items I just had to have.
My mother told me I had to wait.
I watched as Dad pointed the gun at the ducks, knocking duck after duck down. He was a very good shot. Then I watched my mom take a turn, and she out-shot him. My dad helped me hold the gun and use one of his turns. I was so excited when I hit the bell. I am sure my dad played a big part in guiding the aim of my intentions.
We walked away with an arm full of odds and ends as prizes. I am sure they were glad to see us move on to the game where you try to get the rings on the bottles. We did not do as well at that.
There were judgings for pies, preserves and all kinds of foods. We moved from building to building, where farmers young and old brought their best livestock hoping to score a blue or red ribbon.
Throughout our visit to the Southeastern Exposition at the Lakewood Fairgrounds near Atlanta, Ga., I knew one thing — whatever we did, we had to wait. Patience for a four-year-old like me was not something that came easy. I gave it my best shot, but I am sure there was some squirming and squealing involved.
Of all the experiences at my first visit to a fair, it was the bright colors of the rides, the musical sounds and all the people smiling that stick most in my memory.
Over the years as an entertainer, I have been to many fairs, but for some reason in my mind none of them ever quite measure up to my first one.
Throughout my youth, I was a regular rider of the rides that spin you around faster and faster. I remember getting on one of those rides 18 times in a row. For some reason in my late teens my constitution changed. After my date and I got off the short ride on a large ferris wheel, lets say that cotton candy, hot dogs and popcorn I ate when I was four finally caught up with me. Since then, I have not been able to enjoy many rides, but I still enjoy the sights and sounds.
Although we are many weeks away from the fair season in my region, there is something about the heat of August that pulls me to those childhood fair memories; perhaps it’s the thought of a tall cool glass or fresh squeezed lemonade.
Whatever brings you a breath of fresh air, I hope my little trek down the midway helps you find it.
A mountain music camp adventure
Happy birthday to you... Last week that melody played over and over in my head as I began teaching some talented youth how to play the fiddle. While I have not taught in years, my friend Mark Wheeler of the three-time Dove award nominees - Marksmen Quartet asked me to help with his annual Marksmen Mountain Music Camp near Dahlonega, Ga. where children have the opportunity to get their feet wet playing a string instruments of their choice – guitar, mandolin, bass, fiddle, banjo or piano - or furthering the skills they already have by playing with seasoned professional musicians who work to inspire the musician within.
The youth also learn to read and sing to shape notes, take voice classes and learn about the tools used in playing such as tablature, music and the Nashville number system.
When you face a class of youth at different ages with varying levels of skill from never to wanting to move to the next challenging step in their growth, it can be a daunting task but Mark assembled an able group of instructors. Among them were Edgar Loudermilk, Sarah Ward, Brent Barber, and Clint and Donna Kerns and current and former members of the Hall of Fame Marksmen – Earle Wheeler, Darrin Chambers, Aaron Johnson, and Keith Chambers.
You might wonder what inspired me to tell you about this adventure, well plain and simple, I had a ball. I had forgotten how rewarding it is to see the light bulb come on in the eyes of a youth as they succeed in a musical task and proudly show someone what they have learned.
It gave me even greater respect for the talents and patience of Dr. Donald Grisier, who started me how to play in elementary school.
When I taught in years past it was one student at a time - not in a class setting, which gives me greater appreciation for skills Dr.Grisier had to employ to keep us focused and learning.
Schools seldom focus on the traditional instruments of the Appalachia and the Ozarks, and the convention style of singing with hymnbooks is disappearing from church pews, so youth are not being exposed and taught how to sing.
While the art thrives in some circles, thousands of American youth are no longer getting the exposure to America’s musical roots at the critical point in their lives when the greatest learning occurs.
Instead they see the song’s words projected on the wall and often hear music played from recorded tracks rather than by a live musician. Of course, the music is different as well and likely reflects what current pop and contemporary artists are doing.
While this is also a viable form of music that youth could pursue, even that is out of reach to many because the tools to learn it are not being fostered within the church, school and home.
I want to encourage you if you have a musical talent, share it with it with the youth in your community. If you are a church, consider hosting a special camp like the Marksmen do. Otherwise, for those of us who do wish to continue traditions from our music, where will the church pianists and organists come from or the person that plays the rhythm on the guitar, mandolin or bass.
I am sure that if this is a desire of your congregation’s heart, the Marksmen would be open to work with you in your area to encourage. For more information, visit http://www.mmmcamp.com/ or like the Marksmen Mountain Music Camp on Facebook.
When the youth reach graduation and go off to college, do not forget my Share America Foundation from which they can apply and if chosen could receive the Pearl and Floyd Franks Scholarship for their work to continue the traditional music of Appalachia.
Visit www.shareamericafoundation.org for more information or to donate.
Now let’s see the next tune is “Oh, Little Liza, Little Liza Jane....”
The Marksmen Quartet and instructor Brent Barber (second from left) lead youth attending their Mountain Music Camp in a performance in Murrayville, Ga.
Encourage one another
When one spends some time reviewing the sum of one’s life, one will find that there are many along the path that helps to propel an individual in one direction or another.
Over the last few years I have spent a great deal of time reflecting on those who have made an effort in my life from childhood and into adulthood.
From those who made what seemed to be the most insignificant comment to those who have opened the doors to stardom in the eyes of the world.
For me it has been an amazing journey of reflection. I had someone who was what we might call very spirit aware once tell me that I have many people traveling with me.
While I do not subscribe to that belief in spirits traveling with me, I do think that we build our lives upon those who came before in our family and those who invest in our efforts as we pass through our three score and ten.
I see them in my life as Encouragers and in my time of reflection I have compiled stories about the key people whose lives inspired me and who changed my life through their words or deeds.
When I was finished my review, I was amazed to find the number of stories I compiled with around 150 key figures in television, film, music and everyday life who helped to create the momentum that became my existence.
As I prepared this for a book, it became apparent that the tome was too voluminous for one book and through the advice of a publisher my new book series – Encouragers – was born.
The first of the series “Encouragers I: Finding the Light” released this month worldwide from Peach Picked Publishing shares 49 stories of actors, musicians and everyday folks who played a role in his early life.
The first volume of the series highlights performers such as WSB Barndance stars Cotton and Jane Carrier and Grand Ole Opry star Bashful Brother Oswald; American icon Bob Hope and “Gunsmoke” legend Ken Curtis; country music masters Bill Monroe and Johnny Cash; bluegrass hall of famers Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs and “The Andy Griffith Show” star Doug Dillard; and heralded gospel music performers the Marksmen Quartet, the Lewis Family and Jeff & Sheri Easter.
You might ask, “What makes your perspective on this individuals unique?” I am simply looking at their encouraging nature in my life and the impact they had. I hope these stories inspire others to share the same spirit of encouragement with the people that they encounter.
If we spent our lives encouraging one another, how amazing our world would be. I think we would see the solutions to endless problems, endless heartache, endless struggle solved simply by the change in daily attitudes by each and every individual.
God blessed me with so many opportunities allowing me to perform for millions around the world, appear for the Grand Ole Opry and star on two American television networks.
Those doors were opened to me because people from all walks of life took the time to encourage me from young age. Even when there was no indication of what my talents would be and where they could lead, encouragers were already sharing their light with me.
Because God put these people in my life, I have shared my gifts to over 145 million people around the world. I could have never imagined that as a boy. I can barely imagine it as an adult as I look back on three TV series including my role as “Officer Randy Goode” from the TV series “In the Heat of the Night,” and 14 films as well as appearances at major country, folk, bluegrass and gospel events such as Country Music Association Fan Fair, National Folk Festival, National Quartet Convention, National Black Arts Festival and for the Grand Ole Opry.
This 364-page book includes over 260 photos including 149 special Moments in Time photos featuring over 100 stars from Garth Brooks to Marty Stuart, Loretta Lynn to Alison Krauss from Randall’s personal collection and 49 celebrity, family and friend recipes.
“Encouragers I : Finding the Light” is available above for $25 including postage and handling or by mail at Randall Franks, P.O. Box 42, Tunnel Hill, Ga. 30755 and through book outlets around the world. Fans may also like the series on and learn more on the Encouragers I, II and III Facebook page.
Randall signs a book for avid reader Kathy Liner at a recent book signing in Ringgold, Ga.
Should we throw out the baby with the bath water?
As an election season drags on, there always reaches a point of shear commercial overload.
For me, it’s just about now despite we are not even in the thick of it yet. I have heard enough from the candidates and just wish they would go away and let me alone for a while.
My decision is already made and I hope the rest of voters see it my way. I know whom I am going to vote for among the current crop of national, state and local candidates.
Without a John Wayne riding in to save the day, there is little hope of changing the way I think.
Can one of this crop of candidates really orchestrate a different way of doing things in America?
Can they put America on a sound path at home?
No matter which candidate you vote for and whichever one dons the hat of celebration on election night, when the confetti settles and the noisemakers stop making noise someone needs to go to work in building an America of which we can be proud.
There are people in this country who are facing the toughest economic times in their life, yet the media is constantly telling us things are getting better.
As an optimist, I will say that I always look for the good in everything, and you can always find something better upon which to direct your attention.
Unfortunately, at the same time you cannot look away from Americans who cannot support their families from lack of good paying jobs because of outsourcing, Americans who do not have a roof over their heads because of rising housing costs, Americans who cannot put food on the table or provide health care insurance for their families because the jobs now available do not pay enough or provide coverage.
You cannot overlook the thousands of Americans that we lose each day to a world of drugs as they look for escape from a world in which they cannot cope and find peace of mind.
You cannot overlook religious rights being torn from Americans by the courts and uninformed bureaucrats just for the sake of secular humanism.
You cannot overlook the decline of moral character in some members of the current generation as exhibited endlessly in social media.
You cannot overlook the people who live in terror in their own homes and neighborhoods as gangs or criminal elements threaten, coerce and steal their sanity, their belongings and sometimes the lives of their family members.
You cannot overlook the fact that our country is lagging behind other industrialized nations in education. Our students spend more time in their lives concentrating on Fun 101 than the studies that teachers desperately try to get them to pursue.
You cannot overlook the stream of children flooding across our Southern border placing our non-profits, local, state and federal government representatives across the region into an overload that will likely buckle the most compassionate nation on earth.
I really think the educated of our great-grandparents’ generation would laugh at what our government expects our schools to teach as the basic elements of education.
This is a short list of things I want to see elected officials really do something about.
As a nation, we have become the protectors of the world. Looking out for our fellow man is an admirable endeavor that I support wholeheartedly.
However, if our ship is sinking from neglect as we try to save the rest of world, as our country takes its last breaths before going under, I doubt if any of them will be stretching out their arms to try to save us.
For America to help the rest of the world, our people have to be safe, housed, fed, gainfully employed, and protected from homeland gang terrorists and criminals. Our people need to be able to stand on their own two feet and give freely the abundance that God gives us to share with the rest of the world not have it ripped from our pocketbooks and shipped overseas on political whims.
Is it possible for one of those running this fall to bring America back on solid ground and give America the hope it needs to lead the world?
Yes, if they really desire to do it, they can. But there has to be a true desire to remember we are Americans first. That means something. At least it once did. I hope it still does.
Should we throw America out with the bath water just because we are tired of the campaigns? No!
What we should do is throw out the candidates that don’t have America’s best interest at heart by voting in November. If there isn’t a candidate that you believe can make the difference that you can, maybe next time around you should hit the campaign trail.
Some flour, a broom and a lesson on being needed
As I look down at the flour on the floor and the straw of the broom as it meets the floor at the edge of heap, I swiftly move it through the white powder. In the motion, my mind sweeps over my memories and I find myself standing beside the table in my boyhood home.
My Grandma Kitty is standing at the end of the broom sweeping flour that I had managed to spill as we were preparing biscuits and getting ready to bake a batch of cookies.
“We don’t have to mention this to anyone,” she said. “This will be our little secret.”
She moves the flour into the dustpan and she taps it on the edge of the trashcan.
“Where were we?” she said. “Yes, we need some lard to add to the flour.”
“Will Crisco do?” I asked.
“Sure,” she said.
I grabbed it from the cupboard beneath the phone behind the kitchen door and sat it on the table next to her.
So with her hands she worked up the biscuits dough and patted out the biscuits placing them on the baking sheet.
“Now, that’s done and we can concentrate on the cookies for this afternoon,” she said.
Mother was hosting the neighborhood ladies and some friends for tea.
Grandma Kitty was making the only visit she ever made to our home. She had been sick dealing with a heart problem and had left the mountains to convalesce at our home.
Despite the fact, she had never lived in the city, she was thriving and enjoying the opportunity to participate in all the activities that kept our home hopping when I was a boy and my parents were in full swing with their work and volunteering in the community.
She found some new friends with our elderly neighbors and in just a short time, she and my Aunt Norma Jean were changing their routines once centered on the farm, the chickens, the cows, and the garden, to having the opportunity to go and do anything they wanted in the city.
After quite a while of rest, she still found comfort in being able to do. I think no matter what afflicts us, how old we are, or what challenges we face, we need the ability to give and feel useful in our talents.
Grandma Kitty had ran a farmhouse from her mid teens to he mid seventies, she could do it in her sleep, and though she had slowed, she still wanted to contribute even though she was in her daughter’s home.
Aunt Norma Jean was mentally retarded from childhood and never lived outside of home while my grandparents were living. Though she faced many challenges, she was able to learn many functional tasks of working around the farm and numerous games that the children enjoyed playing along with her. During the visit to our home, she joined right in around the house helping to take some of the worries of day-to-day cleaning off mom and helping with anything needed for Grandma. She was excited like I was in the new activities we chose to fill the days and meeting new people who rotated in and out of our lives on a daily basis.
As Grandma Kitty improved, she took the reins of a few activities in the kitchen, which brought her to this adventure in my memory. Between the mixing and the spilling flour, I found my Grandma in a way I had not before. I found a smile that was seldom seen in the stoic face of the Appalachian woman I knew. The burdens of the farm lifted off her back and her domain rather than endless acres were simply a 12 by 12 kitchen.
I don’t remember how long she stayed with us. Somewhere around a month, as best I recall, but eventually our time together would end and she would return to the farm. Though there were discussions of them coming to live with us permanently, the input of mother’s other siblings prevailed and that would not happen.
The day she left, that was a sad day for me, I loved having she and Norma Jean with us and as I look back, I think they both thrived and seemed so happy. While I learned so much in my times with them on the farm, I will never forget these moments of sharing our lives with them when as we baked my grandmother taught me how important it is to feel you contribute to the world each and every day.
Have you made your contribution today? Have your helped someone in your life feel useful and needed? Don’t miss a chance to uplift the life of someone you love!
ut these jeans? Now I just bought those, I knew they were a little snug but I never realized washing them in cold water would make them shrink this way.
It has to be the laundry detergent I have been using.
Well I’ll keep looking; I am going to find something in this closet that fits.
Now that’s the ticket - sweats. But maybe not for a business casual event, it may be a little too casual. At least they do go all the way around without having to button or hook.
Maybe that’s the way all pants should be. You put them on and they conform to your size. Just hit a button on the side and they fit perfectly.
Of course that would put the belt and suspender companies out of business. They probably have a pretty strong lobby that would kill any innovation like that.
I imagine the shelf lobby would come out against them too. All the stores wouldn’t have to stock all the different sizes – one size fits all.
I guess there must be something in here that I could wear. Here we go, these fit perfectly, if I was just two inches shorter. How did I get pants that look like I need to wear them in a flood? They must be left over when I thought I was shorter or it’s that detergent again.
Well, let’s look for a shirt and maybe a sweater to wear, the pants will work themselves out.
OK. Have you ever noticed how most sweaters that folks tend to give you really are sort of ugly? The ones I have, I bought, and they are not much better. I guess I won’t wear a sweater.
Shirts, that’s easy. OK, Hmm. The points of the collar are blown on this one, and this one has that stain from the spaghetti I ate on tour earlier this year. This one looks good. There’s a tear. Where did that come from? Finally, this one will work, button down, neat, but why does it have to be such a terrible color of pumpkin. I must have got this as a present. I would have never bought this.
I’ll choose a shirt later. Let’s shine up my dress shoes. Hmm. These soles are starting to wear pretty thin. What is this thread sticking out? Don’t pull the thread. I said, ‘Don’t pull the thread.’ No!! I just couldn’t help myself. I pulled the thread. Who needs two shoes with soles any way? One will do. I can just polish up the tops and I am sure no one will notice there is no bottom to it especially if I wear black socks that match.
OK. Let’s see, where am I. I have no pants that will fit. Sweaters that only someone would wear to an ugly sweater contest, a shirt only a jack-o-lantern would love and two shiny shoes, one with no sole. It looks like I am almost ready to go – shopping.
Or at least ready to make a new year’s resolution that will get me back into the pants I use to wear and buy a pair of shades dark enough that the sweaters and the pumpkin colored shirt won’t bother me anymore. I do think I will get a new pair of shoes though, that ground outside sure is cold on that foot. Happy New Year everyone! I hope you keep all your resolutions and find 2014 to be the greatest year you have ever known.