Southern Style by Randall Franks

Helping millions smile or reflect since 2001…

Randall Franks began writing the newspaper column Southern Style in February 2001 sharing boyhood stories, humor, commentary on daily life, tales shared from my mother and folks from the Gravelly Spur Mountain, features on friends from TV, Music and Entertainment. Since beginning in one local newspaper, the column has become a mainstay in newspapers across the South and Midwest from the Carolinas to Texas. Franks was awarded over 20 state and one national press association awards.

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Welcome to RandallFranks.com…

 

Friends,

Thank you for sharing a bit of your time with me. On one of the pages of this website, I hope you will find some aspect of my acting, music, writing or simply experiencing life that will inspire, encourage, or entertain you in a way that will bring you back to randallfranks.com again and again.  I wish you all the best and hope to see you somewhere along the path.

Randall Franks

A tool bag full of answers

With my nose pressed against the window, I anxiously watched for the arrival of my father from work. With him he would often carry a large, black leather tool bag which, for a little boy like me, held a world of adventure.

After dinner, Dad would spend time at the kitchen table working on various fix-it projects.

I would walk by the table where he was working on some gismo. It is amazing how many little parts would be meticulously set out where they could be cleaned, re-worked and replaced. Every tool had it’s purpose.

“Can I help you daddy?”

“Yes, son. Get me my pliers out of my tool bag,” he said.

I would search through the bag to find the pliers. With each odd looking tool I would say, “Daddy, what do you do with this?” He would tell me, even though he knew I would ask again the next time. Finally, I would find the tool he asked for and hand them over.

He would say, “Just in time.” He would do some little something with it and then set it neatly with the other tools.

Thinking back, he probably did not need those pliers, but he found a use for them anyway just so I could say I helped him fix whatever it was.

Usually as he was nearing the end of his project, I’d run in and ask, “Dad when will you be done?”

He’d say, “Soon son, soon. When I get these tools cleaned up.”

My father was a man of tools, and with them he accomplished great things. The tool bag to him was like a doctor’s stethoscope or a preacher’s bible — it helped to solve the mysteries in his life.

He had the ability to fix almost anything. I am sad to say the mechanically-minded trait did not pass down in my genes.

Much of what my father did for a living rotated around his ability to fix things.

During his life, he worked for several companies fixing everything from Singer sewing machines to Royal typewriters. The job he retired from spoke highly of his abilities to adapt to new technologies. He was responsible for keeping the computers at the IRS running. I’m not talking about these little personal computers. I’m talking about when super computers ruled the world, and they took up the space of nearly a football field.

When he passed years ago, many of his tools came to me. Some are still packed away as he left them. Many of the tools I have no idea for what they could be used. I keep them simply because they were his.

More and more, I find myself doing various jobs around the house. While I am still not mechanically inclined, with patience I usually manage to figure out how to fix whatever it is. Many times I find myself looking through his tool bag for tools that might be put to use in my objective.

My father Floyd Franks died in August 1987 and one year later in August 1988, God sent another fatherly figure into my life, a television icon to all the world, but to me someone who in many ways picked up sharing fatherly advice in my life. One day, the late Carroll O’Connor and I were standing in a pawn shop set on “In the Heat of the Night” looking into a case of tools and knives. We talked about how you can often judge the character of a man by how he cares for his tools.

If he has respect for them, that will be reflected in his life. My Dad took care of his tools and he shared that respect with me.

Today we often depend upon others to fix things we cannot. Oftentimes this tendency carries over into other aspects of our lives as we look to others to fix things which are broken.

Patience and respect will lead you to solutions that can solve many problems.

The tools to fix them are often just inside your own tool bag; you just need to take the time to look.

These are lessons, we also share with Pearl and Floyd Franks Scholars as they embark on their lives continuing the traditional music of Appalachia. Learn more about how you can help make a difference in the lives of our scholars at www.shareamericafoundation.org.

Doyle Lawson affirms that “Life is a Story”

I have been honored to know one of the most admired bluegrass performers whose work has contributed an endless string of talented performers who trained as part of his band and later went out to establish a career on their own. Doyle Lawson’s ability to reach his audience is unparalleled and he reaches out to them again with his upcoming CD “Life Is a Story.” 
Doyle describes is as a mix of Bluegrass styles “from the middle of the road to the very traditional,” the album never strays from the heart of the genre. 
“So much of what makes good Bluegrass and Country music compelling comes down to great songwriters – and the stories told in their songs,” Lawson said. “Life itself is really a continuous story that embraces the beginning, the middle and inevitable ending.”  
For those not familiar with Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver, with nearly 40 albums to their credit, the group has won numerous major awards, including seven International Bluegrass Music Association Vocal Group of the Year honors.  For his contributions to cultural heritage as a musical trailblazer, Doyle received the National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellowship award in 2006, and was inducted into the Bluegrass Hall of Fame in 2012.  DLQ is an influential force in today’s Bluegrass world, and their last two releases (In Session, Burden Bearer) received back-to-back Grammy nominations in 2016 and 2017, respectively. 
“Life is a Story” was produced by Lawson and recorded in Sparta, Tennessee for Mountain Home Music Company, the new album features patriarch Doyle’s signature Lead and Baritone vocals, Mandolin and Mandola, and includes members: Josh Swift (Resophonic Guitar, Acoustic Lead Guitar and Percussion); Joe Dean (Banjo and Guitar); Dustin Pyrtle (Lead and Tenor vocals, Guitar); Eli Johnston (Lead and Baritone vocals, Bass) and Stephen Burwell (Fiddles).  
The circular nature of life is highlighted in the lead off track, “Kids These Days,” which Dustin Pyrtle sings in a nuanced tone that reflects on innocence, lyrically invoking the perfect memories of childhood.  “Little Girl,” a #1 Country hit for John Michael Montgomery written by the late Harley Allen, was a crew favorite that made the project because Doyle heard it sung so often at sound check.  “They love that song,” recalls Lawson.  “And the more I listened, the more I loved it too.”  The inspiring “Life to My Days,” the offering’s first “great-track,” was written by friend and fellow hit songwriter Jerry Salley. 
Band members Joe Dean, Eli Johnston and Dustin Pyrtle co-wrote “Life of a Hardworking Man” while the group was in the studio recording the new project.   
“We already had the album title,” Lawson said.  “The guys wanted to create a character within the narrative – and so they crafted this hammer-banging, big machine thumping tale of a typical working man.”  
No life story would be considered complete without a bit of heartache, so Doyle and frequent co-writer Paul Humphrey sat down to write a song acknowledging that reality.  The result is the fiddle-laced traditional Bluegrass “I See a Heartbreak Comin’.”
Fans can pre-order the digital release HERE. For more information, visit  http://doylelawson.com/.

Commerce, a slave to electricity?

It has been over two centuries since Benjamin Franklin tied a key on a kite string. He stood out in a rainstorm flying a kite to coax down some electricity in the form of lightning. Since his discovery, humankind has worked tirelessly to harness electricity for use. In that time, humankind has learned how to generate it and has created every kind of gadget to make life easier. From Edison’s light bulb to the George Foreman grill, we are able to do almost everything with electricity.

Have you noticed though in the span of just around 100 years, we have managed to slow to a snail’s pace something that has thrived for thousands of years? They had it in Egypt, Rome, China and even in the Americas. What is it? Commerce, or the buying and selling of goods and services.

Over the last couple of decades, another invention, the computer, has made our lives better in so many ways, except when the power goes out.

I have seen commerce came to a halt in my hometown when for a couple hours in the middle of the day the power was off. I know at least one bank closed its doors, the Post Office could only sell stamps, gas stations couldn’t pump gas, businesses could not run their computer cash registers, so for this time folks looking to conduct simple daily transactions were inconvenienced. Imagine what it would be like if this happened on a larger scale for an extended period of time.

Men and women have been buying and selling without electricity forever. With ink and paper or the fingers on their hands, bills were tallied, money changed hands and the customer was on his way. But thanks to all our progress and all the advantages of the modern age, you can’t cash a check or make a deposit at the bank without electricity. Since no one puts prices on products anymore, only the electric computer scanner can tally a bill.

Even if you do find an ambitious cashier, willing to add in their head, they wouldn’t know what to charge.

I remember one time having to contact an insurance company about a claim. Their electricity was out. So, everybody had gone home except the poor soul answering the phone. I guess that means that we’ve advanced to the point no one can write on paper anymore. If the computers don’t get electricity, we’re closed.

I guess folks thirty and under have never experienced anything else. Do you remember the days when you had to know the prices of the items you sold? I remember my mother telling me about getting her first job at the Southern Railway Terminal in Chattanooga. In 24 hours, she had to be able to recite the price of every item they sold and run the cash register, which wasn’t electric. If she could do it, she got the job. She did it.

Maybe I’m expecting too much. Many cash registers today in fast food restaurants don’t show prices. They show pictures of the food.

These days there are obviously some things you can’t do without electricity. I am not advocating life without it, but as the threat of outages spread across the country, it would make sense for business people to have contingency plans in place to continue to serve customers in some way during these down times.

I guess it would mean people would have to pull the mechanical cash register out of the backroom. Take out the old Royal typewriter to write for the paper and dig out the old press. Make a paper copy of prices or account records to refer to when the power goes out.

Maybe we could just go back to using ink and paper or folk’s fingers. They kept commerce going for centuries. And, you know, when somebody’s countin’ on his or her fingers if they don’t have enough, yours are right there to give ‘em a hand. That’s a whole lot nicer than being just another number on the screen. Yep, commerce is a slave to electricity but we shall overcome, if we don’t we will just have to do without one or the other.

Mountain youth are making their mark in Appalachian sounds

I have been honored to be part of encouraging the talents of young people throughout my entertainment career even when I was a youth myself helping to open opportunities to share their gifts. Through the Share America Foundation, Inc. I have hosted over 100 concerts combining the talents of youth with established legendary artists from several genres – country, bluegrass, comedy and gospel music.
The goal of the concerts ultimately besides providing a public platform for the youth’s music and a mentoring opportunity is to fund the Pearl and Floyd Franks Scholarship for youth sharing the Appalachian musical arts.
I have been very pleased to watch many of the youth I once performed with on our stage achieve greater opportunities and see some of their aspirations bring them to the attention of people from around the world. Two talented North Carolina youth who came to our Share America stage with their father Sam in 2008 are vocalist/fiddler Summer Brooke McMahan and banjo stylist Brayden McMahan on banjo with their band Mountain Faith.
America got a close up look at them on 2015 “America’s Got Talent” as they made their way to the semi-finals and since that time they have appeared on the Grand Ole Opry, won the International Bluegrass Music Association’s 2016 Emerging Artist of the Year, appearing at professional sports stadiums across the country performing the National Anthem, and they were named the Atlanta Braves 2016 Band of the Year.
The group now records with Mountain Fever Records as Summer Brooke and The Mountain Faith BandSam still plays bass with the band and Summer and Brayden are joined by Nick Dauphinais on guitar, and Cory Piatt on mandolin.
“The band name changed a little bit because Summer has not only been the focus of our sound with her lead vocals for years, but she’s also been doing more of the emcee work lately,” Sam said. “The whole band decided a name change would be the best thing for the future as we grow and progress.”
Their latest song “Umbrella” is the first single from the upcoming album, Small Town Life, due for release this summer. “Umbrella” was written by the band’s friend, Dean Berner along with Laura Veltz and Ben Cooper sharing a desire to shelter a loved one from all of the world’s outside problems, “Umbrella” is a happy little number that is delivered with poignant perfection by Summer Brooke.
“When we heard the demo, we all had the same wide-eyed look,” Summer said. “It’s one of the most well-written songs we have ever heard! We knew we had to record it and we hope everyone loves it!”
I am so proud of Summer and Brayden and I want to encourage you to learn more about these talented young people in their musical hopes. Fans may download “Umbrella” and those who pre-order Small Town Life will receive an instant download of “Umbrella.” For more information on Summer Brooke and The Mountain Faith Band, visit www.MountainFaithBand.com. For more on Mountain Fever Records, visit www.mountainfever.com.
If you would like to support Share America’s continuing efforts to encourage youth in Appalachian musical arts, visit www.shareamericafoundation.org and donate today. Like Share America Foundation on Facebook also.

Charley Pride shares music from his heart

I sat in the artist green room at International Country Music Fan Fair between event appearances catching a break from the 25,000 fans who had come to Music City to meet the stars up close and personal. Over the years the chats sitting around the green room included folks such as Kenny Chesney, Paulette Carlson, Neal McCoy and countless others. On one of these breaks, I experienced a  favorite conversation I shared in country music with Charley Pride. He came in and sat down beside me, introduced himself and then spent the next few minutes asking me about my life and career. It was such an honor feeling that this country music icon was interested in my work. I had always been interested and enthused by his. He is one of my favorites of all time.
He is now celebrating more than 50 years as a recording artist. He helped break color barriers by becoming the first black superstar in country music becoming a true living legend. He has sold tens of millions of records and is a three-time GRAMMY® award winner.
He is back with his brand new album, Music In My Heart, which is available now. The project serves as Pride’s first album in more than six years, and is released via Music City Records. The highly anticipated project features 13 new studio recordings that were produced by acclaimed singer/songwriter Billy Yates. Fans can purchase Music In My Heart on AmazoniTunes and wherever music is sold.
“Charley Pride’s vocals are just as soothing to the soul as a glass of Granny’s tea and those pair of shoes that you always find yourself drawn to…. just like returning to the well,” according to Billboard.
He received the Lifetime Achievement Award from The Recording Academy® at their 2017 Special Merit Awards in New York City on July 11 where he also made numerous media appearances.
The Country Music Hall of Famer has garnered no less than 36 chart-topping country hits, including “Kiss an Angel Good Morning,” a massive #1 crossover hit that sold over a million singles and helped Pride land the Country Music Association’s “Entertainer of the Year” award in 1971 and the “Top Male Vocalist” awards of 1971 and 1972. A proud member of the Grand Ole Opry, Pride continues to perform concerts worldwide and has toured the United States, Canada, Ireland, The United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand over the last several years.
I encourage you to check out my friend Charley’s newest CD, support his concerts and reach out to him and congratulate him for his lifetime honor. He deserves this and so much more. I am thankful that I had the opportunity to have him take interest in my life. Great man! For more information, visit CharleyPride.com.

The loss of history dooms our future

As we worked in the recording studio, the nearby fireworks popped and boomed in the sky nearby.
After a 10-hour day in the studio of producing the amazing talents of a group of youth bringing together some original music to share to radio, my mind set back to the coming day ahead – Independence Day.
In our family, the day always marked my late mother’s birth, now 91 years earlier, but my folks never let me forget that it stood for something so much more when a group of American patriots gathered, debated and ultimately signed a document to cut our colonial ties with England beginning years of war.
For most of these men, it meant loss, hardships and an uncertain future, but because they made the choice, our country was set on a path to freedom.
We are still a young country in the realm of our world’s history, yet in recent years, it seems many people and groups the align with spend a lot of time reframing history to reflect the lense if today’s experience and thinking. Overseas under the cloud that has risen the last two decades, we have seen terrorists destroy historical places, statues, artifacts, because those that created them did not align with their beliefs. Thousands of years wiped from the face of the earth because of the thoughts of someone today with no respect for those who came before or a desire to learn from their existence.
They judge the actions and thoughts of those set in a different time and place and often in a world we could not even envision living within, condemning them for their place in history sometimes on one aspect of their choices within the bounds of the society in which they survived.
Generations of our ancestors lived in a world in which slavery was the norm, in fact many of our own ancestors, were slaves at some point, whether they were sold into slavery for profit or as the spoils of victory between warring peoples, were born as a serf spending their life toiling for a royal land owner, or became an indentured servant to work off a debt or secure something better years in the future.
In reality, today, there are millions of our brothers and sisters living around the world who are toiling in slavery today, with their lives bartered and sold at the whims of others. Sadly, this is true even within the shadows in our present day America, inside the norms of certain cultures, and in the sex trafficking trade.
Many of us have seen the news or historical reports of millions of people killed in places around the world in an effort to end the existence of a race or tribe of people, a group of people who worship in a particular religion, or people with a different political ideology and national allegiance.
Even within our short-lived history in America, our ancestors have fought wars, skirmishes and battles to win the American continent from native indigenous people and other European powers that dominated various regions and took public policies on our own soil, that resulted in certain people following particular religions, being or certain race or nationality being persecuted or not given equal opportunities.
So, some activists, choose to wipe out the admiration and acknowledgement of millions of past Americans for the contributions of presidents, governors, legislators, scholars, educators, explorers, statesmen, military officers, and just plain folks because they condemn where that person fell on an issue, belief, political alliance or life choice. Unfortunately, now, many of have found themselves in positions of power, whether elected, appointed or hired and they bow to the loud voices of the present ignoring the voices of the millions who came before and choosing to hide away our history. Though in their time they worked and raised monies to erect statues, place monuments to people who in their time and their circumstances were those who moved or changed the world in a positive way.
As a result, we have seen statues moved, monuments destroyed, plaques taken down. At least in our country the activists have not taken on the ‘let’s blow it to kingdom come’ approach we have seen of some of our world’s greatest treasures overseas.
If we revise our history and the people who made it to suit our present prospectives, how will we learn from past mistakes? Our world and all aspects of the human experience were brought forward by flawed individuals. It’s by examining their experiences, their flaws from the modern-day lense, that we are not doomed to repeat the history they experienced. But if we tear down our past, we are simply setting ourselves up for more of the same. Learn from those who came before, don’t judge their actions based on where we are.
If you want to fix something, the same atrocities from the past exist today…. Fix that, if you look close enough, there is a living breathing person who is within your midst who needs the attention to change their life and circumstances. Spend your energies on fixing that, rather than trying to win a victory over those who can no longer speak for themselves.

 

Hall of Fame event partners with National Quartet Convention


For many years I served as an advisor to the Southern Gospel Music Hall of Fame and Museum Board of Directors. That to me was one of the greatest opportunities to serve those who made an impact on my life with their careers in music by being part of recognizing their contributions. For many years we hosted an annual award ceremony event at Dollywood where the museum is visited by folks from around the world.

A few years ago, SGMA re-established its partnership with the National Quartet Convention, moving the inductee presentations as part of the annual event in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., marking its 60th Anniversary this year.

The NQC and SGMA have announced a new partnership to present the SGMA Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony and Benefit Concert to be held on Tuesday, September 26, 2017 during the afternoon at the LeConte Convention Center in Pigeon Forge, TN.

The program will honor the 2017 SGMA Hall of Fame class of inductees Troy Burns, LaBreeska, Hemphill, Randy Shelnut, and Tony Greene. I want to applaud the SGMA for the recognition of these talented artists. Personally, I am glad to see my friends Randy Shelnut of the Dixie Echoes and Troy Burns of the Inspirations receive the honor.

The show will also feature special performances by the Jim Brady Trio, the Hoppers, the Kingdom Heirs, Karen Peck & New River, the Second Half Quartet, the Guardians, Triumphant, the Whisnants, and Tribute.

My longtime friend and encourager SGMA Hall of Fame member Dr. Jerry Goff will be serving as master of ceremonies.

The event will serve as a benefit for the SGMA Hall of Fame and Museum, which is located at the main entrance of Dollywood. The SGMA Hall of Fame and Museum features many important pieces of memorabilia and historic artifacts of Southern Gospel Music history.

“We are so grateful to the NQC Board of Directors for partnering with us to help keep the vision of the SGMA alive, “said Arthur Rice, SGMA President. “This special event will be our biggest fundraiser of the year. Many of the legends who have been inducted into the Hall of Fame will be present to participate in the concert. Having all these artists in one place, at one time, onstage…will be one of the highlights of the convention.”

Admission is $20, the same price as all of the other NQC Showcase Spectaculars, and can be purchased at www.nqconline.com or on site at NQC. The event  Tuesday, September 26, 2017 from 1–3 p.m. at the LeConte Convention Center in Pigeon Forge. You can attend just this event or buy tickets for any other NQC events at www.nqconline.com. Learn more about the SGMA at www.SGMA.org.

Charlie Daniels remembers the Ragged Old Flag

I was standing off stage as a long list of stars were called out and introduced by Country Music legend Charlie Daniels awaiting my name to ring out from the mouth of the man who told the story of Johnny beating the old devil in the fiddling showdown.

It was especially an honor for me to stand in front of those attending playing my fiddle as he backed me on guitar. Few musical performers epitomize the American spirit with more passion and fervor than the now Country Music Hall of Fame member.

The singer, who has sung of his unabashed patriotism time in and time out during his career, is showcasing his love of the Red, White, and Blue once again in his latest recording that will be available for sale digitally on July 4th via iTunesAmazonGoogle Play among other digital platforms.

It was my old friend and supporter Johnny Cash who made “Ragged Old Flag” a standard. Written and recorded by “The Man in Black,” the song hit No. 31 on the Billboard Country Singles chart in 1974.

Daniels recorded a stirring version of the song which still garners airplay during the summer months on Classic Country stations nationwide, particularly around the Fourth of July. Recording this song allowed Charlie to combine two of his biggest passions – his country and his love of Johnny Cash. Charlie is joined on this track by Mark “Oz” Geist, Benghazi Warrior/Survivor and co-author of “13 Hours: The Inside Account of What Really Happened in Benghazi.”

“These lyrics are just as timely today as they were when Johnny originally recorded them over four decades ago,” Daniels said. “The song demonstrates the passion and the love that we all should have for this country – and the freedoms that we enjoy with it. Of course, it is always a joy to record a song written by the great Johnny Cash. He was an American original, and someone that I consider myself humbled and honored to call friend. Good songs, such as his, continue to remain in style.”

The Grand Ole Opry star, turned 80 last fall but he is not slowing down in the slightest. He continues to tour across the country, and will release a new book, Never Look At The Empty Seats on October 24. The book will document his legendary career, as well as several of his many trips abroad in support of the United States Military.
With a career spanning nearly 60 years and exceeding 20 million in sales worldwide Charlie Daniels is the quintessential southerner with a healthy dose of wild west cowboy. For decades, he has connected with his millions of fans in the varying genres of music that reflect his steadfast refusal to label his music as anything other than the “Charlie Daniels Band” sound — music that is now sung around the fire at 4-H Club and scout camps, helped elect an American President, and been popularized on a variety of radio formats. Having celebrated multiple GRAMMY® Awards, CMA Awards, ACM Awards, BMI Awards, GMA Dove Awards, CCMA Awards, his list of accolades is broad; the latest being the newest inductee to the Country Music Hall of Fame.

Several of his albums have been RIAA Certified Multi-Platinum® and he has achieved a platinum-selling single in his iconic fiddle-ridden hit, “Devil Went Down to Georgia.” An outspoken American patriot and strong supporter of the U.S. military, his talked-about Volunteer Jam concerts are world-famous musical extravaganzas featuring artists like Lynyrd Skynyrd, Ted Nugent, Trace Adkins, Alabama and others, all on one stage for one purpose – to raise funds for our U.S. military. Daniels 80th Birthday Volunteer Jam in 2016 raised funds for The Journey Home Project, a non-profit veterans’ assistance organization which he co-founded. For more information on Charlie Daniels, please visit www.charliedaniels.com.

Nashville puts Bill and Jimmy in bronze

From my earliest days in country music International Country Music Fan Fair was an event that many country music personalities loved so they could get up close and personal with fans from around the world. The event is now called CMA Music Festival, and it was appropriate that during this year’s event a couple of the early stars of the Grand Ole Opry were honored during this week with unveilings of bronzes – Hall of Famers Bill Monroe and Little Jimmy Dickens.

I knew both of these men, I first met Jimmy at an event at Country Music Fan Fair and I performed for and with Bill Monroe numerous times throughout my career at this wonderful event. Both are featured in various volumes of my Encouragers book series.

Outside of Nashville’s historic Ryman Auditorium, country and bluegrass legend Ricky Skaggs unveiled a newly installed life-size bronze statue dedicated to his musical mentor, Bill Monroe.

“I don’t know if you ever get another Bill Monroe in a century,” Skaggs said. “There’s not a lot of people that I know of who could be cited as creating a whole new genre of music, but he did. He had the ear to hear it, the talent to play it and the heart to keep it alive because he was strong, he was powerful.

“I don’t know any person who could have withstood, pushed through and made it like him. He had music in his veins. It was the thing that pushed him so much,” he said. “It wasn’t just to make a living. It was to get something out of him and take to people that he loved, and that was the fans that loved this music. I have traveled all over the world into places you would think that bluegrass music would never make it to … and you meet someone there that actually plays the music. So this music has totally gone around the world.”

James Monroe, son of the late bluegrass icon was also on-hand to say a few words about his father.

Monroe, the Father of Bluegrass, was a gifted player, singer, and songwriter. The genre takes its name from his band, the Blue Grass Boys, named for Monroe’s home state of Kentucky.

Monroe formed the first edition of the Blue Grass Boys in Atlanta, Ga. The band eventually featured more than 150 performers including Earl Scruggs and Lester Flatt performing career spanned 69 years before he died on Sept. 9, 1996. I am extremely honored to be one of those 150 Blue Grass Boys playing both fiddle and bass contributing to this legacy.

In October 1939, Monroe successfully auditioned for a regular spot on the Grand Ole Opry impressing Opry founder George D. Hay with his energetic stage performance – he soon started recording and developing what would eventually become his signature style with fast tempos, instrumental virtuosity, and musical innovation. His recordings have become classics including “Blue Grass Breakdown,” “My Rose of Old Kentucky,” and Monroe’s most famous composition, “Blue Moon of Kentucky.”

Monroe, who was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1970, remained a mainstay at the Opry. There he settled into a role as a musical patriarch influencing generations of young musicians including Emmylou Harris, Waylon Jennings, and the Oak Ridge Boys.

In addition to Monroe’s dedication, country star Brad Paisley unveiled a bronze statue of the late Little Jimmy Dickens. WSM radio personality Bill Cody hosted the ceremony.

Dickens was born James Cecil Dickins, but was world famous as “Little Jimmy.” He was known for his humorous novelty songs, his small size (4’11”), and flashy wardrobe, but his contributions to country music were far greater than his diminutive stature. He started as a member of the Grand Ole Opry in 1948 and was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1983.

Little Jimmy Dickens was a beloved fixture at the Opry, on stage and backstage. He passed away on Jan. 2, 2015. Before his death, he was the oldest living member of the Grand Ole Opry.

Dickens recorded many novelty songs including “Country Boy,” “A-Sleeping at the Foot of the Bed,” “I’m Little but I’m Loud,” and his biggest hit, the No. 1 “May the Bird of Paradise Fly Up Your Nose.”  His song “Take an Old Cold Tater (And Wait)” inspired Hank Williams to nickname him Tater.

Over the years, Dickens made appearances in music videos by close friend and fishing buddy, fellow West Virginia native Brad Paisley. Along with joining on bonus comedy tracks on several of Paisley’s albums, Dickens also joined Paisley and his CMA Awards co-host Carrie Underwood in several show monologues. Upon Dickens’ death in 2015, Paisley lamented the loss of his hero and “the best friend a human being could ask for” and has performed numerous tributes to Dickens’ life and career.

“This was a man who was honing his craft before Hank Williams, who we sort of credit as the father of modern country music in many ways,” said Paisley during the unveiling today. “He saw everything in those decades that he stood on that stage, like Patsy Cline and Loretta Lynn and Garth Brooks. By the time Jimmy left us, he had become the Grand Ole Opry. On a night that he wasn’t there, you were cheated out of something and he knew that. He realized when he was well enough to do it, he went. He knew that he owed it to the younger generation that wanted to see him, it was another lesson in how you entertain people. He gave them everything that he had on that stage and in this building for many many years. So I think it’s really appropriate that he’s going to be one of the statues that’s a permanent reminder of what we should be in this building.”

This year, the Ryman Auditorium celebrates its 125th anniversary since originally opening its doors in 1892. On July 27, Skaggs and his band Kentucky Thunder will perform at the historic venue as part of its annual “Bluegrass Nights at the Ryman” concert series.  Tickets are on-sale now at the box office and ryman.com.

He came from Alabama with a banjo on his knee

 

James Watson appears on stage in at Vines Bluegrass Barn in Woodland, Ala. in the early 2012. (Courtesy James Watson Collection) 

James Watson performs Foggy Mountain Top with the Golden River Grass in 1985 on PBS show “Tonight at Ferlinghetti’s.”

https://youtu.be/8-ofvpGHSlk

I stood outside the front door of the Quattlebaum Funeral Home in Roanoke, Ala. and watched the hearse pull from the door, drive down the hill and turn left towards Rock Mills. About a dozen musicians had just fulfilled the wishes of country folk banjo legend James Watson sending him off with some of the finest banjo pickin’, singin’ and great stories of his life.

I aimed on loading up and starting back on the three-hour trip back home as soon as the procession was out of sight, but a missed turn carried me right by the cemetery in neighboring Rock Mills, and just before I drove by the bottom fell out of the sky and as I looked at those gathered around the tent, I just thought that God gave one last massive shedding of tears as they lowered one of the men that created such happiness with the talents God shared with him.
James was 81 and shortly after his passing I was called and texted that my former Golden River Grass band mate had finished his time among us. And what a time it was, he had appeared multiple times at America’s National Folk Festival, National Black Arts Festival, 1982 World’s Fair, 1996 Olympics, colleges, numerous bluegrass festivals and folk festivals. He was often seen on PBS in shows such as “Tonight at Ferlinghetti’s” and the Alan Lomax production “The Appalachian Journey.”
All of this from a man from an Alabama mill village who became a painter by trade but whose passion was music.
He became known as the hard-drivin’ musical sideman spending over 20 years of his career with the last old time Georgia fiddle band to be recognized as part of that unique historical segment of the country music genre – Doodle and the Golden River Grass. The band which began as a square dance band in 1963, became a popular folk act featuring comedy, Appalachian folk songs and upbeat tunes centered around several fiddlers – Seals Hicks, Bill Kee, Paul Wallace, Randall Franks, and Jerry Wesley; John “Doodle” Thrower’s harmonica; and beginning in the 1970s, Watson’s clawhammer banjo. Other long-running band members were C.J. Clackum (guitar), Wesley Clackum (guitar and mandolin), the late Lynn Elliott (guitar), and the late Gene Daniell (bass).
His banjo-playing uncle, Jack Edmondson of Wedowee, Ala. was responsible for Watson becoming a banjo player. Watson began his professional entertainment career at age 11 in 1947 with fiddler with Pappy Lee (Farmer) and the Chillun’ moving from banjo to play guitar appearing on WELR in Roanoke. As the children grew, the group became Pappy Lee and the Playboys in the 1950s. In his later career, the band Randolph County was among the acts with which he performed.
James said in anApril 2017 interview that he is amazed where his banjo took him.

“I have played for so many wonderful folks, been places an old country boy from an Alabama cotton mill village could never imagine,” he said. “I knew that there was only one place for my banjo playing and that was with Doodle and the Golden River Grass. Our sound made people happy, whether we were on stage or in the parking lot jamming. It’s amazing to think of millions of folks we reached.”

James Watson (left) and Grandpa Jones appear on stage at a

bluegrass festival near Dover, Delaware in 1984. (Courtesy James Watson Collection)

Watson also said he was so honored that so many of his music heroes became lifelong friends.
One of those heroes was Earl Scruggs, who James met by chance in 1964, when he took a trip to Nashville, drove to Scruggs’ home and found him standing by the mailbox.
“He turned out to be one of the friendliest fellows I’ve ever met,” he said.
Watson said that visit gained him a tone ring from Scrugg’s own banjo that added to the amazing sound which came from his 1950 Gibson bowtie banjo. On the same trip, Watson met the King of Country Music Roy Acuff and Grand Ole Opry star Bashful Brother Oswald.
He said the two gave him a chance to play “Shout Little Lula” on another hero’s banjo, a museum piece of early WSM star Uncle Dave Macon.
His unique stylings drew the attention of numerous performers with whom he made major concert appearances including Country Music Hall of Famer Grandpa Jones who often asked Watson to join him for banjo duets.

James Watson (second from left) appears on stage with the Golden River Grass from left, Randall Franks, Gene Daniell, Doodle Thrower and Wesley Clackum in 1990 at the Jekyll Island Bluegrass Festival in Georgia. (Courtesy Randall Franks Media: Ronald Stuckey)

Watson was often the punch line of the jokes shared by Golden River Grass front man “Doodle” Thrower, who died in 1994.
“Doodle was amazing at working a crowd, he brought a smile to everyone’s face and shared the audience’s love with all of us and especially with me with his jokes,” he said. James Watson (second from left) appears on stage with the Golden River Grass from left, Randall Franks, Gene Daniell, Doodle Thrower and Wesley Clackum in 1990 at the Jekyll Island Bluegrass Festival in Georgia. (Courtesy Randall Franks Media: Ronald Stuckey)“We both grew up playing those old time tunes and when we got to going, me and him would stand for hours having a good time. It just made people’s hearts want to dance. After Doodle went on, while the music was still there, it took so much away from what we did, it wasn’t the Golden River Grass no more.”
Watson’s recording discography includes 17 albums with the Golden River Grass including the his “Mountain Clawhammer Way Down in the Country” released by Attieram in 1986 and my own Golden River Fiddlin’. Other collections including his work are the Grammy ® winning “The Art of Field Recording Vol. I” (2007), Vol. II (2009), and Sampler (2006) from Dust-to-Digital.
My fellow bandmate Wesley Clackum and I are working with Grammy-winning engineer Michael Graves to restore and compile a Golden River Grass anthology including James’ popular banjo release.
James had an amazing ability to create a rhythm that allowed a fiddler to just go anywhere musically they could reach while he never veered or slowed his steam – ‘no dragging’ as he would say. He was original in what he did, always sharing an intensity and concentration that thrilled the audience. There was no one in folk, bluegrass or country who brought to the stage what he did.
His career is honored with a museum exhibit in his hometown of Roanoke, Ala. at the Randolph County Historical Museum. He also had a feature exhibit in the Georgia Music Hall of Fame in Macon, Ga. from 1996-2010 and was inducted into the Atlanta Country Music Hall of Fame in 2007.
Memorial gifts may be made to the Share America Foundation, Inc., (www.shareamericafoundation.org) P.O. Box 42, Tunnel Hill, Ga. 30755 for its Appalachian music scholarship.