Appalachian youth finding their way to the top

When I was a child beginning my music career, the opportunity to record was a dream that could have not come true without the support of many adult mentors.
Musicians including Eugene Akers, WSB Barndance stars Cotton and Jane Carrier, performers John and Debbie Farley, Roy Westray, plus numerous parents who wished to invest in my fellow youth musicians and me.
They were helping us prepare for the day we could go in the studio and create something that people would want to listen to. When the day finally came, unlike today when people have devices capable of recording in their own pockets, we had to a recording studio and then the music had to by manufactured into a product, in our case, an album and cassette.
That all cost money and thankfully my late mother was willing to loan us the money needed. We were blessed that the music was well received and we sold plenty of albums and were able to pay back every dime, and then finance our next album with the profits.
Recently, I was blessed to be in a similar situation as those who mentored me. Over an 18-month period, I brought Appalachian youth into the recording studio producing a project for the non-profit Share America Foundation, Inc. The learning experience was to give them the opportunity to record, to work with other talented musicians, and to learn from some good mentors. In some cases, we taught the youth about writing or arranging songs, and since about promoting songs.
When we started the process, I never imagined how ultimately amazing the combination of talents would be and how radio would receive those talents. With the release of our CD “Randall Franks – Americana Youth of Southern Appalachia” in the middle of May, in the course of a month, the recordings carried the CD to the #1 position on the APD Americana Albums Global Charts with most also charting individually with their songs. With today’s technology and a radio music provider like our partner AirPlayDirect.com, within a couple of weeks, these youth’s music was being heard by audiences around the world.
When I started, we had to mail LPs to radio stations and then call program directors and disc jockeys asking them if they would consider playing the music, sometimes with success, sometimes not. Often, we had to visit the stations while touring, or meet them at the DJ Convention before we had a shot at a listen.
What a blessing the attention is for these talented youth!
Joining me on the project: Emerald Butler; Warren Carnes; Phillip Cross; Landon Fitzpatrick; Nicholas Hickman; Trevor Holder; Kings Springs Road including Tyler Griffith, Owen Schinkel, Kylie Anderson, Josh Meade, and Max Silverstein; Isaac Moore; Mountain Cove Bluegrass Band including Eli Beard, Cody Harvey, Colin Mabry, Wil Markham, Tyler Martelli, and Chris Brown; Matthew Nave; Wally O’Donald; Drew Sherrill; SingAkadamie including Jacob Trotter, Grant Lewellen, Nicholas Hickman, Lilly Anne York, Haleigh Grey, Kayla Starks, Chelsea Brewster, Logan Lynne and Kiersten Suttles; Landon Wall; and Tyler West.
The other musicians contributing their talents to the effort on various recordings are special guests Gospel Music Hall of Fame member Jeff Hullender, SingAkadamie director Sheri Thrower, Tim Witt, John Roberts; Bary Wilde; Chris Gordon; Tim Neal; and Mitch Snow. Bradley Powell mastered the project.
The 18 recordings include: Original Songs – It’s A Hard Road to Make Love Easy; How Could I Go?; What About All These American Flags?; Wash Day; Time for the Blues; Midnight Train; Filling the River with Tears; Someone Greater Than I; I Believe He Spoke to Me; five standards – The Star Spangled Banner; When We All Get to Heaven & Blessed Assurance; Farther Along; and I Want to Be Ready; and five covers – Chet Atkin’s “Baby’s Coming Home;” Billy Joel’s “Piano Man;” Dwight Yoakam’s “Traveler’s Lantern;” Ramblin’ Tommy Scott’s “Been Gone A Long Time;” and Billy Hill’s “Old Spinning Wheel.”
If you should have an interest, I hope you might take the time download the project or donate for a CD copy. All the funds go to Appalachian music scholarships and will help encourage not only these youth but others in the future. The Share America Foundation, Inc., a 501-C-3 of Georgia, fosters the arts and preserves the history of Appalachia.
The North Georgia Electric Membership Corporation Foundation, Kiwanis Club of Ringgold and the Wes and Shirley Smith Charitable Endowment, all also provided support of the project like AirPlay Direct,
“Americana Youth of Southern Appalachia” CD is available for a $15 donation
or on the web at www.ShareAmericaFoundation.org . It may be downloaded through Apple iTunes, Google Music, Amazon, and CD Baby by searching for the title.
Radio stations may download the recordings at AirPlayDirect.com/RandallFranks-AmericanaYouthOfSouthernAppalachia

YouTube: Randall Franks Americana Youth of Southern Appalachia CD PSA:
https://youtu.be/HDnh-Ls-HCQ/

Bullies often influence our life’s directions

I rolled down the hill head first, it wasn’t the first time that I gotten myself in a scuffle with the other boys at school. But this one seemed to be tougher to overcome than most.
You would think a peaceable person such as myself wouldn’t get into scrapes with other folks but I often found myself on the receiving end of bully’s attention. Sometimes it was directed at me to start with, but over the years, I had learned sometimes the only way to stop someone from being bullied was to step in and divert the attention of those inflicting the action.
Early in my life, I had seen my dad and mom step in to help others and one day another boy had stepped in for me in a fight and these things left an indelible mark in my character that I should do the same.
I was never much of a fighter. I was more of a punching bag coming up but I learned quickly to out smart those who had ill will.
As I hit the bottom of the hill this time, I rolled up on my feet and turned ready for the next blow from the bully. Once I looked up, he was gone along with his band of evil doers. They had moved on to wreak havoc elsewhere.
I brushed myself off, walked back up the hill and picked up my books. The original aim of their actions had evaporated into the crowd. But I had accomplished my objective. I had deflected the harm with little or no worse for the wear.
This childhood tendency has brought me into helping others in a variety of ways in my life, though I have left physical intervention long in the past.
There are still bullies who need their attention diverted from those they wish to torment. Each of us should be mindful no matter where they appear. No matter what they wear or what they claim to be.
Wolves sometimes still wear sheep’s clothing to gain the opportunity to devour their prey.
Sometimes we have to step up, use our heads, so the wolves know we and those we love are not their prey and they need to move on.
May you always defend those less fortunate, and always stand up for the right.

Place and time sometimes matter

One never knows what God has in store for each day.
I was recently returning from a day of volunteering a couple of hours from home traveling up the interstate only to find myself in slowing traffic which is not out of the ordinary.
What made this late night commute out of the ordinary was the driver in the same lane behind me who did not notice the slowing traffic and catapulted into the rear of my vehicle. Thankfully, he realized in time to veer just enough to take away some of the force and thus I was spared from serious injury, but the vehicle, though yet to be determined, is likely to be totaled.
Just moments before, I had seriously thought about changing lanes to the right to exit in order to avoid being stuck in traffic in case it was more than a slowdown. In looking ahead, I could see that it was just a construction slow down and let that thought pass.
Had I changed lanes; I would not have been hit. I would not be searching endlessly to replace a 17-year-old clean as-a-whistle, well-maintained, low-mileage vehicle on the less-than-ample settlement that the insurance company is likely to pay.
So, did I make the wrong choice? When I disregarded the urge to move over, did I lose my chance of missing this fate? Or had I made the choice could the result have been even worse? Or perhaps was this minimum effect that now requires me find a new vehicle to save me from a breakdown out on a trip later in the year?
These are of course, answers I will never know. Sometimes for some, such a choice leaves other wondering what happened as they deal with circumstances more severe.
Was it meant to happen or was it simply the place and time that mattered? A few moments, a different lane, and another path could be ahead. Is it a path I would have wanted?
Despite what we may face on a given day. We cannot change what has happened. We must simply do our best with the circumstances and ask for God’s guidance in what is next. A light will shine upon the path, though our eyes may not always recognize it immediately, but the way ahead will be brighter. We must have faith.

The seeds of wisdom spit forth

This past week I gathered with kin beside the stream that flows by my late grandparent’s home in the mountains of Tennessee. The area is now a state park, in the stream one of our cousins placed a watermelon to chill its bright red innards. We shared so much fun that day, as we cleaned up, we discovered the melon ice cold, and it had missed out on all the fun. As I sat on the back porch today looking out watching the grass grow, this image carried me in my mind’s eye sitting similarly on my grandmother’s porch. It was a summer where I spent a lot of time with my Grandma Kitty and Aunt Norma Jean. Flossie, the milk cow, was meandering through the yard headed for a shade tree where she laid down and tried to create a bit of a breeze using her tail to move an almost non-existent breeze.
Grandma was doing a much better job in her rocker with her funeral home fan and her right arm. In fact she managed to move enough that I picked up a bit of the breeze as mother and I went back and forth on the porch swing. Norma Jean leaned back in a ladder back chair against the wall abnormally still for her.
It was one of those days once referred to as the dog days of summer. I never quite understood that except I guess that the similarities with dogs it brought to us humans. We all sat around with our tongues hanging out of our mouths panting or at least so it seemed to me as a kid.
After a while I just couldn’t stand being still so I headed down to the branch to dangle my feet in the water. You know that works a lot better if you take off your shoes and socks. I never said I was real bright back then, or maybe it was just the heat.
Before I knew what had happened I looked around and everyone from the porch had joined me and you know there were smiles on their faces. They actually remembered to take their shoes off.
It was like the branch filled our bodies with a sense of hope. Hope that the heat would pass, and we would once again feel like ourselves again.
It wasn’t long though until I realized it wasn’t me that had drawn the group to the branch, especially when I noticed mother had spread out a red and white tablecloth on the bank beneath a tree. On it was a large knife and a cutting board and a saltshaker but there was nothing else.
What I did not know was that Grandma had a surprise for me. She sent me down into the deepest spot in the branch and told me to reach in for a surprise.
There was a deep green watermelon from the garden that was now cold as can be from the water running over it for most of the day.
I lifted it out and brought it up and set it on the cutting board. My shoes squished with each step.
We all now gathered around as mother cut the watermelon in pieces and we each began eating our fill.
Red fruit with a touch of salt and all those black seeds. How do you be polite with all those black seeds?
I followed Grandma’s lead and realized she was throwing the conventions of proper etiquette out the window. Rather than disposing of them quietly in a napkin, she suggested that we have a contest and see how far we all could reach spitting a seed.
We all took turns, seeing who could get across the branch. It is amazing how far the ladies could spit. They made it to the other side almost every time. Occasionally one fell short and down the branch it floated.
With each round, we found more laughter, each of us eventually won, and by the time we finished the melon, we had almost forgotten how hot it was when we started.
Our heat-induced melancholy was lost to the mischief of a melon and all its little seeds.
An added bonus, next year, the watermelons were so close to the branch, they didn’t even have to be carried and put in, they just rolled in themselves.

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 recently went into one of those grocery stores that gives you 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 particularly 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 which 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. The next twenty minutes involved two clerks and either an assistant manager or store manager. They 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.

In spite 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 to much upon calculators. 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

Why are there no new shows like the Waltons?

I have often wondered what makes an enduring television show. One of my all-time favorite shows was “The Waltons.” Growing up, that show reflected most closely the South of my parents and grandparents. I related to John and Olivia, John-Boy, Jason, Mary Ellen, Ben, Erin, Jim-Bob and Elizabeth, Esther and Zeb as if they were part of my own family. Earl Hamner Jr. created this masterpiece of Americana based on his life growing up during the Depression and World War II.

I remember mourning the passing of Will Geer (Grandpa Zeb Walton) as if I had lost my own grandfather. I struggled along with Ellen Colby (Grandma Esther Walton) as she performed through her real-life stroke.

I know that it was a drama and the participants were actors but the characters seemed real to me and made me feel that, the first chance I got, I should move to Walton’s Mountain.

I always enjoyed the characters that gave the show a bit of the out-of-the-ordinary — characters such as the Baldwin Sisters, who brewed up The Recipe, not realizing it was illegal; or Corabeth Walton Godsey, the always-starched well-educated cousin who tried to bring a bit of class and culture to the mountain at Godsey’s General Store.

I had the pleasure of working with Ronnie Claire Edwards, who portrayed Corabeth, while working on “In the Heat of The Night” in an episode titled “Perversion of Justice” and directed by Harry Harris, who also directed “The Waltons.”

For me, getting to spend a few days visiting with her took me back to all those nights waiting to hear that mountain-style theme music emanating from the television speaker.

Like a good Mark Twain story where you just want to pull off your shoes and jump the next raft down the Mississippi, I wanted to pull off my shoes and walk down the old dirt road with all the Walton kids.

Harry Harris and I discussed the Waltons on a couple of occasions. At one point he was trying to get Richard Thomas to return to do a reunion show. Harris gave me the impression that Thomas was reluctant. To my delight, just in time for Thanksgiving 1993, the cast once again gathered around the big table on Walton’s Mountain, held hands and said grace. The success of the show brought other reunions — “A Walton’s Wedding” and “A Walton’s Easter.”

In the back of my mind I still wished I had been there. Already being an actor, the wish was even stronger.

When I ran across the CD “A Walton Christmas,” I could not resist getting a copy and listening to it from beginning to end.

I have never had the pleasure of meeting any of the other regular cast members, although I was briefly around Peggy Rea, who played “Rose,” while Alan Autry and I both worked on “Grace Under Fire.” Unfortunately, I never got to meet her.

I wish that we would again see a positive show like that one makes its way to main stream networks. The closest I have seen of late are the two films that Dolly Parton produced centered around her childhood – “Coat of Many Colors” and its sequel.

If you have never seen “The Waltons” before, or even if your have, I encourage you to pull up a chair and take a trip to a place where life is not always simple, but no matter what comes their way, the family and the community survive together on the solid morale ground of Walton’s Mountain.

Soap, a brush and a baseball bat

I held the Ivory soap close to my nose and breathed in deeply. There was nothing quite like the smell of a fresh bar of soap out of the package. The smell carried me back to my days of late summer evenings of avoiding my bath as a boy.

Needless to say I would always need one after playing ball in the light of the street lamps.
Around the bases were Charlotte, Clay, Bubba, Charlie and Jennifer. Some were on base while others anxiously awaited me as I prepared the swing the bat on Bruce’s pitches.

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Lifting the burdens of others

Have you ever known need? Have you ever been hungry and not known where your next meal is coming from? While I have been blessed not to know this sense of desperation, I have seen the face of despair in many and heard stories of desperation from years past.
I was recently standing at a gasoline pump filling my tank. When a car pulled in next to me. After hearing the engine, I immediately thought, they are lucky to be going anywhere.

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Music and movie meanderings

I learned recently one of my country music friends was recently honored in his home town. multi-platinum selling country music artist Sammy Kershaw was recognized by his hometown of Kaplan, Louisiana with “Sammy Kershaw Day and renamed the street he grew up on from 2nd Street to Sammy Kershaw Drive.
Kershaw’s “Grillin’ and Chillin'” was chosen as the featured song in a newly launched Applebee’s® television commercial, airing worldwide.

Academy Award nominee Eric Roberts, Dey Young, T.C. Stallings and introducing Téa McKay as Sarah have come to DVD in their film “Unbridled.” It is a story of redemption and triumph about an abused girl who teams up with an abused horse on a journey of healing.
“Sarah’s journey of healing evokes tears that transcend into heartfelt joy,” says the film’s producer Christy McGlothlin.
The film inspired by the Equine Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP) program of the Corral Riding Academy in Cary, NC, which helps abused girls heal by pairing them with rehabilitated horses. It draws attention to sex trafficking and domestic abuse, tackling these difficult issues in a delicate way.
The film won numerous film festival awards including the prestigious EQUUS WINNIE Award.

Many see the music of the legendary singer and songwriter Don McLean, as the soundtrack of their lives – hits like “American Pie”, “Vincent (Starry Starry Night)”, “Castles in the Air”, “And I Love You So”, “Crossroads” and “The Grave” propelled McLean into the mainstream. Since first hitting the charts in 1971, McLean has amassed over 40 gold and platinum records world-wide and, in 2004, was inducted into the Songwriters’ Hall of Fame.
He receives the George and Ira Gershwin Award for lifetime musical achievement on behalf of the Student Alumni Association of UCLA this month. In recognition of George and Ira Gershwin’s contributions to American music and in honor of their gift to UCLA, the UCLA Student Alumni Association established the annual George and Ira Gershwin Award for Lifetime Musical Achievement in 1988.

Warsh and wear

Today most folks don’t give a second thought if they get their clothes dirty to go and change into another outfit. Of late, I have found myself babying a electric dryer as I have been trying to get parts to keep it working, so I am a little more cautious about how many clothes I have to wash.
In the valley below the Gravelly Spur, an abundance of clothes in the closet was not something that most folks experienced.
The Wood boys, like everyone, were often faced with limited things to wear. Little Woody had long grown out of his white cotton dress that he wore in the shadow of his late mother.
The dresses provided mothers the added benefit to keep track of a child when they had to leave the room by lifting the old iron bedpost and placing it on the tail of the gown. That kept the toddlers from toddling into mischief.
By this point the young boy had graduated to two pairs of overalls and two shirts.
After working in the fields two days in a row, both pairs of his overalls and his two shirts were stained with red dirt and mud. He came to his older sister and said “I haven’t got anything to wear to school tomorrow.”
She took him into the bedroom reached into the closet, pulled out her extra dress, and laid it on the bed.
“Get that on and I’ll wash up your overalls.”
Little Woody didn’t have much choice in the matter it was either put the dress on or run around in his all together. So out of the clod covered overalls and into the gray colored dress he slipped.
So even though it was late in the day, she pulled out the washtub and the warshboard and scrubbed them overalls from rusty brown to a faded blue.
She took them out and hung them to dry on the clothesline, as one would normally do.
As the family went to sleep that night, the temperature dropped way below freezing. When the family slowly made their way out into the kitchen wiping the sleep from their eyes with the rooster’s crow, little Woody’s older sister sent one of the other boys to fetch the overalls while she cooked.
He brought them in frozen solid, straight as a board. He stands them in the corner taking a bit of delight in the feat.
Woody is standing there in her gray dress and says “What are we going to do, I can’t were those to school and I am sure not wearing this dress.”
She took the overalls and shirts and placed them on chairs by the fireplace and within just a short time the overalls and shirts had melted into something looking like the occupants had simply disappeared. She quickly ironed one of the shirts.
Woody could not wait to get out of the dress and as soon as the overalls were warm enough and before the iron had hit them, he was into one of the pairs and out of that dress.
While the experience might not have been so bad for little Woody if his older brothers did not see the whole thing as an opportunity for some good old fashion ribbing once they got to school.
When the Moss brothers asked the Wood boys what they had done the night before each mentioned some adventure they had but one of them had to say, “Woody didn’t do anything. He was afraid to come out of the house cause someone might see him wearing sister’s dress.”
Needless to say this was enough to get Little Woody’s blood to boiling and with a little more agitation its safe to say that clean pair of overalls picked up a little schoolyard dirt as the kidders found themselves on the receiving end of his frustration.
Good thing his sister washed both pairs of overalls or he’d been back in that dress all over again.
( From “A Mountain Pearl: Appalachian Reminiscing and Recipes” by Randall Franks)