Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The Grand Tour: The Life and Music of George Jones by Rich Kienzle - Book Review

The Grand Tour: The Life and Music of George Jones by Rich Kienzle (Harper/Collin/Dey Street Books, March 2016, 288 Pages, $18.77/14.99) provides an excellent overview of the life and times of George Jones, called, by the New York Times, the “definitive country singer of last half century” and known for years in the industry as “no show Jones” for his propensity to be unable to make it to the stage because of his serious problems with drugs and alcohol. It may also echo the life and times of the country music industry during the decades from the sixties through the eighties, when many, according to an interview we heard recently, the industry floated on an epidemic of drugs and alcohol. While I didn't find much of Jones' life or personality to be much endearing, many of his fans will excuse his behavior for the greatness of his mammoth catalog of hit songs which persist, being frequently covered by country music singers everywhere. I found the book and the man to be both sad and distressing.

George Glenn Jones was born in 1931 during the depths of the depression in the Big Thicket region of east Texas, a heavily wooded region lying along the southeastern edge of Texas bordering on Louisiana. This is a region where, when the turpentine and logging industry wasn't doing well, the moonshine business thrived. Jones' father, a violent alcoholic himself, was prone to responding to upsets in the world by beating his wife and children, which, according to Kienzle, lay at the base of Jones's own lifelong difficulties with drugs and alcohol. Music, however, was always a feature in his life, as his father played guitar and harmonica, while his mother was a church pianist in a Pentacostal church, leading Jones' toward his base in both country and gospel music which dominated his life.

Perhaps the most interesting element of this book, for me, lay in the insights into the recording industry, when that industry was ruled by large commercial labels, as it emerged during the fifties and sixties, from small, regional outlets recording in primitive studios music aimed at narrowly focused regional audiences, in Jones' case, of white, working class fans who heard him playing largely in honky-tonks and bars. As his success as a performer grew, he moved to Nashville, where the country music recording industry was centered, working for larger and more prestigious labels. He decried what he saw as the breakdown of traditional country music into an “urban cowboy smooth style represented by the rise of singers like Kenny Rogers and Garth Brooks, including even Dolly Parton, as she became a movie star in the eighties. As in bluegrass, the move from its rough, rural origins to suburban comfort in the U.S. Demographic profiles created fissures in the business which disturbed and angered Jones. Kienzle, prone to comments like “scared the shit out of him,” substitutes coarse language for serious analysis at times. Jones' work became the “gold standard” for a movement during the eighties which Kienzle refers to as New Traditionalism, represented by Dwight Yoakum, Ricky Skaggs, Keith Whitley, and Patty Loveless.

Meanwhile, Jones' personal life can only be described as a mess. He was married several times to women whose influence on him was negligible. His marriage and professional association to/with Tammy Wynette created great music, but never contributed to his achieving a more adult lifestyle. He bought and sold large tracts of land with the idea of developing music parks, which never quite panned out. Jones was prone to buying and either giving away or wrecking cars and yachts, never learning to live in a responsible way or manage money. He was frequently sued and usually lost. His last wife, Nancy Sepulvado, seems to have helped him, with the help of several admittances to rehabilitation institutes and hospitalizations, to forego drugs and learn better to manage his drinking. Often plagued with ill health, Jones still managed to live into his 81st year, dying in 2013. He is remembered and celebrated as one of the all-time greats of country music history. Songs like He Stopped Loving Her Today and The Grand Tour have become staples of country music and bluegrass.

Veteran country music critic, journalist, and historian Rich Kienzle is the author of Southwest Shuffle: Pioneers of Honky-Tonk, Western Swing, and Country Jazz and Great Guitarists: The Most Influential Players in Blues, Country Music, Jazz and Rock. A contributing editor and columnist at Country Music magazine for nearly twenty-five years, he also edited their history publication The Journal. He was formerly a contributing editor at No Depression and Guitar World and is now a regular contributor to Vintage Guitar Magazine. His work has appeared in Fretboard Journal, Guitar Player, Request, The Journal of Country Music, and the Austin American-Statesman. The author of liner notes for almost four hundred reissue albums, Kienzle is among the few country journalists profiled in The Grove Dictionary of American Music. He received the International Country Music Conference’s Charlie Lamb Award for Excellence in Country Music Journalism in 2012. (from Harper Collins author biography)

The Grand Tour: The Life and Music of George Jones by Rich Kienzle (Dey Street Books division of Harper/Collins, March 2016, 288 Pages, $18.77/14.99) is a reasonably thorough account of George Jones' life which makes no effort to paper over his personal demons and deep flaws. Who can tell whether those flaws contributed to the depth and emotional impact of his singing or fatally damaged his output and his life. Certainly, his record as a husband and father were evident to everyone who knew anything about him. Nevertheless, George Jones' reputation as an icon in country music only continues to grow. I read the book as an electronic galley provided to me by the publisher through Edelweiss. I read it on my Kindle app.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Big Lick Bluegrass Festival - Oakboro, NC: April 7 - 10, 2016 - Preview

The Big Lick Bluegrass Festival opens the North Carolina outdoor season in Oakboro, NC on April 7 - 9, 2016. This is a small, friendly festival featuring a good variety of national, excellent regional, and local bands plus an interesting open mic session on Thursday evening. If you have a band which would like to make an appearance at the Open Mic, call promoter Jeff Branch for more information at the number below. Check out the festival's web site for more information or call Jeff.

Wood Family Tradition

The Wood Family Tradition apparently comes from around the Statesville area in central North Carolina. The band is descended from Al Wood and the Smoky Ridge Boys. Chris Bryant, formerly banjo player with Darin & Brooke Aldridge has joined the band on banjo. 

Bethel University Renaisance BG Band

The Renaissance program at Bethel University in McKenzie, TN provides students with a wide variety of high level experiences in the arts without requiring them to be in an arts major, making it possible for students to major in liberal arts or pre-professional areas while participating at a high level in arts programs. The bluegrass band, seen here, represents only a small part of the larger Renaissance program. The band seen in this picture will have all graduated, but the upcoming band will be entetaining as they represent their college and program. This will be their fourth consecutive year performing at Big Lick. 

Spinney Brothers
Allan Spinney

The Spinney Brothers are honest and entertaining pickers of bluegrass and classic country tunes. They select their material carefully and radiate good will and appreciation. They tour hard below the border as well as being widely known in their native Canada, where they have received a number of national awards. They have also been nominated for several IBMA awards. 

Rick Spinney

Steve Dilling & Sideline

Sideline has become a national phenomenon! Started as a side project to fill winter hours by four busy bluegrass pickers, Sideline has established itself as the most exciting cover band playing first and early second generation material around. Steve Dilling, on the mend from some health problems remains the best band emcee in the business. Young Nathan Aldridge is terrific on fiddle as he comes into his own. People will be talking about Aldridge style before it's all over. Jason Moore, Brian Aldridge and Skip Cherryholmes fill out this fine band. 

Joe Mullins & the Radio Ramblers

Joe Mullins brings his radio voice and his fine Scruggs style banjo play to a band he has built from the ground up, with each change in recent years improving it. When Jason Barrie joined the band, he provided the cement that molded it all together. Mike Terry, solid on mandolin and harmony vocals is the only other remaining original member of this very good band.

Jason Barrie & Joe Mullins

Balsam Range
Buddy Melton 

Balsam Range, IBMA Entertainer of the Year in 2014, Male Vocalist (Buddy Melton in 2014), Song of the Year twice has had a remarkable career for a band that just seemed to appear about seven or eight years ago. But their quick rise to prominence belies the deep well of experience that all  members had before they came together. One of the elements that makes them interesting is that they all come to this very interesting and entertaining group from different perspectives, leading the band to choose and create a unique, synthesized sound relying on traditional bluegrass, southern gospel, rock and roll, country and more. Don't miss this band whenever you get chance to hear them.

Marc Pruett

The Malpass Brothers (90 Minute Show)

The Malpass Brothers, Tayler and Christopher, have found a home at bluegrass festivals providing the music many fans attend bluegrass festivals for but can't hear any more live or on recording, classic country and rockabilly. By singing the work of many of the country greats of the fifties and sixties, they offer a welcome change of pace at traditional and not-so-traditional bluegrass festivals. Johnny Ridge, the powerhouse traditional bluegrass fiddler is every bit as effective bringing his driving fiddle to this enjoyable young pair of brothers. 

Johnny Ridge

Jeff Branch has assembled an increasingly varied and interesting lineup since we began attending this growing festival. 

Promoter - Jeff Branch

The Details

Early Bird Three Day Tickets unitl April 1, 2016:    $50.00
Three Day Adult Ticket after April 1, 2016               $73.00

Day Tickets: Open Mic on Thursday -                       $5.00/3.00/Free
                      Friday                                                    $28.00/10.00/Free
                      Saturday                                                $33/00/10.00/Free

For Further Information on Tickets and Camping: Call Jeff Branch at 704.985.6987

How to Get to Big Lick
Click on the Map Below then Input your address
in the space with the O and press Enter

This early Spring bluegrass festival is an excellent way to start off the outdoor season in North Carolina. It's small, unpretentious, and fun, with a friendly crowd, good vendors, lots of jamming, and good vendors. Can you beat that after a long hard winter?


Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Newell Lodge - Spring 2016: Review

Located in an unspoiled grove of live oak trees in South Georgia, just a few miles from Folkston and the Okeefenokee Swamp, Newell Lodge represents an almost ideal locale for a small to mid-sized bluegrass festival. The festival proved to be a success, blessed with the finest weather ever experienced there, several excellent bands, enthusiastic jamming and good fellowship.

Ernie Evans

Getting the sound set up so that it's just right.

Harold Asher

The best wrangler and parker in the business. 

Wednesday Fish Fry/Covered Dish

There Was Plenty of Food

Our Festival Cottage

Emcee - Erbie Brown

Greg Bird - Karaoke Emcee & Early Host

Ernie Evans, Josh Griffin, and his twin sons

The Kings

The King family presented a gospel set to open the festival on Thursday evening Their son is a quite promising jazz guitarist.  

John King

Amanda King

Allie King

Aubrey King

Young Aubrey King is a precise and gifted young jazz and swing flat-picker. His efforts should be encouraged. His solos were well-received by the audience.

Josh Griffin

Our "In the Live Oaks" Cottage

The Gazebo

Camping at Newell Lodge

Gentle River

Gentle River is a gentle bluegrass band doing a pleasant and tuneful job with classic bluegrass and gospel songs. A good opening band.

George Wells

Danny Smith

Darren Wainright

Bruce Sheridan

George with Granddaughter Gracie Wainright

Morning Jam

Goldwing Express

My apologies to Goldwing Express. I somehow neglected to take any pictures of their performances, so I had to cadge these from Google Images...sorry.

Pop and Steven Baldridge

The Side People Don't See
Steven Baldridge & Granddaughter

...and Walking with his Family

Deeper Shade of Blue
Jason Fraley

Since North Carolina can be considered a region all its own, it's fair to say that A Deeper Shade of Blue is one of the finest regional bands in the state. Most of the members have chosen to stay close to home after some time spent on the road, while tenor Troy Pope has refused several very attractive offers from one of the most storied bluegrass bands to remain close to home, family, and church. Frank Poindexter, and uncle of the Rice Brothers, has toured extensively. Father and son Jim and Jason Frailey did a stint on the road as did Scott Burgess. Having proven their mettle, they play out of the Monroe base around the state with occaisonal forays to further distances. Look for this very fine traditional band at future Ernie Evans festivals. 

Jim Fraley

Troy Pope

Frank Poindexter

 Scott Burgess

Deeper Shade of Blue - Just Inside the Pearly Gates - Video

Hold Your Horses Cafe

 Larry Gillis Band

We haven't seen the Larry Gillis band in several years, and, honestly, they weren't exactly to my taste when I last saw them. In the interim, either I or Larry Gillis has changed, but it's probably a little bit of both of us. Gillis still plays the hard driving SwampGrass music he's known for on his archtop Gibson banjo drawing the last bit of pop and crackle out of it the instrument's capable of. The change lies in the added versatility of his performance as well as the range and capability of his band. Gillis showed his versatility by playing a couple of delightful Merle Haggard ballads on the guitar. Mike Feagan on fiddle is always solid. Albie Lopez on mandolin is wide open and funny. JR Davis has a fine country voice while becoming increasingly familiar with the bluegrass repertory. Donny Leaman, from Pennsylvania, plays rhythm guitar and sings. Gillis's charming wife Christie adds just the right touch to the band on bass. All told, this band is now a real pleasure to hear and watch. Furthermore, they have a large enough catalog to mange more than two sets. 

Larry Gillis

JR Davis

Mike Faegan

Albie Lopez

Christie Gillis

Donny Leaman

Larry & Christie Gillis

The Larry Gillis Band - Answer the Call - Video

Sound Guys - Josh Griffin & Larry Payton

 Mountain Faith

In the year since last year's Newell Lodge, Mountain Faith has shown enormous growth. Their appearance on America's Got Talent and the consequent changes in their personnel have led them into new realms of performance and developed their repertoire. Their current musical offerings are considerably more contemporary than they showed before, while remaining true to their gospel roots, at least before this audience. Their music has become a fusion of bluegrass, pop, and country that's pleasing to the ear and catchy. It appeals, perhaps, to a younger demographic than classic bluegrass might, while retaining a traditional patina. They're mostly young, fully enthusiastic, and very engaging. Cory Piatt had already injected a youthful enthusiasm and high degree of skill to the band. The addition of David Meyer, from the Missouri's Meyer Band, along with his younger brother Jimmy, adds still more. Summer McMahon is an able spokesperson for the band, while her brother Braydon plays banjo. Father Sam McMahon is able on bass and injects a note of maturity, as well as driving the van and enabling them to get AARP rates at motels, as he says. The band still doesn't have enough material for four full sets, but they will soon remedy that. We look forward to seeing them at Sertoma. 

Summer McMahon

Cory Piatt

David Meyer

Braydon McMahon

Sam McMahon

Jimmy Meyer

Braydon and Cory with the Griffin Twins

Summer McMahon

Mountain Faith - Anything To Do With Love - Video

Irene Taking Time to Watch & Shoot

The Claire Lynch Band

Claire Lynch has been playing and singing bluegrass music since the 1980's She has forged a career based on wonderful singing, an insightful view of what fits into a bluegrass format and then extending it, and surrounding herself with excellent musicians who complement her voice and personality. She has recently announced that she is backing away from her full-time touring commitment, but expects to continue her song-writing and performing on a more limited scale. Her current four piece band is anchored by Mark Schatz, a two time IBMA bass player of the year and celebrated bass player, who also sings, dances, and ham-bones. He has toured with traditional as well as celebrated progressive bands like Nickel Creek. Bryan McDowell has won coveted national instrument contests at Winfield, KS on guitar, fiddle, and mandolin in a two year period. His singing voice is clear, controlled, and blends closely with Claire's. Meanwhile, Jarrod Walker has joined The Claire Lynch Band on mandolin and guitar after serving an advanced apprenticeship touring with Missy Raines & the New Hip. The combination of skilled, inventive musicians with Claire's own courageous, supple singing yields one of the finest groups in all bluegrass. Claire's second set at Newell Lodge will remain high in our list of great sets of hers we've seen.

Claire Lynch

Mark Schatz

Bryan McDowell

Jarrod Walker

 Claire Lynch

Claire Lynch - My Florida Sunshine - Video

 Altogether, the Newell Lodge Bluegrass Festival was an artistic leap up from several others outings. The crowd was the largest we had seen there and largely appreciative of the music and the setting. We're headed down to Sertoma Boys Ranch near Brooksville on Monday for our last Florida festival of the season. Hope to see you there.