That’s me sitting on the beach in Panama City Beach with my cd player on my knee listening to bluegrass music
photo by: Jean McPeak
by: Dolores Riggs Davis
Bluegrass music is often considered “hillbilly music.” However, it is a music close to my heart. I consider it a part of my roots. After all, I‘m a coal miner’s daughter who was delivered at home by Dr. Brammer, the company doctor at Dehue, West Virginia. Although, I have lived in northeast Ohio for thirty-five years, I still have a southern twang. It amazes me when people still ask me “Where are you from?” I proudly say Logan County, West Virginia.
Bluegrass has its influence from mountain music, chain-gang chants, blues, Black slaves working the fields, Scottish and Irish tunes, and gospel music. Bill Monroe, a descendant of President James Monroe, the “father of bluegrass music” He was placed in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio, the Country Music Hall of Fame, the Song Writers Hall of Fame and the Bluegrass Hall of Fame. Even Elvis Presley recorded one of his songs, Blue Moon of Kentucky.
BILL MONROE – SUMMERSVILLE, WV FESTIVAL
Bluegrass was honored by the Coen Brothers with the recent movie O’ Brother, Where Art Thou? It is a must see movie for bluegrass fans. The movie covered all the bases with its soundtrack.
One heart-stopper song from the movie is I Am A Man Of Constant Sorrow lip-synced by the Soggy Mountain Boys who were actors, George Clooney, John Turturreo, and Tim Blake Nelson. However, the haunting voice was really Dan Tyminski, harmony singer/guitarist for Alison Krauss and the Union Station Band.
ALISON KRAUSS & UNION STATION BAND
Autographing pictures at Summersville, WV Festival
Alison Krauss, Barry Bales, Ron Block, Dan Tyminski, and Adam Steffey
I am a man of constant sorrow.
I’ve seen trouble all my days
I bid farewell to old Kentucky
The place where I was borned and raised
For six long years I’ve been in trouble
No pleasure here on earth I’ve found
Now that song speaks to me. Bluegrass songs tell of death, hard times, love for mother, pain, and lost love. A death song that touches me was written by Ralph Stanley.
Oh, death . . . oh, death
Won’t you spare me over to another year
Well what is this that I can’t see
With ice cold hands taking hold of me
Well I am death none can see
I’ll open the door to Heaven or Hell
Morbid huh? But we all have to leave this earth one day. I like walking through old cemeteries to read the headstones. I’m sure some would think that weird. My husband’s dad ask Donald to tape some bluegrass songs for him, so he taped six. After listening to them his dad gave them back. He said, “Son, I don’t want these tapes. They’re all about death.”
Then there are the heartbreak songs like When It Is All Said And Done written by Larry Cordle and Melba Mongomery.
Do we need to talk
It feels like we do
Something’s not right between you and me
Be honest with me
Get it out in the open while we still have a chance
One of my favorite barroom songs is Jesus And The Bartender written by Larry Cordle and Leslie Winn Satcher.
They both know a man in trouble when they see one
They’re both willing to listen when he talks
Anger, depression, tearful confessions
Jesus and bartenders hear it all
A chilling coal mining recitation is performed by *Bert Colwell. Larry Cordle and Lonesome Standard Time provides the background music with a fiddle and duel banjos playing Amazing Grace.
We’re old Kentucky miners soon we’ll all be gone
Leaving nothing behind but some words upon a stone
We got coal dust on our lungs
We can barely catch our breath
We got Zippos in our pockets and Camel cigarettes
Merle Travis sang about us when he did Sixteen Tons
Here’s to John L. Lewis still our favorite son
The gospel song, I Am A Pilgrim rewritten and rearranged by Merle Travis is a favorite of mine.
I am a pilgrim and a stranger
Traveling through this worrisome land
I’ve got a home in that yonder city, oh Lord
And it’s not made by hand
Maybe my story will never convince you that bluegrass rules. However, if you are curious go to an outdoor bluegrass festival. The singers and pickers in the bands are as approachable as your next door neighbor. You don’t have to stand backstage hoping to get an autograph from them. They will shake your hand, chat with you, and jam with you in between shows. So, grab a lawn chair, and check out one of the festivals. A good source of information where the festivals are held is the magazine Bluegrass Unlimited.
This article appeared in my hometown paper The Logan Banner on February 21, 2001
*Bert Colwell who wrote the song Old Kentucky Miner grew up in Hazard, Ky. He is a musician, song writer, and according to Steve Myers, Bert is the best guitar picker he has ever known. Bert lives in Fort Walton Beach, Florida. His recitation touched my heart, so I am including the rest of the words. Donald and I moved to Ohio from West Virginia in 1966, and we go back (home) for funerals and reunions. It is sad but true.
Our sons and our daughters they’ve all moved away
Some work for IBM and some make Chevrolets
They seldom return except for funerals and such
They’ve found a better way, they don’t have to eat this dust
When we lay our shovels down at the end of the line
Don’t take us to the graveyard let us rest here in this mine
Just sing Amazing Grace and give an altar call
Then rip out all the timbers and let the mountain fall
BERT COLWELL AT THE STATION INN – NASHVILLE, TN
Bill Monroe, the father of bluegrass died four days before his 85th birthday on September 9, 1996. The June issue of The Bluegrass Unlimited magazine announced that Monroe’s mandolin was sold by his son, James Monroe, to the Bill Monroe Foundation for $1,125,000.00.