I fell in love with music about the time I learned to speak. Almost everything I remember about my childhood relates to music in some way. Everyone told me to get my mind on something more serious, but passion has its own way. Now as I get old, and look back on it all, I regret the decisions I made that might have made it easier to make a living and actually have some money. But I have experienced so much joy, and nearly all of it can be attributed in one way or another to music. The incredible places I have seen, the wonderful friends I have made, have all come to me because of music. H i l l b i l l y at H a r v a r d
Those of us who are passionate about music often get cranky, complain a bit too much. But because of the pure JOY to be experienced through music, I want to document as many of the sweet, awesome, wondrous experiences as possible with other music lovers. No complaining. I'll update as often as I can get another one written.
You might not expect to hear the best country music at a radio station that's part of Harvard University. The two seem to be at complete odds, but that's a big part of the charm. The show's been on the air in one form or another for seemingly forever. The current hosts, Ole Sinc and Cousin Lynn, have been at it for a very long time themselves, and are the true Hillbilly Odd Couple. The show is once a week, 9 AM - 1 PM (if there isn't a hockey game) Saturday mornings on WHRB. The first time I visited, I went with a strange person I met at Cheapo Records….incredibly strange. Even then, I guess the guys thought I was OK, but "where did you find that guy?" I started going occasionally when I was working for John Penny, making sure John's schedule and any special events got plugged. Somewhere along the line, I began to notice that not only was the music good, the show itself was a little miracle. Cousin Lynn is a little dense, (but that's part of the fun) and Ole Sinc is the sharpest wit I've ever encountered.AN OPEN LOVE LETTER TO STAN HITCHCOCK
The first time I was there for live music was for Guy Clark. It was not too long after "Homegrown Tomatoes," and Cousin Lynn's son Andy was crazy about that song. It was my birthday on top of everything, and I had been out most of the night - had been at Little Walter's gig at King's Row in Lawrence with Marcia, and we had gotten lost on the way back. (A whole 'NOTHER story!) It was the first of many great live musical experiences at the show. I have a vivid memory not so long after of an appearance by Dry Branch Fire Squad, where the ever-irrepressible Ron Thamasson somehow tricked Sinc into singing.
At Christmas time, there was the annual party. Sinc would buy a case of champagne, there would be tons of food, and everyone in the music community would show up. It was such a good blend of people, people from the John Penny world, people from the Cambridge world, people from the folkie world, people from the media, the record companies.....
I got to know Sinc best when we had the Mass Bay Country Music Association, the meetings were interesting to say the least. (Sacco's, steak tips, pizza and camaraderie) We never accomplished a thing with the organization, but I made several lifelong friends through those meetings. It was a time when I was "coming out," so to speak. Out of being "John Penny's secretary," and into an identity of my own. Working at Cheapo and attending a lot of Rounder events at Nightstage contributed a lot, as well as a few BBU shows. I was branching out, learning. And the day came that I quit working for John. It was almost a year before I had another job in the music business, except for weekends at Cheapo.
One day I showed up at Cheapo and there was a message for me that Carla from Johnny D's wanted me to call her. The rest, as they say, is history. I recall when I told Sinc that I was going to be booking Johnny D's, and he said that no one could do it better. that was the reassurance I reallyl needed. Things really escalated from there. Whenever I had a show that was even remotely appropriate for plugging at Hillbilly, I would show up to get my plugs in. It was such fun watching the ballet, as I called it. So many people, all with their own agendas. moving in and out. Everyone got their turn, those with egos and lack thereof. I didn't notice when it stopped being something I did for promotion sake, and became a part of me instead. It one day became very clear the Hillbilly Christmas party had become "my" Christmas tradition. I would often delay my trip home til the day after the party because it meant so much to me. Ah, yes, everyone get out your keys and make some noise when we sing "Jingle Bells."
More great live music, lots of it from people who were playing at Johnny D's - D.L. Menard, Basin Brothers, Lynn Morris, Bill Kirchen. Larry Jon did it after our show, and Chip Taylor did it when he wasn't playing for us, but I set it up for him. These were some of the most fun days ever. My life fell into a pattern - go to the show, go to the Border for lunch, stop by Cheapo to see what was up.
I began to realize this was such an important part of life - not just for me, but for everyone involved. I wanted to let Sinc know how much we appreciated him and what he was giving us. When did we cross the line from "radio show" to special friendship? About this same time, the hub cap they used for the "time at the tone" had disappeared in the move to the new studio. I had mentioned this to the Austin Lounge Lizards, and Conrad said, "hub caps come up in Tom's yard all the time." Things were developing in my mind. I asked them if they would salvage me one from Tom's yard. I was planning a get-together at Frank's one Monday night to salute Sinc, to thank him for the joy he brings to all of us. the Lizard hub cap was something we must have. Next time the Lizards played at Johnny D's, I was sitting in my office, when I heard footsteps coming down the stairs, and the sound of someone tapping on a hub cap. It was Tom - with a special hub cap. It hadn't just appeared in his yard - they had sought out the best hub cap they could find at the local junk yard, tested it for tone.
First there was Stan Hitchcock's Carousel, a syndicated country music show in the late 60's. There was a beautiful carousel at the show's opening. Although he wasn't too famous, he was obviously very good at hosting a show, and it was certainly one of the better ones of its era. There were a few tentative hits on Epic - She's Looking Good, Rings, Imitation of a Man. Then there was Honey I'm Home. I feel a blast of Northern Wind and shiver as it blows across my back
ROSCOE SHELTON - (or - A NASHVILLE ADVENTURE)
And walk along and count the sidewalk cracks
I turn the corner out of habit like I've done so many times before
My frozen hands reach for the key that fits into the lock of our front door
Oooh, I loved that song. Then there was his incredibly austere and gorgeous version of The Shadow Of Your Smile. Ladies and gentlemen, my very good friend, Mr. Curly Chalker. Then a new label called Cinnamon appeared, and one of the initial releases was Stan doing a song called Half Empty Bed. And those commercials for Red Hoagland Chevrolet in Tupelo at the same time. The Cinnamon hospitality suite on the Belle Carol Riverboat at the DJ convention. Whenever Stan was involved, it was always first class, maybe not the most successful, but always the best quality.
That's why it was no surprise to learn that Stan was the man behind CMT when it first appeared on the scene. Non-stop videos, many by artists I had never heard of, all tasteful. Taste was the operative word. One day I caught Stan having a chat with Guy Clark - Stan Hitchcock's Heart to Heart it was called. My favorite thing ever about CMT was a video by Canadian artist Gary Fjellgaard called Somewhere On the Island. Starkly beautiful - the video, as well as the song.
Of course, as always happens in this type of situation , The Nashville Network got a bit nervous with CMT around, and so to "eliminate" the competition, they bought it. Naturally, it changed from (what it had been) to simply another mainstream tool. Everything that was good about it, including Stan, was gone. Everything that is bad was put in its place.
After a time, Stan was off to Branson to start something called the Americana channel. It was a great idea, but we never heard much more about it.
He has revived the idea, and I don't know what happened, but I have an idea. the emerging Americana "scene," which should have provided the catalyst to make this brilliant idea work, probably was its demise. Were there copyright issues? Pretty silly, cause it's easily documented that Stan had the name first. And had they worked hand in hand instead of playing the same old music biz game everyone would have come out ahead. But Stan, ever the classy guy, persevered, and has now moved on to Blue Highways. For all our sakes, I hope, Stan, that your time has come again. Hang in there….don't give up. Your taste and your vision are greatly needed.
When I began pursuing the idea of booking Bobby Hebb, I went to see him at the Union Grille in Beverly. I spent a considerable amount of time - it seemed necessary to lay ground work, learn as much about him as possible, gain his confidence. He mentioned that he had been a session player for Excello Records. I did a quick mental run-through of Excello artists - most of them, the ones with the colorful names, recorded in Louisiana and leased the finished product to Excello. So who actually recorded in Nashville? Oh, yes. "Do you know Roscoe Shelton?"
"I played on his first record, 'Something's Wrong.'" After the gig, Bobby and I stayed in touch and became pretty close. One day he said, "Roscoe called my sister. He and Earl Gaines are doing something."
I had already decided to bypass New Orleans this year. The dynamic combination of the previous year's lineup (Roland Stone, Chuck Carbo, Lloyd Price 1-2-3) couldn't be equalled for me. When the schedule came out, I knew my instincts were right - other than Willie Nelson, Solomon Burke and Little Richard, there was nothing I hadn't seen numerous times. I had been shaken by the deaths of Arthur Alexander, Marv Johnson, Wilbert Harrison and Wade Flemons. And it was costing too much to go to New Orleans just to see the same people over and over. If I was going to spend any money at all, it would be to see someone I hadn't seen - and there were only a handful I really wanted to see. I would go wherever I had to go to see them.
I sensed that something was up in Nashville - I had located Chuck Chellman and had a long, interesting talk with him. He told me about a new blues society he was involved with, and that they were going to have a couple of shows at Belle Meade Mansion. Maybe Roscoe would be among the performers and, if he was, I would find a way to go.
One day Kate showed up with a Summer Lights schedule and, listed under "rock" was a most interesting entry - Excello All Stars. This could be the "something" Roscoe was doing with Earl, but what was with the rock heading. Was this a bunch of loud l9-year-old white kids who thought the name was funny? A phone call to the Summer Lights office confirmed it was indeed Roscoe, Earl Gaines and Clifford Curry. They FAXed me a copy of their press release, and it said HOSS ALLEN was to MC. I'm there.
I could hardly wait to tell Bobby, but he beat me to the punch: "Guess where I'm going - Nashville."
The dates he was going almost coincided with mine, but he was planning to come back ON the day of the Excello Show! I immediately went into my "you have to..." routine, already plotting how to get him onstage with them. He made some typical Bobby Hebb remark, but decided to stay longer anyway. Even SAID he was going to call Hoss.
Thursday morning I actually beat Kate to the airport. Declined to sit with her (Those 7 AM Nashville non-stops are pretty empty) because I really needed to try to sleep on the way down. She dropped me off at my hotel, and I made an immediate run for Shoney's Breakfast Bar. We later hooked up and went to Billboard to meet her friend Peter Cronin. He took us to a cool place on Music Row called South Street. We had just settled in when, observing a man getting out of a car, Peter said, "I know that man. Isn't that Ben Sandmel?" Having never seen him without his Hackberry hat, I was unsure. But it was Ben, and we had a nice chat - the first of many surprises to come.
When evening came, it was time to go to Summer Lights - go down, buy the button for ten bucks - that's the ticket for the whole weekend. Saw Wylie and the Wild West Show, Mark Hummel, Skeeter Brandon, Jimmy Church with Clifford Curry and Johnny Jones, and a little of the Hackberrys. It turned pretty cool and I got very tired, so I gave up and went back to my hotel.
Friday morning I had already determined there wasn't much Summer Lights fare I needed to see until evening, thus giving me a whole day free in Nashville. My plan to lie by the pool and get some sun was quickly thwarted when the hotel people rudely ran me out - apparently the pool hadn't been certified and, though I wanted to do nothing but sit there, they wouldn't let me. I WAS PISSED! I went back to my room, planning to read the paper and make some phone calls. Soon my phone rang - it was Bobby. "There's someone here I want you to say hello to." And a very soft, cultured voice said "This is Roscoe Shelton." Now how in the world am I supposed to think of the things I want to ask him when I didn't even know I was going to be talking to him? The surprise of the voice was a good jumping off point. It was easy to talk to him and I learned some good stuff. Bobby came back on the phone and said, "now take the corner of your lips out of your ears!" He asked me if I'd like to have lunch with them. "When?" I asked. "Well, why don't you just come on down?" They were calling from the lobby of my hotel!!! And I was still wearing whatever I was planning to sunbathe in. "I'm not even dressed yet!" "We'll come back in thirty minutes." I no sooner started to get dressed than the phone rang again - it was Kate, telling me how she had taken a nap and never made it to Summer Lights the night before. (Like I didn't know?)
I hurried down to find Bobby and Roscoe waiting for me (I suspect they never left.) We went outside and got in Roscoe's car; Bobby said "you're gonna sit up here, and I'm gonna sit back here and listen." Flo and Bobby and Roscoe's great adventure was about to begin.
We just started riding around - I was curious where we were going, but we kept riding and talking. "Now, Bobby, which record was it you said she didn't have?" as we pulled up to a small building that appeared to be on the edge of Nashville. "Something's Wrong." "Well, we're here now, we might as well go in and see if they have it." The sign on the building said Woodland Studios.
When Roscoe had decided to start singing again, he had to relearn his songs and no longer had the records. He had gone to Woodland where the Excello tapes were stored and they had made tapes for him. He thought they could do that for me but, with the sale to AVI, the tapes had been shipped to California. So here we were in this legendary old studio, just chatting. The guy asked Roscoe a question that prompted the response, "you know, John Broven asked me the same thing." "He's in the back room right now - you want to say hello?" This provided a good observation moment for me, watching a great writer almost interview them, even though he was just talking to them. (he was working on a master tape, trying to identify all the songs, artists and musicians on it.) He was unaware of the show Saturday, and was planning to go to Memphis. We tried to convince him to stay.
We left and continued on our "journey" without my having any knowledge of where we were going. Roscoe started to put a tape in the player: "This is the new stuff we've been working on." And goof that I am, I asked him not to play it, saying it would spoil the show for me if I heard it. "But this isn't the old stuff, it's all new." "Yes, but if I hear it, I'll hear how you sound now." And believe it or not, he understood that. (After waiting more than 30 years to hear him, and being this close to a show, I didn't want to spoil the thrill of it. If I had only known what was coming next.)
We pulled up in front of a house in the 'burbs and stopped. As soon as we walked in, I recognized the woman who came to the door as the woman Carla and I had met in Memphis (I had suspected this) Roscoe introduced Bobby and she said, "Oh, I was just reading something about you." (The press kit from his Johnny D's gig I had sent Fred.) It was now clear we were at the rehearsal Roscoe had told us he had to go to later. This was so weird - it was like someone threw puzzle pieces into the sky and they all fell into place here. Mary Ann was fascinated by the small guitar Bobby was holding in the Herald photo. "You like little guitars?" She returned with a favorite of hers and handed it to Bobby, knowing no guitar player could resist. He ran his fingers over the strings for a moment or two, then began to play a little. She watched closely, then rushed and plugged the cord into the amp and we were off. At this point I was seated on the couch between Roscoe and Bobby. After playing a little while, Bobby played a chord, and I sensed what was coming. From beside me, almost in a whisper, Roscoe began to sing. "Something is wrong with you....and it's hurting me so bad...." Then he took a microphone, moved to a chair, and they did as much of the song as they both remembered. It was a once-in-a-lifetime moment. Few would understand how special it was to me.
One by one, the others arrived. Earl Gaines, Clifford Curry. Dennis Taylor showed up, walked in and said, "Hi, Flo" - and I wouldn't even have recognized him. Clifford was incredibly impressed to meet Bobby. There was discussion of someone calling Hoss and of his saying he didn't think he was going to come.
After Roscoe had finished rehearsing his part, Mary-Ann, Roscoe, Bobby and I were hanging out at the dining room table while the rest of them finished whatever they were doing. I made some comment about having heard the show, and Roscoe said I hadn't heard anything yet because they were holding back. "Their neighbors are nosy," he said. Before we left, they gave us all backstage passes for Saturday night. Then we were off. As we drove around , Roscoe said, "there's where all the black clubs used to be." As much as I thought I knew about the music, it had never occurred to me there had been a club scene. "Wylie Avenue Days" immediately came to mind, and I asked "was there any one thing that caused them to go away?" "Well, when we lost WLAC." The wheels started turning.
I had been trying to figure out where the Capitol Park Inn was, or what had become its fate. I had located the Municipal Auditorium, where all the good convention stuff had occurred, and tried to reconstruct where the Inn should be, but more than 20 years had passed. I kept coming up with a parking lot. So as we got closer to town, I mentioned that I couldn't find it, and Roscoe said I was looking on the wrong street, then suddenly he said "You are right. That building is GONE." As they drove me the final blocks to my hotel, Roscoe said to Bobby, "we never did get her anything to eat, did we?" Who was hungry?
When it was time for the show on Saturday, I went backstage and soon everyone was there. Roscoe, Earl and Clifford were wearing the most incredible almost-matching black and white outfits - shades of another era. I felt almost certain they were rented; one point Roscoe asked me to hold his white jacket while he went to the bathroom. I was scared to death I'd mess it up.
The scene backstage was congenial - not too many people, just really good ones. Bobby was there, and soon Kate showed up and came walking right through the gate. "Where did you get that? I asked as she showed her pass." "Ben Sandmel gave it to me." Of course, Mary-Ann was there, taking photographs; Karen Leipziger; the guy from Woodland Studios, and yes, John Broven. He had somehow managed to change his hotel and stay another night in Nashville. That was pretty much the crew. Soon a man on crutches appeared outside the fence. Bobby said "here comes Hoss now." This was such a momentous occasion for me but, somehow, I had the good sense to hang back and just watch what was going on. As if I could tell that what was about to happen was much bigger than any of my small dreams. Bobby walked over to say hello to Hoss, and as long as I live, I will never forget the look on Hoss Allen's face when he first saw Bobby This completely obscured the fact that I was meeting one of my heroes for the first time. We also met Daniel Cooper, a writer for the local papers who also works for the Country Music Foundation, who seemed to be Hoss' caretaker. At one point he came back with a broken van key and said, "Hoss, we got a problem."
Somehow they got that problem straightened out, and it was time for the show. Hoss made his way to the stage, dropped his crutches and struggled to the front of the stage. When he arrived, he straightened, and said "GOOD EVENIN'! I…..AM THE HOSSMAN!" There was no doubt about that!
Then the show began, and because, as at any festival, several shows are going on at once, and there are no guarantees that anything will go as scheduled, things kept on being interesting.