A Lifetime Musical Odyssey

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I have often wondered what my life would have been like had I not
heard Bill Monroe on the radio that early morning back about 1943 or
44. I’m sure my bluegrass family has heard me tell this story
before about the first time I heard Bill Monroe on the radio. It was
back during the war years of World War II, and I would get up every
morning and have breakfast with my parents before daddy went to work
in the shipyards. My mother always had country music playing on the
radio, and this one particular morning the disc jockey said, here’s
the latest record from Bill Monroe and his bluegrass boys. I
couldn’t believe what I heard coming out of that radio speaker and I
sat right there in front of that big console radio listening
intently to every note that was played. I listened to that same disc
jockey for a month before he played that record again. To say I was
hooked would be the understatement of the century.

This was during the era in country music when Bob Wills and his
Texas playboys was pretty much the king of the genre. I even got to
see him play at the Stockton Civic Auditorium about 1944 or 45, and
I counted 19 musicians and vocalists in his band that night. Of
course the featured vocalist was Tommy Duncan, boy could he ever
sang! There was 10,000 people at that show, and if the auditorium
would’ve held 30,000 there would’ve been that many in there. Bob was
a fantastic fiddle player, and could really play the old hoedown’s,
and he had a unique style that was his alone. He was the one that
inspired me to learn how to play the fiddle. I bugged my parents for
over a year to get me a fiddle, so finally my mother enrolled me in
the National Institute of Music and Arts, school of music, to take
violin lessons in Stockton California. Little did I know then, what
path this would take me down later in life, and the people I would
get to meet on account of it.

My dear friend Les Leverett [who was the official photographer for
the grand old Opry for 32 years] and I had a conversation one time
about how fortunate and privileged we have been to meet and become
friends with a lot of the country and bluegrass music stars over the
years. Our lives have truly been blessed in this regard. Back in the
early 50s I got acquainted with a budding country superstar Cal
Smith, when he was a featured vocalist on the California Hayride TV
show. My good friend Chester Smith in Modesto California, had one of
the better bands in Northern California at the time and in 1953 he
hired Del Reeves as a featured vocalist for the band. I would always
go to Chester’s shows and dances, and as a result got acquainted
with Del Reeves, who was known as “Curly” Reeves back then, due to
that jet black curly mane of hair that he had. As my good friend Ron
Thomasson always says, I told you that to tell you this. Sitting
here this cold, snowy, December evening, I have been thinking about
the musical Odyssey that my life has been, and how sometimes life
throws a fastball past you that you kind of forget about until years
later. This fastball was thrown right past me in late 1953 or early
1954, I can’t remember the exact year, and at the time I did not
realize the significance of the event, but here’s how it happened.

I went to my junior and senior year of high school at Stockton
College, whose campus was adjacent to the University of Pacific at
the time. I played fiddle in the school orchestra, and our teacher
was Dr. Lucas Underwood, and the head of the musical department was
Dr. Arthur Holton. It was during the orchestra class one morning
when Dr. Holton came in with a gentleman that was an alumni of the
College of Pacific, and a famous one at that. Mr. Holton went on to
address the orchestra, and said his friend had just dropped by for a
little while, and he thought the orchestra might enjoy meeting him.
Mr. Holton introduced his friend Dave Brubeck to the class, and he
gave us about a little 5 min. talk and encouraged us to pursue our
musical education, then he shook hands with every member of the
class. I had pretty much forgot about that incident in my life,
because at that time the name Dave Brubeck didn’t mean anything to
me. I was reminded of it vividly earlier this month when the news of
Mr.Brubeck’s death was all over the TV and papers. I remember the
morning that Mr. Brubeck was there at our class, and he asked if
anybody in the class played jazz? Mary, who played first chair
violin, said rather degradingly; No, but we have an “Okie” back in
the second violin section that plays country music. Mr. Brubeck then
asked, which of you plays country music? Of course they all pointed
at me, and he asked, who do you like to listen to? I told him Bill
Monroe and Bob Wills. He said those are excellent choices, because
both of those men are musical geniuses, and if that’s what you like
that’s what you ought to play. Needless to say the degrading comment
about my choice of music backfired on them that day.

At the time I did not really realize what a profound statement that
was, and what a genius the man was that told me that. That taught me
a musical lesson that I never forgot. You never know who knows what
about music. The tuba player in the Dixieland band, that you just
met backstage at a music festival, is probably a world-class fiddle
player as well, and can play Sally Gooden, as good as Byron Berline,
or Ray Park as good as they ever did. It’s moments like these that
really puts the frosting and the gingerbread on your musical Odyssey
through life. Thank you very much Mr. Brubeck and may you rest in
peace,yer friend, JDRhynes

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