When I was a lad, I never knew what bluegrass music was. All we did was go to church and listen to church music. My daddy was a fundamentalist, holiness, Pentecostal preacher, and he was careful about what he let into the house. The music was sort of longhair. Classical, hymns, black spirituals. If we wanted something with a little jump to it, he had a Mahaliah Jackson record or two on the bottom row of the record bin, or maybe some stamps baxter quartet music with that rinky-tink piano pumping away in the back. One day he came home with some Tennessee Ernie Ford, and I didn’t know much about this kind of country, but I knew I liked it.
Daddy played about every kind of musical instrument and most of them well. Classical piano, screaming trumpet, Clarinet, piano and completely out of the box… he played the banjo.
Now he only played it on Sunday nights and always seemed to feel guilty doing it, I don’t know, maybe because nobody could sleep when he was playing it. I do know this, when he played it, it grabbed me like nothing else. The songs were great. Way better then the songs in the hymn book, to my adolescent point of view.
Those songs had an earthy feel that touched my heart in a heavenly way. I actually heard the lyrics, and they stuck with me.
And I told you all of that to tell you this.
I was listening to the roots of bluegrass without even knowing it.
In my college years I bought a Nitty Gritty Dirt band double album called “Will the Circle be unbroken” on that album were a bunch of bluegrass luminaries including Earl Scruggs and (Rimshot) Mother Maybell Carter. When I heard her sing, bells went off. This sounded like a song my daddy used to play.
Well, I found out my daddy used to play a lot of Carter family songs, I just never knew it. I bought four C.D. Carter family set and began to listen. It was like listening to Daddy’s Sunday night play list. “Will the Circle be unbroken, Church in the Wildwood, There’s gonna be a meeting in the air, Honey in the rock, I can’t feel at home in this world anymore, Gospel ship, Keep on the firing line (Whew, how daddy could burn that one up), walking in the kings highway, leaning on the everlasting arms, no hiding place down here, Something got ahold of me, We shall rise, When the world’s on fire, Where we’ll never grow old.”
To this day, gospel music moves me like no other. Don’t get me wrong, My musical palette is pretty dang big, I’ll listen to most anything particularly if it’s surrounded by strings and ain’t had all the burrs polished off of it. But gospel is special. I love songs of second chances, reconciliation, like the baptism of Jessie Taylor, of hope beyond this world, about the power of forgiveness, and love beyond measure, the cross and heaven, and cautionary tales and good living songs.
So this here is a salute to The Carter Family, Who gave me a raft of memories that are tattooed on the fleshy tables of my heart.
And here’s to Gospel music, the third leg of the stool, along with bluegrass, and old time music, that makes up the skeleton of the body of the California Bluegrass Association.