I met John back in my travels in the '80s when he was playing with a vocal/instrumental trio in Juneau. John has recorded several cds on his own -- plucky arrangements of standards using the mouthbow as a basis. He will be taking his show on the road again to Australia and Tasmania for the Cygnet and Tamar Valley festivals Dec 16-Jan 23. FMI John Palmes.
This past summer I arranged the music for a new show called "SMOKE ON THE MOUNTAIN HOMECOMING". It's the second sequel to "SMOKE ON THE MOUNTAIN" the l990 Off-Broadway hit musical-ette about the singing Sanders Family gospel group. The SMOKE shows are written by Connie Ray and Alan Bailey. Also, this fall I have been musical director for the very first production of the HOMECOMING show. It is being presented by Piedmont Players, in Salisbury, NC, which is just across the river from me.
The show opened Nov. 9th. The cast, which includes Alana Denton, Graham Carlton, Becky Lippard, Matthew Weaver, Barry Dyson, Darrell Brown and Jenny Carroll, is very talented and has a history with the SMOKE shows. They were the original cast of Piedmont Players' first production of the SMOKE ON THE MOUNTAIN, and they reprised their roles in the first sequel (A SANDERS FAMILY CHRISTMAS) and now in SMOKE ON THE MOUNTAIN HOMECOMING.
Ila C. Knight, who contributed two tunes for the new show, was in attendance opening night, with Ronnie Hutchins, who was longtime lead singer for the gospel group The Inspirations. Ila lives in Balsam, NC and is an accomplished gospel music composer and writer. Many of Ila's songs have been recorded by The Inspirations, and also by The Florida Boys, The Hoppers, the Isaacs, Paid In Full, and many others. The Kingsmen had a hit with Ila's song 'I'll Live Again' (which is in SMOKE ON THE MOUNTAIN HOMECOMING). There was an impromptu tune session with Ila and Ronnie on stage after a post show reception featuring an appropriate Southern homecoming supper of fried chicken, mashed potatoes, green beans and banana pudding. More productions of SMOKE ON THE MOUNTAIN HOMECOMING are being planned down the road, most notably one at the Cincinnati Playhouse next spring.
'Songs From the Labyrinth", released by Deutsche Grammophon, is a collaboration with lutenist Edin Karamazov and debuted at #1 on Billboard's Traditional Classical Chart and Classical Overall Chart, while also cracking the Top 200 Album Chart at #37. Resonating with audiences as an inspired and exceptional effort, the record also debuted at #1 on the classical charts in Canada, England, France and Germany. Brian claims Sting's version of "Come Again" sounds a lot like mine, and that I should probably sue! (I doubt I will, my legal defense fund being what it is.)
Here are some media links:
Stephen's interview on the Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU radio
CHUCKIN' THE FRIZZ is the Red Clay Ramblers live album, recorded at the Cat's Cradle in l979 and originally issued on Flying Fish Records. None other than Eugene Chadbourne writes of it (in the ALL MUSIC GUIDE): "When asked to name a favorite Red Clay Ramblers album, fans of the long-running North Carolina string band inevitably seem to pick this live album, recorded over three days in a home away from home, Chapel Hill's ~Cat's Cradle club. This was back in the days when this club was a small, intimate listening room with an adjoining, glassed-in bar and not the bowling-alley size venue it eventually evolved into. It is pretty easy to see why this record would be a favorite. It captures what is without question the best lineup of this group, and having them together here in such a happy live setting is a real treat. Yet this isn't simply the equal of any cassette machine that might have gotten clicked on during any Red Clay Ramblers gig during this period. This is a superbly produced set with a superior recorded sound, fully capturing the rich overtones in the blend of stringed instruments and piano."
Saltville got its name from salt, obviously. Two of Patrick Henry's sisters moved into the the Valley in the 1780's and began the commercial production of salt. This production continued unabated for the next 200 years. During the Civil War this resource became even more essential and Saltville became a crucial source.
Friday night we were the dinner guests of Con and Patty Smith. Con is a relative of Hobart Smith. Saturday afternoon we were the guests of the Don and Mary Little family and Patty DeBusk, at the historic W.A. Stuart house (brother of Confederate General J.E.B. Stuart). We had dinner on the great old porch that over looks an expansive front lawn and ancient maples. The old house was also the boyhood home of Robert Porterfield, who founded the Barter Theatre -- and it is said that Hobart Smith and Robert Porterfield, who were neighbors and good friends, probably played music and drank moonshine together on that grand old porch.
Our concert at the Palmer Mill was attended by many of Hobart ("Hobe") Smith's relatives, and his daughter Charlotte and son Wiley were there. It was rather intimidating at first to be playing and singing these songs for them, songs made famous by Hobart and his sister Texas Gladden (he also had a sister named Kansas). But the family was so warm and welcoming that such reservations could hardly matter. They are proud of Hobart and his accomplishments, but thankfully it is not something that has become a "legacy obsession" with them. Many of the old timers from Saltville were largely unaware of the influence that Hobart had on the folk music movement of the l960's. "Hobe" was just a local character who loved music and played alot around Saltville (he once played the area's pentecostal church circuit for 100 consecutive nights!!) and occassionally "went up North somewhere" for a weekend -- no matter that he may have been making a soon to be legendary record for Folk Legacy or playing Carnegie Hall or headlining the prestigious Newport Folk Festival, and similar events. After the concert (which was sold out) we returned to the old Stuart place for some late night partying and music making. Why is it that acoustic music always sounds best on porches? My evening was capped by being hand-fed fresh strawberries dipped in melted white chocolate. Talk about a week-end!
The above photo of our ensemble was taken at the Chicago Old Town School of Folk Music by Marty Perez. l-r: Zan McLeod, James Leva, Steve Wade, Mike Craver. That black box I am playing is a a restored Estey Melodian Pump Organ