NEWS from Mike: Spring, 2004

"Meeting in the Air", a tribute to the music of the Original Carter Family, that Tommy and Jim and I recorded for Flying Fish Records in l980, is going to be digitally remastered and re-issued on CD. We are planning on licensing it and releasing it ourselves, hopefully by August of this year. Check back for details.

Speaking of... the re-issue of my l984 record FISHING FOR AMOUR is coming right along and will hopefully be available later this spring. The transfers have all been made, thanks to Don Dixon. The disc has been re-mastered, thanks to Jerry Brown. And the artwork is being redesigned, thanks to Chris Baker. The re-issue will contain four previously unreleased songs. Joe Vanderford will grace the package with select editorial comments. My only concerns are properly financing the re-issue of both these titles. Interested investors may sign the guestbook!

I was in and out of East Tennesse in early April, doing radio shows and concerts. Nancy Brennan Strange and I did WDVX's "All Over The Road" with host Wayne Bledsoe. Wayne is a great guy. He is the music critic for the KNOXVILLE NEWS SENTINEL, a true music lover too, and he's interviewed practically everybody and their dog, including Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys! His show is very eclectic - he'd play cuts from Syd Straw, Weezer, Ken Nordine, and XTC and follow them with Marlene Dietrich singing "All of Me" in German. He basically opened up the mics to Nancy and I and we played anything we wanted. We had a ball, with Wayne egging us on. We played from midnight till 4 am! WDVX is no longer in an Airstream trailer. They are getting new digs downtown and the studio where we played was in their interim building, a lonely ranger on the top of the hill out near Norris Dam.

On Sunday night Nancy and I did Benny Smith's show "Americana Jukebox" on WKLV. Benny gave us the whole hour, asking us a bunch of questions, getting us to play tunes, and ably promoting our upcoming shows. Benny's an enthusiastic and intelligent interviewer too, just like Wayne. Hey, East Tennessee has the best music hounds, and the best radio stations too. All in all two great trips and all along I-40 through the Great Smokies and into East Tennessee and back the redbuds and the green gold were popping out before your very eyes.

Played two shows in in eastern Tennessee, the first on April 2nd at the Down Home in Johnson City, and April 3rd at the Palace Theatre in Maryville. (Preview article in Knoxville News Sentinel.) The Palace Theatre was originally a Civil War era furniture and casket business, but in the l930's it was converted into a small movie theatre. The Palace is owned and operated by famous flatpicker Steve Kaufman and his wife Donna Dixon. I split the bill both nights with the Gemtones. (The Gemtones are Nancy Brennan Strange, Rebecca Bryant, George Reynolds, and Brian Sward. George was formerly with the Foxfire project, and as "Diamonds in the Rough”, Nancy and Rebecca traveled all over the South and Northeastern USA, including performing at the Manhattan Theatre Club as part of a June Appal Recordings tour along with Roadside Theatre.) Nancy released a great CD several years ago, "Les Etoiles Mysterieuses". It was produced and arranged by Don Cassell and pianist and jazz composer Donald Brown.

The high point of the weekend was probably the party Saturday night after the show. A group of us around the piano started singing "You Were Only ******* While I Was Making Love" by my compatriot Bill Hicks. It turned into an anthemic sing a-long, particularly by the women in the gathering.

all.jpg - 72177 BytesThe AUSTIN LOUNGE LIZARDS have recorded "Merchants Lunch" -- a song that Tommy and I wrote and recorded with the Ramblers back in 1977. This new version is on the LIZARDS' latest album "Strange Noises in the Dark". Tom Pittman sings the lead vocal and does a great job!

The Red Clay Rambler Reunion for Tommy Thompson aired Jan. 1st, 2004 on WUNC-FM. Portions of the June 14th '03 concert at the North Carolina Museum of Art were broadcast on a segment of "The State of Things", hosted by Frank Stasio. Current and former Red Clay Ramblers all took part. Selections included "You've Been a Friend to Me", "The Hobo's Last Letter", "The Ace", "Rabbit in the Pea Patch", "Cotton Eyed Joe", "Jim Canaan's", "Yonder", "Hard Times", "The Yellow Rose of Texas", "Churchill and Roosevelt", and "Traveling That Highway Home". Included was a especially luxurious little version of "I've Got Plans", one of Tommy's songwriting gems. Clay Buckner did the great singing on this one. The broadcast included a segment of Tommy performing "The Last Song of John Profitt" recorded in the mid-90's for WUNC. WUNC's "Back Porch Music" was a co-sponsor of the concert event and it was organized by George Holt. A totally awesome eve, and a nice broadcast of! For accounts and pix of the event: RCR Reunion at the NCMA

mesd.jpg - 39916 Bytes(photo: Standing on the shore in Klondike, Iowa, looking across the Mighty Sioux River to the banks of South Dakota!)
SOUTH DAKOTA? Yep... I returned to the Great Plains, last Thanksgiving. My friends Gaynor Johnson, and Doug and Judi Sharples lined up some gigs for me there. I played for at Canton High School Commons, in Canton, SD, for a celebration commemorating the completion of the Highway 18 Road project. on Friday Nov. 28th, and then the next night at the Music Hall in Gayville. The Gayville Music Hall, which is operated by Doug and Judi Sharples, two SD filmmakers, is my new favorite place of all to play. The Sharples (who made a documentary film about Jack Kerouac called Go Moan for Man) advertise and promote their shows very effectively and the hall itself is totally geared toward 'listening'. The Gayville audiences are wonderful and encompass a wide demographic range. After Gayville, I played for a genuine 'college kid' audience in Yankton, at Mount Marty, a Catholic school there. Yankton is a great old town, right off the banks of the Missouri River, and smack dab across from Nebraska. Lawrence Welk started out doing his radio show in Yankton over WNAX. Yankton also has a street entitled the "Tom Brokaw Boulevarde".

As I said, the Friday night event in Canton was in honor of the completion of the rebuilding of Highway 18 through Canton. The folks there suffered through 12 hot summer weeks of road construction. Businesses practically shut down and the entire flow of town traffic was plagued by detours. Evidently some of the detours weren't marked well, and motorists who believed they were going somewhere would end up in Beloit, Iowa. I was 'commissioned' to write a song commemorating the completion of the road work. Here's the lyrics:


They finally finished the construction down in Canton
I hear those Canton folks have really been through hell
With all the noise and dust and heat
Ripping up the old Main Street
Such misery no human tongue can tell
I hear a lot of Canton traffic got re-routed
Confusing detours seemed to pop everyday
You might set on a spree
Up to Harrisburg for tea
And find yourself in Beloit, Ioway

They finally finished the construction down in Canton
The vacuum cleaners have been working overtime
Now they've re-seeded all the grass
And re-polished all the brass
And commissioned me to write this little rhyme
Whoever said there wasn't poetry in concrete
Should take a stroll down Canton's esplanade
With its historical lights
And a dozen other sights
It's the Paris of the Greater Plains to me

"All's Well that Ends Well", I think William Shakespeare said it,
And the "Sioux Valley News" is where I read it
All that silicone and tar
Should keep the town on par
And guarantee good roads for years to come
And hopefully the sewer drains will keep on draining
So Cantonites will have no need to go complaining
And those folks lost in Beloit
Should just move on to Detroit
And forget about the summer back in Canton,
South Dakota -- the Gateway to the West

canton.jpg - 16252 Bytes
It Pays To Advertise!
(SD photos by Gaynor Johnson)

Wilder2.jpg - 6222 Bytes WILDER closed Nov. 15th, after a limited run in NYC at Playwrights Horizons, following a pre-New York production at the Contemporary American Theatre Festival in Shepardstown, WVa.

The book was written by Erin Cressida Wilson and she and Jack Herrick and I collaborated on lyrics and music.

Wilder has been described as an "erotic chamber musical about a boy who hits puberty while living in a Depression-era bordello. Through its haunting music and frank sensuality, Wilder playfully and poetically explores a tangled landscape of Oedipal longing." The show was directed by Lisa Portes.

Cast members included theatre veteran John Cullum (contemporary audiences would know him from his work on Northern Exposure and ER), Lacey Kohl, Jeremiah Miller, and Jack and myself. (We each had one line. They went something like this: Mike character: "Beat it kid." Jack character: "Scramola.")

NECTAR VINEYARD: I recently played at this new (to me) venue. It's located just south of Danville, in Caswell County, NC. A beautiful hilly piece of country, of rolling farms and wintry vistas. Bob Donaghey has opened a bistro/cabaret at his vineyard there. Bob worked for CBS in New York for many years, starting out as a page. For a time he was Mr. Ed Sullivan's assistant, working his way up in the CBS ranks, helping produce "As The World Turns" and other soaps, and also forming his own talent agency along the way. But somewhere in there he fell in love with the country around northern central NC, and bought an old farm house and 80 acres of land there. Now he raises donkeys and grapes and has a producing winery and a gourmet restaurant with a state of the art performance space. I played for a private party of folks from the Danville Little Theatre. There is no better audience than fellow performers and actors and these folks were primed to enjoy and they were tons of fun, too. They sang along to Gershwin and Porter and danced to "That Wicky Wacky Hula Hula Honka Wonka Honolulu Hawaiian Honey of Mine..." It's nice to know that there are wonderful little places like this out there in the greater hills and dales.

I've got a new mp3 up at It's called "Howard Hughes Blues" -- I wrote it for the Flight Centennial celebration in Fayetteville last spring. I figured I'd better get out my version of HH before Leo DiCaprio and whoever make a movie about him. To check out the goods, go to Tunes.

I finished doing my 30th production of OIL CITY SYMPHONY, this one at the Totempole Playhouse in Fayetteville, Pennsylvania last summer. This should put me close to the 1000th performance, by my rough calculations. I've done "Oil City" all over the country, from New York theatres, throughout the mid-West and the South, to historic California theatres, even in a Methodist church in Bellaire, Texas! The first time I put on that goofy tuxedo I thought to myself: "This will never last!" But I must have have done at least a thousand performances by now. OIL CITY has been a big part of my life and I have enjoyed every minute of it. I play myself so it's pretty easy -- and also a great way to make a living! It's a special show because we get to meet the audience after each performance, when we serve them punch and cookies, and that kind of contact keeps you in touch in a wonderful and beautiful way! Supposedly we (Klea Blackhurst, Emily Mikesell, Michael Rice and I) will be doing OIL CITY at Flat Rock Playhouse, in Flat Rock, NC, this coming December.

Last but not least, dare I mention that I am working with Clyde Edgerton on musicalizing his latest novel LUNCH AT THE PICCADILLY? I tried this once before with another Southern novelist with less than spectacular results, so I am keeping my fingers crossed on this one. Clyde and I have tossed around a few ideas and come up with a couple of songs. He is so busy and I'm so out of town that it's hard to nail down the time and place to collaborate, but it's been fun through the modem so far -- and I LOVE his work.

"On the first of May, it is moving day
Spring is here, so blow your job, throw your job away
Now's the time to trust to your wanderlust
In the city's dust you wait, must you wait?
Just you wait..."
--Lorenz Hart from MOUNTAIN GREENERY, l926

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