Last year at ROMP in Owensboro, Kentucky Katy Daley was asked to conduct an interview with Doyle Lawson on behalf on the International Bluegrass Music Museum’s Video Oral History Project. She gladly agreed to do so. So along with her husband, Bill, she headed to Doyle’s hometown of Bristol, Tennessee in April of 2010. Katy took photographs of her roadtrip and wrote about her interview with Doyle for BluegrassCountry.org.
Photograph: Doyle Lawson, Katy Daley, IBMM videographer Joe Gray
Wednesday, April 7, 2010
Mission accomplished; time to head home. But not before we explore Bristol, which was declared by the U.S. Congress as the “Birthplace of Country Music.” The reason is simple: That’s where the famous “Bristol Sessions” took place (Click here to read the historical plaque). In 1927 Ralph Peer, who worked for the Victor Talking Machine Company, set up a recording studio in an old hat company on State Street. He helped launch the careers of Jimmy Rodgers, the Carter Family and Ernest V. “Pop” Stoneman. You can hear what they sounded like on this CD, The Bristol Sessions.
Photo above: The Country Music Mural. From left to right: Ralph Peer,The Carter Family, the RCA Victor logo, “Nipper” the dog listening to his master’s voice, Mom and Pop Stoneman and Jimmy Rodgers. The mural was painted by Tim White, who plays with a group called the VW Boys. There’s a small stage in front of the mural for shows.
The official state line of Tennessee and Virginia runs down the middle of State Street, It’s a beautiful street, lined with blooming pear trees. There are lots of antique stores, jewelry and clothing shops and restaurants. The Paramount Theater’s marquee boasts of a Ralph Stanley Tribute and an upcoming show by Blue Highway. My kind of entertainment. You might want to mark your calendar for the third weekend in September. That’s the date for their annual music festival in downtown Bristol, the Rhythm and Roots Reunion. Bristol is also home to Bristol Motor Speedway and Dragway, If you’re a NASCAR and/or bluegrass/country music fan, Bristol sounds like the perfect place for you.
I’ve heard from friends there are other roads that lead to Bristol, but we didn’t have time for the scenic routes. We headed back the same way we arrived– up the dreaded I-81, but not before stopping and grabbing a bite to eat. Guess where we ate. – Katy
Tuesday, April 6, 2010
Early to bed, early to rise….The interview was set at Doyle’s office. We followed Doyle’s sister-in-law, Mary McClellan, around all the twists and turns of the local roads and got there pretty quick. Doyle refers to Mary as “Sister.” She keeps Doyle on track and on time by running all the details of the office as well as Doyle’s, Top O’Holston Publishing Company. Thank you, Sister. We’d still be wandering around if it hadn’t been for you. Joe Gray, the IBMM videographer had the interview space pretty well set up and we started, as scheduled, just about 10am.
With only a couple breaks to change tape or lighting, get a cup of coffee or use the restroom, we worked straight through to 3:00. And while 5 hours seems like a long time to talk, it’s nothing when trying to cover the details of a life’s work. Doyle was heavily influenced by his father’s gospel quartet, worked with Jimmy Martin (twice), with JD Crowe, The Country Gentlemen, and has headed up Quicksilver for the past 31 years. You have to cover all of his recordings, including 6 albums with The Bluegrass Album Band, AND all his awards and honors. Let me just mention a few: The National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellowship Award, an honorary doctorate from King’s College (Yes, that’s Dr. Doyle), seven IBMA vocal groups of the year, etc. etc.
I had asked Doyle to bring some of his Manuel jackets and Cahoots Boots that he performs in for the cameras. So you can see, five hours just scratched the surface.
After the interview we met my husband, Bill, and Doyle’s wife, Suzanne, at a Mexican restaurant for quick bite. You would think we would be talked out but we found plenty more to say. From the small world department: Suzanne told me her father had been in the Air Force and one of the places he was stationed was near my dad’s hometown in New Hampshire. I asked if she knew where New Castle was. “Know it? I lived there for 6 years!” She knew my Uncle Scott and my Cousin Peggy. I have known Suzanne almost as long as I’ve known Doyle and we’re just finding this out! We got a good laugh about that and I called my family that night to tell them that story.
Photo above: Lighthouse in New Castle, New Hampshire (population 1,010)
I went to bed almost as soon as we got back to the hotel. I had promised to call my friend to talk about how the interview went. I was so tired, I could only text one word: “Exhausted.”
Monday, April 5, 2010
Did I mention that we’re traveling on I-81? I’m glad Bill’s driving because most of the time I’m cringing in the passenger seat with my eyes half closed. There are a lot of trucks weaving in and out at 70+ miles per hour. I complained to a couple working musicians and they laughed and said a six-hour trip is nothing. Maybe so; but, I want to thank all the musicians who travel such long distances to bring their music to us. I have a renewed appreciation for what you go through. Someone else I want to salute is the deejays who kept us company mile after mile. I love radio. I love the sense of community you can get listening to stations who haven’t been gobbled up by huge chains. First of all, I love hearing accents and colloquialisms. And I can’t get enough of what I call “Neighborhood News” — the farm report, which fundraiser dinner will be at which fire station or church. I even appreciate hearing the announcers read obituaries for people I never knew. Good radio is one that connects a community. Let me give special shout-outs to WBRF 98.1-FM in Galax, Virginia. They play 50 years of Country Music PLUS old-time and bluegrass. Believe me, a Galax, Virginia station knows Old Time Music. Thanks also to WPSK 107-FM in Pulaski, Virginia which featured some great classics on what they called Legend’s Lunch.
We arrived in Bristol in the late afternoon, had an early dinner and got a good night’s sleep. I wanted to be ready for that interview.
Sunday, April 4, 2010
According to MapQuest, it’s 369.66 miles between my home in Washington, D.C. and Doyle Lawson’s home in Bristol, Tennessee. My husband, Bill, and I will start out early tomorrow to make a long-standing appointment: to interview Doyle for the International Bluegrass Music Museum’s Video Oral History Project (VOHP).
Last summer I emceed one of the evenings at 2009 ROMP near Owensboro, Kentucky. During the dinner break, Gabrielle Gray, head of the IBMM, asked me to join her and Doyle at their table. She explained that the museum was arranging to interview Doyle for the VOHP and that he had asked that I conduct the interview.
Wow! I felt honored but only a little surprised. I have a long interview history with Doyle. In fact, one of the very first radio feature I ever produced was with Doyle and other members of the Country Gentlemen in 1975. Oh my, that was 35 years ago. There have been many interviews with Doyle over the years, including one I did with him the day before he received the NEA Heritage Fellowship Award in 2006.
Click here to listen to a clip from Katy’s 2006 interview
I admire Doyle and his music and have always enjoyed our conversations. But those interviews have been for my radio show and this interview will represent his life and career and be archived in the museum. I must admit to feeling this is a big responsibility and I hope I’m up to the task. The interview is Tuesday so I have a couple days to study up on Doyle.