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Tony Pence and Bob Christian of Bluegrass Railroad.

These personal soul journeys we call life have intrigued me since I was a small child growing up in northeastern Kentucky along the banks of Tygart Creek. Perhaps it was the many hours I spent alone watching the water slowly meander its way over the ripples on its way to the Ohio River and what would happen then that instilled my need for the rest of the story and what was “there.”

Clarence KellyA lot of folks over the years left these pretty green hills to cross the Ohio River in search of a better life regardless of what might lay ahead, because in many cases it had to be better’n here. My pursuit of hearing these many stories of life from the pickers and artists of my part of the foothills took me to Fairborn, Ohio, to the home of Clarence Kelly, a picker from Spaw’s Creek, over in the Caney region of Morgan County, Kentucky.

Clarence Kelly, like many young men reared in this ancient mountain range we call the foothills of Kentucky has lineage tied to the lowlands of Scotland. He was a free-range kid who claimed the hills, trees and streams as his playground and was raised up during a time when it was common for a 10- or 11-year-old kid to kill a squirrel or rabbit and bring it home for supper.

“Money was damn near nonexistent for us,” Kelly explains as he returns to the Caney/Spaw’s Creek area and the remote austere life he lived with his father Santford Kelly.

Santford was a noted old-time musician and man of the hills some might refer to as a mystic, maybe as well known for his herbalist skills as his fiddling. The fiddle songs of Santford Kelly were archived at the University of Kentucky, Western Kentucky University and Morehead State University at the Kentucky Center for Traditional Music.

“Hobart would bring Ricky to where my Daddy would be playing, and he picked up on Daddy’s style and still does some of that type of playing today,” he said, referring to legendary Ricky Skaggs and his father, also out of the same area.

Clarence Kelly & Nu-Cut Road at the Jerusalem Ridge Bluegrass Celebration

Aside of the Skaggs recordings of “Fiddlin’ Sam,” as Santford was known in the region, Peter Hoover recorded and documented the music of this cultural icon in the 1960s. One might find more on Santford here.

“We were very much money poor,” Clarence tells me when I asked about his first guitar. “I didn’t have $6 and Daddy didn’t have $6, so he talked this fellow into taking six ducks for that old Silvertone guitar that began my love affair with guitars; I was 10 years old.”

“Every day I would run home from wherever I might be to that old guitar and work on getting better,” he continued. “Daddy had the time and patience to fool with me; he was 58 when I was born and we enjoyed each other.”

Upon inquiry of his first paying gig, Clarence said, “I was 13 years old and went with Daddy to play at the University of Kentucky. He paid me $20 and I thought I was rich.”

Clarence laughs as he pops open his Zippo and lights another cigarette, then says “you know, Tony, a love affair with guitars is both a heaven and hell thing, but I knew I had to pursue playing and, before he died, Daddy sat down beside me and told me something that didn’t make a lot of sense to me until about 30 years later.”

He said, “There are two kinds of music, Clarence: the kind that makes people happy, they want to laugh and dance and that’s good. And there’s the kind that makes folks want to bow their head and think, the kind that makes tears come from their eyes. Do one of these and people will never forget you, but everything else in between really ain’t worth doing. You need to decide what kind of music you want to do.” It was 30 years later after many a long night being somewhere in between that Clarence took a one-year hiatus from live music, but we will get to that.

In the early 1970s, Santford Kelly passed into time and took with him the political influence and local pull that had been sometimes required to reign in young Clarence, who was developing a growing chip on his shoulder. Inequality rears its ugly face generally always in places like school, where those that have seemingly have carte blanche when it comes to the have-nots. Growing up a free-range child and for the most part living off the land, young Clarence wasn’t shy about expressing himself, sometimes with a violent nature.

Clarence Kelly & Nu-Cut Road at the Clarence Kelly Homecoming Bluegrass Festival

Clarence Kelly, second from left, performing at the 2012 Clarence Kelly Homecoming in West Liberty. (Photo provided)

“Today our society would say I was a troubled youth. I’m not sure I was as much a troubled youth, as the folks there in town were troubled with me,” Kelly grins as he recollects his sudden departure from Morgan County. So in the early 1970s, Clarence Kelly left these pretty green hills without a choice and not much of a chance, 17 years old and alone.

Clarence made that journey down the treacherous Highway 519 to Morehead, catching 32 over to Flemingsburg where Route 11 will get you to Maysville and the bridge across the Ohio River. Once across the river, Clarence caught Highway 68 and landed in Fairborn, Ohio, just outside of Dayton and what had been the hottest bluegrass scene in the country.

Young Mr. Kelly quickly found work as a commercial roofer to make his way, an expertise he still uses today. “I had been in Fairborn roofing for a while, I was about 19 and on my way home from work one evening and passed a bar with some folks sitting outside on the sidewalk playing music,” Kelly chuckles as he re-lights his cigarette and adds, “and I had this need to rekindle my love affair with guitar so I turned around. We ended up configured as a band and played at Frank’s Tavern all the time. We decided to enter a contest at Frontier Ranch, which was then a Bluegrass Festival in Columbus, Ohio. We ended up winning the talent contest and the race was on.”

“At that point I had been doing the bars for some time, and the Frontier Ranch thing began the shift out of clubs to the festivals,” he explained.

After several years of working a day job and nights doing bluegrass with as many gigs, festivals and covers as possible, Clarence found himself burned out on that music somewhere in between and walked away in 1987. He was in that place his Daddy had warned him about. The Clarence Kelly that re-emerges in 1999 has hooked up with legendary Bill Monroe band member Noah Crase and Carlos Brock, and Red Allen’s guitar man Clarence Baker. I had mentioned earlier about Dayton being a hotbed of bluegrass.

More than a few notable names of bluegrass honed their skills on the stages around Dayton, the likes of Jimmy Martin, Red Allen, Jim and Jesse, Sonny and Bobby Osborne just to name a few. Clarence Kelly, with this collaboration of Crase, Baker and Brock, reinserts Fiddlin Sam’s boy into the bluegrass business. The band takes the name The Bluegrass Legends and once again was taking the stage doing songs that had made their bandmates famous over the years and Clarence was right in the middle of it.

The Bluegrass Legends had a pretty good run once again with Clarence out front, but as time has its say, miles and age brought that touring group to the summit. But Clarence Kelly is a man long-driven and matured into an artist. Clarence by now owned that commercial roofing business and had traveled to China at least 15 times developing roofing products. He was now his own man.

In the core of Clarence Kelly’s soul, he heard the music of the pretty green hills taught him by Fiddlin’ Sam on the porch, in the kitchen and in the living room of the shack of a house that was home. This unique music of the mountains, sifted by time from the means streets and hills of Ireland, England and, yes, the Lowlands of Scotland, runs a course through your veins if you were lucky enough to have been born and baptized into it.

So, having been born and baptized into it, the now traveled and matured Clarence Kelly decided on where he was headed with his music. Heart-ripping stories of the mountains and hardships associated with the things he knew came out with songs like “South of Cincinnati and Mountain Laurel” or “No Coal in Harlan.”

The Bluegrass Legends void was filled by a new assembly, New Cut Road, as Clarence began to present primarily original material instead of the Standards. Kelly tells me it took a while for folks to come around to hearing new and original material, but they did. Three recording projects later, Kelly has sold into the thousands of CDs and has recorded with the likes of Don Rigsby, James King and Marty Raybon.

These three artists were all featured on Kelly’s 2009 release on Sagegrass Records, titled “A Trip Back in Time.” Kelly also released “The Mountains are Calling” in 2006 that included “South of Cincinnati and Mountain Laurel.” Clarence Kelly and New Cut Road released Stories of Life in 2011 that includes Kelly covering Carter Stanley’s “Lonesome River” and Mickey Newberry’s “San Francisco Mabel Joy.” There are plans to produce a new CD project in the fall of 2013 as Kelly recovers from back surgery that took place in March.

Tony Pence and Clarence Kelly at Clarence's Home in Fairborn, OhioClarence Kelly’s music is bone-cutting in truth-revealing realities of life with as unique a delivery as were the fiddle tunes of his father Santford. His sound has a unique distinction having evolved note by note, one gray hair at a time, with the feller holding the pen and vintage Martin guitar now old enough not to give a damn and old enough to tell the truth.

In the early 1970s Clarence Kelly was run out of West Liberty in Morgan County, Ky., on the proverbial rail, but when you cross the Morgan County Line today you will notice a sign.

It reads: Welcome to Morgan County -“Home of Clarence Kelly”

You see, Clarence doesn’t play bluegrass music for a living, he never did. Clarence Kelly plays bluegrass and writes songs to sing because that is who he is and has been since he was a little boy on Spaw’s Creek. When West Liberty was devastated by the tornado last year, Clarence sent trucks of blankets and other supplies immediately to the shelters, following up with assistance he preferred to keep private.

Before that tornado, there was The Clarence Kelly Homecoming Festival the second weekend of September every year in Morgan County. There is a reason for everything my Granny used to say, and I bet that is the case with Clarence Kelly’s story.

Yep, I’ve always been intrigued by journeys. The arduous paths either dealt to or somehow chosen by the soul, and the obstacles and conditions along the way one might consider a bad break. These bad breaks can turn out to actually be favors, which is what Clarence Kelly has always declared. His music tells those stories of life in Appalachia, and you would do well to hear them. (More here.)

Written by Tony Pence, Copyright 2013 all rights reserved.

See Clarence Kelly performing at the Jerusalem Ridge Bluegrass Celebration in 2012:

Bone-cutting Truth-revealing Music is Clarence Kelly’s Unique Calling Card was first published  on KyForward.com

My writings are about people, places and things I find of interest not only to myself, but nouns I think you might find interesting, too. And the interesting nouns of which I write are here in the foothills of Appalachia.

Every now and then an inquiring feller will come across extraordinary achievement rendered by the vision of an ordinary person in the possession of having been nurturing, with the education and drive enabling the capacity to achieve goals and fortuned with longevity.

Sam McKinney (Photo provided)

My friend Sam McKinney is one of those ordinary but complex down-to-earth people that took his vision developed at an early age as the template used to carve out his professional niche on a knoll at the end of Gilliam Cemetery Road. Sam is an artist. Sam is an artist with the capacity to turn just about everything within his reach into art, including music and, of course, Serendipity. Serendipity is the name of this unique place providing shelter since 1975 and the personal studio and gallery where Sam has produced over 350 Portraits, somewhere between 25 and 35 sculptures of significance ranging from busts to monumental pieces on display in commercial arenas.

Sam’s diverse works are housed in the Rayburn Office Building at the Nation’s Capital, England, and Pyramid Hill International Sculpture Park in Hamilton, Ohio and scattered all over the country in private collections. Some of his work is featured in a book printed in both English and Chinese called, Masters in Landscape and Public Sculpture including the cover shot in 2012, part of a Landscape Design Series.

I guess it has been nearly 23 years since I met Sam. We were eating Chinese food here in Morehead at a now long-gone China Buffet that stood in the very same spot you can purchase a mobile building from Lowe’s today. I was introduced to Sam as a picker as was he to me, which led to Sam extending an invitation to Serendipity, his home and pickin’ parlor over on the fringe of Carter County, right along the Rowan County border and located at 13th and Plum, an address which translates: Take Kentucky 32 east out of Morehead up Christy Creek 13 miles, take a left and it is Plum out to the end of the road. Seriously.

Sam McKinney's homeplace, Serendipity (Photo provided)

Sam McKinney’s Home Place, Serendipity (Photo provided)

Today one is greeted by a massive log cabin complex serving as the home, studio and gallery for an internationally known artist possessing provincial talents honed to high level skills. The home of an artist producing every form of art from a charcoal drawing to a monumental sculpture with as much ease doing one as the other.

As it goes in this part of the country, when a feller also has a hankering for stringed instruments, in addition to being an art studio and gallery, Sam’s living room has also been a Pickin’ Parlor for over 30 years. I feel fortunate to be a tenured member. Upon spending some time in this region you will quickly discover the rarity of public venues for music, so knowing where to find a good Pickin’ Parlor is paramount to finding true happiness within one’s musical soul.

I am lucky to abide in an area with its fair share of musical alliances receiving their satisfaction in the cramped quarters of kitchens, porches and living rooms. And as the Good Lord Himself is my witness, this sprawling log structure purchased off site and relocated to become what is today Serendipity Studio, is an absolutely marvelous backdrop for Sam’s vast alliance of pickers, artists and writers to share and absorb creative energy, and on occasion a sip of tequila.

The thick log walls at Serendipity 200 years old have absorbed a lot of history since they were sawn at that Wolfe County sawmill in the 1840s with the gravy on the biscuits being all the marvelous pickin’ and singing since the mid-1970s with many a new acquaintance having been made over the years.

“Hey, our reality is just a big soup of vibrations which is why music has a universal understanding. Music has its own tones and vibrations, happy, sad, creating their own emotions. Just like a painting or a sculpture creates emotions through the sense of sight,” said Sam.

Sam went on to elaborate how he relates music and art, their parallels of primary, secondary and tertiary colors and notes and how those comprise the structure that gives them both shape. Music in these mountains has always been a catalyst behind the passion for life many from this region possess, and it is certainly a common characteristic within folks migrating here from afar who have chosen to adopt a slower pace in their lifestyle; a lifestyle where personal face-to-face relationships are still the norm and Serendipity has been a mecca for these unique, diverse, eclectic, and extraordinarily talented folks we call friends and neighbors for a while now. I have introduced a few pickers to Sam’s unique world who pretty much without exception are overwhelmed by the experience of the whole place on the first visit, resulting in no pickin’ and getting an evening’s tour with the stories and fellowship that accompanies such a time.

Sam tells me “in the beginning I was seeking shelter for my expectant family and serendipitously came across this place. There were no structures here and the road ended at the cemetery half mile back up what is now the road,” he explains pointing toward Kenny Ratcliff’s cabin. “I then sold parcels of land between the cemetery and here to Kenny and Steve Ratcliff and others in their family enabling me to fund the purchase of this cabin found in Wolfe County, Kentucky.”

This sprawling complex has origins in 18th and 19th century structures dismantled and moved here becoming Sam’s most complex site-specific work of art. “The 18th century structure that currently provides family living quarters was one of the early early prefabricated homes in Kentucky,” he said.

As Sam describes it: “a man named Doc Cockrell of English blue blood heritage, educated in New England as a doctor, came to what is now Wolfe County, purchasing 4,000 acres in the Red River Gorge area near Jericho. A man of much means, he built a water-powered sawmill and this cabin is a 1840s product of that mill. A local businessman owned the property, and I was able to buy and move it here after my friend L.C. Hoover had told me about it. My childhood friend Roy Tackett also came to Morehead State; he and I went to work preparing the cabin for transfer and preparing the site to accept construction.

Jubilance by Sam McKinney (Photo provided)

“Every single piece of the place is unique and contains the same effort and emotion I put into a piece of art,” said McKinney, adding “the place is a culmination of my life’s work that almost cost me my life. In the early 1990s, during construction of the gallery and studio addition, Sam severely injured a leg that was miraculously not lost but did take a year or so to heal.

“Good friends and loving hands helped me through that time,” McKinney says. He says there is no friend more loyal than that childhood friend from Fleming – Neon Roy Tackett. “Roy has helped me throughout the evolution of what is now Serendipity,” McKinney smiles as he speaks fondly of Roy T. “We started learning to play music together when we were seniors at the University, having moved from Letcher County in 1969. When this cabin thing began we about worked ourselves to death. Roy has been a faithful friend my whole life working only for food in those days.”

Roy Tackett can be heard on WMMT in Whitesburg, a station owned by Appalshop, and is a highly sought-after rhythm guitarist in the old-time genre playing festivals throughout the country. Some of this writer’s favorite memories are some all-night jam sessions that included Roy T, Stan Dixon, Tim Gilliam, Jamie and Jesse Wells, Sam, and, of course, myself. If some of those were only recorded I could prove my theory that Serendipity is a magical place.

In my experience of knowing Sam he has always been one to share his own experiences with both younger artists and aspiring pickers, a trait maybe picked up from spending time with one particular wordsmith of note. In the early 1980s after divorce, Sam was commissioned by Morehead State to do a portrait of James Still, the poet, novelist and folklorist. The commission came after Still donated manuscripts and such to the Camden-Carroll Library.

“At the time, James was in his mid-80s, so I was fortunate to spend quite a bit of time at Dead Mare Branch in Knott County, not only as an artist, but as an invited friend and travel companion visiting Central America exploring Mayan ruins and even once Cuba. One cannot help but evolve as a person when in the company of such an intellectual and mature soul. I learned a lot about life from him,” Sam says nodding in the affirmative.

Commissions such as the James Still project have made a steady path to the studio door over the years with the past dozen or so years being witness to McKinney taking on projects on a much larger scale. “I’ve created nine pieces for the King’s Daughter’s Medical Center since 2001 and have those two pieces, Adams First Breath and Wherefore Art Thou at Pyramid Hill,” says McKinney. A tour through the KDMC on Lexington Avenue in Ashland is well worth the trip just to take in the site-specific sculptures Sam has completed and installed there. The most recent wasBuckeye Nation unveiled in late January for the newly opened KDMC facility in Portsmouth, Ohio.

“As you know art is a feast or famine way of living, and I have had fortuitous culminations over the years enabling me to make my living doing this, but as I get older I find myself not as patient with the uncertainty” Sam explains while discussing possible plans to open Serendipity Studios to the public for classes on a limited basis. “I’ve spent my adult life teaching others as well as making my own way and think this may be a proper time to look into doing workshops here at Serendipity and would work to accommodate requests to do such,” McKinney says.

Flow of Life by Sam McKinney (Photo provided)

I was a little surprised to find that a musical legacy was not handed down from his parents, but instead the valuable ability to make things with his hands as Sam described to me. So what was it that inspired McKinney and his buddy Roy T to take up the guitar? “It was those weekly trips to the Holiday Inn North in Lexington to hear J.D. Crowe and the New South and hear Tony Rice play guitar. Hearing Tony Rice play guitar moved my soul to the point I knew I had to do it too and spent hours every day during that time learning his cross-picking style,” said McKinney, his eyes gleaming with that familiar look that emanates when recalling a pleasant memory.

As a side note, I was working as emcee at a festival a couple years back and was able to introduce Sam to his guitar hero Tony Rice after a show and yes, we do have a picture. One of Sam’s original instrumentals, Rototiller Reel was recorded by The Dead Presidents, a band from Chicago.

The last one-man art show featuring Sam’s work was 25 years ago at the Headly-Whitney Museum in Lexington so those wishing to see a collection of his work must come to his home. If you were to take a notion to breathe the rarified air at Serendipity, this knoll at the end of Gilliam Cemetery Road where Sam has created his own reality and niche, it would be worth your time.

Written by Tony Pence Copyright 2013

This article was originally published on http://www.kyforward.com

This is the first in an occasional series about the musical heritage of the Appalachian foothills and the impact the region’s songwriters, pickers and singers have on music today.

It’s about a 30-minute drive from Morehead to Sandy Hook winding along the narrow, curvy and tenacious road that is Kentucky Route 32 – a familiar stretch of highway representing the last leg home to many a picker and singer down through the years after a late night gig in a nearby town or a couple day foray home from Nashville for others.

Don Rigsby (Photo provided)

A bronze statue of Keith Whitley stands guard over the metaphoric gate as one enters Sandy Hook reminding those who ponder just how demanding the curvy and treacherous road to fame can be. Kentucky Route 32 joins Route 7 at Newfoundland and diverges east toward Isonville, and Route 7 turns south across the Little Sandy River in Sandy Hook. This little nook of the foothills that runs over into Lawrence County has produced the likes of the Whitleys, Ricky Skaggs, Larry Cordle, Jimmy and David Sloas, and Don Rigsby. Stop for a moment to reflect on just how magnanimous the influence these musicians have had on the sound of Bluegrass and country music over the past 35 years.

Now if you come from this part of the country, you know the tongue-and-cheek comment about the talent is “it’s in the water.” If not in the water, where did the extreme talent and desire of these few mentioned music men forge: This column will trace the family tree of musical heritage in this special region of the foothills of Appalachia, where ordinary people make very extraordinary music.

I consider myself an aficionado when it comes to singers so forgive my conceit, but here is the scoop. When it comes to male vocalists, regardless of genre, there are three that make the hair on the back of the neck stand up and straighten out when they turn loose: Russell Moore, Chris Stapleton and Don Rigsby.

Russell Moore and his atmospheric vocal range fronts Third Tyme Out, one of the premier instrumental and vocal groups in music today. Chris Stapleton hails from Johnson County, just over the ridge, is a masterful songwriter as well as singer making a serious impact on the Nashville scene today, formerly of The SteelDrivers and now leading The Jompson Brothers while pursuing a solo career. The very soul of bluegrass music is that “high lonesome sound,” and no human on the planet today epitomizes that sound more than Don Rigsby.

Don Rigsby (Photo provided)

I drove the winding Kentucky Route 32 to Elliott County and met Rigsby a stone’s throw north of Sandy Hook at the Laurel Gorge Heritage Center. Rigsby arrived with his chief navigator and 5-year-old son Andrew who is already doing a little pickin’ of his own. Quickly recognizable is the fact Don Rigsby is a father with a patient and gentle hand as he explained to Andrew what we were there to do and that he was free to “look but don’t touch” all the stuff to be seen at the center. The origins of Rigsby’s gentle nature were also quickly revealed when posed with telling me about where music began for him: church and his dad.

“Our Baptist faith doesn’t call for musical instruments in the church so I learned to sing line singing and doing that from the time I can remember with my hero. Ever since I was big enough to stand in a chair or on a table beside the pulpit, I was singing right next to my dad,” Rigsby said.

Don Rigsby The Mountain Doctor“My brother Ronnie was the picker getting the attention in those days and my dad was so proud of him, and I too wanted my dad to be proud of me, not realizing until I got older that he was,” he continued. “My father is and always has been a patient and nurturing man.”

Today, older brother Ron Rigsby lives in the Nashville area and is a successful entrepreneur and still does his share of pickin.’

Rigsby goes on to tell how his parents made sure he had what he needed to progress as a student, and how as a singer/musician as his singing in church led to the Elliott County High Band. Attending Morehead State University led to a Bluegrass group known as TruGrass that included other locals Johnny Lewis on banjo, Tim Gilliam on guitar and Rigsby shifting over to what has now become his signature instrument, the mandolin.

Local bluegrass aficionados besides me will tell you that TruGrass had the potential to be the next big thing in the genre, a statement Rigsby does not disagree with, “but we were young and couldn’t all agree at the same time the direction we should go, so we unfortunately went along our separate paths. Those were great guys and we were pretty good, Tim went on the play with Stealin Horses, Lonesome River Band, Vern Gosdin and a slew of others. Johnny Lewis is our county attorney and still plays when he can, currently with a band called Wild Fire.”

Wildfire includes former J.D. Crowe alum Curt Chapman.

Don Rigsby Hillbilly HeartacheDon Rigsby went on to play with Charlie Sizemore, Dave Evans, The Bluegrass Cardinals, The Lonesome River Band, J.D. Crowe and the all-star bluegrass ensemble, Longview, among its famous cast: James King, Lou Reid, Rigsby, Ron Stewart, J.D. Crowe and Marshall Wilborn. Longview has released four CD projects, Longview (1997), High Lonesome (1999), Lessons in Stone (2002), and Deep in the Mountains (2008). The group still performs on occasion. Don has also performed as a session musician and vocalist on literally hundreds of projects that include a Grammy winning project with John Fogerty.

Five solo albums have generated awards like Gospel Album of the Year, The Kentucky Star Award and Song of the Year for Empty Old Mailbox. Two International Bluegrass Music Association awards came Rigsby’s way for his role as producer of 40, a Larry Sparks project receiving the Recorded Event of the Year and Album of the Year in 2005.

All that being said about the man across the table, I am asking myself why does he stay here? Right on cue, as Rigsby speaks of his daughter and wife and handsome young Andrew and what it means to live where you choose and enjoy the simple lifestyle the foothills of Appalachia offer, and mom and dad.

Don Rigsby -Empty Old MailBox“My kids know their grandparents and go to the church I grew up singing, plus Mom and Dad aren’t as young as they used to be, but don’t tell Dad,” said with a sly grin accompanying the words. “Today’s technology certainly erases a lot of miles as far as recording and communicating, but one still has to travel for the shows.” Rigsby is slated to appear in Berkeley, Calif., Feb. 10 and has played in several European countries, Latin America, Asia, and 49 states with his mandolin and trademark High Lonesome Sound. He is familiar with the trek over Kentucky Route 32, leading home to isolated little Isonville, the home of his forefathers.

Brand new projects Rigsby lets me in on are a television show on WSAZ -TV 3 in Huntington, W.V., entitled Bluegrass Revival with Don Rigsby that will air at 9:30 Sunday mornings in the Northeastern Kentucky television market. Combine that with the reconciliation of a couple members from the Lonesome River Band days, Ronnie Bowman and Kenny Smith naming the new assemblage The Ramblin Rooks with an upcoming CD release on Rounder Records.

Oh, I almost forgot the High Lonesome Sound thing and his longtime relationship with Dr. Ralph Stanley, a family friend of his parents and hero of Rigsby’s which has prompted the sixth solo release from Don Rigsby, a project for Rebel Records. “I gave Ralph a list of songs I wanted to do of his after Tina (Rigsby’s wife and chief adviser) suggested I stick with that traditional sound for the new project, and he gave me back a short list” says Rigsby, “of which I immediately went to work.” This Ralph Stanley tribute is entitled Doctor’s Orders and expected to be released in April or May of this year and features Ricky Skaggs, Charlie Sizemore, Larry Sparks and of course Dr. Ralph Stanley himself.

If you are looking for a music man to follow or just haven’t heard any fresh music that touched your soul in a while, I highly recommend you give Don Rigsby a listen. He has those five solo releases and appears on hundreds more. Fact is, this day and time you probably won’t listen to bluegrass radio anywhere for more than an hour and not hear Don Rigsby, and that comes with good reason: Don Rigsby the man and Don Rigsby the producer-singer and musician is worth the listen.

Written by Tony Pence Copyright 2013

Don Rigsby Homecoming with Longview “Train 45″

This article was originally published on http://www.kyforward.com

A Day in the Country Folk Art Festival Morehead, Kentucky June 1, 2012 Written by Tony Pence

By Judy Clabes
KyForward editor

BGBall_440The Kentucky Society of Washington has hosted the non-partisan Bluegrass Balls for presidential inaugurations since 1949 when Kentucky’s own Alben Barkley was vice president. It is usually the first and one of the largest balls during the inaugural celebration.

As The Washington Post’s “Editor’s Pick” for 2013 – as well as in 2009 and 2005 – it has been called “the greatest Ball of all time.”

When the doors open for the grand entrance of 1000 black-tie and ball-gowned guests into the historic Wardman Marriott Hotel grand ballroom on Saturday night, organizers are promising a lavish affair that will live up to its reputation.

And advance another: Kentuckians really know how to throw a party.

Kentuckian H. McGuire “Mac” Riley, past-president of the Kentucky Society and now treasurer, has been involved with Bluegrass Ball since 1989 when George H.W. Bush was elected. (He ended up working with President Bush in the Department of Defense.)

“For 20 years – after we outgrew the National Press Club – we have held the ball at the Wardman Marriott,” said Riley. “Over the years, we’ve had all sorts of national celebrities in politics, art and entertainment as our guests. For security reasons we don’t announce celebrities beforehand – though I can say that Kentucky’s Governor and First Lady as well as the Lt. Governor and his wife and most of the congressional delegation have confirmed their attendance.”

Riley, originally from Carter County, went to DC in 1987 with a large, national law firm and is now President of BAHR Associates, Inc. He maintains strong homeplace ties as a member of the board of the Henry Clay Center for Statesmanship in Lexington and as 2013 Distinguished Practitioner in Residence for the Center for Excellence in Advocacy for the Northern Kentucky University College of Law. He has a home in Carter County.

The evening starts at 6:30 p.m. With a “Bourbon Trail” reception sponsored by the Kentucky Distiller’s Association – with tastings of Kentucky’s famous and finest single-batch bourbons.

Guests will be ushered into the ballroom for dinner by the Letcher County Central and JROTC Marching Band, the only Kentucky band chosen to march in the official Inauguration parade. The band raised more than $70,000 for their trip to D.C.

Emcees for the evening are Phyllis George, former Miss America and First Lady of Kentucky, and her daughter Pamela Brown, a Kentucky native and a reporter for DC’s ABC News Channel 8.

Kentucky-centric musical entertainment will be provided by a special group of musicians, most of them Morehead State University faculty calling themselves “Electric Edge.” They include:

Tony Pence, a lifelong resident of Northeastern Kentucky who has performed for over 30 years on the local music scene, many with his band BIG UGLY. In 2004 Pence landed two songs on the Christian Country Radio Charts with “Jack and Thelma” and “Someone I Used to Be” that remained on CCMA charts in the U.S. and Europe for nearly 2 years. He’s also hosted “The Country Jukebox” and “Tuesday’s Americana Crossroads” on Morehead’s State Public Radio broadcasts since 2011, and was recently announced as co-host of MSPR’s popular Saturday, “The Bluegrass Railroad” program. Pence holds a degree in Government with emphasis in Regional Analysis andPublic Policy from Morehead State University;

Glenn Ginn, Associate Professor of Guitar and Jazz Studies at Morehead has performed with several legendary jazz musicians including Clark Terry, Gene Harris, Gene Bertoncini, and Steve Smith, as well as Christian singer/songwriter Jay Beech and can be heard on Jay’s CD Everyone “Who Is Thirsty, Come.” He also self-produced three CD’s: “Swing Street,” “Guitar Duets,” and “I Know Who Holds Tomorrow;”

Lisa Ginn, Vocalist, is a local legend. She has performed in a variety of popular groups from rock, folk, and bluegrass bands to jazz groups and gospel choirs. She can be heard on two recent CD releases, “I Know Who Holds Tomorrow,” and “Swing Street” on Electric Ledge Records. Lisa has been a featured performer throughout the Midwest with recent performances at the Snowshoe Wine and Jazz festival in Snowshoe, West Virginia and the Jazz Alley concert series at the Paramount Arts Center in Ashland. Past performances include live radio broadcasts for WNKU in Cincinnati, the Fargo/Moorhead River Jazz Festival, the Fergus Falls Jazz Festival, New York Mills Cultural Center, and the Fargo Plains Art Museum Rush Hour Concert Series;

Gordon Towell, a reknown saxophonist is Professor of Music in Jazz Studies at MSU and regularly performs with Vince DiMartino/MilesOsland Jazz Orchestra (DOJO), the Kentucky Jazz Repertory Orchestra, the Lipzz Big Band, and many national acts.His saxophone performances can be heard on Outlier, Sketch Pad, Ask Me Now, Blue Duck Suit, and Still Friends, which are all available through cdbaby.com. These CDs have been featured on NPR, CBC, and CKUA radio;

Steven Snyder, Associate Professor of Jazz at MSU, is an organist and pianist, documented on 16 recordings found on various independent releases since 1992. He has performed in France, Portugal, Brazil, Sweden, Taiwan, as well as throughout the US and Canada. He holds Bachelors and Masters Degrees in Jazz Piano Performance from the University of North Texas, and a DMA in Piano Performance (Jazz Emphasis) from the University of Texas at Austin;

Danny Cecil of Lexington is a fixture on the Central Ky. music scene playing in jazz, big band, rock, honky tonk and bluegrass groups. Cecil has taught bass at Morehead State University for three years and performed with such jazz greats as Joe Lovano, Sam Rivers, Kenny Werner, Bob Mintzer, as well a Carnegie Hall performance with Arlo Guthrie and the UK Symphony Orchestra; and

Paul Deatherage a versatile percussionist, including jazz, concert, marching and world percussion. He currently teaches drum set at the University of Kentucky and is on the percussion staff at Lafayette High School, a 16-time marching band state champion and a Bands of America Grand National finalist. He currently holds the drumset chair for the DiMartino/Osland Jazz Orchestra, the Osland/Dailey Jazztet, the Raleigh Dailey Trio, the Walnut Street Ragtime Ramblers, Sound Foundry Jazz Quartet, the Dave Hummel Big Band and the Jazz Power Trio, and Barry Mando Project.

Riley is especially pleased to have these musicians showcased at the Bluegrass Ball. His grandfather, Heman McGuire, a member of the Kentucky House in the 1930s and Superintendent of Schools in Carter County, was a Morehead graduate and both his parents were too.

When organizers were looking for just the right feature entertainment for their big ball, Riley called on his Morehead connections and good friend Tony Pence to come to the rescue. Pence responded by gathering up his talented, impromtu band, who are playing “gratis” at the party.

The Kentucky Society www.kentuckysociety.org has over 1000 active members and hold several widely anticipated and attended events: annual Pre-Kentucky Derby Party, the biennial Henry Clay Gala, with proceeds going to Henry Clay Internships in Public Policy awarded to four outstanding Kentucky college students, and annual fall Kentucky congressional delegation receptions at the Capitol. And, every four years, the signature Bluegrass Ball in celebration of the presidential inauguration.

Anne-Marie Kelley, originally from Ashland, is chair of the Bluegrass Ball; Winn Williams, originally from Winchester, is current Society President and Mica Hider, from Owensboro is President-Elect.

Source: http://www.kyforward.com/2013/01/bluegrass-ball-for-inauguration-has-rich-history-showcases-ky-talent-spirit-people/

Tony Pence at A Day in the Country Folk Art Festival Morehead, Kentucky June 1, 201

Tony Pence at A Day in the Country Folk Art Festival Morehead, Kentucky June 1, 2012

Tony Pence at A Day in the Country Folk Art Festival Morehead, Kentucky June 1, 2012

Tony Pence at A Day in the Country Folk Art Festival Morehead, Kentucky June 1, 2012