Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Fellows' First Month

Much has transpired over the course of our first fellowship month and since we last posted an update. We have gathered, discovered, and digitized various photos, audio, and video footage that are really exciting and important to the overall project. We have also begun digging around in the numerous archival manuscripts and sound archives to try and find other evidence and reference of the Reedys' career. And we've continued to participate in the weekly Community Scholars Program where we have learned much and enjoyed the unique group of people we are getting to know there.

One major accomplishment and rewarding process was listening to the digitized reel-to-reel tapes and identifying the track lists, performers, etc. So far, John has converted and we've labeled more than 15 CD's worth of material. Most of the material is musical performances, sometimes with multiple takes of the same song, and occasionally with comedic outtakes as they fuss about who's supposed to sing or play what when. There are also some conversational recordings of pseudo-radio interviews, sermons, or family gatherings. The intentionality regarding the creation and preservation of this material is astounding.

Another substantial digitization project was scanning the labels of all of the 78, 45's, LP's, various photographs, and a few news clippings. Timi scanned most of these materials, and there are some intriguing leads in terms of people they played with and places they played. 

Timi remembered her mamaw and papaw having a comedy routine called "Scrapiron," and she was tickled to find this photo of them at what might be WHLN radio station in Harlan in the 1940's or early 1950's.

Here's an interesting article that was published in the Corbin Times-Tribune when their song "Somebody Touched Me" was included on The Early Days of Bluegrass, Vol. 1 in 1975.

The article is interesting for several reasons. Of course, the obvious message of the story is a celebration of local residents being included in a commercial compilation with other well-known bluegrass artists. But there is a more subtle story when they discuss the songwriting process and other songs they had written, such as Frances' song "Tiny Bitty Pieces." 

She attributes the origin of this catchy country tune of lost love and trust to the demise of "a couple of friends," but it was in fact written to and for John. "You took my heart and you broke it/Into little bitty pieces/Tiny bitty pieces/So small you can't mend/You say that you're sorry/And you ask me to forgive you/Why should I forgive you/I'd just get hurt again." Similarly, John wrote "Knocking on Your Door" to Frances as a result of their brief separation. "I'm knockin' on your door again, my darlin/I'm knockin' on your door please answer me/I've tried to make you realize, my darlin'/That no one else was ever meant for me."

We finally found a VHS copy of the oral history video that Timi helped produce in the mid-1990's. We had anticipated that the bluegrass interview would help clarify the timeline of their career, who they played with, etc., and it has certainly provided valuable information that we hadn't documented yet. For example, all of our current sources indicated that the first recording of "Somebody Touched Me" on the Twin City label was produced in 1949, but Frances said it was recorded in 1947. So we need to follow up on this to find out which date is in fact correct.

However, the interview narrative is truncated and ends before they even migrated to Dayton, so it didn't include as much information as we were counting on. We also need to follow up with our friend Mark who video-taped the interviews to see if there might be additional raw footage or another, more complete version of the video. The video does end with Frances performing a couple of traditional tunes that Timi loved from her childhood.

Such a performance was a truly rare and special treat during the latter part of Frances' life. And the interview footage is an extremely important piece of media for the overall documentary project.

Next week, we plan to visit with David Lundy, who produced the LP Hymns from the Hills of Harlan County Kentucky at Lundy Studio in Barbourville. We hope to interview him as part of our Community Scholars project and for the documentary, of course. Harry also wants to meet with him, so we're going to help set up a meeting between the two of them in the near future. We also plan to interview Harry at some point before our fellowship ends.

So we have accomplished much in the past month, and I will post some additional photos and other fun treasures in the near future. We also still have a lot of material to look through in the archives, so there is much left to do for the remainder of the semester!

1 comment:

  1. Sirs:
    I am the guitarist and pianist for a christian worship band, and we perform, "Somebody Touched Me." I need to get permission from John Reedy's publisher to put the lyrics in our hymnal and to display them on a project at praise services. Does anyone know how to get permission to use John Reedy's music?

    Thank you,
    Chris K.