1. New Research and Documentation:
According to the family timeline we've compiled based on family documents, excerpts of a video oral history with Frances, and Timi's own recollections, the Reedys would most likely have played at Renfro Valley between the early 1940's and early 1950's (prior to their temporary migration to Dayton, Ohio) and between the mid-1960's and mid- to late-1970's. At this point, we have examined all of John Lair's relevant business correspondence and publicity as well as about a quarter of the relevant radio program transcripts; however, so far there are only a couple clues and no direct documentation of their presence there.
John Lair's business correspondence alluded to some of the Renfro Valley “units” of performers who traveled to various venues such as schools, civic clubs, and communities in the region. This could possibly correlate to Frances' recollections of the different places they played. For example, we found among her memorabilia an old ticket stub of a “Hill-Billy Show,” and a Renfro Valley booking agent uses this same phrase in a 1943 letter to responding to an inquiry about bringing performers to their community. “I could not give you a Renfro Valley Name Show for $550 Per week. However, I could give you a good hill-billy show to play these camps, for that amount.”
Another area we planned to explore was the Reuben Powell collection. So far, we have only looked through one box of material focusing on some Renfro Valley festivals, etc. While there was no direct mention of the Reedys, there are several “track lists” of bluegrass festival performances that Reuben Powell recorded, one of which included an intere how the group came to learn the song. We plan to explore additional manuscripts and recordings in the Reuben Powell collection before our fellowship ends.
A preliminary search of the sound archives database resulted in several recordings by John and/or Frances Reedy on cassette. Two of these, “Oh Death” and “Prayer is Worth More than Silver or Gold,” were in the Ed Ward collection; however, after listening to them, we determined that were dubs of a 45 record, most likely Starday SEP 166 as both songs were included on Side A of that recording. (While these are not live recordings, they are fortuitous because this 45 is one of the few we do not currently have in the collection.) The other three recordings are obviously of another man named John Reedy as they were made in the early 1990's, nearly a decade after Timi's papaw's death. Otherwise, there are several versions of “Somebody Touched Me” by various artists in the Sound Archives that we would like to digitize for comparison at some point.
2. Processing and Digitizing New Materials:
Of particular importance was the digitization of several reel-to-reel recordings for which we previously had no way to playback. John converted these tapes to CD so that we could listen and identify titles of songs, participating musicians, and approximate recording dates. We have completed preliminary track-lists for all 15 CD's worth of reel-to-reel material. Most of these are home recordings of jam sessions or what we believe to be multiple takes of songs that they were rehearsing prior to commercial recordings. There is also a tape of performances at an unknown church with additional unknown singers and musicians. Some recordings are of family gatherings, and others are dubs of 45 recordings. One tape included a recording of a radio “infomercial” advertising the release of the Starday Hall of Fame records and playing selected tracks, including “Oh, Death.”
We had some difficulty playing cassette tapes ourselves, so John was also able to convert these to CD for us.
We are still in the process of listening and identifying track lists for these 10 CD's, but it's already clear that some of them are dubs of 45's and the reel-to-reel recordings. Fortunately, one of them apparently includes a dub of the single commercial 8-track recording.
In addition to digitizing and identifying audio tracks, we've also scanned a substantial number of images. For example, we've scanned more than 40 labels from 45's and LP's, about 20 musician photos (of the Reedys and others), and over 50 family photos.
For the most part, we have completed this phase of our fellowship with the exception of digitizing vinyl recordings that will remain in the Sound Archives. We recently purchased a turntable with a USB connection so we can have digital copies of recordings of not only the Reedys' commercial recordings but other musicians that they collected as well.
3. Comprehensive Inventory and Finding Aid:
With just over a month remaining, we feel very productive so far, but we also realize that there is still a lot to accomplish, especially in the archival research. This part of the project has been very time-consuming with relatively little reward, which can sometimes be frustrating. However, there is still a lot of valuable information to garner from reading about the Reedys contemporaries and musical industries like Renfro Valley.
In the next couple of weeks, we will be completing the requirements for our Community Scholar program and preparing for a short presentation on our project for our last class session. We anticipate that this will be an excellent opportunity to share our findings with others in an abbreviated format and will help us prepare for our final fellowship presentation on campus at the end of the semester.