Monday, May 25, 2015

Music, Migration, & Memorial Day

John & Frances Reedy (Harlan, KY)
We have been thinking about Frances and John Reedy and other missed loved ones on Memorial Day. Timi keeps this favorite photo of her Mamaw and Papaw beside her near the dining table. 

We think it was taken sometime in the 1940's in Harlan County before John and Frances migrated to Dayton, Ohio, so they were likely about in their late twenties or thirties. Timi loves this picture because her Mamaw and Papaw are laughing and look so happy together. 

Ruby (Kidd) & Howard Clemons (1940's)
This year, Memorial Day is even more bittersweet with the loss of Tammy's Mamaw, Ruby May Kidd Clemons (1925-2015) in January. She and her husband (and Tammy's Papaw) were married for over 70 years. 

According to the memoirs she wrote for some of her Elkins cousins, she was born on Hatton Ridge in Menifee County, Kentucky where she lived with her parents and two sisters until her parents divorced when she was 9 years old. Her mother then moved to Ohio with the girls and later remarried. Ruby eventually moved back to Kentucky with her husband Howard where they remained.

While Ruby never produced any commercial recordings, she was very musically and artistically inclined and produced a plethora of paintings, poems, short stories, songs, and handicrafts throughout her 89 years of life. She got her first organ when she was six and was a self-taught musician who played the piano, guitar, and harmonica. She served as the pianist at several local Churches of God for over 60 years, and she performed publicly for various civic organizations that she was involved in. Ruby Clemons wrote and copyrighted more than 1000 country and gospel songs, and she self-recorded many of them on cassette tape. Tammy hopes to gather and archive her grandmother's extensive musical and artistic productions, and she plans on sharing her Mamaw's memoirs with the rest of her family.

Ruby Clemons (Hat Day at Hope Church, May 2014)
Ruby Kidd (age 13) with her cousin Mary
Ruby Clemons has always been a tremendous role model and support system for her granddaughter Tammy, and there is so much more to say about her life, accomplishments, and impact on the world around her. Meanwhile, Tammy created a playlist of videos featuring her Mamaw and Papaw, Ruby and Howard Clemons, in honor of their great influence on her life.

On this Memorial Day, we remember these and many loved ones, living and past, who we will love and miss every onward.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

New Reedy Media & Map

Our recent "Reedy References" post included a substantial discussion of Frances Reedys' influential vocals on the commercial recording of "Oh Death" by "John Reedy." Afterward, Timi's Uncle Tim asked if we could post his mother's version so that he could share it with family and friends. However, we are still researching how copyright works, how we can ensure fair use, and how music rights are inherited.

Of all the digitized material that we have posted or found online, the Reedys' version of "Oh Death" was an important but missing piece of Frances and John's audio history. We realized that we actually had a more "home-made" version of the commercial recording that we could share as a piece of regional radio history as well.

We previously mentioned an enormous archive of reel-to-reel recordings that Frances and John Reedy made during the 1960s and 1970s. Among them was a home recording of a radio "infomercial" advertising the release of the 1961 Starday Hall of Fame Series Gospel Songs By All Star Artists (SEP 168), which was broadcast on WCKY in Cincinnati, Ohio. The host was Wayne Rainey of the Rainey Family, and the extended radio promotion included several cuts from the EP, including John and Frances Reedy's recording of "Oh Death. 

So were able to upload this slightly cleaned up and edited version of the radio broadcast, which basically trims down the introduction, removes some background noise, and increases the volume. It is still a little crackly, but it is another amazing example of the Reedy's self-documentation of their music's circulation.

We also posted this audio file to the Multi-Media Library. When I sent this to Uncle Tim, he responded, "I think this was one of the best ones they ever recorded. Thanks ... !!" We're so glad that this radio recording can help complete the audio "picture" of this important song in the Reedy repertoire.

Another cool new documentary feature is the Reedy Migration, Music, & Memory Map, which is an interactive map that illustrates John and Frances Reedy's residential migration from Eastern Kentucky to Ohio and back again; their diverse commercial recording career; their documentation of their music and memories; and their ongoing influence and recognition as Appalachian songwriters and musicians.  

The new blog page for the map includes instructions for using the map and accessing the information about different items. For example, the map includes the Reedys' commercial discography during their shared lifetimes that includes full recording information and, in some cases, images of the record labels. We have also begun mapping their radio appearances and plan to map additional multi-media material that we have already posted. We plan to update the map to include additional categories and media artifacts, so we welcome any ideas for Reedy data that we could include on the map.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Reedy References

Over the holidays, we spent some time revisiting our research findings and searching for additional online references from the past couple of years. We came across several interesting and inspiring sources and had some unexpected conversations related to Frances and John Reedy's contributions to audio history and culture.

For example, we came across this reference in the September 22, 1945 issue of Billboard Magazine that includes “John Reedy’s troupe from Harlan, Ky” among the grandstand attractions in Pennington Gap, Virginia alongside “Grandpappy Jones and Company from Grand O’l Opry” (p. 52) and other popular artists.

There were also some listings of “John Reedy” as the artist reference for a couple of the Reedys’ commercial recordings in a 1962 issue of a publication called Country Music Promoter. Unfortunately, the entire pages that the references come from are not available. However, there was an intriguing invocation of Frances as the uncredited star in the shadows in a listing for the Starday SEP 166 recording that includes her singing lead vocals on “Oh Death.” “All numbers are not vocalized by John Reedy as number 1 is surly [sic] a female voice. To [sic] bad that the identity of the singer is not listed on the record” (p. 4). 

The last reference is from a full-page Starday ad for the label's LP series of “Country,” Western,” “Bluegrass,” and “Sacred” recordings, which includes the Reedys’ version of “Oh Death” on the Tragic Songs of Death and Sorrow compilation (image source: Gary Reid).

Even more exciting than these popular music publications from when the Reedys were actively cutting and selling records are two recent scholarly publications that mention their influence on the history and icons of bluegrass music. The Starday Story: The House that Country Music Built (2011) by Nathan D. Gibson includes two references to “John Reedy” in the index. In a discussion of the spreading popularity of Bluegrass music by the late 1950s, Gibson notes that “Starday had earned its reputation as the bluegrass label” (p. 83) and mentions several famous artists who recorded with them, including the Stanley Brothers, Carl Story, Charlie Monroe, among others. He goes on to mention “John Reedy” among some of the “less well-known bluegrass acts” (p. 83). Of course, Frances Reedy talked about having played with all of the above-mentioned musicians and more in her oral history and stories she shared with her family and friends, but it is affirming to see at least John included in this history. Later Gibson discusses the Starday label's development of gospel recording series, which lists “John Reedy and the Stone Mountain Trio” among the “plethora of gospel bluegrass EPs” (p. 102).

As we have noted in previous posts, Bill Monroe has often been mis-credited with writing John Reedy’s gospel song “Somebody Touched Me.” Gary B. Reid includes two index references for "John Reedy" that point to a couple of substantial discussions that clarify this and an inverse erroneous credit in his book, The Music of the Stanley Brothers (2014). He also mentions yet another mis-credit by someone named "Ahmet Ertegun" who we also learned had copyrighted the song in 1954 and 1958. 

Reid not only cites John Reedy's authorship of the song, but he repeats anecdotal evidence that suggests the possibility that the Reedys and the Stanley Brothers produced their early historical recordings on the same date (March 1, 1949), which could support Frances' stories about playing with them in Bristol, Tennessee. He writes, "Yet the song was actually written by eastern Kentucky musician John Reedy and was recorded by him and his Stone Mountain Hillbillys for Twin City Records, allegedly on the same day that the Stanley Brothers recorded 'White Dove'" (pp. 124-125).

Reid later corrects a reversal of mis-credit in which John Reedy is incorrectly listed as the author of "Oh Death." He goes on to discuss a detailed history of the song, but what is most interesting is that he credits Frances' mystery vocals on their Starday recording of the song as "the model for the Stanley Brothers' rendition" (p. 178)!

In addition to these discussions of the Reedys in print publications, we found some noteworthy online resources that reference the Reedy documentary blog. For example, our Voice-O-Graph recording post was shortly followed by an updated John Reedy discography by Dick Grant on Praguefrank's Country Music Discographies (Vol. 2). We also found our blog listed on a page of "Inspiration" links for a community history project in Central Austin, Texas as well as the University of Wisconsin-Madison Oral History Program's website among "Oral History Projects and Programs around the U.S., including University programs" in the Southeast. More direct recognition for our project was posted on the Eastern Kentucky Art Project Facebook page on January 18, 2015: "Wonderful project documenting the Bluegrass and Rock-a-billy scene in Dayton, Ohio coming out of the region's outward migration! Check it out! This is a great model for preserving all of those important stories out there related to Eastern Kentucky music."
On the music-listening front, there are some new developments with a couple of Frances' recordings, including one of her own songs. Last year we were contacted by Timothy Kane and Annika Iltis, co-directors of a documentary called "The Barkley Marathons: The Race That Eats Its Young" about the most difficult trail race in the world, which happens to be in Appalachian Tennessee. They were planning to use an old gospel song called "I Feel Jesus" recorded by Jimmy Murphy and his wife Flo on the soundtrack,* and they had come across the same song title on our project blog and asked if might be the same song written by Frances. We confirmed that the lyrics were the same and that they knew each other well, and they expressed interest in listening to and possibly using the original version on the Starday SEP 209 recording. They commented, "It seems that a lot of the information about the music of Appalachia has been lost. Thank you so much for all of your hard work and amazing research."

We were able to share a digitized version of the 45 rpm recording as well as a digitized reel-to-reel home recording of the song with Timi playing washboard in the background. Interestingly, they in turn shared a recent cover of the song, titled as "Oh My My" by Anna and Elizabeth, and we quickly realized that we knew who they were already! I saw Anna perform as part of her public presentation for her Appalachian Sound Archives Fellowship in 2008-09, and we saw both of them perform at the Clear Creek Festival a couple of years ago.

Anna and Elizabeth are well-known young musicians who participate in contemporary  sub-cultures that preserve and perform “traditional” music, so it was quite interesting to listen to their old-timey version of the song in contrast to Frances' original recording from the early 1960s, which at the time was a very contemporary country version with a Honky Tonk flavor. The Barkley Marathons documentary that includes the song will premiere at the Nashville Film Festival in mid-April.

Finally, Frances' ghost vocals on "Oh Death" are alive and well as an influential version of the song in the history of Bluegrass music. After discovering the generous treatment of John and Frances in The Music of the Stanley Brothers, we contacted Gary Reid to let him know that we were thrilled to see John Reedy acknowledged in a formal publication about Bluegrass music, especially when he is cited as the author of "Somebody Touched Me." We also shared a link to our blog and let him know that the woman singing on John Reedy's recording of "Oh Death" was his wife Frances and that she was also an accomplished songwriter in her own right. 

We were pleased to receive a response from Reid thanking us for "the clarification on the vocals on the Reedy recording of 'Oh Death'," and he informed us that this version of the song "was included in a single CD collection last year called '18 Best of Starday Gospel.' Catalog number GUS-2345." He also indicated that he is currently "a co-producer on an upcoming 4-CD set of classic bluegrass that was recorded for the King and Starday labels. Among the cuts chosen for inclusion is the Reedy cut of 'Oh Death'." Reid said, "The bluegrass collection is still a work-in-progress," so we look forward to updates about this future release. He also told us that he had "visited and enjoyed the blogspot site a number of times... VERY interesting." Many thanks to Reid for offering numerous insights and clarifications and for sharing the full-page image of one of the pages from the October 1962 issue of the Country Music Promoter.

Months later, we are still reeling with gratitude from this abundant holiday cornucopia of acknowledgement for Frances and John Reedy. We admire the work that so many people have done to tell the story and sing the songs of Appalachian and Bluegrass music traditions. We are exploring a possible opportunity for sharing some of this work and some of our own with a visual anthropology audience. So we will post an update when more information is available on this potential project. Meanwhile, thanks to everyone who contributes to and transmits the greater knowledge about Appalachian music, migration, and memory.
* We learned that the Jimmy Murphy cover of "I Feel Jesus" (with Flo on vocals) was an unreleased Starday recording that was later included on an Ace Records CD compilation of his Starday and REM sessions (CDCDH-714).

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Voice-O-Graph Update

Since posting the Reedy Voice-O-Graph recording last week, we have received some very interesting and helpful information regarding some questions we had. On the recording, John Reedy says that they were at a carnival-type location, but the name is unintelligible. Fred Barenstein, one of the founders of the non-profit online database called Bgrass Inc., suggested that "What sounds like “Lake Subu” could be the needle skipping on “Lakeside Amusement Park," located at the time on the west side of Dayton and a probable location of the Voice-o-Graph booth." John and Frances' son Tim Reedy also said that he thought "the carnival [John] was talking about, was an amusement park called Lakeside ... close to where we lived." 

Image from

According to the Southwest Ohio Amusement Park Historical Society, the Lakeside Amusement Park opened in 1890 and was facing various business challenges when the Reedys made the Voice-O-Graph recording in the early 1950's. It finally closed in 1964, but it would soon have its own interesting place in music history. "In 1968, Dayton businessman George D. Tuck purchased the park and announced that the roller coaster would be torn down and the Crystal Ballroom would be saved and remodeled. He renamed the ballroom Lakeview Palladium and used the structure to host music shows, dances and meetings. Stars such as Flip Wilson, Ike & Tina Turner, James Brown and Aretha Franklin graced the ballroom in the early 70s" (Lakeside Amusement Park, SOAPHS webpage).

On another nostalgia site called Dayton Originals, a descendant of the park owner commented, "This park belonged to my grandfather but was later turned into a bingo hall and trucking company, which was passed down to my father .... I enjoy being a part of this business because of my grandfather and his dream!" She went on to say how amazing and important the photos are to her family so they "can value where we came from" and "finally see photos, that we have never seen .... due to fires and lost footage." We shared a link to the Voice-O-Graph blog and recording to contribute to the documentation of the Lakeside Amusement Park for the Tuck family.

Timi's Uncle Tim was similarly appreciative to hear the Voice-O-Graph, and he clarified the name of the aunt they visited in addition to the location of the recording. "That was pretty cool. When Dad mentioned going to Indiana and getting those vegetables, he was referring to visiting his Aunt Myrtle. She lived on a big farm. She was his mother's sister, a Honeycutt, I think."

Thanks to everyone who has checked out the Voice-O-Graph posts and the recording over the past week, and special gratitude to Fred Barenstein and Tim Reedy who confirmed the location where it was made. Also, stay tuned for other recent research findings and some new and old publications that reference the Reedys!

Friday, January 9, 2015

Reedy Voice-O-Graph Revealed!

Note: This Reedy word cloud was generated with Wordle from the content from the “Remembering the Reedys” blog from 2009-2012. Clearly the primary author also favors the additive modifier “also,” which can also be read as an encouraging indicator of the blog’s reinvigoration and future potential, as in “also…”.
It has been quite a while since we last posted, but between homesteading, grad school, and various family concerns, we have less time and resources to dedicate to this project than we would like. However, as we sort through and organize our house, we continue to find interesting treasures like photos, handwritten notes, and memorabilia that provide new glimpses into the life experiences of Frances and John Reedy. 

We posted about one such important addition to the Reedy collection, John Reedy's Voice-O-Graph recording "To All the Family," a couple of years ago. We then contacted Harry Rice at the Berea College Special Collections and Sound Archives to find out if it would be possible to play and digitize the recording. They were able to convert the record to digital format, but we were unable to make it Special Collections to pick it up due to their limited operating hours and our own time and transportation constraints. The mystery was solved, but we were still in the dark until now!

I recently contacted John Bondurant at the Berea College Sound Archives who had digitized the Voice-O-Graph recording as well as most of the other Reedy recordings that are housed there. He sent us an .mpg of the 1:05-minute Voice-O-Graph and the link to a comprehensive chronological Voice-O-Graph labelography that situates the Reedy record sometime between 1951 and 1955. This supports our previous estimation that Frances and John first moved to Dayton to work in the GM factory around 1953.

In the recording “To All the Family” back in Kentucky, John addresses his sister Beulah and recounts his family’s recent experiences migrating north. They apparently came across the Voice-O-Graph recording booth at Lake Sobu(?), which is presumably in Ohio because he also talks about going “down to Indiana” to visit Mary who gave them some garden vegetables to take home. We are pretty certain that John is reporting home about the Reedy family’s very first venture to the Dayton area because he talks about how they’re "making a home" with his two jobs. He mentions “Timmy”, and Frances says, “Hello.” Marie also cuts in about Harold (Timi’s father) having a job, and the recording ends with John talking about how much Harold enjoys spending his money.

This is a key finding because it both documents the Reedys’ first cyclical migration to Ohio and likely represents John’s first conscious self-documentation effort outside of a professional recording studio. Therefore, this recording is a telling precursor of the prolific home recordings that John and Frances made on reel-to-reel and cassette tapes in the 1960’s and 1970’s. The fact that we are able to share this unique piece of the Reedys’ early migration and recording history digitally represents another significant technological development that facilitates the continued migration and circulation of their self-documentation in another time and space.

We owe our ongoing gratitude to Harry Rice and John Bondurant at the Berea College Special Collections and Sound Archives for their continued support of the Reedy documentary project and their careful attention to the curation and preservation of the numerous multi-media artifacts that comprise it.

p.s. In the process of re-learning how to upload and post the Voice-O-Graph audio file, I discovered that the Reedy Multi-Media Library page needed updating. The page now includes both the digital audio files for the Voice-O-Graph recording and my Frankie & Johnny mash-up “Tiny Bitty Pieces Knocking on Your Door.” Finally, the Reedy Documentary video playlist has been updated and should be working again.

As an extra bonus, check out Jack White’s working model of a Voice-O-Graph recording booth in the "Novelties Lounge" of his Third Man Records studio in Nashville and this music video of a recording that Brendan Benson, a songwriter made for his wife. The record label website also includes audio recordings of other artists who have made records in the booth and information about how anyone can make one for only $15!