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Archive for the ‘Kentucky’ Category

Here’s another YouTube find: an ‘old weird America’ version of Bonepart’s (sic) Retreat from A. A. Gray.

Ahaz Augustus Gray was born on September 7, 1881 in Carroll County, Georgia. He is best remembered as the fiddler for several “Seven Foot Dilly and his Dill Pickles” (John Dilleshaw) recordings on the Vocalion label.

Bonapart’s Retreat is the only solo piece A. A. ever recorded. The Okey label released the performance in 1924 .

I really enjoy A. A.’s version – he plays the tune in about as crooked a way as I’ve ever heard. Here’s how I count it out:

A part: 4 – 5 – 4 – 3 (once)
B part: 4 -3 – 4 – 2 – 4 -3 – 4 – 3 (once)
(repeat)

‘Tis a thing of great beauty and a pleasure to behold; I especially like the way the DDAD tuning grumbles and growls. This tune and maybe The Falls of Richmond will be the perfect tunes to play or listen to while I watch the Great February Blizzard of 2010 drop snow here in the Cuyahoga Valley.


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I’m tired of all the political and corporate scoundrels and I’m tired of all their mischief. My brains are roiled and I am otherwise distressed. I believe my circuits are overloaded and I am in danger of blowing a fuse.

I am forcing myself to take drastic measures.

I’m returning to First Principles; caves and American traditional music. Here’s a great way to enjoy both – Vernon Dalhart’s Death of Floyd Collins.

In January, 1925 Floyd “The Greatest Cave Explorer Ever Known” Collins became trapped in Kentucky’s Sand Cave in a narrow crawlway 150 feet from the entrance. Efforts to save him became a worldwide media sensation, and many would say it was the media circus surrounding the event that eventualy killed him. After four days where he could be fed, a cave-in closed the entrance passageway to everything except voice contact. Collins died of exposure and starvation after about fourteen days underground, three days before a rescue shaft could reach his location. His body (minus a leg) was recovered two months later.

His embalmed body was displayed as an attraction at Crystal Cave in a glass coffin for many years before the body was stolen. The body was eventualy recovered and buried at last in a private Flynt Ridge cemetary.

Dalhart documented the affair with a number of recordings for various labels. I have a copy of a Columbia recording pressed under the pseudonym “Al Carver (Caver?)” in my own collection of 78’s. Vernon took vocals and harmonica duty while his regular collaborator Carson Robison performed on guitar.

vernon-dalhart-first-star-of-country-music1

The folk and Americana purists among us (and you know who you are) consistently wrinkle up their dainty noses at the odor of commercial success surrounding poor Vernon. The rap against him was that he was a little too popular and that his vocal delivery was a little too polished due to his conservatory training and that he sold a few too many records (over 400 titles for Edison, Victor and Grey Gull) to completely qualify him as a ‘folk artiest’.

But to my ears, Vernon Dalhart contributed hundreds of great performances in the service of hundreds of great tunes (The Wreck of the Old 97′, The Prisoner’s Song and the wonderful depression tune Eleven Cent Cotton and Forty Cent Meat come quickly to mind).

Vernon had a huge hit in 1925 with The Wreck of the Shenandoah. To those of us here in Ohio the crash of the dirigible Shenandoah was the stuff of legend for our parents and grandparents. The great ship went down in Nobel County not far from my Grandmother’s childhood home and I can remember her telling of how my great-grandfathered drove out to survey the wreckage strewn over many acres. Vernon and Carson Robison wrote the tune and published the song under the pseudonym “Maggie Andrews”.

wreck of the shenandoah

I went on the Mammoth Cave wild tour a few weeks ago with some members of the Cleveland Grotto. After we finished the tour we took a short side trip to Sand Cave where Floyd met his maker.

There is an observation deck built to look over the cave and the rescue site, but you cannot see the actual cave shaft from the deck. Curt, Phil and I walked down what was left of the path to the cave and found the shaft sealed with a steel grate in the back of the cave. The pathway down to the cave was overgrown and covered in poison ivy.

It is a dirty, muddy, dark and an awful place. The sealed shaft is filled to about five feet from the top with leaves and garbage. My imagination could make out how the shaft wound down to its intersection with destiny.

That’s Phil on the left and me on the right. We are standing on the grate.


phil and gary at sand cave -1


There’s a solid streak of populism and down home charm that shows itself all the way through the Dalhart catalog. Vernon built a twenty two year recording career by capitalizing on tragic topical stories and by combining morality tales with wry observations of the world around him – in short, by using the palette of the American folk musician.

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