Too Poor to Paint Too Proud to Whitewash
I owe a debt to Merle Travis in the making of this recording. I'm a fan, of course, and I was lucky enough to meet this amazing man one sunny autumn afternoon at Chicago's Old Town School of Folk Music a year or two before he died, but I am not devoted to playing Merle's style the way genial pickers such as Larry Kilgore, Thom Bresh, and Eddie Pennington are. However, I was thinking of Merle's 'Walkin' The Strings' album when I recorded the solo guitar instrumentals presented here. Released by Capitol Records in 1960, 'Walkin' The Strings' was a collection of recordings Travis originally made in the late 40s for use as radio transcriptions (pre-recorded music for broadcast). The idea was to record mostly short instrumentals and songs that disc jockeys could use to add a little interest to station breaks and segues between network programs. The relaxed and informal nature of these sessions captured the 'folkie' side of Merle's complex musical personality. With just a Martin flattop, Travis played some of the most brilliant and entertaining fingerpicking solos the world has heard, and had fun doing it. I'm certainly not comparing what I've done here with Travis, but since I play and record with other groups and singers, this was my chance to sit with just an acoustic guitar and record a sampling of fingerpicking solos that I like to play, including some I've enjoyed for a long time. I originally did this kind of thing in the late 1970s when I made an album called 'Behind The Eye.' I wanted to get back to the fun (and the challenge) of solo fingerpicking, and that's how this CD came about. Here are some notes on the songs: 'Spanish Fandango' comes from my memory of Norman Blake's playing of this old tune, which has been around (in printed form, at least) since the early 1800s. I always loved John Fahey's version of the folk song 'John Henry' and offer an abbreviated version here that was originally recorded for a video about the Onion River trout stream restoration project in Sheboygan County, Wisconsin. 'Blue Dragonfly' also came from that project, and I can't deny that another favorite fingerpicker, Leo Kottke, heavily influenced this piece. Both 'Laverda' and 'Muhlenberg Station Break' point toward the area of Western Kentucky where the Travis 'thumb picking' style was developed by Kennedy Jones, Ike Everly and the great Mose Rager, whose home in Drakesboro, Kentucky became a mecca for aspiring thumbpickers far and wide. About five years ago I met his wife, Laverda Rager, who graciously received Pat Kirtley and I in her living room where she talked about the old days when she and Mose were newlyweds and Drakeboro was a thriving coal mining community. The style of 'Laverda' hasn't much to do with thumbpicking, but I believe my meeting with her inspired this melody sometime later. 'Muhlenberg Station Break' is my attempt to play something like Ike, Mose, and Merle did, just to see if I could actually do it. The rest of the tunes are from different times and places. I wrote the original melody for 'Night Rain' around 1984. Others, like 'Hawaiian Lullaby' and 'Backslidin' ' are more recent creations. I also overdubbed a little percussion here and there (because that's what you do when you have your own studio). For us guitar people, most of the six-string solos were recorded on a Lariveé Model LC-09. 'Blue Dragonfly' was recorded on a Blue Ridge BR-40, and I used two Collings guitars for 'Hawaiian Lullaby' (OM2H), and 'John Henry' (D2HS). 'Night Rain' was recorded with a myrtle wood guitar made by David Morris. The 12-string used here is a Seagull, the one that sounds good tuned low and dares you to play it in standard tuning (so I don't). Special thanks to Herb Trotman, and all the pickers at Fretted Instruments for their friendship and encouragement. Thanks very much to Merle & Gary at Local Color Café in Springville, Alabama for their hospitality and metal feed sign. Very special thanks to Tommy Ray and Tommy's Up Top for giving Lost Jim a chance to find himself. Extra-special thanks to Pat Kirtley, and ALL the great fingerpickers who have provided so many good tunes to learn from (and licks to steal). Huge thanks, especially, to everyone who finds something special in the music of the acoustic guitar, and makes a place in your heart for those of us who play. This record is for you. - Lost Jim.