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Now for Something Different—The Tarbox Ramblers!

ANOTHER ARCHIVAL HILLBILLY AT HARVARD

Tomorrow (Saturday, October 23rd) we jump ten years from our previous Hillbilly at Harvard Archive to April 15th, 2000, featuring The Tarbox Rambers.

The Tarbox Ramblers had been playing a club called the Green Street Grill in Cambridge for several years, and had a growing reputation among fans of ‘roots’ music in Boston, including the folks at Rounder Records, who were about to release the Ramblers’ first record. Brad Paul, from Rounder Radio Promotions was in the studio.

With Michael Tarbox leading with authoritative vocals and a combination of finger-picking and finger-sliding guitar, along with a steady and dominating drum beat, bass, and deceptively sweet fiddle, the Tarbox Ramblers attack classic southern songs from the Depression era, like ‘Jack of Diamonds’, ‘St. James Infirmary’, and ‘Columbus Stockade’. They aren’t a blues band, nor an hillbilly band, nor a rock band, but appeal to fans of all of them, and to us at Hillbilly at Harvard.

Neither Sinc nor I realized at first that ‘Tarbox’ was a family name; Sinc points out on air that he just thought it was a great name for a band. I rather assumed it had North Carolina origins. Michael T. explains its origins; tune in.

April 15th was of course tax day (though it was Patriots’ Day weekend, so Massachusetts taxpayers had until the 18th to file), so of course you’ll hear Johnny Paycheck’s ‘Me and the IRS’. The show that day was curtailed at 12:30 by the Metropolitan Opry; we’ve got only two hours, so you’ll hear the last two hours. Hope you enjoy it! /CL

Let’s Stay in 1990. . .

ANOTHER ARCHIVAL HILLBILLY AT HARVARD

I hate starting a paragraph with “As I . . .” but, as I mentioned in the introductory announcement to tomorrow’s HAH Archive,

After just archiving half of a show from 1990 with two live performances, I began digitizing three other shows from the same tape. There were no live performances on these, but they struck me as plenty entertaining in their own right. So this week we’ll stick to the summer of 1990, July 14th to be exact. And we’ll do something else: we’ll play the whole show from that day. But since we’ve only got two hours, it’ll be in two separate halves.

Today, in the first half of the show from July 14th, 1990, we’ll meet record collector Bob Ford, from Brockton, who comes by in the second hour with records he had picked up on a trip to Nashville. And we’ll have a contest or two for tickets to a show called ‘Bluegrass Heaven’. Just remember, like all of the Country Calendar events we plug on these Archival shows, that they took place decades ago. Don’t circle your calendar, and don’t call any phone numbers, either!

That pretty much sums it up, but I also added, in the second announcement,

Note that the Compact Disk was new to WHRB’s studios in Memorial Hall back then, and there were not enough controls on the board for the CD players, so they used the same pots as the turntables, with switches from one to the other. This introduced an entertaining amount of confusion for us poor DJs. But it was all good fun, and I see no reason to edit out the false starts.

I think while we were still in the Memorial Hall studios, the board with the rotary ‘pots’ was replaced by one with faders, enough to accommodate all the inputs, and that new board went with us to Studio BC in Pennypacker Hall in 1994. Could be wrong about that, but it’s just inside baseball, of interest only to fellow WHRBies.

Anyway, you’ll hear Sinc and me complaining about the user-unfriendly additions in 1990, so I thought I should explain it. The CD was also new then, and as I was in the business of making them, I took the opportunity to pontificate on the lack of track numbers on some CD packaging. We were doing better at Northeastern Records.

Oh, by the way, there were lots of neat songs played in this show, some old, some new. First half tomorrow; second half next week, if all goes well. Tune in. /CL

PS Haven’t heard anything of Bob Ford in many years. If you have information, let me know.

Summertime Guests Peter Keane, Barry & Holly Tashian, in 1990

ANOTHER ARCHIVAL HILLBILLY AT HARVARD

It was July 21st, 1990. Sinc and I were both in town, and so were Peter Keane and Barry & Holly Tashian. Pete (a WHRB member) knew sumptuous Studio A well, as he and Elijah Wald had held forth there live in the summer of 1986, following Hillbilly at Harvard with a half-hour of live pickin’ and singin’, followed by Pete hosting a program of old-timey country and blues records called ‘Country Roots’. Now he was active on the folk circuit, and at the time was working on his first album, which I was proud to put out on my Northeastern Records label in 1991, The Goodnight Blues. Rounder followed up in 1996 with his Walkin’ Around album.

In the mid-’90s, Peter Keane moved to Austin, where he has settled and occasionally performs. His latest album was self-produced in a home studio, featuring ‘Blues, Ballads, Cowboy Songs’, available from bandcamp.com

Barry and Holly Tashian live in Nashville, but Barry was familiar to long-time Boston fans as the leader of Barry and the Remains, which opened for the Beatles on their first US tour. Eventually he emerged as successor to Ricky Skaggs, playing guitar and singing in Emmylou Harris’s Hot Band. Emmylou wrote a promotional blurb for Barry and Holly’s first album, Trust in Me, which was also the first in my Popular Arts line on Northeastern Records (thanks to a cassette from Jim Rooney, who produced the album). We included it on the packaging:

There are many things I love about country music, but I guess the main event will always be the Duet. It was the the singing of George with Tammy (and Melba), Joe with Rose Lee, and Stoney with Wilma Lee that hooked me and has held me ever since. There are two other names that should be included in that list, but until now fans of the country duet haven’t had a chance to hear the truly wonderful sound of Barry and Holly Tashian (with the exception of those like myself who’ve been fortunate enough to sit in their living room). So for me, this album is a long-awaited pleasure. After you’ve listened, I’m sure you’ll understand why. —Emmylou Harris

I couldn’t agree more!

Barry and Holly have subsequently had three albums on Rounder, and another three for other labels.

Tune in at 9 AM on October 2nd. We’re down to two hours for these Archival shows these days, so I’ve had to chop off half of the four-hour shows, but I hope you’ll still find a lot to enjoy of a Saturday morning. Let me know! /CL

A Double Treat of Live Music, with Dave Foley and Mike Ireland in 1999

ANOTHER ARCHIVAL HILLBILLY AT HARVARD

To quote myself,

That’s right, it’s 1999, and we’ve got Boston natives the Dave Foley Band in the third hour, and rising star from Kansas City, Mike Ireland in the fourth hour. We’ve got only two hours for the original four-hour show, so sadly I’ve had to chop off the first two. You’ll just have to imagine how much fun they were, but Dave Foley and Mike Ireland will make up for it.

Dave Foley, along with his long-time compatriot, singer and bassist Rich Holbrook, became regular visitors to Hillbilly at Harvard, and on May 8th, 1999, Dave brought along drummer Mal Shaw. Dave and Rich had moved from rock-‘n’-roll some years before, and became accomplished country performers. Dave is an energetic but still affecting singer. In this live set he sings mostly covers, including a nice Merle Haggard song neither Sinc nor I remembered—until Dave pointed it out on an album in the studio!—and Rich even sang a Gene Autry classic. Dave previewed his first album, Holey-Moley, It’s Dave Foley! with an original, and a taste of many more fine songs to come.

The Dave Foley Band (at The Junction in South Boston—Date?)

As far as I know the Dave Foley Band is still active, though the last gig on their Facebook page was in 2020. That’s probably not significant, as the ‘dempanic’ gave all performers an extended vacation. I expect we’ll see Dave and Rich back in the clubs pretty soon.

Mike Ireland impressed us mightily with his first album in 1998, Learning How to Live. Despite its production style, slightly reminiscent of ’60s countrypolitan, Mike’s pointed, emotional writing and beautiful tenor made a powerful combination, getting him great reviews and a guest appearance on the Grand Ol’ Opry. In August 1998 we had him and his band Holler in the studio. I was hoping to use it on one of these Archival HAHs, but on my home tape the drums made it unlistenable. I guess we’ll have to fault the studio engineer—but that would have been me! Maybe you just had to have been there.

In any case, I was delighted to find this show from May 8th, 1998. This time it was just Mike, with his guitarist and harmony singer, Dan Mesh. The two certainly do mesh well, and I think you’ll admit there’s some amazing vocals in their half-hour set. Mike closed out the show with his emotional recollection in ‘Graveyard Song’, which he dedicated to Sinc, who was clearly moved.

Mike Ireland is an engaging fellow and a huge talent. So ‘Whatever Happened to Mike Ireland & Holler?’ That’s the title of an anonymous report on a blog called ‘chimesfreedom’ (no caps). Mike released a second album in 2002, Try Again, which I don’t remember as well, but then seems to have disappeared from the country-music scene. chimesfreedom’s author follows up what he can find about Mike and his bandmates, until he learns in 2018 that Mike and a current wife (the breakup with his first stimulated a lot of his song-writing) are in Kansas City and writing movie reviews. Go to the link above for more details. /CL

Back to 1986, with Bay State Bluegrass

ANOTHER ARCHIVAL HILLBILLY AT HARVARD

It was November 8th, 1986, back in the WHRB studios under Sanders Theater in Memorial Hall, and I was having trouble with Left Turntable during The Down Home Show. One channel was not broadcasting. This was before the Compact Disk, so we played records, only records. Unable to solve the problem, I attempted to play only monaural records on Left Turntable, not actually hard to do, as we had plenty of them.

The problem persisted into Hillbilly at Harvard at 10 AM, and I mentioned it over ‘Foggy Mountain Special’, our opening theme. I didn’t mention that we had live music that day, with Dave Haney‘s band, Bay State Bluegrass. I always introduced them as “Dave and Rose Haney and Bay State Bluegrass” back then, as they were married and were the core of the band. The band I think went silent when Dave joined Joe Val‘s New England Bluegrass Boys for a year or two, and then reformed after Joe’s death in 1985. Bay State Bluegrass had no gigs scheduled that day, but I guess they figured to drum up some business by playing live on Hillbilly at Harvard. Sinc certainly thought so, and assiduously got Dave to plug his phone number.

The Chief Engineer at the time, whose name I don’t recall, got up and came down to fix Left Turntable, by 11 AM or so, when the bulk of today’s Archive gets going. HAH was three hours long then (following two hours of The Down Home Show), but I’m allowed only two hours these days, so you get only a hint of the first hour. I started off HAH with Randy Travis’s ‘1982’. I still remember hearing that on the radio as I was driving in, not long before, and thinking, “Wow! A real country record!” We were just at the beginning of a neo-traditional country revival, following depressing years of bad pop-country with talents like Juice Newton and Charly McClain. Randy Travis was the proverbial breath of fresh air.

Bay State Bluegrass made one album, featuring Jimmy Martin’s ‘Home Run Man’ as the title song; then I remember Dave and Rose heading off to the mid-west for day jobs. Dave Haney is now President of Hiram College in Ohio, and still playing music, with current wife Lisa Baldwin. Banjo player Jim Rollins, whose innovative licks are evident in the WHRB sessions in this Archive, was sadly killed in an auto crash with a drunken driver in South Carolina in 2017. I haven’t found any more about Rose Haney or Steve Abby, who played mandolin in the band.

I hope you enjoy going back some 35 years in HAH time. Seems like only yesterday! I know a lot of you enjoy hearing Old Sinc’s radio voice. Old friend Ed the Detective turns up in this Archive. Ed Muller has taken his country oldies show from one station to another over the years; he was on WDLW at the time. The last I heard from him (in 2017), he had been off the air since 2012.

We also hear from Stan Zdonik, long-time President of the Boston Bluegrass Union, promoting a show celebrating 10 years of the BBU (with The Dry Branch Fire Squad), at (all together now) “The Big Brown Church with the Rooster on Top.” Stan is now (2021) about to be honored at the IBMA World of Bluegrass with a Distinguished Achievement Award for his service to the music./CL