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It’s October 24, 1992, and We’ve Got Kate MacKenzie and D. L. Menard!


It’s October 24th, 1992. The Boston Bluegrass Union is bringing in Kate MacKenzie and her band Stoney Lonesome from the Twin Cities, to play at the First Church Congregational, on the corner of Garden and Mason Streets in Cambridge, “The Big Brown Church with the Rooster on Top,” along with a local band also called ‘Stoney Lonesome’. That made for jokes like ‘Stoney Lonesome squared’, and ‘Stoney Lonesome opening for Stoney Lonesome’. In any case, getting Minneapolis’s Stoney Lonesome into Sumptuous Studio A was a real treat for us, especially Kate MacKenzie’s wonderful singing.

Kate MacKenzie and Stoney Lonesome on Red House Records

Kate left Stony Lonesome in 1995, and the band broke up. The core of Boston’s Stoney Lonesome (Dave Dillon, Richard Brown, Margaret Gerteis) became the core of The Reunion Band. But there’s another Stoney Lonesome bluegrass band, in Ontario, Canada. Dr Janie and I wondered at the popularity of the name. Turns out it was at times slang for prison. But I reckon it was because Bill Monroe named an instrumental ‘Stoney Lonesome’. Then, where did Bill get the name?

D. L. Menard on Rounder Records

But that’s not all we’ve got on that Saturday morning! The night before, legendary Cajun singer D. L. Menard held forth with his Cajun Aces, Dick Richard on fiddle and Paul D’Aigle on accordian, at Johnny D’s. That evening they’re due in Providence, Rhode Island. It was good luck and Rounder Records that got D. L. into our studios for an extended set that will get you up and dancing. It’s all in Cajun French, but it’s just great music. D. L of course sings his signature ‘La Porte d’en Arriere’, ‘The Back Door’, And he also does a Cajun ‘Wildwood Flower’. I’ll have to look and see how he sings “twine with the mingles” in French.

D. L. Menard died at the age of 85 in 2017. His last album was Happy Go Lucky on Swallow Records in 2010. He was known throughout his long career as ‘The Cajun Hank Williams’, and indeed he says his famous ’The Back Door’ from 1962 was inspired by Hank. We were privileged to have this legendary icon of Cajun country music in Sumptuous Studio A in 1992.

We ran out of time that Saturday for much music from guitar whiz Pete Kennedy, then touring with Nancy Griffith’s band, but Sinc does get him to play his guitar version of ‘The Orange Blossom Special’ and do the closing Country Calendar over it: a DJ tour-de-force, to be sure. /CL

June 1993: Iris DeMent Was in Town, and Live on HAH


It’s Saturday, June 5th, 1993. Hillbilly at Harvard had been preempted for a couple of weeks (probably by Orgies®) and was limited, we were told, to three hours that day. But Iris DeMent was in town, for a solo ‘Evening with Iris DeMent’ concert in Sanders Theater that evening, thanks to impresario Harry Lipson and his Folkway Productions. Harry usually featured bigger names in the folk- and acoustic-music world, like Odetta, Pete Seeger, or John Hartford, but with the sudden success of her first album, Infamous Angel, Iris was hot, and deservedly so. The album on Philo/Rounder had been produced by Jim Rooney; the songs were stunning in lucidity, with inspired writing and Iris’s clear, affecting but innocent singing. Somehow or other it emerged on Warner Brothers, which gave it new impetus on a major label.

Fortunately, we were able to continue until our regular time at 1 PM, which enabled Iris to spend about 45 minutes with us. Jim Rooney, our friend of many years, who was now a Grammy-award-winning producer, sat in and traded old-home comments with Sinc. I was impressed, listening as I transferred the DAT recording made at home to the computer, how beautifully Iris’s singing survived the 20-mile journey from the FM transmitter atop Holyoke Center in Harvard Square out to “the far ‘burbs” (as Sinc called them) of Framingham. I expect our vintage RCA 77D microphones had something to do with it, but mainly it was the remarkable, bell-like quality of Iris’s voice.

The WHRB studios were full of Hillbillies that morning: John Lincoln Wright of course, plus Scott Alarik of The Boston Globe; Grace Furnari (‘Cousin Gracie’); then of Tower Records; and others, including ‘Cuzin Isaac’ Page, from New Hampshire, who was in town to host a segment of the WGBH Auction, and came by to plug his Bluegrass Festival Guide. We spent about eight minutes chatting with Isaac, which I had to cut out—but if you remember him and want to hear it, let me know. [Oops! See UPDATE below!]

This was the second time Iris DeMent had appeared on Hillbilly at Harvard. I haven’t come across a recording from the first, or any subsequent visits, but I’ll keep looking. Iris is still performing and recording; go to her website for updates. As for Rooney, one of these days I’ll have to pull out the show we did after his autobiography, In It for the Long Run, came out. You can find the book and much more on his website. /CL

[UPDATE: Looks like I picked the working version with the Cuzin Isaac interview! Oops! Well, you got the chance to meet this interesting fellow. Hope you enjoyed it! /CL]

Y2K Fun with the Hot Club of Cowtown!


It’s June 3rd, in the year 2000, and the Hot Club of Cowtown are back in sumptuous Studio B. Old Sinc had invited them in after seeing them live a couple of years before. When they were playing, he asked me what I thought. “As good as it gets!” I said. I haven’t found a recording of that show. But in 2000 we saw them again at Johnny D’s the night before, and as they were staying overnight before heading out to a gig at the Iron Horse in Northampton, they agreed to come play again on Hillbilly at Harvard, and luckily I have found this tape.

Elana James, Whit Smith, and new bassist Matt Weiner (replacing Jake Erwin for a time) played for a whole hour, with Whit and Sinc trading jokes. Indeed, Sinc ran over a few minutes, and my DAT recorder at home ran out of tape, so we miss Sinc talking over the final instrumental. But it was a morning of great music and good fun.

Of course, we’re limited to two hours these days, so we’ll start near the beginning of hour 2, and continue to the end. Remember that all of the Country Calendar events we plug were back in the year 2000, so just enjoy the memories. However, the annual Rhythm and Roots Festival in Rhode Island on Labor Day weekend is still going strong, so check it out when we get a little closer in time. And the Hot Club of Cowtown are still based in Austin, still playing great music, and came to Hillbilly at Harvard again some years later. They did take a couple years hiatus, when Elana toured with Bob Dylan, but check out the records they have made since Dev’lish Mary in 2000—and check out the tour schedule on their website. /CL

January 20, 2001: James King, Dudley Connell, Don Rigsby Together in Studio B


The Boston Bluegrass Union was celebrating its 25th Anniversary, and for the occasion was hosting a concert at the (then named) Museum of Our National Heritage in Lexington, with a group they called the Southern All-Stars. And ‘all-stars’ they were: James King, Dudley Connell, and Don Rigsby singing (guitars and Don on mandolin), Sammy Shelor on banjo, Gene Libea on bass, and (substituting for scheduled Aubrie Haynie, who couldn’t make it), Bobby Hicks on fiddle. The three singers made it into WHRB, for a live performance in sumptuous Studio B, with Old Sinc hosting. It was January 20th, 2001.

We’ve had a lot of great musicians live on the Hillbilly show, but I can’t think of a more memorable occasion than getting these three together in the studio. James King had recorded his Bed by the Window album for Rounder a year or so before. Dudley Connell and Don Rigsby had recorded a duet album, Meet Me By the Moonlight for Sugar Hill; they play a song from that album today. James of course sadly died in 2016, but Dudley and Don are still with us and making great music, Dudley with The Seldom Scene, and Don with The Lonesome River Band and others.

As I remind folks in the closing announcement: Remember that this show occurred in 2001. I leave in the Country Calendar for the color and the memories. The BBU 25th anniversary was in 2001, as was the 16th Annual Joe Val Festival, which Old Sinc promoted in some detail. There was of course no Joe Val Festival last year in 2021, and I’m sad to report there will not be one in 2022, either. Not only has this ridiculous virus put a damper on all activities, but the Sheraton in Framingham was sold, and the BBU reports that it is uncertain whether the new owners will host the Joe Val Festival again.

On a happier note, we do have some of these old Hillbilly shows on tape, and I’m glad to be able to resurrect some of them, at least in part (half, anyway), for your listening pleasure on a Saturday morning. Tune in tomorrow at 9 AM Eastern sharp. In the meantime, below are James, Dudley, and Don at Gettysburg in 2014. /CL

The Hillbilly at Harvard Christmas Extravaganza Is On the Air—from 1986!



The sticker on the tape reads, ‘DHSh/HAH—20Dec86—Christmas Show (Cast of Thousands)’. That’s ‘Down Home Show / Hillbilly at Harvard’. We’ll meet a few of the cast: fellow disk jockeys Ed Muller (‘Ed the Detective’), then at WDLW, doing his country oldies show on Sunday evenings, who brings one of my Christmas favorites, ‘Up on the Housetops’; Mark Burns, golden-voiced radio man and musician (sadly killed in an auto crash a couple of years later), who brings the new answer song to ‘Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer’; Jim Murphy, then at WOKQ in New Hampshire, who was out Christmas shopping and turns up at the very end, And we’ve a studio full of musicians for the Country Chorale at the end of the show, including John Lincoln Wright, Larry Flint, Jimmy Allen, and Mike Walker, a genuine Texan, who would be hosting an 11-hour Toys for Tots Jamboree at the Blue Star in Saugus. We were also joined by one of Larry and Miss Jean‘s dogs, named Muffin, who barks along with the Singing Dogs version of ‘Jingle Bells’.

The Christmas Extravaganza (which we were sometimes calling a ‘Spectacular’), ‘Four Hours of the Best and Worst of Country Christmas Music’, evolved over the years. Back in the ’70s only one record out of three were Christmas records, but by the ’80s the hillbillies had begun to gather with goodies and libations (Sinc and Miss Helen provided Mimosas), and the show became wall-to-wall Christmas. For a while after Sinc’s death in 2001, we continued the tradition, but like all good things, the party petered out—all but the music, which I continued. The last live Christmas Extravaganza was in 2019.

The Hillbilly Christmas Party in 1992. I don’t have any earlier photos. See HERE for names.

Back in 1979 or so I had been hosting a show on WDLW Sunday mornings, called ‘Down Home Sunday’, which I eventually carried over to WHRB on Saturdays. ‘The Down Home Show’ ran from 8-10 AM, when Old Sinc joined me for Hillbilly at Harvard. December 20th, 1986 WHRB was scheduled to broadcast Harvard Basketball at about 2 PM, so we had an extra hour, making an (almost) four-hour show. Since I’m now limited to two, I’ll present this Christmas Extravaganza in two parts: Part One tomorrow (Dec 18) and Part Two next Saturday, which happens to be Christmas Day. Be sure and tune in for both.

Note that a couple of times we mention that WHRB would be taking a vacation “next week.” That’s for 1986, not for 2021! Note, too, that there won’t be a Toys for Tots jamboree at the Blue Star—indeed, the Blue Star, a fixture along with the Hilltop Steakhouse and the Orange Dinosaur on Route 1 in Saugus, has passed into Hillbilly History. But of course, the Marines continue their Toys for Tots campaigns, so look for events in your neighborhood. I wonder what happened to Mike Walker and Durango.

Oh, and you’ll note that the 1986 show ends with Sinc talking over the Country Chorale, not with our traditional three-song Christmas close (the Stanleys, Elvis, and the Moms and Dads). My guess is that we miscalculated, and basketball started at 1:50 or so. To make up for this grievous omission, I have taken the three-song close from the last live Christmas show I did, in 2019. That’ll be on Part II, on Christmas Day. Have a Merry one! /CL

PS WHRB PDs tell me they won’t have Hillbilly Jamboree from 11 to 12:45, so they’ll run an HAH extra (not the second half of the Extravaganza, as I don’t want to lose the last 15 minutes). A little extra for HAH fans.