Thursday, September 23, 2010

My Music Buddies Vol. 1-1: Ricky Lee Roberts



I told you guy that once I started this nonsense I'd start posting a few music things.

I have played over the years with a bunch of unsung GREAT musicians who live on the underbelly of the beast rather than fighting the system set up by the money machine.

Ricky Lee Roberts, his brother Randy and I had a couple of bands in West Virginia. The first was The One Night Only Band...the last the Hooker Holler Symphony.

I found Ricky Roberts just out of High School, just learning to play fiddle and mandolin. I had advertised in a local paper for old musical instruments...Ricky and his brother Randy were the first to call...they had the 30's style Sears and Roebuck instruments that fit perfectly into the poplar music of West Virginia economics of the time...I had a boat load of those myself!

Ricky is a natural musician.. He can play a tune on anything from a penny whistle to a Sitar. He once had a audition with Emmy Lou Harris, has taught in a number of music camps, and played behind chicken wire in more bars that I have ever been in, although we played a few in the 70's, he's still doing it! Yes, folks those places still exist in America!

It has been "told" ,as they say up in the mountains, that one member of the family in a generation get "the gift" of music. Ricky was the one in his generation. Allan Jabbour documented the Hammond Family of Pocahontas County, West Virginia, in a wonderful collection of stories, photo, interviews and tunes. I think it was Rick's great grandfather Manson Roberts that married into the Hammond family. He was a fiddler as is . Rick's Uncle Ralph, who in his 80's "still scratches around".
All things come to Ricky Lee Roberts. Instruments just found their way to him...a Gibson F2 mandolin, a D-28 Martin guitar, fiddles from antique shops and where ever they lay, and countless other instruments with good pedigrees just happened to Ricky...instruments know! Rick found an old Maybell mandolin in an abandoned house...just called to him..."here I am". His SS Stewart Special Thoroughbred banjo just jumped in his hands for a couple hundred bucks. All good instruments seek him out, I'm telling you.

Ricky moved up in Hooker Holler, Keyser, WV mid seventies, moving into our "canvas" apartment (pop up camper) in the back yard. I had part time work and  Ricky was full time practicing to become a musician. He got up at 8:30,  had coffee, and began his practice regimen with an hour on the mandolin, an hour on the fiddle, the same on the guitar, and picked up bass on the side.

He could learn any song in about as long as it takes to sing it once, and could play it on all the instruments as well. The whole process was repeated after lunch and an hour nap. We practiced an hour or so a night most nights. I went to sleep listening to Ricky playing on the front porch swing. I'd wake up in the early hours of the morning and he would still be playing.

Rick and I did school programs, a curious blend of folklore...songs tunes and stories...designed for elementary and high school audiences. During the summer? what ever, where ever at least three to four days a week. We played a lot of music and had a network of pickers who visited regularly on the "music quest". Some even went on to become solid citizens and wonderful musicians...like Rick.

I remember driving to some gig  with Ricky sitting in the backseat...he didn't care much for driving. He used that traveling time for practice and figured out how to  play Fisher's Hornpipe in every key as an exercise before we got to the job. I  learned to  play it in the key of D, if that counts.
I guess that Rick decided that music was his chosen calling. He moved to Nashville, and made a living on the under belly of the Nashville scene... I sorta' lost track of him...I think he did property management on the side. He hooked up with Roy Acuff's brother, and did an album with him. I remember him telling me they played for the Tennessee Homecoming Halftime show one year....

The old Hooker Holler Symphony did a vinyl in the mid 70's. It  was never released because us "hill hippies" were financially  embarrassment for a time. Wish I knew if the original 2" tape still existed...I doubt it.

We recorded  in a converted bread truck at my farm. Ricky did keep the out takes on a cassette. He put them on CD and sent it to me for Christmas one year...we were pretty good on the outtakes.
Rick is still living back in W Va now. He said it was a pretty to see Nashville disappearing in his rear view mirror. He plays with Mike Morningstar now. (pictured above with Ricky who is holding his mandolin). Mike and Rick have known each other since high school.  They stay busy all around Central W Va or anywhere they can get a job. I caught up with them on You Tube...

Played some good tunes and rode some long nights with them Roberts' boys in my time! Like to try them times again. I could do without the chicken wire and the shoot outs...but that's another story.


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