WUMB November Program Guide

Ode to Cotton Eyed Joe

Friends, I’ve been doing hillbilly on the radio for many years. Sometimes you just wonder if anyone’s listening! I know, you guys turn out at fund-raising time, and I love you for it, believe me. But once in a great while I get a letter like this, and it really makes my day.

Back when I did high-school radio on WKWZ at Syosset High School on Long Island New York I got this album in the mail, and I played it. When I went to college I did four years of bluegrass-oriented programming on WRVU at Vanderbilt University in Nashville (they’ve since sold their broadcast license to NPR, grrr!) and I played this album there, too. Surprisingly, I had the only bluegrass show in Nashville for a time there between 1978 and 1982.

So the other week, I played the Bottle of Fire by the Cobble Mountain Band on The Dixie Bee Line, that’s the album I’m talking about. It was written by Glenn Farrell. It kicks butt. And a few days later this email reaches me from a member of the band. With the permission of my new friend Rich Thornburg, I’m going to share some of it with you, as well as a couple of songs from the album. You will like them! If you recognize these from my show, DEFINITELY email me and tell me so please… jon.gersh@umb.edu

So here’s the Bottle of Fire, you might have to paste this into your browser:
And here’s their Cotton Eyed Joe. Get this: I have 39 different versions of this song in my collection, no kidding (did I mention I was obsessive?) and I consider this the best. I’ll include a couple of other versions for your comparison purposes.
Here’s the “official” Texas version by Adolph Hofner:
And here’s my band, The Dixie Butterhounds, from 2006, that’s me on the 5-string banjo:

So finally here’s Rich’s email, edited for brevity.

Hi Jon,

You made a used fiddle player very happy today.   You included Bottle of Fire by Cobble Mountain Band in your Saturday night set list.  My friend Joe Mulholland told me – he heard it.  Joe is a fabulous jazz piano player and semi-retired chair of harmony at Berklee.

I just played Red Wing and God Bless America and the Marine hymn for my wife Lynette’s Aunt Mary yesterday at a nursing home in Laconia, NH – Mary Jane is 89 and she gave me her father’s fiddle about 10 years ago because she’s a great and generous lady.  That and playing on my back porch for the neighbors up in Newbury, NH and for my neighbors many nights in Florida in our rental and, of course, in church and graveside is where I play most these days.

But back in 1976, I met and soon afterward joined the Cobble Mountain Band.  I first saw the band at Matt’s Lodge, a small honky tonk in Savoy, MA – along the Mohawk Trail.   They were great and after most of a pitcher of beer and a dance with the guitar player’s mother, I told their bass player, Chris Tuttle, that I played the fiddle a little and would they let me come and practice with them.  He said yes and I joined the band the next Wednesday night in Tyringham, MA at Pete and Rink Adams’ place.  The guitar player, Glenn Farrell, was a really good chickin pickin player and we spent a lot of time playing on and off stage.  HE wrote Bottle of Fire on the fiddle – I put in the double shuffle stuff, I guess.  He also played a really good guitar solo on it on the album.

Walter Palmer was the leader of the band – he sang and wrote great songs like Drinkin and Hopin (for some Lovin Tonight) and fronted the band with incredible energy and had fun with it.   Walter’s cousin, Amasa Miller, joined Cobble a few months after I did – he is a sensational honky tonk piano player and still gigs in New Orleans where he’s lived since the early 80’s.  Pete Adams plays beautiful pedal steel (Steelin the Blues and like that)  and sang great tunes like Tennessee Saturday Night and Set up Two Glasses Joe and many others – lots of Hank Williams tunes too.  Ray Cuevas played really good drums and had the biggest smile in 7 counties.  Chris Tuttle was the rock of the rhythm section and a talented bass player and competent bus driver.  I drove too once in a while.  Chris passed away in the summer of 2010 on Peaks Island in Maine – way too soon.

We loved what we did – and we had a great time doing it.   It was great to hear that our stuff was on the air in Boston.  Folks will remember.  We played the Hillbilly Ranch and a bunch of other places.

Thanks for making my day.  I’ll practice even harder now.  And if you don’t play more of our music, I’ll write TWO letters a day – love Shawshank.

Ain’t that cool?? Write to me! Jon.gersh@umb.edu.

With love,

~ Jon


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