Victor Wooten: remarkable Tennessee musician

April 30, 2007

Victor Wooten played Boulder last week and I was there. Victor is one of the most famous bass players in the world; he is the only person named by Bass Player Magazine as “bass player of the year” for three years. What he can do with a bass is unreal. He plays it like a guitar–on Thursday he was using a slide–and bass players from all over Colorado clustered at the front of the stage to steal his licks. Victor is generous with his talent. He conducts a bass camp every summer and sells videos demonstrating his technique. Several videos of him are on YouTube.

Most people know him as the bass player for Bela Fleck and the Flecktones. Bela’s group could almost be named “Bela Fleck and Wootens,” for joining Victor in the band is his older brother Roy, a drummer known in that group as “Futureman.” Victor and Roy are just two of the remarkable Wooten brothers: Regi, Roy, Rudy, Joseph, and Victor. When not touring with Bela and Roy, Victor takes to the road with Regi and Joseph plus other musicians, and that’s who played to a packed house in Boulder.


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Hiking in the Smokies–what to carry

April 29, 2007

Morgan Simmons of the Knoxville News Sentinel has an interesting article today on George Minnigh, who served as a ranger for Great Smoky Mountains National Park for 30 years, and what he carries with him as he dayhikes the Smokies.

The usual items are there–first aid kit, extra food, and warm clothing plus rain gear. Visitors to the Smokies often get fooled by the balmy weather in Gatlinburg and asssume that they will be as warm at 4,000 feet as they are at G-burg’s 1,586 feet. They go up, get wet, get cold, and sometimes die.

Minnigh carries two items that I would not have thought of: a signal mirror and a 10-by-20-inch foam pad. The former can be used to signal a rescue helicopter in the event you need one. Unless hikers are on a bald on a mountain peak or along a ridge, they are almost impossible to see from a moving aircraft. The pad allows a hiker to sit down on wet or cold ground–very frequent conditions in the Smokies–and still stay warm.

Simmons’ piece has some interesting stats about the back country in the Smokies: “Backcountry camping in the Smokies has been declining gradually since 1997. Park visitors spend about 30,000 backcountry nights in the backcountry each year. About 35 percent of these annual backcountry visits are spent at 12 locations along the Appalachian Trail.”


This blog is part of a much larger website, also entitled Tennessee Guy, that contains travel and cultural information about Tennessee. Visit it here.

Inking people for the Lord

April 29, 2007

The Tennessean has an article on a Christian oriented tattoo parlor that’s been on Broadway for three years and will be featured this week on American Bible Society Presents, a cable TN show. The shop is called Billy Joe’s Tattoos, at 301 Broadway.

Billy Joe has a website as well, from which the photos below were extracted. They were created (does one say “drawn” for tattoos?) by Emily, one of Billy Joe’s artists.




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John Paul Jones visits Carter Fold

April 27, 2007

John Paul Jones, the legendary bass player for Led Zeppelin, came to the Carter Fold last Saturday night. Kingsport Times News columnist and good friend Vince Staten quoted one observer as saying “while many of the older folks didn’t know who Jones was, when word spread among the younger set, Jones was besieged with autograph requests.”

Jones was in the house to support Si Kahn, a longtime activist, songwriter, and performer.


This blog is part of a much larger website, also entitled Tennessee Guy, that contains travel and cultural information about Tennessee. Visit it here.

Oxford American releases first DVD

April 27, 2007

The Oxford American is a wonderful magazine that seemingly began its existence with nine lives, and has already gone through three or four of them. The magazine is beloved by subscribers for its once a year release of a CD with songs old and new accompanied by articles in the magazine about the music and its players.

The new issue breaks ground by including a DVD containing 16 short films to accompany the “Southern Movie” theme of the magazine. The second film included is “Born for Hard Luck,” an amazing look at the late “Peg Leg Sam: Jackson, whose photo is here:


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Happiness begins with No Depression

April 26, 2007

I am a magazine junkie, and one of my favorite fixes arrived last week. No Depression claims to “survey the past, present, and future of American music (whatever that is).” The magazine began by focusing on alt country, but has grown more eclectic over the years.

The May-June 2007 issue features stories on Uncle Earl, Elizabeth Cook, and Bright Eyes. Don’t know who those people are? I didn’t either, which is why I get this magazine. No Depression has wonderful CD reviews as well. On my list to get are Mavis Staples’s “We’ll Never Turn Back” as well the new collaboration between Ricky Skaggs & Bruce Hornsby.


This blog is part of a much larger website, also entitled Tennessee Guy, that contains travel and cultural information about Tennessee. Visit it here.

Geezers reenact Civil War

April 25, 2007

Today’s Chattanooga Times Free Press (paid subscription required, alas) has an article focusing on baby boomers who happily don replica 1860s clothing and trot out to reenact Civil War battles. The piece contains the usual the-generation-following-ours-has-gone-to-hell fulmination–one 61-year old gent is quoted as complaining that “some children today aren’t even familiar with Robert E. Lee or Davy Crockett.”

Uh, which side did Crockett fight on, grandpa?

These interpreters of history can show up with perfect looking uniforms, weapons, and everything else, but their aging and well-fed bodies give them away. According to historian Bell I. Wiley, “Most soldiers were between the ages of 18 and 39 with an average age just under 26.” And they weighed about 143 pounds.

You can’t blame the old boys (and girls) for wanting to get into the Civil War act. Just as merchants–called suttlers back then–followed various armies in the War, now various outfitters will cheerfully separate the reenactor from his money. One of the best to visit is the Blockade Runner in Wartrace–perfect town name for this business–south of Nashville near Bell Buckle. This place will fit you out as a Union or Confederate or woman of the time. Large sizes happily accommodated.


R.I.P. David Halberstam

April 24, 2007

David Halberstam, a great reporter and a great author, died in a car crash yesterday. After graduating from Harvard in 1955, he came South to cover the growing civil rights movement in Mississippi. That job didn’t work out, so he came to Tennessee. Here is his version of the story, given in a speech in 2005 upon receiving the Columbia Journalism Award:

“I went from there to four years on the Nashville Tennessean – probably the best and most aggressive paper in the South in the Civil Rights Days – where I was taught by very good people. (With all due respect to the faculty, in the end, journalists mostly teach each other.) Every night I would go out to dinner with member of a great staff of an embattled newspaper. Each night was like a great seminar in journalism; I could listen to them talk about what they had done that day, how they had put their stories together. I was a human sponge.

“One of the things I learned, the easiest of lessons, was that the better you do your job, often going against conventional mores, the less popular you are likely to be. (So, if you seek popularity, this is probably not the profession for you.)

“I learned how to work a story, how to talk to ordinary people, and what a joy doing legwork was. I learned the best question of all for any interview: “Who else should I see?” To this day, the back cover of my notebooks is covered with lists of names of people to see.

“I learned that the more legwork you do, inevitably the better the writing seems because you have more details, more anecdotes, and more authority. And I learned that the great fun of journalism was talking to people, that it was where you kept learning. What a marvelous way to grow intellectually!

“So when The New York Times called in 1960, I was ready.”

That’s an understatement. Here is the Tennessean’s piece on him.


Photo by Yann Nicolas

Tennessee naming expert dies at 84

April 24, 2007

“We are at the mercy of our name givers,” said Kelsie Harder, a native of MIddle Tennessee who became a world authority on naming practices, and who died April 12. He was born in Perry County, got his B.A.and M.A. at Vanderbilt, and spent his professional life in upstate New York. Poor fellow.

My sons and I wrote a baby name book a couple of years ago, and I have long been fascinated with Tennessee names. I came up through rural Tennessee schools with kids who had all manner of unusual given names. Some of the boys’ first and middle names were William Otto, Vivert Aaron, Rush Floyd, and Gale Omar. The girls included Mozella Ann, Cheryl Ruthita, Mary Alyce, Neda Jane, Eufaula Carole, and Rena Rebecca.

After school and in the summers, I worked at my family’s construction company, where I labored alongside guys named Royal, Fate, Shirley and Jehovah. I can remember our dispatcher saying something like, “OK, I’m going to send Jehovah and Fate over there, and they’ll take care of you.”

I later became a reporter, writing about a blind Baptist gospel disk jockey named J. Bazzel Mull and interviewing Judge Sue K. Hicks, the real-life inspiration for Johnny Cash’s hit “A Boy Named Sue.” You can’t come from a background like that and not have an interest in names.


This blog is part of a much larger website, also entitled Tennessee Guy, that contains travel and cultural information about Tennessee. Visit it here.

Rolling Stone at 40

April 23, 2007

I grew up with Rolling Stone. I was 15 years old when it hit the streets, and I subscribed as soon as I could. I would come home from high school to find my mother fuming about “that trashy magazine” that had arrived in the mail that day.

Rolling Stone has come out with a wonderful 40th issue, which includes interviews with people ranging from Jimmy Carter to Tom Wolfe as well as a list of “40 Songs that Changed the World.” First on that list is Elvis’s “That’s All Right.” Toward the back of the magazine, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards weigh in on the effect of the King on their music.

From Jagger: “The Elvis period was super-rebellious. Because that kid of music was much more shocking than the music of the Beatles–the early Beatles. . . .The wild men–Elvis, Jerry Lee–they were much more scary.”

From Keith, upon being asked what was the first rock & roll record you heard?: “The one memory that sticks out immediately is hearing “Heartbreak Hotel” one night on Radio Luxembourg. It was hard to get the signal, so you’d be walking around the room with the radio, going , ‘Oh, no, it’s fading!’ But it was like the world went technicolor.”