Dick Spottswood (pt.2)



from http://soundamerican.org:

Dick Spottswood: I became fascinated with early hillbilly music when I heard the famous Harry Smith [An Anthology of American Folk Music] collection in the 1950s.  At the time I though country music was nothing more than honky tonk hits on AM radio, so I was really captivated by  music that sounded prehistoric in comparison.

Then, at a high school party – I think I was a sophomore that year, probably 1953 – I heard Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs on a stack of records at a teenage party in Chevy Chase. That music stopped me in my tracks! (laughs) It was “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” and even Harry Smith hadn’t prepared me for that!

Lester and Earl were like nothing I’d ever heard. It was on one of those old record players that dropped the 78s down on the turntable one at a time, without breaking any if you were lucky. So I memorized their names and went to see what I could about finding some of their records.

I met Mike Seeger around that time, and he was already paying attention to that style of hillbilly music. It wasn’t called bluegrass then. He recommended a lot of names. I learned of Bill Monroe from him the first time, along with Jim and Jesse and all  those people whose names became household.

A year later I went with Pete Kuykendall, Lamar Grier and a few other people to uncover a huge stash of small label records in Johnson City, Tennessee. It was over Christmas break in 1955. We drove down icy roads in Tennessee and Virginia in a 1948 Buick . I don’t know how it was that we didn’t slide off the road on the ice sometimes. We loaded up that car with as many records as we could without shoving any of us passengers out and drove all the way back to Washington with them.  It was really where I became acquainted with bluegrass and the art of collecting.

It was like I was selling Fuller brushes, except that I was buying old records; knocking on the door and saying, “how are you today? I was wondering if you have any old records hidden back in the closet or in the attic or outdoors in the shed, because I’m looking for whatever I can find.”

I would pay people for records, and most of the time it wasn’t too terribly hard. The hard part was looking through worn out records of no interest…standard popular music, or the beat up rhythm n’ blues records…you know, things that were very commonplace at the time and of no collecting interest. It wasn’t easy to find the records I liked best, even 50 or 60 years ago.


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