first NY play
has its own
Bill Hicks' fictionalized
history of RCR
"Turning Thirty: The Red
Red Clay Ramblers' Business Card ~1974 (artist: Kerry Blech)
A year by year listing of the Red Clay Ramblers' history. For the details, see Bill Hicks' Blurred Time, our Souvenirs page and all the rest of this Red Clay Ramblers 1972-1981 site, Craver, Hicks, Watson, Newberry site, and the Official Red Clay Ramblers site. Some links are provided here. Explore!
The Red Clay Ramblers form in the fall as a trio. The original lineup is
Tommy Thompson and Jim Watson (both from the Hollow Rock String Band) with
the Fuzzy Mountain String Band's Bill Hicks.
1973: Mike Craver joins in time to participate when Red Clay Ramblers With Fiddlin’ Al McCanless is recorded at Duke University, Larry Tseng engineer; the Ramblers take their first road trips, to Columbia University and Café Lena and the Kent State Folk Festival. They are also recorded surreptitiously at the Galax Fiddlers Convention and appear on a bootleg record with other musicians released on the Tennvale label.
1974: The Ramblers team up with the Southern States Fidelity Choir and Grease choreographer Pat Birch to present Diamond Studs, which opens in Chapel Hill in October. This two-act musical about the life of Jesse James was co-written by two Southern States Fidelity Choir members, Jim Wann and Bland Simpson, and Studs director John Haber. The Red Clay Ramblers With Fiddlin' Al McCanless is released on Folkways Records, and Stolen Love is recorded in at the Duke Sound Lab, Durham, Charles Ellertson, engineer.
1975: Diamond Studs moves to New York in January for a critically acclaimed eight-month off-Broadway run. They release Stolen Love (Flying Fish Records); Bill wrote the liner notes in Central Park
1976: Jack Herrick, a cast member of Diamond Studs, joins the band early in the year. They record and later release Twisted Laurel and record Debby McClatchy with the Red Clay Ramblers. In a year of firsts, the Ramblers play the first Eno Festival in Durham, were the first band ever at the legendary Down Home in Johnson City, and met Sara Carter when they played at the Carter Family Store for the first time. The Ramblers also appeared in the WVa public television show named after their music "Where the Twisted Laurel Grows." Video of this show was posted on YouTube in 2013, a mind-boggling development if imagined back in 1976.
1977: The Ramblers undertake their first overseas tour, from Scotland to Switzerland, Sweden to Romania, by “Poison Volent.” Back home, the Ramblers record Merchants Lunch (Flying Fish) and head out with Ralph Stanley on the West Coast/Canada Tour. It was also the year of their first appearance on Prairie Home Companion broadcast from the sculpture garden at the Art Museum in the Twin Cities. It was still just Minnesota public radio then, before it got syndicated.
Stanley/RCR concert review (Victory) | Prairie Home Newsletter | Prairie Home Pics | International Posters |
Music | Pictures | tour calendars | Romanie review
1978. Lunch is released, and the boys play the Winnipeg Folk Festival then return to Europe and some 8 Channel crossings in two weeks. It’s hard to get the bookings in a straight line sometimes. While there, RCR played the Nyon Festival (Switzerland), the Cambridge Folk Festival (UK), and the Frasnes Folk Festival (with Tom Paxton). Vancouver and Wheatland (Remus, MI) fests also saw RCR take the stage for the first time.
Merchants Lunch Page | Handwritten lyrics to Merchants Lunch | tour calendars
1979: The Ramblers' Chuckin' the Frizz (Flying Fish) is recorded live by Dale Ashby at the Cat's Cradle nightclub in Chapel Hill. Tommy Thompson, Jim Watson, and Mike Craver sing at Sara Carter's funeral service
1980: Thompson, Craver, and Watson release Meeting in the Air, an album of Carter Family songs. The band begins recording Hard Times in October, in Evanston, IL. RCR toured in Belgium and France with Steve Goodman and Tom Paxton. Fiddler Clay Buckner signs on in November and doubles with Bill for a three month transition.
1981: Bill Hicks departs early in the year. The Ramblers tour through sub-Saharan Africa under the auspices of the U.S. State Department. Mike is inspired to write the French Paratrooper for his solo Fishing for Amour album. Tommy writes “Regions of Rain.” Hard Times is released.
1982: Bland Simpson and Tommy Thompson's adaptation of Mark Twain's Life on the Mississippi opens in Chapel Hill, with music by the Ramblers. Tours take RCR to Alaska and Norway
1983: The Ramblers embark on an extensive tour through Canada in a 1948 GMC bus they claim has 3 million miles on it. (Actually it’s 10 million miles, but who’s counting—certainly not the guy who was living in it when they bought it in the winter of ‘80-’81.)
1984: Tommy Thompson's one-man show, The Last Song of John Proffit, plays in Chapel Hill. The Ramblers appear in the pre-Broadway run of Bill Hauptman and Roger Miller's Big River, which plays in La Jolla, Calif., over the summer. Mike Craver releases a solo LP, Fishing For Amour
1985: The Ramblers' 2nd State Department tour is to Jordan. Sam Shepard's A Lie of the Mind, featuring the Ramblers, begins an off-Broadway run. The Ramblers record "Medley in C" with Eugene Chadbourne, the 11-minute highlight of his Country Protest LP
1986: Two albums are released: A Lie of the Mind (Sugar Hill) and It Ain't Right (Flying Fish). Mike Craver, Jim Watson leave the band; Bland Simpson joins.
1987: Shawn Colvin tours with the Ramblers then Chris Frank signs on, replacing Ms. Colvin. The group marks its 15-year anniversary with a Nov. 22 show at UNC-Chapel Hill featuring all the originals except Mike, who joins by telephone connection from New York City, where the Oil City Symphony is gearing up for an award-winning run.
1988: Sam Shepard taps the Ramblers to do the music for his movie Far North, starring Jessica Lange, Charles Durning and Tess Harper (Durham-based Sugar Hill releases the soundtrack album). The Ramblers also stage The Merry Wives of Windsor, Texas (soundtrack album released on Snappy Records), which plays in Durham, Houston, St. Louis and Columbus, Ohio.
1990: Mike Craver is musical director and arranger with Mark Hardwick for Smoke on the Mountain, first presented at the Lambs Theatre, NYC
In April, Michelle Shocked records her “Contest Coming” with the Ramblers.
(The song is released on Shocked's 1992 Arkansas Traveler
album on Mercury.)
1992: The Ramblers spend March and April in New Mexico, playing a medicine show band in Sam Shepard's movie Silent Tongue, where they work with Bill Irwin and David Shiner. They take another State Department tour through the Middle East and release Rambler (Sugar Hill).
1993: The Bill Irwin-David Shiner comedy Fool Moon, featuring the Ramblers, opens on Broadway. The Ramblers win a Drama Desk nomination for Outstanding Music in a Play
1994: The massive Los Angeles earthquake delays by several days the opening of Fool Moon at Hollywood's Doolittle Theater. Fool Moon also goes to Vienna and Munich. The Merry Wives of Windsor, Texas opens in Cincinnati. After 22 years, founding member Tommy Thompson retires due to his advancing Alzheimer's condition.
1995: Fool Moon has a second run on Broadway
1997: Ramblers write music for and appear in Kudzu, a musical based on the Doug Marlette comic strip, which opens at the Goodspeed Opera House in Connecticut; the next year, the production plays at Duke University and in Washington, D.C. The band releases the Live CD.
1998: Fool Moon returns to Broadway for its third run after San Francisco and Seattle productions.
1999: Fool Moon continues on Broadway then moves to Washingon, DC. In April, the Ramblers return to New York for Lone Star Love: The Merry Wives of Windsor, Texas, with Jim Belushi. The Theater Wing awards Fool Moon a Special Tony Award. Jim Watson (Don't Tell Me, I Don't Know) and Mike Craver (Wagoner's Lad) both release solo CDs. A website honoring the founding of the Red Clay Ramblers and history of the first decade of the band comes online. Tommy Thompson's daughter, Jesse, posts "Jesse's Letters" about caring for her dad.
2000: The Red Clay Ramblers receive an Indies Arts Award from the Durham Independent Weekly "for enhancing the cultural life of our community." Workshop presentations of Lone Star Love are staged in NYC. The Red Clay Ramblers Official Website comes online.
2001: In August, the Red Clay Ramblers release the album Yonder. Lone Star Love opens in Cleveland, Ohio. Mike Craver, Jim Watson, and Bill Hicks reunite and headline the Festival for the Eno. Bill & Libby Hicks release their first CD South of Nowhere; Jim Watson releases solo #2, Willie's Redemption.
2002: The Ramblers collaborate with the Atlanta Ballet in Ramblin' Suite. The band turns the big three-oh. Shining Down, Mike Craver's third solo recording, is released. Bill releases his solo album of original songs, The Perfect Gig. Mike, Jim and Bill return for a show to the Down Home, the Johnson City venue they inaugurated in 1976. Tommy Thompson's daughter, Jesse Eustice, brings "A Tune for Tommy" to the stage.
2003: Tommy Thompson dies. Red Clay Ramblers through the years reunite in June at the North Carolina Museum of Art for a tribute show where they are honored as the WUNC Back Porch Music Artist of the Year. Jim Watson, Bill Hicks, and Mike Craver, joined by Joe Newberry, continue their reunion with several shows, including appearances at the Carter Family Fold. The Red Clay Ramblers collaborate with Rhythm in Shoes in Rambleshoe, which tours from Virginia to Alaska, New England to Nebraska, in the winter and spring. Jack Herrick and Mike Craver collaborate with others to bring Wilder to Off-Broadway.
2004: The Red Clay Ramblers stay busy with theater. Rambleshoe rambles again in the first part of the year. Lone Star Love opens Off-Broadway in December and is extended into February, 2005. The Kudzu cast recording is released. 1980's Meeting in the Air, Carter Family songs performed by Tommy Thompson, Mike Craver, and Jim Watson, is re-released on CD in time for the appearance of Craver, Hicks, Watson & Newberry at the Carter Family Festival in August.
2005: The Carolina Ballet teams with the Red Clay Ramblers in Carolina Jamboree in Raleigh in February. Lone Star Love, which ended its run in February, receives nominations for both Outer Critics Circle and Lortel awards and the cast recording is underway. Bill Hicks, Mike Craver, and Jim Watson with Joe Newberry are invited to perform in Northern Ireland. Bland Simpson receives 2005 North Carolina Award for Fine Arts
2006: In January, the Red Clay Ramblers share the stage with Ralph Stanley again, nearly 30 years after the bands toured together, the cast recording of Lone Star Love is released, and Carolina Jamboree is broadcast on UNC-TV. Mike Craver, Bill Hicks, Jim Watson and Joe Newberry sing for Janette Carter's funeral service. Mike Craver and Clyde Edgerton write the music for Edgerton's play Lunch at the Piccadilly, debuting in March along with a CD of music from the show. Rounder Archives release Hard Times and Chuckin' the Frizz on CD.
2007: Lone Star Love is staged in Seattle with Jack Herrick and Chris Frank representing the Red Clay Ramblers; the transfer to Broadway is cancelled. Fool Moon: The Music is released. The Red Clay Ramblers end the year on New Year's Eve with a joint performance with the North Carolina Symphony. Mike Craver was again the musical director for the premier of 3rd-in-the-series Smoke on the Mountain: Homecoming, and he also arranged the music and wrote songs for the production. Bill Hicks, Jim Watson, and Mike Craver play the Eno again, site of their rebirth in 2001, and continue annual visits to the Carter Fold.
2008: Bill Hicks, Jim Watson, and Mike Craver plus Joe Newberry appear at Mountainhome Music in Blowing Rock NC and the Oak Grove Festival in Verona VA. The Carolina Ballet again teams with the Red Clay Ramblers in Carolina Jamboree in Raleigh in June. Jim Watson releases his third solo CD (with the Bill, Mike, Joe and friends), This World Would be All Sunshine (A Portrait of Home Sweet Home)
2009: The Craver, Hicks, Watson, Newberry band are a growing presence on YouTube, thanks to fans with digital cameras. Mike Craver teamed with Clyde Edgerton to perform a story and song CD from Clyde's latest novel, The Bible Salesman. The Red Clay Ramblers release their Old North State CD in November.
2010: The Craver, Hicks, Watson, Newberry website comes online to cover the musical antics of the remaining founders of the Red Clay Ramblers (1972-1986) and Joe Newberry. They play the Big Muddy (MO) and Home Craft Days (Va) festivals for the first time and return to Godfrey Daniels (PA). The Red Clay Ramblers return to the concert stage with shows in NYC, Vancouver BC, Elkins, and around NC. Mike Craver's play The Belle of the Wabash debuts in April.
2011: Tommy Thompson, founding member of the Red Clay Ramblers, is inducted posthumously to the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame. Mike Craver's newest play, Sarah Bernhardt in Texas, debuts in May. In September, Craver, Hicks, Watson, Newberry play the Wheatlands Festival where some of the group first appeared in the 70's.
Mike Craver's Website | Wheatlands Festival Pics | Bill writes "Happy Wheatlands"
2012: Craver, Hicks, Watson, Newberry release You've Been A Friend to Me, their first recording as a group and return to the Festival of the Eno. Jim Watson's 26th annual Christmas show at the Cave was recorded in 2011 and released just in time for this 27th annual Christmas show at the Cave in December 2012. Mike Craver's play Oklahoma Hale & Damnation debuts in May, the fourth play in the Bosh and Moonshine series.
2013: Mike Craver releases Bosh & Moonshine, a CD of songs from his series of 4 plays that began with Bosh & Moonshine in 1998 through Oklahoma Hale & Damnation last year. This year in September, Mike debuts the 5th installment, The Queen of the Cowtowns. Craver, Hicks, Watson, Newberry play the Hiawatha Traditional Music Festival in Marqette MI, a house concert in Charlottesville VA as well as their favorite NC venues. Back in 1976, the Red Clay Ramblers appeared on WVa Public Television on "Where the Twisted Laurel Grows," and a video of this program was posted on YouTube in 2013.
2014: Mike Craver, Bill Hicks, Jim Watson, and Joe Newberry appeared with Malian griot Cheick Hamala Diabate at Appalachian State University as part of the Town of Boone’s collaboration with the Black and Global Banjo Roots Concert Series in April. In May, Craver, Hicks, Watson, Newberry made their first appearance at the Rappahanock Americana Music Festival in ("Little") Washington, VA. Mastermind of the festival and former Dukes of Hazzard star Ben Jones ("Cooter") told the audience that he's known Bill Hicks 53 years from their college days at UNC. In August the band sold out the new location of Six String Presents in Cary NC. October finds CHWN returning to the Home Craft Days Festival in Big Stone Gap, VA.
2015: Mike Craver, Bill Hicks, Jim Watson, and Joe Newberry appeared on A Prairie Home Companion in November. Videos and web streams of the show are still available. Mike, Bill, and Jim first appeared on PHC in 1977 and many times through the years. Joe has also been a guest on the show several times recently. Garrison Keillor will be retiring from the show soon, and he enjoyed having "guys his age" to work with. April found the band (nicknamed "The Firm") in Delaware and Pennsylvania on the "Brandywine, Pennypack, and Susquehanna Weekend" with gigs scheduled near those storied waterways. In August, CHWN did their annual Blue Note Grill show and the 2nd annual appearance at the Pick 'n Bow music retreat in Durham. They capped the weekend at a lovely outdoor venue in Annandale, VA, in the "Spotlight by Starlight" series.
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[In 2003, Jack Bernhardt and David Menconi compiled a Red Clay Ramblers timeline for the Raleigh News & Observer, which we used as a base for this page with additions and corrections by Bill Hicks and Mike Craver. And thanks also to James Lee, a Rambler fan who wrote to the website to suggest we add a chronology.]
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